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How to guide a project involving huge change

In general, an enterprise is built around the expected, and whilst this doesn’t ignore the possibility of change it is more likely that this will be viewed as something that is constant and incremental in nature. Unfortunately, change isn’t always a constant and even the very notion of change is something that is continually changing. The speed with which change is increasing and the number of ways in which huge changes is occurring are on the rise and this means that there are outcomes that are even harder to predict.

Those project leaders who follow a more traditional response to changes – for example through looking for the next version of a product as a way of helping them regain their place in the market, or by waiting until the next cycle of planning in order to develop a new and more strategic approach, can find themselves incredibly far behind with very little hope of being able to catch up.

Attempting to anticipate and then respond to any new change means that project leaders must be ready to move. They must tread a new and at times difficult path when it comes to preparing and then inspiring their project team to move away from that which they are used to.

For a traditional organisation, when it comes to those things they don’t do often, they can encounter issues handling this. They may have relatively few members of their more senior leadership team who have the experience that is necessary when it comes to knowing how to handle these types of changes. Many of the more traditional approaches to the development of risk management plans are creating techniques that are backward looking as you will discover on any training course for PM’s. However, it is essential to remember that the project will be taking place in the future and not in the past.

What constitutes huge change?

Huge change is any change which either as a result of its significance or scale, can result in all or virtually all of the goals of a project or its planning assumptions to become invalid.

The source of these types of huge change are limitless. They might result from external, random, events such as natural disasters, or they may come about because of actions that have been carefully planned by the leaders of an organisation. There are a number of difference huge changes that may affect projects:

  • Force Majeure – a term used for those events that are uncontrollable or unexpected. These include natural disasters, changes in climate or weather and things like civil unrest or war.
  • Reorganisation – this can occur within the project itself and result in sponsors being removed from a project, a change in the goals that make up the foundation of the project or even the sudden unavailability of promised resources.
  • Merger and Acquisition – when 2 companies merge there can be huge changes that occur. This can cause concerns amongst those who work there as some assets may no longer be needed. This uncertainty can cause stress and lead to a drop in productivity. It can often take months for these changes to completely resolve themselves.
  • Downsizing – Often used to manage short term financial issues, this might mean a reduction in the number of employees, smaller facilities or reduced product lines. This can lead to concerns amongst employees which may have an impact on their productivity levels.

Outsourcing – similar to downsizing, this huge change means that jobs are eliminated internally and given to an outside vendor who then completes them before ending their “contract” with the company. In this way they are not permanently on the payroll and can reduce employee costs. This can however be a nightmare for the project manager and may cause animosity.

Include huge changes in your risk management

In order to guide any project where there is huge change it is important to ensure that you include some provision for these types of changes in your risk management plan. You don’t need to plan for every type of huge change, but rather those that there is a greater likelihood. This is something that is covered in all risk management plans, and you would learn about during training for project managers.

The impact that these huge changes have on a project are more likely to be an issue during a longer, more complicated project than during a project of shorter duration. This means that you need to consider those things that touch the environment around your project and not just the project itself. Change is inevitable and there is a good chance that huge change will occur and this means that a risk management plan should include source probability and impact for change and that this should be regularly updated.

Things to consider in your risk response

There are a number of things that you will want to include in your plan that will help you guide your project through a huge change:

  • Get a quick start – with significant time constraints involved, you will need to get started as soon as the change occurs.
  • Look around – not all of your ideas for dealing with change need to come from the field of project management. You may find techniques from elsewhere that will work better for you.
  • Be ready for what follows – the first wave of your huge change may not be the last. Ripple effects mean that there may be more to follow so be prepared for this as well
  • Be optimistic but be realistic – Huge change presents both threats and opportunities. Plan for all eventualities because some types of huge change like mergers do not always go as planned.

Begin your planning by taking a look at the goals and risks of the project. Discuss everything with those who are involved in the project on a stakeholder basis. Do the changes mean that it is still worth the resources to gain the objectives of the project. In some cases, it may be that the project does not carry the same value as it did. When this occurs, you will need to consider the value of project shutdown.

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