Programme ManagementProject management

An easy 10-minute guide to change management

Psoda blog author avatar
26 March 2019

All projects involve some form of change, whether you’re building a bridge, putting in a new IT system or modifying business processes. To put it simply, change management is the processes, techniques and tools you use to get people ready for the changes your project will be bringing.
It shouldn’t be confused with change control – which is all about controlling changes within your project. For example, scope, time, cost etc.
Good change management can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project. If the changes you’re looking to implement aren’t managed effectively it is more than likely that they’ll fail.


One of the most widely used change management processes is the ADKAR methodology, developed Jeffery Hiatt, the founder of Prosci. It’s a framework that’s designed to walk people through the often difficult and frustrating change journey.
Other processes include the ITIL change management process, but that is designed to minimise risk and service disruption to infrastructure and operations. Although some of the principles can be applied outside of that sphere it’s not the best for managing organisational change.

What is ADKAR?

ADKAR is an acronym and represents the five steps that a person, or organisation, needs to go through when making a change: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.
To show it in action I’m going to use an example of awesome change management I was told about. An organisation had to move from its old building to a custom-built new one. However, some staff had been in the old building their whole careers and really didn’t want to move. Here’s how the organisation made it a smooth transition:


At this point in time you’ve had a great idea or have found an opportunity to improve things. Your project might not have even started but it’s at this point that you need to make people aware of the change.
You can make people aware of the need to change in a multitude of different ways; such as town hall sessions, newsletters, one on one meetings, etc.
It’s likely that there will be resistance to your changes. After all, people are creatures of habit and few of us really like to change.
Don’t think that building awareness of the impending changes can be done quickly, this part of the process is likely to be a longer-term activity. Depending on the scope of the changes you’re making, be prepared for this to take up approximately a third of the duration of your project.
In the case of the organisation in our example, they had the duration of the build to prepare people for the move. They ran a number of town hall sessions where they explained why they needed to move. The building was no longer fit for purpose, it needed a complete refit and it was easier and cheaper to have a custom-built building instead.
There was a lot of resistance from the staff – up to and including protests and resignations.


Understanding that things need to change and wanting to change are two very different things! How often have you heard “But we’ve always done it that way” in response to a new way of working? I admit to have heard and used that exact phrase on more than one occasion!
It’s at this stage that you need to make people want to change. The best way to do that is to show them what’s in it for them! Making people see how they will benefit from any changes is the best way to get them on board with your initiative.
If people have negative feelings about the proposed changes, it’s your job to allay those fears. People might be angry or worried, especially if the changes could impact their jobs. Be sensitive in your handling of that and acknowledge their feelings.
You’re likely going to be at the early stages of the project, so it’s a good time to get people onside.
The organisation I’ve been using as an example handled it very well. They continued to explain that there was no choice and that they had to move. The project team started sharing the vision of the new office and included things like each floor would have a kitchen, there would be enough desks for everyone, people could have quiet space if they needed it. They also subtly mentioned the negatives of the current space and how the new building would solve some of those pains.


It’s at this point that you need to give people the knowledge of how to change.
You need to begin preparing people for the changes that will happen, long before the project goes live. It may be that a new process so will need to be rolled out, people will need to be trained and, in all likelihood, the process will need to be modified.
This stage in the change process is another that’s not going to be successful overnight. It’s very likely that you’ll be having multiple training sessions to share the knowledge of the new ways of working.
The organisation in our example spent a lot of time sharing progress and where relevant, asked for staff opinions to include in the build.


This goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge part of the change management process. You can’t expect to be shown something once and be an expert at it overnight. It’s a bit like learning to swim. You didn’t get shown how to do it one day and become a gold medal winning Olympian, or more realistically a semi competent swimmer, the next day (if at all). The same is true with change. It takes time to become competent in new skills, ways of working or even moving to a new location.
In the case of the organisation, to get the staff ready for the change they organised tours to the new location. They showed everyone where they would be sitting in the new building. They also showed them how to get to the new location on foot, driving and by public transport. This was done multiple times in the run up to the move.


Forming a new habit is hard. This part of the change process continues long after the change has been implemented, as depending on the behaviour, it can take a long time for changes to stick.
At the organisation, on the first day in the new location they posted people along the route and outside the old building so that they could support their staff and make sure they didn’t get lost or upset.
For the first week they kept someone at the old place so that people didn’t get upset and flustered if they turned up to the wrong building.
Although there were a few grumbles and moans, the transition from one building to another went pretty smoothly.
That’s how you do successful change management!

Psoda plug

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Rhona Aylward avatar
Written by Rhona Aylward
Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

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