Monday, August 15, 2011

How Organizational Change Impacts Projects

Heraclitus wrote, “There is nothing permanent except change.” This is especially true in business today where change is a continuous process and is needed to remain competitive. However, even though change is common practice in most organizations, for many, change is by no means a smooth process. Change can interrupt the flow of business and cause pain for stakeholders of the business. The problem is amplified for project managers and project teams who are not only the leaders of change within the organization, but are also impacted by change. Organizations that are able to recognize the impact of organization change on projects and implement strategies to reduce the impact will streamline the process and ease the pain of change for all involved.

Impact of Organizational Change on Projects

Organization change can exist in many forms. Simple upgrades to technology can cause major pain throughout an organization if the upgrades are not implemented smoothly. As the business grows or shrinks in response to market conditions, people are added or removed, given more responsibility or sometimes less, and functions are centralized and decentralized. Processes are changed to support new technology and new organizational resource structures. Changes exist to support the competitive strategy of the business and are typically implemented through projects. However, projects intended to implement organizational change also have a direct impact on project managers, project team members, and on virtual and global project teams.

Impact on project managers. For a project manager who is trying to implement a new solution, there can be nothing more frustrating than a moving target—a project environment that is in a constant state of change. Part of a project manager’s responsibility is to identify and reduce project risks. However, as changes occur throughout an organization, predicting project risks is greatly complicated. Project success is “dependent upon navigating the project through all its various uncertainties (risks) and ending up with satisfied customers” (PMI, 1992). Ultimately, the impact of organizational change on project managers is project success.

Impact on project team members. Success is important to project team members as well as project managers. However, project team members may measure success differently than project managers. A project team member may view success more from their individual contribution to the project. In other words, if they are able to complete the work that is assigned to them within the criteria that is established, they have achieved project success. However, in a continuously changing environment, especially in environments where resources are constrained, project team members are increasingly pulled in multiple directions. It can be unnerving for a project team member to manage conflicting priorities, especially when organizational changes shift priorities with little or no notice.

Impact on virtual and global project teams. “Virtual teams are driven by the lack of skilled people for the jobs that are needed” (Alexander, 2000). As projects become more global in nature, project managers are forced to assemble virtual and global project teams. Organizational change is even more difficult for project team members who work on virtual or global project teams because many of the project team members never get an opportunity to meet face-to-face with other team members. In addition, due to the shortage of skilled resources, project teams are susceptible to increased staff turnover. It can be difficult to forge relationships with people from all over the globe in this type of setting.

Strategies to Reduce Impact of Organizational Change on Projects

In order to reduce the impact of organizational changes, project managers must look for ways to make change more predictable and manageable. This can be accomplished through improved project management processes. In addition, providing project team members with the training and information they need to adjust to changes will help reduce the impact of organizational change.

Improve project management processes. In order to improve project management processes, an organization must first have project management processes; you can not improve on that which does not exist. A key component of project management processes is the discipline of change management. Organizations should develop a “codified, disciplined approach to change-management” and “apply common change methodologies across the entire organization” (Liebmann, 2001). Even the change management processes themselves should undergo change when needed to support business needs. Only when change management processes are implemented and streamlined can an organization hope to gain some control over the impact of organization change.

Improve project team development. Although project management processes are important to managing change within an organization, helping project team members develop skills to appropriately cope with continuous change is critical to the ongoing health of the organization. Project managers can help team members cope with change through preparation and skill development. If team members understand that change is inevitable and can develop the necessary life skills in order to process change in their unique way, they can reduce the impacts of organizational change. In addition, by following the processes established for change management, they will help manage change for other project teams. However, ultimately, the key to helping team members cope with continuous change is effective communication. The project manager can reduce the impacts of change considerably by ensuring project team members have as much information as is available to help them understand and prepare for the change.


Like it or not, as we continue to grow into a global marketplace, organizations will continue to change and change will probably continue to increase in frequency and complexity. A project manager who fails to understand this and learn how to counter the affects of change will struggle to deliver projects that meet customer expectations. However, by establishing processes to manage change and by helping people develop the skills necessary to cope with change, project managers can help reduce the impacts of organizational change and ultimately ease the pain of change for all involved.

What do you do to manage change in your organization? Post a comment and share your thoughts!


Alexander, S. (2000). Virtual teams going global. Retrieved September 29, 2004, from

Liebmann, L. (2001). Change management gets critical. Retrieved September 27, 2004, from

PMI. (1992). Project and Program Risk Management: A Guide to Managing Project Risks. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute.

1 comment:

  1. Thomas,

    I love the premise of this post - more and more the fluid organization has to reconcile with project managment (or vice versa), and we don't consider how difficult it is to sight a moving target. A fantastic post - I enjoyed it very much! Cheers!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.