The change practice portfolio: managing change in the real world

April 2015

Robert StreeterThe pace of change has never been greater. So it’s not surprising that change practice has become a serious buzzword for business. Robert Streeter, Senior Product Manager at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, explains more.

There’s a big difference between talking about change and actually doing it. To effect meaningful and beneficial change, you need the right people with the right skills in the right roles.

The evolving role of the project manager

When I look back over my 25 year career, there’s a definite shift in how the project management function aligns to the wider business. Until recently, projects were typically driven by internal departmental initiatives. Change processes were slow and cumbersome and the primary role of the project manager was to oil the wheels of process and delivery.

Today we see a very different picture. Modern change initiatives can happen internally through innovation, but are more commonly being driven by external influences on the environment that individuals and organisations operate within. And, of course, in today’s world a primary driver for change is the ever increasing pace of technology development.

It follows that, in order to stay competitive, businesses and individuals face three choices: Resist change, allow change to happen without management, or apply formal change management to handle the process. Resisting change brings the risk of becoming irrelevant to the marketplace and losing the competitive edge. Allowing change to simply ‘happen’ is equally dangerous.

Many years ago, in his book 'The Age of Unreason', Professor Charles Handy created an analogy that still stays with me. If you put a frog in a pan of hot water it will immediately jump out, as you would expect. If, though, you put the frog in a pan of cold water and gradually heat it up, the frog will not realise that things around it are changing. It will stay there and slowly cook!

This is a great (if slightly gruesome) analogy for us all. Change is happening around us, whether we want it to or not. The important thing, therefore, is to develop the ability to recognise the change, identify what is needed and respond accordingly.

This, in turn, is driving a new focus for the project professional. The project management function is becoming increasingly proactive in cooperating with senior executives and the board at a mature, strategic level.

Today’s project manager might be required to operate as a business analyst, a change practitioner, a leader, a strategic advisor or an agent of strategic transformation - or indeed all of these. That presents exciting opportunities for both the organisation and individuals in their careers, but it is not without its challenges.

Embracing and delivering change: challenges and opportunities

Within the traditional project delivery environment where the project manager acted as facilitator, administration, technical project management skills and methodology skills were always at the forefront. Now, project managers are expected to put their heads above the parapet to meet increasingly complex expectations of their role and where it sits in the business.

What’s more, technology advances such as cloud solutions are shaping a new project environment that is more externally focused, with business leaders taking a greater lead in areas such as software selection and supplier management. The challenge for project managers is how they can adapt their approaches, skills and competencies to deliver in this new scenario.

Meeting that challenge requires a much broader skills set than was needed in the past. Waterfall, for example, works well in environments where change is slower. But in a rapidly changing environment, businesses don’t necessarily have the luxury of setting out a strategy that will stay in place without change for predictable periods of time. So now the hot topic is the importance of becoming agile.

Agile as a technique is well recognised through, for example, the BCS Professional Certifications in agile that can be pursued at a foundation or practitioner level. This industry benchmark qualification recognises that true agility is not just about methodology and process. It’s also about having the personal skills set to inherently be agile - skills like stakeholder management, communication and negotiation.

These are the broader skills sets that allow project professionals to work effectively with the people and environment around them, identify what the necessary changes are, plan what needs to be done to react to those changes and, lead people to deliver accordingly.

They move the project manager from a purely technical project management level to a business, analysis, leadership and advisory role, with much more blurring of the lines between different demands on projects.

Making it happen: tools, techniques and training

Of course, it’s easy to talk about broadening skills. But support is needed to ensure that project managers can work with their employers to do just that. In response, BCS has introduced the change practice portfolio. We understand IT people and business change, and we’ve worked hard to apply that understanding to these new challenges.

In terms of businesses analysis, the right qualifications can equip individuals within the organisation to function as specialist business analysts - but there is also help for project managers who need to understand the role of business analysis and develop the skills required to identify likely changes and plan solutions.

Agile qualifications are geared up not just to individual learning but to organisational development, and of course project managers can still complement new learning by honing the traditional skills - from Prince2 to MSP. With the right tools available, everyone involved in project management can access to the learning they need to excel in their roles.

However, achieving a truly effective skills development programme in support of change management must be a sustainable, organisation-wide endeavour. This is where the UK government backed skills framework for the information age (SFIA) comes in. It provides a valuable benchmark for the skills and competencies IT professionals need to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving world.

From my perspective, it’s important that we continue to drive the marketplace in terms of creating skills frameworks for organisations, enabling them to put in place a continuous cycle of identifying and delivering training needs and skills management. If we can achieve this, every role that is involved with IT in will have a clear set of objectives and be supported by a clear training plan so that they can boost their performance in an evolving role.

The development of SFIAplus - a key component of our change practice portfolio - the entire SFIA skills framework can be broken down into its components and tackled at both an individual and an organisational level.

In terms of organisational planning, creating and supporting new roles and the like, it provides a benchmark for HR departments so that they can clearly identify what they should be focusing on when developing their people. Because it’s only that comprehensive approach to skills development at an individual, team and organisational level that will really embed the skills and tools that are needed to move forward.

So why does all of this matter?

Within the rapidly changing environment we’re dealing with these days, the business objectives are likely to evolve just as fast as external factors. If, as a project manager, you don’t keep up with those objectives, or you’re not able to respond to them with intelligent action, then a project that is viable today might no longer be relevant in three months’ time, or sometimes even next month.

It follows that if projects, their managers and their delivery teams can keep up with the business and stay fully aligned to the strategy but also stay agile to respond to changing needs and requirements, we can reduce project failure rates. Perhaps even more importantly, everything that the project management function does will be directly linked to what the customers of the business require. That, of course, is important - because meeting evolving customer requirements plays a critical role in retaining the competitive edge.

Naturally, there are barriers to delivering successful change. If the executive suite is not aware of, or committed to, the needs and requirements for change - and if communication of the associated objectives is not effective, it’s unlikely that the necessary change strategy will cascade effectively. If there is no coordinated and supported programme and governance process for change then initiatives will fall at the first hurdle.

Resources and budgets may be stretched, leaving little in the pot to allocate to change management activities. Nonetheless, businesses must make space and time to address these issues at every level. Because, ultimately, it is the organisation that is geared up to respond to what the future holds that will survive - and thrive.

There are no comments on this item

Leave Comment

Post a comment