Change Models in Project Management | Velopi

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Project management is based on a lot of tried and proven tools and techniques. However, as time passes, new tools and techniques come into the profession and, if they are effective, they replace what went before. This explains why the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK© Guide) is now in its sixth edition.

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Understanding Change Management: Lewin’s Three-Stage Model

But a perennial problem for training companies, like Velopi, is making sure that we present the latest and best recognized thinking on the subject. For instance, in our Stakeholder Management course, we devote part of the course to change management. For anyone who has dealt with stakeholders, change is something that needs to be carefully introduced and the affected parties have to be guided away from the status quo towards the new position and got to adopt the new way of doing things fully.

Introducing Kotter’s Eight-Stage Change Model

To explain this, we have been using Kurt Lewin’s change model which involves three major steps. The first is to “unfreeze” the stakeholders from their current position. This involves creating what is called “survival anxiety”. Stakeholders need to appreciate that they can no longer continue the way they have been going. But being the sole bearer of this news is not going to convince too many people, so it is important to convert a few key stakeholders to the change and make them evangelists for the cause. People are more convinced when they get the same message from a variety of sources.
To get people to make a change, they need to see a vision of the future where things are better. So anyone initiating a change – and let’s face it, projects are the agents for change – needs to paint a picture of the transition where people not only see the benefits of the new position but appreciate that staying put is really not an option. To be effective though, that vision needs to be communicated to all the stakeholders.
Step Two is making the change. First off, the people involved need to be empowered to make the change. A barrier to change adoption is a condition called “learning anxiety”. We all suffer from this. If I’m an expert in a particular process, I will be reluctant to give up my status to become a novice at the new process. So training and time to get up to speed are vital.

Comparing Lewin and Kotter: Overlapping Change Stages

Another aspect of making the change is, if possible, to divide the journey into a series of milestones, where the stakeholders can see genuine progress and are able to take heart from this. The important thing is to consolidate the change with every step.
Finally, we need to institutionalize the change. This is what Lewin calls “refreezing” and is the third and final step on the journey. There is a tendency among stakeholders to revert to prior behaviour once the spotlight is taken off the change initiative. As an example, a department might adopt rigorous procedures during the course of a quality audit but will return to the old, haphazard way of doing things as soon as the auditors leave the building. Once everyone is confident in the new approach, the old methods need to be taken out of service. So, if we move from one software package to another, the old package needs to be taken off the system.

Choosing the Right Change Model

Here at Velopi, we have found Lewin’s three stage change model very effective for explaining the change management process. However, we were concerned when we encountered a new model – Kotter’s eight stage change model. Eager to keep up with the times, we investigated this and found that this eight stage model pretty much aligns with Lewin’s three stage one. Take a look at the eight stages:

  1. Create Urgency – this sounds a lot like survival anxiety
  2. Form a Powerful Coalition – make sure you are not the only one pushing the change
  3. Create a Vision for Change – be clear on what the future state looks like and how it will, ultimately, benefit the stakeholders
  4. Communicate the Vision – it is not much use having a clear picture in your mind. This needs to be imparted to the stakeholders.
  5. Remove Obstacles – this involves dealing with “learning anxiety”. Allow time for training and experimentation. Once people realize that they are able to do things the new way, they will be more open to the change
  6. Create Short-Term Wins – do not try to do everything in one big bang. Divide the move into milestones, each with a tangible result.
  7. Build on the Change – your vision (see stage 3) is all well and good, but now that the change is in place, you need to show how things are better. Keep reminding the stakeholders of how much easier / faster / cheaper this is. Compare past performance to current performance and keep an eye on progress until several new products have been launched, or several batches have been processed, so that everyone can see that the initial success was not a flash in the pan.
  8. Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture – this is the same principle as “refreezing”. If we want to do this sort of thing again, the new approach should come instinctively to those who do the work.

Now that we are aware of the Kotter model, we can add some more detail to our Lewin model when we explain the three steps. We can talk about the Kotter stages as follows:

  1. Unfreeze – relates to Stages 1 to 4
  2. Transition – relates to Stages 5 to 6
  3. Refreeze – relates to Stages 7 and 8

Despite all the advances, one truth remains constant: people are much more likely to absorb three items than eight. So we will stick to the Lewin model. But, if some scholar in the future can reduce the change process from three to two stages, we will be willing to investigate and use the process of updating the Stakeholder Management course to try it out.

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