How do I apply change management when I've left it too late?

Help, my project goes live next week and we are seeing all sorts of issues and resistance. Is it too late to apply change management?

This is a question that I can assure you is not uncommon! But for it to arise at this stage of a project, it is probably not the best time to point to the research that shows that you have an increased probability of exceeding or meeting your project objectives if you start change management much earlier, ideally at the project initiation.

But if it’s been left late, are we now resigned to missing out on applying change management and crossing our fingers, hoping for the best?

No, it is never too late to be able to add value and mitigate some of the issues and guide the final project to a more successful outcome.

Depending on the actual time available I recommend that you cover these three key steps:

  1. Collect and analyse feedback - not just from the management, but from a sample population impacted by the project, what are the real issues and concerns?  With time this might be done through surveys, workshops and 1:1 interviews. With less time it could be be a few representative people attending a one hour meeting or conference call.
  2. Diagnose gaps and manage resistance - you will be able to determine where the biggest variances are from what you expected, there may specific points of resistance by job role, functional area, or geography. With limited time this still needs to be done but you will be focussing on the big-ticket items, for now, and ideally going back at the other items later.
  3. Implement corrective actions – I would recommend tackling 5 key change management plans: sponsorship management, coaching, resistance management, communications and training. With limited time these can be simple actions but they should still be integrated together and aligned with the master project plan.

I would always encourage you to start your change management work as early as you can, it's actually never too early as the need for change management is triggered by the very first rumour of the change, but the key here is also that it's never too late to be able to add value to the project. 

But how to go about this, and what help and tools can I use to make these assessments, diagnose gaps and take the corrective actions?

Prosci have developed the powerful ADKAR™ model which describes the stages that every individual needs to go through during the project. This model helps to assess where they are on their personal ‘ADKAR journey’, which will determine the help and some corrective actions that may need to be provided:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate in and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviours
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

One of the challenges that many organisations face is that whilst project management is a mature discipline, change management may still be in its infancy. But change management is catching up fast as there is a growing realisation and understanding that delivering only the ‘technical’ side of the project is literally only half the story. As the image below shows, there is a symmetry in the management of the people side of change: Change Management, and the technical side of change: Project Management.

So just as you need to start the project management processes from the project initiation, so it is true for change management and by working together this can help mitigate the delivery risks and increase the probability of delivering successful project outcomes and achieving Return on Investment. 

If you would like to become certified in change managmeent and gain access to the Prosci tools and knowledge, then sign up for the next Prosci Change Management Certification course.

Of if you are working in a project environment then take a look at our Change Management workshop for Project Managers: Delivering Project Results

Prosci®’s 2016 edition Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report shows that effective change management plays a crucial role in projects meeting objectives, finishing on time and on budget, and realising their expected return on investment. All rights reserved. Used with permission
 ADKAR® and ADKAR® terms (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement®) are registered trademarks of Prosci® Inc.