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Best Practices of Project Management: Dealing with Change

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 11/12/2010

Change happens to every project. Successful project managers understand how to soothe stakeholders with changing opinions while managing the effects of outside forces.

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    Dealing with Change While Conquering Resistance

    Veteran project managers understand why the project cycle includes some loops between the implementation and monitoring phases. Challenges that seemed simple during the preparation of a project could require more resources and ingenuity than planned. Likewise, market forces could force changes of scope or budget at almost any point during the initiative. That’s why one of the most accepted best practices of project management is a willingness to expect change, if only to manage change more effectively.

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    Expect Change and Manage Change

    Naturally, project managers act as the guardians of a project’s original intent. Showing true leadership in the face of internal and external pressure requires both insight and commitment. At the same time, project management professionals understand the need to be flexible throughout the project cycle. Remaining rigid in the face of obstacles often leads to missed deadlines and disappointed stakeholders.

    The most effective project managers find ways to buffer their project timelines against the negative effects of change. Some project managers add contingency tasks as placeholders for tasks that won’t be defined until later in the project cycle. Other project managers rely on scheduling and prioritizing around change, through “fast tracking" or by reaching out for more resources. By expecting at least some change during the course of the project cycle, project managers can deal with it on an intellectual level instead of giving in to frustration.

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    Seek First to Understand

    Stephen Covey lists it as his Fifth Habit, and it’s also one of the best practices of project management professionals: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Project managers encountering change for the first time often have a tendency to become defensive, if not territorial. It’s hard to not react that way when outside forces cause major changes in carefully planned timelines.

    By integrating the Fifth Habit into project management, real leaders minimize the negative impact of change. Refocusing team members and stakeholders around their needs and wants can lead to creative collaboration on resources and timelines. By working as a facilitator for a new project strategy instead of as a defender for an outdated plan, project managers can show true leadership within their organizations.

Best Practices of Project Management

Business leaders have identified five critical areas where project management professionals can help their teams excel. These best practices of project management apply to teams in any kind of industry, under any conditions. All five best practices require tactical skills and organizational courage.
  1. Best Practices of Project Management: Following the Project Cycle
  2. Best Practices of Project Management: Standardizing Procedures
  3. Best Practices of Project Management: Clear Communication
  4. Best Practices of Project Management: Dealing with Change
  5. Best Practices of Project Management: Choose the Right Tools