The Magic of Project and Programme Management

PMs are creators, in whose gift is the magic of project and programme management. It’s not just some dry art or befuddling science. I can’t guarantee you put 2 and 3 and get 5 but done well, I guarantee you get something that is far greater, far superior to the sum of its parts. Dare I say, like a great cake! Project managers get to create something that lives beyond and without them, It impacts people’s lives, hopefully positively, it changes the trajectory of the function or the organisation where the change was embedded and to my mind, it’s exciting real-life alchemy!

Project and Programme Management is an exercise in defining the necessary and desirable, applying some unrealistic timelines and finding a pragmatic middle, identifying the possibilities in the quality variable and resourcing big ambitious plans out of thin air and shoestring comparative to what needs to be achieved. Good PMs will set you straight but attaining the PM requirements, meeting the business case and delivering the requested benefits even with generous budgets, still calls for an element of magic in project and programme management. PMs take somebody else’s dreams and visions and work every day to make it a reality. They are firefighters, counsellors, accountants and have to be a jack of all trades that become short term experts in at least one facet of lots of different workstreams. They are the ultimate believers in what can be, what must be and their part in making things happen.

The Magic of Project Management from the original task rabbits bearing a variety of indispensable gifts

Do you need a professional Project or Program Manager?

It is easy and indeed common to wonder if formal and professional Project Management is necessary unless leaders have had experience elsewhere of just how hard it is to run a project or a program with people whose day jobs has been something quite different. They wonder if somebody can’t just read a few books, maybe even do an online course and pop into the role! It’s a cheap option, so you can understand the motivation, but it would be manifestly the wrong way to go.  There is undoubtedly magic created by project management but it is born of a blend of skill, experience and networks. That’s what companies bug and small around the world pay the premium for and it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to attempt any other way. The cost of re-dos is far higher. The magic is harder to come by without the harbingers – skilled project managers.

So let’s try to distil the full magic of project management and the untold advantages practitioners bring.

At a high level, there’s strategic as well as tactical glories, team building, leadership and the management of conflicting requirements as well as the goals more clearly understood around the management of budget, scope, time and quality deliverables.

To decompose that further, let’s start with

  • the function, mindset and perspectives that project management puts in place; PMs are the original Big Data practitioners because of the sheer volume and variety of tasks they juggle to firefight, problem solve, create solutions, form natural alliance bubbles and resolve conflict. They literally perform a myriad of functions and this takes getting used to to be good at it. It is extremely demanding.
  • Project Management provides the kind of servant and leadership dichotomy you observe in parents one their children are of a certain age: they have to lead and guide as well as listen, learn and follow to be fully effective. They do this with users, experts and leaders. This means they have to flexible and hold their positions lightly while still holding tightly to a vision of change that has been entrusted to them. This means they must have high levels of confidence and real humility.
  • The motivation your business needs to attempt, agree and adopt change comes from project management. This is inescapable for success, and PMs other claim to fame and magic in project and program management is that they motivate and mobilise people to generate and deploy ideas for a range of issues and obstacles that arise.
  • All projects are racked with problems and questions because there are several unknowns in a project, no matter how well planned it is. This does not faze seasoned change professionals and they expect this but the necessity to solve problems to deliver change leads to the creation of stunning solutions and research of best practices, tools and frameworks that can be adopted. These can extend beyond the life of the project and become part of the business’ continuous improvements.
  • Although sometimes, especially in wholesale transformations, problems can take on calamitous proportions, project management can drive creative solutions that can solve problems in extensible and enduring ways.
  • The magic doesn’t come without structure, rigour and process and PMs don’t come without those.
  • Innovation, innovation, innovation as change creators, project and program managers can be agents of innovation in an organisation.
  • Project management brings people together and resolves conflicts. PMs bring together cross-functional teams., experts and analysts – assembling the advances of change.
  • They know, understand and can apply the methodologies that your project needs.
  • Neutralising previously toxic environments and relationships.
  • Leave a mark, leave a legacy of change and how a change organisation can be built and a culture of continuous improvement

The PMI describes the essentials and fundamental qualities that professional project managers bring to a project.

The Link between Change Management & Project Management

Exploring the link between Change Management and Project Management

The confluence of and the link between Change Management and Project Management is an evergreen source of queries and requests for clarification. 

What’s the link and relationship between change management and project management? Is it to do with differences in methodologies, tools and skills? Is there a project management approach to change or a change management approach to project management? My personal favourite, which I will explore in another post, where does business transition fit in? 

I receive myriad versions of this basic question, whether they are different and how you might characterise these differences. What is interesting is that sometimes, even people in the PM field are often not completely clear about these either.

