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Thursday, 10 September 2015 20:38

Project Managers May Need to Lead Team to Implement Critical Change Requests

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They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. However, there may be a third – change. Your project team can be very diligent in defining the project and capturing business requirements. However, once you get going, changes will occur.

Why Change?

Project changes are typically caused by two reasons. First, the client does not understand all of the details and nuances of what they need before the project begins. This is normal. The project team sometimes thinks that their clients must know every detail about the solution, but that is too high an expectation. Some requirements will come up later. Some requirements won’t be known until the client starts to see how the solution is shaping up.

The second reason for project change is that the business is changing, the industry is changing, and the world is changing. Even if your specifications were initially perfect, business change might require changes to your work.

It is vital that the project manager and project team recognize changes when they occur and manage the changes through scope change management. This allows the sponsor to make a decision on whether the value of the change is worth the cost to the project in terms of cost and schedule.

Change is not inherently bad or good. However, the team can react to changes in positive or negative ways, depending on the state of the project. Project teams will typically react to change with the thinking that if the project sponsor wants to make the changes, then they will go ahead and make the changes.

Changes Can Be Perceived Negatively

Some teams react to project change in a way that can be more problematic - the team may not want to make any more changes. This situation usually occurs on projects that have had problems, and there could be a variety of reasons for this reaction:
  • This may be a long project, perhaps requiring overtime, and people just want the project to end.
  • The proposed changes will require a lot of work, and the deadline date is being held firm. Again, overtime may be required from the team.
  • Members of the project team and the client have not had a smooth relationship on the project. There may be project team members that do not want to help the client and others that, again, may just want the project to end.
  • The changes require major upstream rework to the design, which will require changes to construction and re-testing of the entire solution.
All of these situations (and others) can result in a scenario where the project team is not motivated to support scope changes. This puts the project manager in a tough position. The project manager may also want to see the project completed; however, he usually does not have the luxury of complaining. (If he does, it should be to his own manager and project sponsor – not to the rest of the team.) So, the project manager has to get the rest of the team on board for one last charge.

It’s a Tough Sell

Frankly, it’s a tough sell. The team members are tired and they are not motivated. Morale may be poor. However, this is the time for the project manager to show leadership. Delivering yesterday’s solution is not going to help the company. The project manager must get the team motivated to make the changes. Since the cause of the team problems is probably complex, the solution should be multi-faceted as well. Here are some strategies for the project manager to consider.
  • Explain the facts first. Do not start with a rah-rah speech right away. First, meet with the team and explain the background and circumstances. Then, talk through the changes that are needed and why they are important from a business perspective. The project manager should make sure everyone has the same understanding of the problem and the challenges ahead.
  • Acknowledge the pain. The project manager must acknowledge the problems. Let the team know that you understand that they may not want to make the changes and that their morale is poor. Don’t dwell on it – but acknowledge it.
  • Be motivational. Now is the time to motivate the team. Appeal to their sense of working together as a team to get through this adversity. Let them know the value they are providing to the company.
  • Talk to everyone one-on-one. In addition to the team meeting, talk to the entire team one-on-one to understand where they are mentally. Listen to their concerns and get their personal commitment to work hard and keep going.
  • Get management and the sponsor involved. Now is a good time to ask your manager and your sponsor to talk to the team, thank them for their work so far, and ask for their continued help getting through the changes.
  • Look for perks. Little perks can help a team get through motivational and morale trouble. These can be as simple as donuts in the morning and pizza for those that have to work late.
  • Make sure the clients are in there with you. Normally if the project team is working more, the clients are sharing the pain as well. The project manager should make sure they are contributing.
  • Communicate proactively. Keep everyone informed about the state of the project and the time and effort remaining. If the project manager starts getting closed and secretive with information, it causes more morale problems.
  • Celebrate successes. The project manager does not need to wait until the project is over to declare success. Look for milestones, or mini-milestones, as opportunities to celebrate a victory and give praise to team members.

Some people might read this column and say that the team members are being coddled. After all, they are paid to do a job, and they just need to do it.

Yes, you can take that approach as well, but this is an example of a team that is already hurting. Taking an attitude of “just do your job” can result in people cutting corners, short-changing testing, and looking for the path that gets them to the end with the least effort required. In the longer-term, it increases burnout and makes it harder for the team members to be productive in their next assignments. It can also lead to turnover, which is exactly what you do not want to happen in a situation like this.

A project manager needs to have more management and leadership tools than simply telling people to “do their jobs.” This is a tough situation and requires good people management skills to get through successfully. Success is never guaranteed, but utilizing some of these tips can help you push though.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
Read 26439 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 September 2015 20:50
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