Change Management: Why You Need the Right Process for Process Change
Tom Stimson
November 18, 2022
A man in a suit points to an icon labeled “change management.”

Change is hard. And so is managing change.

Two big pitfalls often sabotage change management:

  1. Trying to change everything at once, which doesn’t work.
  2. Becoming overwhelmed by the problem, so nothing gets done.

I’ve found that what really helps my clients work through change management successfully is getting them used to the right process for process change.

Normally, when they hear a complaint like, “We don’t have enough project managers,” they’re either overwhelmed by the underlying complexity of the problem or so fearful that they might fail that they miss the obvious task in front of them.

So what’s the alternative?

The key to implementing process change successfully is to understand the differences between tasks, projects, and initiatives.

Tasks, Projects, and Initiatives

Though there are others, one of the most obvious differences between tasks, projects, and initiatives is the amount of time each requires.

Task: A task is the smallest thing you can do. It’s a completable activity that only requires mere hours or even minutes of your time.

Project: A project is a series of tasks requiring research and management to work well together. You have to string together and connect your efforts for a project. The completion of one task may help define the next task. Projects can take weeks to accomplish.

Initiative: An initiative involves steady pressure over an extended period of time to support projects and tasks with the ultimate goal of one day accomplishing a major change. Initiatives are much more of a mindset shift and can last months or even years. In fact, they may never end.

Where Tasks, Projects, and Initiatives Apply

I’ve chosen the following three problems because they’re common across our industry — they come up almost weekly among my clients. Let’s look at where you can apply tasks, projects, or initiatives to facilitate positive change.

Infographic: ISL - 11/21

1. Not Enough Project Managers

This problem can be solved at the task level. Rather than thinking, “Okay, I have to hire another PM,” you can start with a simple, completable task — posting the job opening. You can’t hire a new PM until the job is posted.

Alternatively, maybe the problem isn’t a shortage of people but an inflation of the PM role. In that case, you have a different task — redefine the job description of the PMs you already have. Redefining the job description can free up capacity for your existing PMs by narrowing their scope of work. This is a task that supports an initiative.

You can further narrow a PM’s job by redistributing similar or repetitive tasks to a shared resource. Take away tasks that every job needs and move them to anchor positions. For example, administrative workers are cheaper than PMs and better suited for tasks that require purchase orders and transparent communication. This is a project.

2. Takes Too Long to Write a Budget

The solution to this problem is going to be a project because it will require a series of tasks. But it shouldn’t take forever — maybe a week or less.

You’ll need a project leader, a deadline you stick to, and a small team to carry out the project. The team might select 10 typical projects, strip out the custom elements, and save the more generic versions as templates in your quoting system. These are tasks.

The team uses one meeting to pick out the sample jobs, divides the orders amongst themselves to standardize (un-customize) them, and then meets again to review and edit each order. They name the templates and roll them out to the rest of the company. These are two more tasks to complete the project.

Now, EVERY new order must begin with one of these new templates, or start from scratch with a fully custom order.

It’s important to remember, though, that a project will be an iterative process. It’s not one-and-done, like a task.

So once your project is rolled out, it may generate more projects or tasks. Collecting feedback and meeting again in a month to consolidate changes is an important part of a project.

3. Shortage of Freelance Workers

This one is a classic. Who doesn’t want to build a deeper bench?

Solving a shortage of freelance workers qualifies as an initiative for two reasons:

  1. It requires a mindset shift.
  2. It requires a series of projects to provide support for the new processes.
  3. You’ll need a lot of time to be able to look back and say you’ve achieved success.

As a starting place, you might ask each PM to take responsibility for finding new talent. If you simplified their job description, as in the task example, they can use that extra time to recruit and interview freelancers to deepen your bench.

Have PMs immediately book new talent on upcoming jobs. If each PM books one new person on every show they manage, your labor pool grows. Your ongoing problem now takes care of itself.

Of course, it’s also important to develop a feedback loop to evaluate new freelancers so they can be assigned jobs to succeed and so you end up with a continual renewal process. Who will do that project?

You may not know all the tasks and projects you’re going to take on in an initiative, but each one reveals the need for the next. This makes the initiative even more of an iterative process than the project.

Deepening your bench is a great example of an initiative that doesn’t end — because you always need more freelancers.

Key Takeaway

When should you see satisfying results from each of these levels of change?

If it’s a task, you should see results almost immediately. It’s simple. You just need to get started so you can be done.

e.g.: Hiring a new project manager will help fuel the project of redefining the PM role.

For a project, you should see satisfying results in a week or two.

e.g.: Shifting responsibilities away from PMs will allow them more time to better define their process.

In an initiative, you should have ongoing satisfaction because every milestone, every effort, and every new project within that initiative is going to bring satisfaction with it.

e.g.: The long-term benefit of the new project management system is that it will free up capacity to help with the initiative to build up your freelance bench.

This is change management in a nutshell. Differentiating among tasks, projects, and initiatives can help a great deal in alleviating the sometimes paralyzing anxiety that arises when you think you have to change everything at once.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.