Change Delivery Methodology 

One answer is that the link between project management and change management is project management is a methodology that enables the crucial dimensions of change deliverables to be S.M.A.R.T, tracked and monitored. It allows the change objectives to be broken down into workstreams and the risks around realising to be managed, but project management does not by itself fully manage change. It can be said to manage the mechanics of change delivery but there are overarching change management protocols that projects in their traditional guise and focus on budget, time and quality may be limited in realising. Change Management is a fuller discipline that ensures focus on the people and organisational considerations. The processes are not disparate or separate, they exist on a continuum and can flow into each other to follow solve the whole of the problem the change architecture is convened to resolve. It’s worth bearing in mind that the relationship between change and project management is symbiotic, but the definitive factor is the extent of the impact of change on people, their work and their wellbeing.

Therefore, to the overarching question of the difference between Change Management and Project Management, the brief answer should be that Project Management is how you plan, resource and deliver change. However it is not that simple as Change Management and Project Management are treated as quite distinct disciplines with project management focusing on the budget, time and resourcing, risks and issues. Although there is a lot of emphasis on stakeholder management within project management, it is easy to denude the process of a fundamental change management element: managing people through the change cycle. In its entirety, change deals with the psychologies, positioning,perception, commitment to and equipping of people to make change truly sing and stick. It deals with strategies for making modifications with agreement.

Many project managers have not always understood that they are in the business of managing change from the perspective of what means for the people involved, and in fairness, are not always accorded the freedom and bandwidth to have this focus. I have experienced, for example, projects, with no business transition function. One of the first roles I was headhunted for was to build and institute that function, having successfully done it elsewhere. Change Management is concerned with people who must live with the change, who will be impacted by it, whose days and quality of life are defined not just by what is delivered and by their ability to use and get value out of it, but also by how they are engaged with and participate in that change.

The conflience of change management and project management


The People Protocol – The key link between Project and Change Management

It can be said, then, that People Agenda lives at intersection, people considerations abound in the confluence between change management and project management. These considerations successfully conclude the change management or transformation exercise. Indeed the process of change delivery will significantly and enduringly colour the perspective that people have of the ultimate solution.

Simply put, people make change happen and they define how successful its adoption will be. This has implications for cutover, incident management, rollback and continued use of legacy systems the transformation was supposed to demise. Very often, organisations hang on to software and systems no longer being supported, despite migrating to newer solutions because people trust and depend upon them, and do not want to let go of old tools, either because they are psychological crutches or because they never learned to use and trust the new solution. More frequently, it is because there is a functional gap in the solution delivered. As a change manager, this should represent a heartbreaking outcome because it is ultimately a failure. If that happens, we need to wear it folks, and it is not a good look. 

Functional gaps can be exposed early in the process through various feedback and testing (verification and validation) loops which should exist in a robust project management framework. This only really works, though, where there is a clear and proactive stakeholder management. This means engaging with and getting strong and in-depth participation from beginning to end, and not just at user testing or acceptance phase. That can become a nonsense if they are not involved from the outset. 

What makes a change management process is the consideration of the impact of the change, understanding the degrees to which each category of user is impacted and having a plan to manage it.

The Integration of Change Management and Project Management Delivers

We deliver change through a change project or programme of works and manage it though project or programme management. Change management is about finding the best way to guide your organisation through putting the organisation  into the best state to predispose it to drive and realise value through its activities. 

Critical Success Factors like programme governance,change  communications and business transition cannot be minimised of course in the delivery of successful change, however, these factors only highlight the importance and support of the people dimension, and its necessity to the process.

When you are facing a transformation that will require a change to people and their roles and fundamental shifts within the organisation, an integrated approach is undoubtedly what is needed but equal weight, not just lip service must be paid to the people side of change. Integration moves past the link and creates a holistic practice that will leave your organisation in a state far superior to what you started out with. The PMI explains this integration here.

#1 Answer to What is Change Management

Cherry on the Top* Change Management:

A recipe** for success, a method for perfection

*Full disclosure – I love change management but I also love cakes and cocktails and making them, so **food features a lot in my posts because I prefer pretty pics of food to ‘officey’ ones, especially as I do indulge in food analogies for change management activities and initiatives.


Change Management is like making a cake – results can be variable in both, so success in your change management initiatives really rely on good practice and good change management. Having all the right ingredients but using them incorrectly, in the wrong quantities or adding or mixing them in the wrong order, could mean you end up with a shonky outcome. It may or may not taste ok but it certainly will not be what you set out to achieve. Some processes are more important than others and some tools are indispensable, just as in managing change. Some practices can all but guarantee success in change – like measuring or using the right baking heat can in baking. I call these key success factors.

Some large programs require making several different cakes that all need to be perfect for the whole to be right. If you think of these cakes as individual benefits the program delivers then it is easier to live with the analogy. And so, some cakes must be made before others are and some are made differently and with different processes to other cakes. Some are simpler than others and different skills are needed – whipping, sculpting in some, while not all are necessary for others. But we still get cake. Yay! So you’ll get change, but will it be palatable, tolerable and bear any resemblance to the vision and business case? Will it have been good change management?

