The art of project management: transformation management

The topic of this post was sourced by Dr. Harold Kerzner, Senior Executive Director for Project Management at the International Institute for Learning and Emeritus Professor of Systems Management at Baldwin Wallace University, where he specializes in the field of project management.

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new order of things. Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian political theorist (1469-1527)

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

In this installment of the Art of Project Management, I depart from the military strategic insights of Sun Tzu circa 1000 B.C. and advance the time machine to the political strategy of the Italian Renaissance. I’ve cited Niccolo Machiavelli in earlier blog posts (Machiavelli on Agile, for example), and find his musings right on target. Project managers have much to learn from Machiavelli’s observations. Just as Sun Tzu breaks down combat and strategy into multiple rules of war, so, too, does Machiavelli break down the rules of a leader in a “state” (here, I use state to address all forms of an organization). As leaders of projects, PMs will do well to work within their state to take on additional accountability for delivery. That accountability is seated in ensuring that projects realize their goals once implemented.

When are PMs agents of change?

In my last post, Bryan Taylor and I discussed the need to maintain visibility of a project beyond implementation. Establishing a new order of things is difficult. Whether that new order (read: change) is a new system, new product, or new process, bringing people along through the change can often be the key to success—or the missive that triggers disaster. To that end, Bryan and I suggested that the project manager should have accountability post “go live” as an agent of change to help ensure success. In today’s organizations, the old approaches won’t work. Trying to simply “toss it over the wall” at the end and expect that the recipients of the change will figure it out is no longer viable. Instead, it is incumbent on PMs to take ownership for driving a project into an organization.

Project managers are change agents. Organizational change management is one part of the role where the art of project management comes into play. The traditional view of project management is more about the science; organizational change management is all about people. Organizational change management works to:

  • Get people engaged
  • Help people understand the need for change
  • Build commitment
  • Breakdown barriers to change
  • Ensure the “journey” of the project

As an agent of change, the PM has a role to play throughout the life of a project. From business case to implementation, the PM should work to ensure that stakeholders are aligned, understand where they are headed, and that the goals are attainable. I’ve seen projects go astray often when projects go into operations. The project manager/change agent should have clearly established accountabilities to work with on-going operational counterparts to bring people in line, drive adoption, and help realize the business case. Typically, PMs do not have these accountabilities.

A new paradigm

The discipline of [organizational] change management is a systematic approach for cultivating leadership support and end user acceptance for the attainment of a successful change. [Organizational] change management can target organizational behavior and performance [during an initiative]; for instance, attempting to increase the amount of accountable behavior exhibited by management. [Organizational] change management can also be applied to attain adoption of the end product of a project. In both instances, the framework and approach can be similar, just as project management is similar on small- and large-scale projects. And that’s not the only similarity between the two disciplines.Roger Kastner, Slalom Consulting

So, if we leverage the similarities between change and project management, we can ask the question, “What if the project manager had responsibility past implementation?”  Sure, sure, PMs often stay around during the “warranty period.” But that is usually focused on ensuring there is nothing wrong with the deliverable (e.g., system, process, product) itself. Dr. Harold R. Kerzner now refers to this “post go-live” organizational change management function of a PM as transformation management, where the goal is to transform the organization from one state to another.

Dr. Harold Kerzner

Dr. Harold Kerzner

The shift of focus comes in two parts: first, that the project is assuredly not complete at go live, turn-over, or implementation; and, second, that the PM as shepherd during the post implementation time frame adds value as a point of focus. A new spin on the PM role could place the individual on the project for a longer period and sharpen the focus in the post-implementation time frame to work on conversion, adoption, users’ needs, communications, and even training. While I won’t suggest that the PM be the one to actually conduct all these functions in the post “go live” period, their skills, charge of focus, and ownership of “getting it done” would certainly benefit many of the initiatives I have seen which have under delivered.

Just as the PM is rarely the one designing specifications for the new product, coding the new application, or assessing the efficacy of the new process, it would most likely not be the PM who would do the training, develop communications, or engage with stakeholders enterprise-wide.  However, the PM could be the focal point for these organizational change management activities in the same way she oversaw the project throughout its development life cycle. With Corporate Communications, Corporate Training, Human Resources, and even the Continuous Improvement teams available to lend their specialized skills, the PM maintains a role in the “post-project world” by directing traffic as a single point of contact. This assigned responsibility will help ease the dangers of moving to the new order.

When does it all end?

