Change Management Virtually

During the PMXPO, another common question that I was asked both during and after the conference was around how to handle and manage Change with virtual teams / virtual environments. This can really be a different to manage and one thing to definitely consider when you are starting or working with virtual teams. Let’s take a step back!

What is Change Management?

Change Management is focused around managing and supporting the people who are impacted by a change. By doing effective Change Management you are enabling them to engage, adopt and use the change moving forward. If you do not do adequate Change Management, this can cause massive disruption and even project failure. In Project Management, we do Change Management to support the organisation in the adoption of this new project and to enable the project to be a success. Change Management can be done in many forms and which one will depend entirely on the project, organisation and change that needs to be managed.

When should Change Management begin?

I am a strong believer in starting Change Management in the planning stage of the project. I have worked in several organisations where Change Management / user adoption starts initially in the requirements gathering stage to be able to show people what is going to be delivered, how it is going to look and training “change champions” who will take this knowledge back to the organisation.

If you start Change Management too late, it will not be sufficient and may take more effort than if you planned it initially to begin with.

What does Change Management look like?

Below are a few examples of the type of Change Management that you can do in your projects.

Workshops / Training:

Workshops and trainings can be really useful for sharing knowledge and onboarding people onto the project / bring them up to speed on what is being delivered. This can be done at various stages of the project but will involve a time commitment to prepare, deliver and follow up on.

Information/ Presentation Updates

I have seen this be a very useful way of engaging and bringing your wider organisation up to speed on the status of the project. This form of Change Management is great for those wider indirect Team members that you would identify at the start of your project.

Demos

Demo is a great way to show the final product (as well as interim updates) to an organisation. It can show them:

  • What is going to be delivered
  • How the product will work
  • What they’ll need to do in it (e.g. changing processes)

How to work out your Change Management Strategy:

There are a lot of fabulous trainings available on how to create, identify and manage change management. Coming in as a consultant to many projects, I rely on the client Project Manager to help me understand the following:

  • How the organisation works
  • How Change is typically managed (both good and bad!)
  • What Change Management could look like (tools, formats etc.)

Once I have a clear view of this, I’m able to come up with a good Change Management plan based on what we are going to deliver and focusing on any particular ‘difficult areas’ identified by the Team/ Project Team. After this has been done, I look at what needs to be achieved with Change Management, How we can make sure that this works / is fit for purpose and then look at the timing that this should take place at within the wider Project Management Plan.

You should consider the following timing considerations:

  • What else is going on at that time? Would it fit best with the project plan/status?
  • Is there sufficient time/energy to deliver it at this time? (e.g. not during an intensive testing or development period)
  • Are resources available? (e.g. avoid doing major status updates when a lot of people are on holiday).

What’s different about managing change virtually?

Everything mentioned so far, will apply to how your manage change in virtual teams but you will also have the added complexity of not being in the room physically to ‘sense’ how the presentation/demo is going. To be able to try and support effective change management, I suggest the following:

  • Add in more pauses, time for questions during demos and Q&As. Encourage people to ask questions
  • Add in ‘open hours’ in the immediate time after a presentation has been delivered so that people can ask questions freely
  • Keep your ‘ear to the ground’ and see what is being said in the rumour mill/ virtual coffee machine about the project after each session and if this is good/bad/indifferent. In a virtual world, this can be really difficult so I try to make contact with some key stakeholders/ influencers in the organisation and ask them to keep me informed / if there are any issues. This currently has a 100% success rate.

As a Project Manager, utilising these steps can really make a big difference to the success of my projects.

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