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Dealing With Change: Have You Planned for These Common Obstacles?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 12/19/2011

Projects change and with those changes you need some controls. Along with those controls you also need to be able to recognize the depth and complexity of the change. Too often leaders, organizations and stakeholders miss the important elements, causing planned or expected changes to go awry.

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    Stumbling Blocks

    Change Stumbling Blocks 

    Because alterations or modifications are present in almost every project, we ought to be good at handling them, right? Like so many things, that's easier said than done.

    Here we’ll look at ten change obstacles management often ignores or overlooks. If your change processes are suffering, have you really analyzed why? Let’s delve in deep to help solve the most common problems.

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    1. Who's in Charge?

    Once the need for the change is identified, who is in charge of the process? Many project leaders or those in upper management levels often request a change and then drop the ball on directing the goals of the change process—or overseeing the change.

    If you are the facilitator of the change, it does become your responsibility to see that steps, resistance, challenges and acceptance of the change are achieved. Even if you implement a change control committee, you can’t drop the ball there. You still need to be in charge and make sure the change progresses and is completed accordingly. Manage your change effectively throughout the process to ensure success.

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    2. Type of Modification

    The type of the modifications needed (or change) is of utmost importance. Is it a team, project or organizational change? Clearly define the type of the upcoming change before you hand it over to a change control committee.

    If a team needs to make a change, that’s very different from an organizational change. And if you don’t define the type, not only will you have chaos from those who may not even be affected, you’ll have complaints and confusion from those who are affected. Don’t confuse or involve those not involved in the change. Make sure once you’ve identified the need for the change, you align it with the type of change it is meant to be.

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    3. Resistance

    Change Resistance Many project management web sites, including Bright Hub, have written great posts on how to handle change resistance but it still remains overlooked. Why? You can’t just talk about it, allow a question and answer session and move on—because there will be resistance.

    Instead, you need to recognize the various types of resistance. Are people simply defiant? Are you facing individual or group resistance? Do you recognize the typical warnings of change resistance? Do you have a change resistance plan included in your change management plan? If you answered no to any of these questions, don’t expect any changes to flow smoothly.

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    4. Communication

    How do you communicate alterations to the project or organization? Do you send out a company or team-wide email with information about the change and feel comfortable everyone has received the email and understands it? This is not change communication.

    Project management experts will tell you a failure to communicate change properly is the number one reason why the change process fails. What if someone doesn’t understand it or has questions? What if they see and hear resistance to the change and are swept up in the resistance? Are problems coming from internal or external stakeholders? You absolutely must foster a communication plan everyone receives along with an open-door policy for possible questions or concerns.

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    5. Brainstorming Sessions

    Whether the change is organizational or on a smaller scale, it helps to involve those affected. In fact, if teams and stakeholders are given the chance to participate in the process, new processes or procedures needed will flow smoothly.

    If, on the other hand, you decide to be the dictator of the change, without team or stakeholder input, your modifications will fail at every level. Use brainstorming sessions and even mind maps to show groups why the change is needed and how it is expected to flow and do implement their ideas when they're good; don’t dismiss them.

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    6. Role-Playing

    Role Playing Much like brainstorming, team role-playing is an effective way to ensure you overcome common obstacles to change. For example, what if you decide to change an element half-way through the project and the modification will affect two teams? Involve both teams in change scenarios to see how well the change will work.

    By role-playing, you’ll be able to see the kinks in the change process and address them before rolling out on a full blown scale.

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    7. Support and Guidance

    Even if you’ve communicated, brainstormed and offered a dry-run through of the change, you can’t end there. You need a support group until the change becomes commonplace. Via your communication plan and brainstorming sessions, have your support group develop posters, manuals and guidelines outlining the change.

    Initially, you should make your support group available all the time and as the change progresses, dedicate specific times support personnel will be available to aid those who have questions about the change.

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    8. Recognizing the Need

    Many projects fail because leaders fail to recognize a need for change or ignore it altogether. If a stakeholder (internal or external) presents the need for an alteration in a project and you dismiss it, you are indeed failing to recognize the need.

    When changes are recognized and identified and then presented to you, listen to your stakeholders. Ultimately, it will be your choice as the leader to decide if the element suggested is really necessary, but failing to listen at all is detrimental to your project.

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    9. Sponsor or Upper Management Denial

    Deal with Upper Management If you see a need for a change and it’s ignored by upper management or sponsors of the project, you need to be as prepared as you can be for change denial. Most of the time, upper management or those on the client or sponsor level will deny the change due to budgetary concerns.

    When dealing with those who hold the cards, you will need to be prepared to show how the change, even if it means more money initially, will save money over time. Fight denial with facts and figures, not pleas without documentation.

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    10. Know When You’re Done

    This last obstacle to change may seem obvious but often it’s not. Say for example you’re dealing with an organizational change where in the course of six months, department shift times are changed. You’ve dealt with resistance, you’ve supported and overseen the change correctly and yet, you still find defiance and a chaotic atmosphere. Or, say your project management methodology directed the need for the change and upon closure, the project was successful but you still have doubters.

    Step up and use your leadership style to sway the doubters. Show them how the shift changes have benefited all or that the project worked because of the changes made.

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    Because change in any form involves the human element, you will find hurdles along the way. Deal with these by reviewing and being prepared for the most common problems when facing change.

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