This new accountability for the PM should not be seen as a role of caretaker. The facilitation and focus that the PM as change agent brings to the post-implementation period must be time-bound. PMs should not become the ongoing operation caretaker for their delivered products, processes, or systems. Instead, just as the “design through implement” phases were fixed in duration, and had schedule and metrics in place, the post go-live phase should be similarly established. A specific time frame must be set when the role of change agent goes away and day-to-day operations become the norm.

In the end, this is not such a new idea. It is more like an extension. Keep PMs doing what they do (after all, they’re change agents already!); just ask them to keep doing it longer. A recent informal poll verified that many PMs see this change as something natural to what they do; the key is in defining the time period and metrics needed to define success.  Regardless of the time frame or specific metrics, extending the role of the PM into the early stages of the “widgets” operational life makes that PM more valuable. The PM’s visibility is raised, and the individual can impact the organization in a different and meaningful way, driving true operational results while maintaining a laser-like focus on the project at hand.

For more on transformation management, look for Dr. Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling.

About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

3 Responses to The art of project management: transformation management

  1. Richard Wiedenbeck, CIO says:

    My only issue with this is… that is sounds like I am using my PMs to compensate for poor operational management. Shouldn’t my operational leadership, who should have been involved in the project, be strong enough, talented enough, and exceptional enough to take a project delivery into operations with metrics in place and operational excellence in mind. I already have enough problems finding good project managers, extending the time it takes to get them on to the next project feels like the wrong trade off to me. I say.. make sure you have great operational management and great project management, then let them do their respective jobs.

    • Roger Kastner says:


      Yes, you should absolutely rely on your operational leaders to help lead a change from project to reality. However, if you have poor operational leadership, no amount of project management nor change management will help you out.

      The real challenge is that most operational leaders are swamped with today’s deadlines, yesterday’s problems, and helping their teams adopt the changes that were implemented last week and last month. We are witnessing an epidemic of change conflict and change saturation in most organizations we see, and operational leaders’ capacity to consume one more change risks imploding the team (see: thin wafer mint).

      By including employee readiness and adoption into the scope of the project, hence the focus of the PM, you are starting to create a balanced solution to increase an organization’s capacity to consume change and create a more change nimble organization.

      Now, the PM does not need to “do” the change work, just as a PM does not code test software, stack and rack a server, or facilitate training. Instead, the PM ensures this work is planned, performed and measured. And because change does not take hold at the moment of impact (i.e., project launch), a continued focus on reinforcing the change is required for some time after to ensure new behaviors are adopted and the project’s ROI is achieved.
      “What reinforcement activities are required?” and “How long does this take?” are questions that need to be answered for each project, and surely these activities require operational leader engagement, however, just as employees need reinforcement activities to ensure the new behaviors take hold, someone needs to hold the operational leaders accountable for performing the reinforcement activities.

      What’s at risk by not ensuring adoption and reinforcement activities are performed? Just the reason why the project was approved in the first place – stakeholder expectations and ROI:
      • Prosci’s 2012 research found that projects with an excellent OCM approach achieved stakeholder expectations 95% of the time, compared to only 17% on projects with a poor or no OCM approach
      • A McKinsey study in 2002 found an average 143% ROI results when an excellent OCM program was part of the initiative, compared to an average 35% ROI when there was a poor OCM program or no program.

      So, if an OCM approach increases the likelihood of attaining stakeholder expectations and ROI, and operational leaders are swamped with keeping the lights on, who is going to focus on ensuring that employee readiness and acceptance of the next change is occurring with the current project?

      For projects with a budget that can accommodate it, we recommend looking into have a Change Management person or team focused on this. If the project budget cannot support a whole individual or team, we recommend ensuring your Project Managers include Adoption as part of their scope.

      Thanks for the comment and happy to discuss this more at length with you. Feel free to drop me a line at

      Roger Kastner
      Organizational Effectiveness Practice, Slalom Consulting

  2. Rich,

    Thanks for posting your note! By all means, I am not suggesting that we over-tax our PM’s and under-utilize our Operational Managers. However, given that so many challenges happen with projects that simply “go live” and throw it over the wall, by extending the PM’s accountability into the early stages of operations, we can help to guarantee smoother transitions, better adoption, etc. Think of not adding responsibility to the PM that is above and beyond their current focus, but extending the project schedule to include more time post implementation.
    We must certainly keep the day-to-day operations focused with your operational management, but I’d challenge you to think differently. Think less about them doing “their respective jobs,” and more about how we can bring these two closer together and create more, better overlaps that ensure on-going success.

    Hope this helps to clarify. Have a happy holiday!


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