As a project manager, are you resistant to change?

In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in search of a western route to Asia. At the time, of course, it was widely believed the world was flat and that a ship sailing west would eventually fall off the edge of the Earth. Although the explorer didn’t find the route he sought, he did confirm his beliefs that the Earth was indeed round and returned to Spain as a hero. There were still a stubborn few who refused to amend their views, however.

For many years, I thought project leaders were much like Mr. Columbus, visionary leaders drawing reluctant followers into the future. I found people kept resisting change for several reasons:

Personal loss. Whenever change is imminent, the first question people ask is how it will affect them. Project managers cite the need for good communication when changes are needed, yet this step is often overlooked. I managed an organizational change project for  a banking organization in Spain. Although I shared project information with the executives and main project stakeholders, the management team failed to explain to the branch offices managers how the project would affect their operations. Without that information, employees at the branch offices felt uncomfortable and considered the situation a personal loss.

Fear of the unknown. Project managers must manage both the knowns and unknowns in the project life cycle. I once trained managers at a bank in northern Spain, to increase their level of project management maturity. There was a poster on the office wall that read: “If everything is okay, please don’t change it.” I explained to the team that my approach as a project manager was the opposite: Even if everything is okay, things can still be improved.

Unease. No one likes experiencing uncomfortable situations, but project managers frequently need to deal with this. In Southern European countries, project managers in both public and private organizations tend to fear uncertainty because their managers don’t want them moving forward and making decisions. This attitude is not at all conducive to facilitating change, however.

Tradition. Although it feels better to stick to the usual routine, it’s not always the best for the company. For many years, project managers at a petrol and oil organization in Spain, had been managing projects without applying a formal methodology. When that company grew in terms of staff and project complexity, I helped them implement a formal project management methodology and training program. The company now had a methodology in place, but it was a major shift for project managers.

Timing. Before implementing a big change, I run through this checklist:

  1. Will it benefit the team?
  2. Is it compatible with the purpose of the project?
  3. Is it specific and clear?
  4. Are “the influencers” in favor of it?
  5. Is it possible to test it before making a total commitment?
  6. Are physical, financial and human resources available to implement it?
  7. Is it reversible?
  8. Is it the next obvious step?
  9. Does it have both short- and long-term benefits?

If too many answers are “no,” the timing may not be right.

Change will happen whether or not you like it. For it to be positive, change must happen within you, before it can happen around you.

Today is a good day and tomorrow will be better!

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMp, PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow.

No Comments