We are currently living in an era in which it cannot be denied that our way of acting and perceiving our environment (and our degree of interference in it) is changing. Add to that the Covid situation (yes, I know enough of the fucking Covid)... However, it has made us see in a crude way what the philosopher Heraclitus told us a long time ago: "the only constant thing is change". And there is no more evident way to show it than with this clear example: Change is there, whether we want it or not, period. Next slide please!
Nowadays, handling a client’s project in the same way we did pre-covid (and holding on to the status quo) is dangerous. We are facing great challenges and suddenly it is necessary to stop and rethink processes and goals. The environment has changed and organizations are challenged to adapt and transform to the new environment.
As a Project Manager, we must always be open to the possibility that plans may not go as planned. I dare say that in the vast majority of cases things will not go as originally planned, either due to internal or external factors. That is why we must be constantly monitoring and assessing risks, and adapting. However, this is well known and I don't want to repeat something that perhaps we have all experienced first hand.
While PMI has certifications, tools and professional degrees for change management in projects and entire organizations, it all starts with a decision: to be the trigger of change. As a Project Manager, whether or not you smiled in a meeting with a client at the right time can have an effect. Have you heard of the butterfly effect? (You can watch the movie if you’d like to have an idea of it, but only the first one. I would not recommend the other ones. Where was I? Oh! Right.. change.) We must be conscious that we own the responsibility inside our workspace environment to create the right atmosphere to move things forward in the best possible way.
Understanding this responsibility is the first step towards change. The following step is to start. Since triggering change is a complex task to accomplish in a whole workspace, the ideal place to start is where we have full control: ourselves.
Even though we can feel that it would be easy, change is challenging and not easy to address even with the best intentions behind it. I’m not an expert in psychology, so please don’t use me as a reference but, I read somewhere that it is natural to encounter resistance to change. Our brains tend to create “mental shortcuts” to develop habits and let them direct part of our actions as if they were a kind of an "automatic pilot"; to let the conscious part of the brain focus on non-routinary actions. These habits are formed in our way of thinking, feeling and acting. It’s part of human nature. This resistance to change is because we are going against these predetermined mental shortcuts.
If you are already determined and in the mindset to be the change agent, let's move on to what's next. Whether you are at the stage of changing yourself or already applying change in a project or organization, it is important to keep the following principles in mind:
Have a reason for change.
You can't know if things will change for the better or the worse(or even if it will change at all) if you don't take into account the three states of the process: the current state, the transition, and the future state. Whatever the change is, it is always driven by a reasonable expectation that the future will be different than the present. We generally want the destination to be a better place (they usually point to common goals in most organizations such as lowering costs, improving revenues, achieving greater efficiency, improving quality…) So let's start with having an important reason to change and break it down into manageable pieces with specific goals.
Change on any scale requires a change in individuals.
We must keep in mind that an organization does not change, people do. People are the building blocks of change. Therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of the situation at the individual level. That is, have knowledge of the work routines that may affect each individual in the processes and systems, tools, roles, behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, among others, before initiating the change. Make sure you have an understanding of the nature and extent of the impact of the change. An additional thing is to know what is normal in this situation. Consult the Kubler Ross Change Curve for a start.
Manage the change with a framework.
Let's not reinvent the wheel. As I said before, there is a well-documented methodology for managing change in an orderly fashion. I invite you to do extensive research, from emotional intelligence books up to the PMBOK itself. Use different sources to find the best fit for the change you wish to make at the level you require.
And once again I emphasize that the plan you have laid out for this change may and most likely will not follow the course you thought. Iterate, evolve and keep learning. Keep in mind that this, like any discipline, will take practice; but you’ve already taken the first step: changing yourself.
Now more than ever a change is crucial. Be the trigger for it!