Project Objectives and their Implications on Organizational Change Management

By Robert Kaufman, Principal Consultant at Navigator

According to Prosci, a leading research and training firm in Change Management, projects that engage Organizational Change Management (OCM) are six times more likely to exceed project objectives than projects that do not engage OCM. That statistic leads to two key questions: 1) how are project objectives defined, and 2) what is the role of OCM on projects? This article addresses these questions by discussing two types of projects, “traditional” projects and “benefits-focused” projects and the role OCM takes on each type of project.

As shown in Figure 1, a “traditional” project ends when an improved capability is implemented. A great example of a traditional project is the implementation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in which the project “declares victory” upon implementation. On traditional projects, OCM ensures that impacted people are “ready, willing, and able” to perform their jobs using the new “ways of working” required by the implemented system as well as any associated changes to processes and organization designs. Note that readiness, willingness, and ability are often measured in terms of adoption, ultimate utilization and proficiency with the new ways of working.
In contrast, “benefits-focused” projects continue well past the implementation date and only “declare victory” after the project’s intended bottom-line benefits are achieved and sustained. A benefits-focused project, for example, could focus on operational cost reduction while maintaining customer service levels. Rather than being ends in themselves, system, process, and organizational changes help to enable benefits achievement. On benefits-focused projects, OCM plays a larger role than on traditional projects with OCM work extending well after implementation. In addition to the “ready, willing, and able” objective, OCM helps the business manage benefits achievement, in part by helping to triage performance issues and addressing issues that have people-related root causes. OCM also helps the business to minimize operational disruption before, during, and after the changes are introduced. Anticipating and proactively addressing causes of operational disruption tangibly affects customer service and the bottom-line and mission.

For both executives who sponsor projects as well as project managers, it is essential during project planning to clarify if a project’s ultimate objective is to implement a capability only, or if the project will continue until sustained business benefits are achieved. Not only will the answer influence the role and staffing of the OCM team, the answer will also influence the entire project approach, as well as the project’s subsequent return on investment.

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