10 Ways to Keep a Change Project on Track

Last Updated Mar 23, 2010 9:29 AM EDT

Each year, Roffey Park Institute publishes a management agenda that reflects the main concerns of business leaders in the UK. This year's big priority -- and worry -- was how to manage change.

But are managers best suited to handling large-scale change? To some extent, any manager in charge of change is project managing. But the challenge is to get managers to recognise that project management is best handled by a specific type of person.

"Project managers are life's list-keepers. If you aren't a natural, you cannot be taught," says Chris Mills. He's one of them: a partner at PIPC, Mills has led his share of large change programmes around the world.

Here are his tips for keeping a change programme on track from start to finish:

  1. Is it a crap idea from the start (and that's why it's de-railed)? If so, give it up quickly.
  2. If worth saving, get back to the fundamentals -- "de-scope" it. A good idea can easily get complicated by "scope creep" - by adding bells and whistles as time goes on. Compromises and over-complicating the management are part of this. But weigh up cost and time-savings against potential gains - it's possible to erode value by de-scoping with just, say, cost-cutting in mind. http://www.pmhut.com/the-problem-with-the-project-management-scope
  3. Tackle a greater number of smaller projects and work in bite-size chunks: this means you'll achieve quick wins, while building momentum that galvanises people to carry on with a change programme.
  4. Projects are about people -- and sometimes the person in charge of a project is not up to par. Project managers need to be able to monitor budgets, plan and track and systematically add changes. But they also need to have an opinion and be willing to challenge others. You don't want a pushover, so you're looking for someone with negotiation skills. Then there's the 'softer' stuff - what's the quality of the relationship with the stakeholders -- can they see the big picture? Are they demonstrating that fuzzy term called leadership? Identifying that person is 80 percent box-ticking and 20 percent gut instinct.
  5. Prioritise skills. You don't have to have the world's leading experts to complete a specific project. Better to have the people skills than the technical skills.
  6. Ask the silly questions: You need to be able to grasp a big problem but also be willing to ask obvious questions while remaining credible to others.
  7. You need a bit of bureaucracy. Especially in a big, complex project you should have communication and structure for cascading orders down. All this needs to match the scale of the project -- JFDI sometimes applies. Don't spend too long organising lists and charts.
  8. Ringfence resources. As the project manager, expect that people don't have a day job when they are working with you. If you're a retailer with 10 projects on the go, plus a day job, it's untenable. PIPC worked with Littlewoods and Shop Direct for three years on a merger involving a number of divisional bosses. There was no way to give over CEO time in each case, so there was a system project manager for each unit who worked for the CEO and acted as the change leader.
  9. Connect daily work to strategic goals and ensure employees can see how their efforts feed into the change and to the company's goals.
  10. What's your measure of success? Capture and measure performance data in a way that's widely recognised, relevant and accurate. Agree with other stakeholders what will constitute success. If the ultimate goal is something akin to transformation, then the last thing you want is to finish on time and on budget, only for people to say 'so what'?