Why Change Management?

The transformative power of good change management is a big part of why I love this discipline, as well as the interdependent nature of the transformation with how your brand is perceived.  

What is Change Management?

I am often asked, ‘What is Change Management?’. When I haven’t answered, ‘it’s like cake, obviously’, I have been known to answer, that it’s, ‘trying to manage the things that people resist most in their working lives, mitigate their resistance and responses to trying to manage all of it’. It’s not definitive, but it’s instructive. 

Nobody likes change. Well, very few people anyway. They like even less formulating a response to it. They hate having to implement the change especially if it feels imposed, even if they understand the case for it, especially if the impact of the change relative to the benefits personally isn’t a net positive. It’s not a pithy statement, but it is really what change management is. Drop me a line with your pithy statement on what good change management is! Hopefully, it stands to reason that good change management is about managing these responses and avoiding these pitfalls.

Let’s check out some formal and succinct definitions about what change management is. I love this one from Smarp, simply because the definition includes both the concepts of business transformation and business transition which many don’t. Now Business Transition is my thing, my passion. Good change management doesn’t get done without business transition.

Change management is a systematic approach that includes dealing with the transition or transformation of organizational goals, core values, processes or technologies.

I add the following qualifiers and determiners:

  • that change management employs a proven canon of tools, structures, methodologies and an ethos that helps to ensure that the desired outcome is in fact delivered.
  • that good change management, distinct from the project management process, is focused on the management and modification of the behaviour of people whilst undergoing change, with methods to do this in a way that does not demoralise or alienate your people (staff, stakeholders, suppliers, even your customers). 
  • Change management is the ultimate people management exercise. People participation and compliance is the single biggest arbiter of the success and rate of progress on your project. Change management projects are contrived, artificially high pressure, constant flux situations over sustained periods of time. Good change management projects reduce the burden of anxiety and uncertainty on people, making stakeholder management and business transition a priority.

Smarp nails this again

The purpose of every change management initiative is to successfully implement strategies and methods for effecting change and helping people to accept and adapt to change.


Why does Change Management Matter?

The majority of people don’t like change and they resist with all their might. If they could they would bite you to resist it. Seriously. They see it as threatening, displacing even replacing and sadly, in many cases, it does. Transformation very often leaves nothing untouched. That is literally the meaning of transformation. So when people don’t like change, it creates fear and worry but what if you could make change initiatives something most people could run to and relish, and if not exactly that, what if you could take most of the sting of the fear and distress out of it? Well then, positive emotions can prevail, there can be better participation, greater engagement and collaboration in your business’ change management activities. That is the purpose of change management. Good change management tries to makes that happen.

Why and When does the Need Arise?

*Disclaimer: Reminder of full disclosure above, specifically regarding cocktails.

Ok, so what makes businesses undertake change management?

Amongst other pressures, stress and distress. The business is strained, capabilities are stretched, profits are reduced, reputation is suffering, people are leaving, the systems aren’t fit for purpose and the business faces high risks of these things happening. The competition is riding high and pushing forward based on their transformation and action can’t be postponed.

This is more of a cocktail situation, and not just because of the stress but because timing and matching the right (flavour/type of !)tools to the right problems play a huge part. Plus, having just added the words ‘stress’ and ‘distress’ to the conversation, the thought of a cocktail is refreshing, no? 


Good change management is like a great cocktail for when the need for change management arises

Seriously, with how much change is happening all the time, and the crises that propel ever greater need for change, there aren’t many businesses that can avoid change management of some stripe or other. It is needed now to stay competitive, effective, efficient, relatable, relevant and survive and thrive. 

Examples of situations that make companies undertake change management initiatives and business transformation are:

  • A need for new tech, systems or platforms may mean you need to change a bunch of processes. 
  • A need to provide data to a supplier, a regulator and customers,  all with different structures for that may necessitate a new operating model, and new roles and responsibilities for data validation, structures, standards and security. 
  • Huge amounts of data that need transformation and load for use in new platforms but which have a high volume and variety will need a big data transformation with changes to other systems. This will give rise to all kinds of integrations and functional changes you may not have not envisaged. 
  • A need for a new collaboration tool that is both internal or external, to change the frequency of your reports and your ability to respond to enquiries in a much shorter space of time than before that requires an enormous crunching and consolidation of data from a thousand sources but currently have no systems and processes to do that? 
  • If you’ve had a huge internal or even external crisis but has had a massive impact across your business and the business model needs to change?
  • A need to standardise a core process across all of your organisation in different locations. 

It can be tough but it needn’t be insurmountable, awful or wasteful. Your ambition should be to ensure that when you decide to jump in, you aim to have a good change management process, that focuses on taking your people along with you – 

Nobody likes change. 

They like even less formulating a response to it. 

They hate having to implement the change especially if it feels imposed upon them….