Balancing Project and Change Management: Obtaining Project Adoption

As a project manager, if you meet your scope, schedule and cost baselines, was your project successful?  If it takes a prolonged time period to achieve the business outcomes planned, is that your responsibility?  Does your involvement end when the project is finalized, or do you have some responsibility to ensure project adoption?  If you believe you’re responsible for meeting project baselines and ensuring project adoption you will need to look beyond project management.  Project adoption is about change management, so you must integrate change management into your project activities to ensure success.

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What is Change Management? 

Since projects are vehicles of change, the role of change management is to help enable project goals and objectives by considering human, political and organizational change components necessary to ensure project success. Change management also provides a broad set of stakeholders with the skills and expertise necessary to design, promote and implement the project-driven changes to enable business value.  By defining project success as meeting our baseline agreements while ensuring organizational adoption and business value realization, we have the intersection of project and change management.  Looking at a project from 6 life cycle phases will help us define and drive project success based on the parameters noted above.  The 6 phases include:

  • Project Initiation
  • Assess Alternatives
  • Detail Design
  • Build and Final Prep
  • Deploy/Implement
  • Support, Sustain and Enhance

Let’s look at each in greater detail to uncover the key touch points where project and change management intersect and support each other.

Project Initiation

The primary objective of this phase is to determine whether there is a specific business opportunity worth pursuing, or if there is a current or potential problem which needs to be addressed by some organizational effort (i.e. a project).  There are many reasons why companies must change, and they are usually based on an internal need and/or external threats.  Common reasons for change-driven projects include:

  • Provide a solution to a real or potential project
  • Seize an opportunity
  • Meet a compliance regulation or mandate
  • Change the image of the organization

All of these are valid reasons for pursuing a project.  If an idea or proposal is worth pursuing, then the first step is to determine the project scope and align key stakeholders to the business case. 

Assess Alternatives

The objective of this phase is to make sure all the viable options (alternatives) are considered before committing to a course of action.  This phase is critical since many stakeholders tend to immediately jump into pursuing one “solution” rather than considering other viable (and possibly better) alternatives.  The key is to develop an objective evaluation process (using multi-criteria decision analysis) to withstand the scrutiny of the most critical stakeholders.  The right balance of stakeholder needs and inputs must be gathered and incorporating into the planning process.  Once you have developed a high-level project design plan you can create the details.

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Detail Design

The objective of this phase is to develop and get buy-in on detailed designs before committing the time and expense necessary to realize these designs.  Part of the challenge of this phase is securing the appropriate SMEs required to produce the designs while incorporating corporate compliance policies and external regulations.  Stakeholder engagement is critical during this phase.  We must manage “scope creep” while resolving incompatible requirements, dealing with various levels of resistance and determining what is best versus what is quickest or easiest.  The investment of energy in gaining stakeholder engagement in this phase will pay big dividends in the next phase. 

Build and Final Prep

The objective of this phase is to build out designs into something more tangible, testing the integrity of the design and ensuring everything is ready for deployment/implementation.  The human factor can severely impact the scope, schedule, and budget of the project.  Once recipients of the change get a more complete picture of what will be changing, and how it will impact them, then the concern, anxiety and second-guessing begin to dissipate.  There needs to be a rigorous method for handling change requests and a well-structured deployment plan which includes human, technical and organizational support elements.  Since this is often the most time-consuming and difficult (as well as significant) phase it’s important to develop a high-performing project team.


The primary goal of this phase is to deploy the solution, along with the required support components. The second half of this phase is to monitor the success of the implementation so appropriate actions may be taken if needed.  Deployment plans and support materials should have been created in the latter half of the “Build and Final Prep” phase.  But project teams are focused exclusively on meeting scope, schedule and cost baselines and often deployment planning gets short-changed.  This is a leading cause of why projects are not completely adopted.  Accordingly, it is not uncommon for this phase to be more chaotic than expected.  Confusion is reduced by having a solid method to evaluate implementation progress with contingency and fallback plans created and available if things go awry.  The key to successful deployment centers around the timing and coordination of essential activities such as training, communications, organizational and system support materials and available reference documentation and assistance. 

Support, Sustain and Enhance

If the components of a project or change initiative are not supported, it is doubtful whether the change and subsequent business value can be sustained.  And unless the change is sustained it can never be enhanced to create additional business value.  Since old habits die hard, support to maintain the change must be provided in both a tangible manner (such as adjustments to systems and processes), as well as informal methods (encouragement and recognition from management and leadership). Support can also take the form of corporate policies and procedures as well as compliance mandates, accountability and enforcement of non-compliance.

The methodology introduced integrates the perspectives, approaches, and techniques of project and change management.  This sequence of phases helps ensure projects are better scoped, managed and supported in addition to being efficiently executed, reliably deployed and effectively adopted and sustained by all stakeholders.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO