3 Keys to Drive Sustainable Change and Project Success

Bruce Wesner, Life Cycle Engineering
Tags: business management

Have you ever been the leader of a significant business change and not been able to make it stick? Most organizations believe the key element in any project is sound project management, but what about the people it affects? So many times two other elements are missed when it comes to delivering successful projects.

Essentials for Project Success

Research reflects that three factors yield project success. The first is a given: effective
project management. This is the normal focal area. Deliver the project on time, on budget, to a specified level of quality and meeting stakeholders' expectations. Some of the key steps include planning, organizing, implementing, controlling and close-out.

Although project management is important and critical to success, two other factors are essential. The second step is leadership and sponsorship of the project. Having active and visible leadership sets the stage for active and visible participation, direct communication and coalition-building to ensure success. These executive actions are necessary. Remember the old saying, "What is interesting to my boss fascinates me." Active and visible leadership makes it important for people to deliver success.

The third factor is change management, which isn't just a "soft and fuzzy" people thing. There are different change management methodologies that have been developed and deployed, such as the Kotter model, the Lewin change theory model, Lamarsh and Prosci. All have worthwhile attributes that should be evaluated and executed in a structured fashion in order to deliver project success.

How Change Happens

After you have the three elements to deliver successful change, it is important to understand how and where change happens. In most cases, you normally are driving change organizationally, so many times that is how it's approached. Leaders schedule communication meetings where they "tell them" about the change, but telling them about the change isn't change management. Change management starts at the individual level. You must engage the people who are being affected by the change to be part of making the change. Face-to-face, one-on-one conversations need to transpire in order to build the trust that leaders care about the stakeholder impact of the change.

Following the one-on-one interaction, further engaging the stakeholders to be part of the change is critical. You need to tap into their knowledge and have the process owners be part of making change. Now, knowing that change happens on an individual basis and is passed individual to individual, progressively advancing the organization in the change, success can be more readily obtained.

Organizational change results from individual engagement. Organizational change must have some structure to it. The leader of the change needs to make sure that the change team prepares, manages and reinforces change across the organization to deliver success. In managing change factors like a communication plan, understanding risk points and developing mitigation strategies come into play.

Does Change Management Have an ROI?

In business, no change happens without there being some business factor or benefit that would be gained by the organization. So is there a return on investment (ROI) to effectively driving change? Many would say no, but research has proven that an effective process that deals efficiently with the people side of change yields measurable results. The ROI of an investment in the change process is measured based upon the speed of adoption, ultimate utilization and proficiency. 

Speed of adoption is how quickly people are up and running on the new systems, processes and job roles. Ultimate utilization relates to how many people are demonstrating buy-in and are using the new solution. Proficiency asks if individuals are performing at the level expected when the change was designed. The payback in applying change management can be measured.