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The Importance Of The People In Projects

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 8th July 2014

Project management is about planning, communicating, monitoring, controlling, reporting etc but it is also about risk management and change management because few, if any, projects are without risks and change. But it can sometimes seem that change management, in particular, is only concerned with changes within the project. Too often there is not enough emphasis on the changes that affect real people as a consequence of major project implementations.


This is particularly true if you use a formal PM methodology such as PRINCE2 or PMI, which are very effective for the planning, controlling and so on but less effective when it comes to how a project manager deals with, say, resistance to change from people affected by the project.


Humans are often resistant to change if it involves changing their behaviour or patterns of work and very few embrace change wholeheartedly. Managing change such as this may not initially seem to be a project manager’s responsibility but, like so many other project-related areas, it affects the success of the project so a PM should be involved. After all a project led by a competent project manager using a tried and trusted methodology can still fail if the people affected by the project are not committed to its success.


But, practically speaking, how can you change the perception of a group of people and overcome their resistance to change?


First, you need to demonstrate why the change is required and what the benefits are at a personal level; these personal benefits could be very different to the business benefits and may be different for different groups of people. With everything else a project manager has to contend with motivating those not directly involved with the project may come a long way down your list of priorities but it is essential to encourage people to embrace the new project. This is where you could employ ambassadors from amongst the affected groups to spread the positive news.


If there are no individuals who seem committed enough to the success of the project to become a project ambassador then you may need to carefully select someone who has the trust of others and then get them involved at a deeper level with the project so they can start to see the vision and appreciate the benefits of the changes.


You and any ambassadors need to listen to the concerns of those affected by the project implementation. Listen to individuals about how they feel and help them deal with the change. Do whatever is required to gain their commitment; have informal discussions with people and one-to-one discussions where individuals may be more likely to voice personal concerns that they would not raise in a group situation.


When change is imposed on people with little or no consultation resistance is inevitable – but even if it is too late to change the project plans, it is never too late to ask people’s opinions and try to implement their suggestions. The people working at the coal face can often give practical tips that could improve the final outcome of the project and by involving them more closely, listening to their concerns and taking notice of their suggestions you will be starting to break down the barriers to change.


Reluctance to change is closely associated with anxieties; maybe about losing their job or not being able to cope with a different role or different responsibilities so make sure the project plan includes appropriate training sessions for all employees. The training sessions are also a good place to promote the personal benefits of the changes being implemented so ensure the trainer understands the project vision.


As a project manager you may feel you lack the skills necessary to motivate and build commitment in others so don’t neglect training or professional development for yourself and the project team. Training sessions part way through a project can reinvigorate you and the team especially in a complex, lengthy project.


Communicating the project vision and getting people to buy into it may not be in your job description but are definitely contributors to project success so at least ensure that ambassadors either from the business side or from within the team are taking on this responsibility.