How the project manager deals with change

Project leaders don’t like change any more than followers do unless, of course, it is their idea.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos in Southern Spain in search of a western route to Asia. He was convinced that the world was round, despite the belief by nearly everyone else in Europe that it was flat. Most people believed that a ship sailing due west would fall off the edge of the earth.

Columbus did not find the route he sought, but he did confirm his suspicions that the earth was a sphere. And after months of exploration and the loss of one ship, he returned to Palos on March 15th, 1493 a hero. And in a matter of months, the perspective of everyone in Europe concerning the earth changed drastically. It caused a quick and transforming revolution of the world.

Columbus was considered a hero for returning from his venture. And he was credited with discovering new lands. But people did not change their minds about the earth. Everyone resists change. For many years, I thought project leaders liked change and everyone else did not. As a visionary project leader, I always felt that I was drawing reluctant followers into the future. But I finally realized that project leaders don’t like change any more than followers do unless, of course, it is their idea.

Why do people resist change? Change is hard for everyone. I believe that truly change is one of the greatest attitude obstacles you will ever face. We can not move forward and stay the same at the same time. We resist change because several reasons:

  1. People resist change because of personal loss: whenever the change is imminent, the first question that pops into people minds is how the change will affect them. Asking to some European project managers about resistance to change, all of them say the the first critical success factor to deal with resistance to change is communication. One of the key obligations of a project manager is to talk to their project stakeholders about how that change will affect them. In many occasions this explanation is missed.
  2. People resist change because of fear of the unknown: Project managers must manage knowns and unknowns along project life cycle. I helped a saving bank organization in the North of Spain to increase their PM maturity level, consulting and training them in project management. One of the walls in their office had a poster hanged up saying: If everything is ok, please don’t change it. I explained to them that my approach as a project manager was: if everything is ok, please be worry about it because it may be improved.
  3. People resist change because the timing could be wrong. I established a checklist for change:
  • Will this change benefit the team?
  • Is that change compatible with the purpose of the project?
  • Is this change specific and clear?
  • Are the top 20% (the influencers) in favor of this change?
  • Is it possible to test this change before making a total commitment to it?
  • Are physical, financial, and human resources available to make this change?
  • Is this change reversible?
  • Is this change the next obvious step?
  • Does this change have both short and long-term range benefits?


Before implementing a big change, I run through this checklist and answer each question with a yes or no. If too many questions have a no by them, then I conclude that the timing may not be right.

  1. People resist change because it feels awkward: project professionals don’t like to feel uncomfortable; however we must accept change as part of our project lives in order to achieve our project objectives. Living uncomfortable situations is something a project manager must experiment, just to know better their reactions and behaviors taking control of them.
  2. People resist change because of tradition. Matias G., a German project professional from Frankfurt has been managing projects without applying a formal methodology for many years. Project results were not bad but he never accomplished a project on time and cost. Now their organization is growing up in terms of people, and project complexity, and they are implementing a formal PM methodology. Then he can not continue managing projects that way although he is used to do it.

The keys to dealing with change successfully are having a good attitude toward it and being prepared to meet it. I have some ideas that may help you as a project manager for managing the change: Change will happen whether you like it or not, without change there can be no improvement, make a commitment to pay the price for change, change must happen within you before it can happen around you, remember that it is never too late to change.

How your attitude can be the difference maker concerning change? Think about a change you are currently resisting. It can be a change you feel prompted to make or are currently being asked to make by others. Keep in mind that for positive change to occur, you must make a commitment to pay the price for change; change must happen within you before it can happen around you; and it is never too late to change.

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, PMP, PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow

Managing Partner

BUCERO PM Consulting


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