Project Management: Overcoming Resistance to Change
By Dennis Creach
Projects can fail simply because of human nature—people tend to resist change. Therefore as a project manager, understanding resistance is critical to creating lasting change. It’s important to know how resistance manifests and how to overcome its various forms. Here are a few of the more common reasons why people resist change and some tips to help overcome them and lead your projects successfully.
Lack of knowledge of a new system or process
Those impacted by change will rarely openly express their concerns. Nobody on the team is going to express doubt over their ability to succeed in the new environment. Instead, resistance surfaces through different channels—for example, by passively failing to adopt a process or technology.
Project leaders need to be aware of this pitfall on the front end, particularly when working with different “generations” of employees, and proactively take steps to build knowledge and comfort levels—individually if necessary.
- Communicate openly about the project.
- Create an open forum for knowledge-sharing. Use a common information-sharing platform, such as SharePoint, to store information and have people contribute to a forum.
Fear of losing power—or even the loss of a job
Like so many other issues, this is typically the result of poor communication. When the stakes seem to be high, and where there is a lack of information, people begin speculating—usually in a very negative way. Restructuring and outsourcing are among the many realities that continue to chip away at the notion of job security today. This escalates the fear, uncertainty and rampant spread of unsubstantiated rumors.
Project leaders need to be top-notch communicators, laying out the changes on the front end of a project and relaying as much information as possible to offset the impact of resistance.
- Share knowledge. This simple step has a significant impact on overcoming resistance to change and driving project success.
- Empower people by showing them how the new system or methodology will, in turn, empower them and enhance their effectiveness or give them more control over the quality of their work.
A past negative experience with change
When an individual is part of a failed project, they are more likely to resist future initiatives. They are reluctant to engage and do not trust the information relayed by project leaders. This resistance can build quickly, becoming an organization-wide problem.
Project leaders need to be aware of the past experiences of stakeholders and team members as much as possible.
- Solicit input from team members to build risk-management plans based on past experience.
- Use this information to reduce resistance by adding elements to the plan such as additional walkthroughs and testing.
The big ta-dah!
While the tips above will help you along the way, effective project management always starts with good planning—before the project begins. Therefore, to ensure that the impact of the change is fully understood and that you are prepared for any resistance you may encounter, we’ve saved the best for last—the “grand-daddy” of all tips (at least in this article) if you will: Value Stream Mapping.
Value Stream Mapping is a particularly effective technique in overcoming resistance of any type. In the very beginning, when attempting to understand the impact of change on a particular organization or group, it is very important to examine how the process currently works. Then you can “map” it to get a detailed view of what’s at stake and who the change will affect (and in what way). This gives a better understanding of the impact of the change.
Begin by breaking down how the existing process or system works for the organization. Identify the people involved; the information that is flowing through the process; any associated documents, templates and tools that are used; points of interaction, etc. This forms a detailed “as is” map—the blueprint for being able to specifically identify what will change and how that change will drive improvements.
This is a very visual method that helps constituents of change finalize what they are going to change, how it should be changed and what they require to successfully implement that change. It establishes a benchmark of what’s going to be different, which helps to “fine-tune” the vision to encourage buy-in and involvement.
Remember: Having a great product or process does not necessarily guarantee success.
The determining factors often center on getting buy-in and effectively managing the human emotions and natural resistance to change, which is why good project managers must have and continue to develop good people skills. After all, the end goal is to get people to actually accept and ultimately adopt the new process or product within the workplace.