Creating the Project Office – Part Three – making change stick

reaching nirvanaPart One is creating the conditions for change; Part Two is making the change. We are now ready to enter the final phase of the journey, the toughest part: making change stick.  If the change agent team has made it this far, some amount of time has elapsed.  The project office has no doubt changed many times, perhaps moving from a project control office, then to a project management center of excellence, and perhaps onto a strategic project office.

The organization itself has probably also changed many times, perhaps becoming more centralized, and moving to decentralized, then maybe back to centralized again.  A chief project officer may have been appointed with power equal to the chief operating officer, thereby defining a matrix diamond form of organization structure.  The CEO may have changed, perhaps several times.  Several management fads have come and gone as people have moved from zero based budgeting, been through neutron jack downsizing, tried re-engineering and maybe even a balanced approach.

If the project office team has existed through all that change and has implemented the structures and processes suggested so far, they may begin to feel that these changes have become permanent, that they have made a lasting change in the organization.  Would be that that were true.

Experience indicates a far different scenario.  Think of the organization as being like a large rubber band.  Adopting all the project management changes has caused people in the organization to twist, turn and stretch.  As long as the tension is maintained, the organization remains in the stretched position.  The moment the tension is released, the organization snaps back into its original position.

Most large organizational change processes become identified with one person or one group of people.  As long as those people remain in power in the organization, massive efforts are expended to help power the change.  Meetings are held, conferences are attended, committees are formed, announcements are made in the annual report, all done as organizational members strive to show that they support the change.  However, on the day that the lead person leaves the organization, or perhaps the change agent team falls from power, everything stops.  Meetings on the change process are no longer held.  The committees are disbanded as everyone suddenly has higher priorities.  The announcement in the annual report is forgotten.  The visitor coming to the organization the day after the lead person has left would have difficulty finding any trace of activity indicating that the change had ever been considered.  The organization snaps back that fast.

The problem of maintaining the change after the change initiators leave means looking forward to a changed state so you start building the framework to achieve it.  Apply leadership, learning, means, and motivation: not two or three of the factors but all four: to the components identified about creating an environment for successful projects.  Reach the tipping point where key people, processes, and the environment align to support the changed state. The key to success is to maintain the pressure for so long that there is no one left in the organization who remembers doing things any other way.  When that is the case, there is no former situation for the organization to snap back into, and so the new processes become organizational reality.  Good luck.

Adapted from Creating the Project Office:  a Manager’s Guide to Leading Organizational Change by Englund, Graham, and Dinsmore.
– Randy Englund,


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