Feb 5, 2012 in Corporate

Which comes first? Change consulting or project management

Stephan and I discussed an interesting case that caused me to reflect on this for a while. He was referring to a case where the organisation he worked with ventured into a project and after a while realized they will be needing a change management consultant on board as well.

So which comes first: Consulting on change then getting project management on the way or project management and thereafter getting a change management consultant involved at some stage?

My resounding opinion is for the first mentioned. There are so many things to consider regarding how people and organisations change that I cannot think that something would risk the success of an entire project by not soliciting some high quality reflection on change. But then also, I cannot imagine (as sometimes it seems the case) that a change management consultant can prescribe a more or less predefined course of action as would a doctor to a patient.

As I see it there are about 8 notable change management models. They all have very different views on what should be done. Some are highly structured while some acknowledge that change is in fact unmanageable. Some underscore the politics in change while others entertain the view of an organisation being an organism, still others a machine and so forth.

Our question of which comes first does not discount project management in any way. Its not about the ‘whether’ or ‘what’ of project management but the ‘how,’ and that on a global, organisation wide scale and not a project scale. Naturally we are thinking here about larger scale change or projects. No project can be managed without the dimensions important to the change consultant. A project is not managed in a lab or according to scientific best practice.

At least two very important aspects calls for change consulting first then consideration for project management. Your project and its success depend to a large degree on the type of change journey required (restructuring versus strategy roll out and more), and the type of organisation, including its life cycle and its culture (profit, non-profit, engineering firm versus media house, flat versus hierarchical structures, family versus big corporate business). These are some of the things that the change management consultant will engage the organisation with and from this the project, critical paths and even prior to this, the type of project manager and team and other sustaining processes required for successful projects will be discussed.

Modern project managers may feel that they can attend to these type of concerns. Yet not all project managers concern themselves with this. It is true that not all projects need to think about change in the way I advocate but again it is something that is advised to reflect on prior to stepping on the boat with your mates for a cross atlantic project.

All of this need not be very cumbersome but its definitely worth (also in consideration of the bottom line kind of worth) to think change first then project.

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