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Support Organizational Change: A Complete Guide to What You Need to Know

Support Organizational Change: A Complete Guide to What You Need to Know

One of the primary roles of Project Management is to support organizational change. This may seem like a niche role. Especially if your background is in IT development or construction project management. But organizational change is a big component of our work for two reasons:

  1. A lot of Project Managers are employed to carry out organizational projects, where supporting organizational change is a big part of the project brief. Examples include;
    1. Process improvement
    2. Systems implementation
    3. Regulatory compliance
  2. Your project may be about creating new software or building a new warehouse. But think why your sponsoring organization commissioned your project…
    It wants the benefits that arise from these new assets. And to realize those benefits, the organization will need to change. It may have to change some or all of its:
    1. Processes
    2. Behaviors
    3. Attitudes
    4. Culture

Supporting Organizational Change is Important

I hope you can start to see how important supporting organizational change is to our role as Project Manager. Whatever products or deliverables we create, the sponsoring organization will get no benefit or value from them, unless it puts them to good use. And that relies on behaviors and attitudes. And that’s the domain of Organizational Change Management.

Organizational Change and the PMP Exam

So, your project needs to support organizational change. That’s something PMI has come to realize is an important part of the training of a professional Project Manager.

In its recent update to its premier qualification, The PMP Certification, PMP has made big changes to the exam syllabus. And now, supporting organizational change features in the 2021 Examination Content Outline, with three enablers:

  • Domain III: Business Environment
    • Task 4: Support Organizational Change
      • Assess organizational culture
      • Evaluate impact of organizational change to project and determine required actions
      • Evaluate impact of the project to the organization and determine required actions

PMI Project Management Professional Examination Content Outline, January 2021

Support Organizational Change: A Complete Guide to What You Need to Know

Contents of this Article

So, as we usually do, we will tackle this topic in a broad way. But we will also relate our content directly to the PMI’s syllabus, to help candidates for the PMP Exam. We will cover:

  1. Elements of Organizational Culture
    Assess organizational culture
    1. What are the Elements of Organizational Culture?
    2. The Relationship between Organization Culture and Projects
    3. Key PMI Jargon
    4. Examples of Organizational Structures
    5. PMO as a Component of the Organizational Structure
  2. Managing Organizational Change: Implications for Your Project
    Evaluate impact of organizational change to project and determine required actions
    1. What is Organizational Change?
    2. Rolling-out Organizational Change: The Progression Plan
    3. Understanding Change Management: The Soft Side of Supporting Organizational Change
    4. Project Benefits Management: Harnessing the Value of Organizational Change
  3. Updates and Adaptability: Incrementalism and Iteration in your Change Management Plan
    Evaluate impact of the project to the organization and determine required actions
    1. Change Control

Right… Let’s get started.

Elements of Organizational Culture

PMI PMP ECO Enabler: ‘Assess organizational culture

Organizational culture is a big topic. It’s one that Project Managers need to understand, but is itself not a part of Project Management. So, we have covered it in our sister YouTube channel, Management Courses.

There, we have a whole course on Organizations and Organizational Culture. What PMI seems to mean by organizational culture is a mixture of what we describe in the course as:

  • Organizational Models, and
  • Organizational Culture

Here is the first video in the course:

As it grows, this course will contain modules on:

  1. Introduction to Organizations
  2. Organizational Models (structures)
  3. Power in Organizations
  4. Organizational Culture (the soft side)
  5. Master of Organizations

So do check it out. This course is entirely FREE and rolling out throughout the first half of 2021.

What are the Elements of Organizational Culture?

The easiest way to think of organizational culture is as ‘the way we do things around here’. And that divides into two parts:

  1. The Formal Elements of Organizational Culture
    Practices that are mandated by the organization – and therefore often set down in writing
  2. The Informal Elements of Organizational Culture
    Practices that emerge that the organization may encourage or not – according to the preferences of its leadership

The Formal Elements of Organizational Culture

These include elements of the organizational structure:

  • Structures, hierarchy, reporting lines, spans of authority
  • Organizational values – we often see these as posters on the walls, and on websites
  • Mission and vision statements often feed into organizational culture
  • Rules, policies, procedures
  • Codes of conduct and expectations
  • The Operating Model
  • Business practices like procurement and recruitment may be formal, where established by procedures
  • Governance procedures should be formally documented; things like: risk tolerance, quality management

The Informal Elements of Organizational Culture

  • Shared values, beliefs, expectations that employees have (and which may or may not match the formal organizational values)
  • Performance expectations
  • Business practices like procurement and recruitment may be informal, where dictated by the management and team responsible, and how they like to work
  • Governance procedures and expectations sometimes go undocumented and are driven by leadership approaches, like risk tolerance and reporting

The Relationship between Organization Culture and Projects

There are many ways that organizational culture will affect the projects you do. The first – and most obvious – is in which projects will get support.

Impacts on portfolio management and project selection

Some organizational cultures will create a high-governance environment, where projects and programs are launched in a very deliberate manner.

Other organizations will take a far more informal approach – sometimes even launching projects on the whim of an individual manager. In an entrepreneurial start-up, you can look at the whole organzational structure as a project or a series of projects. Rather than supporting organizational change, they are creating the organization!

Relationship between projects and operations

A big cultural impact on your day-too-day work as a Project Manager can be how how you interact with the operational managers and teams whom your project’s deliverables will serve.. Examples of the sorts of relationships you may see are:

  • Arms-length – two teams work apart with very little interaction until a formal end-of-project handover
  • Formal integration – with processes and procedures for consultation and handover
  • Tight integration – two teams working together
  • Full integration – the operational team undertakes the project, which is led by an operational manager acting as PM

Resource availability 

This aspect may be closely linked to the relationship between your project and the operational team. But this is about how the organization goes about identifying and making available resources to support its projects. Again, there is a spectrum of possibilities:

  • Formal resource management identifies projects’ needs and matches up resources with formal allocation
  • Informal resource allocation by supportive senior leaders, who set clear priorities for team members to allocate a part or all of their time to projects
  • Grudging allocation of resources without clear guidance on project versus operational priorities
  • Project managers have to fight for and cajole resources to join their project with no certainty of long-term commitment

Do take a look at our paired articles:

…and our video, What is Resource Levelling?

Project processes and methodologies

Here is a big topic for us: what methodologies and project approaches are used and preferred within the organization?

Some organizations have gone full-on Agile and use agile methods for everything. And they may or may not have a single preferred methodology, such as Scrum or Scaled Agile.

Others still only use traditional, predictive project management. Of these, a small proportion may have made a conscious and informed decision thatches is right for their business. Many others will simply be locked into a past , with a culture of ‘that is how we have always done things’.

And, of course, in between are organizations with a mix of flexibility of approach, with access to a mix of traditional, agile, and hybrid methods at the disposal of their project teams.

Risk tolerance

ome organizations are prepared to accept high levels of risk, to support organizational change that they see as necessary. Others are, often rightly, more risk averse. Compare for example:

  1. a tech giant responding to new technology that is allowing insurgent start-ups to compete aggressively for its customer base, with
  2. a small local government organization with tight budgets, that serves a traditional-minded community

Do take a look at our video, What is Risk Tolerance?

Handover processes

This again links closely to the relationship that forms between your project and your operational colleagues. How do you handover your project’s deliverables to the new beneficial owners? And how do you stay engaged to support organizational change that results, and the benefits that you projected?

We’ll say more about Project benefits Management and Benefits Realization below. And you may want to take a look at our video, What is Project Handover? For a fuller account, we also have our Ultimate Project Handover Guide: What You Need to Know.

Key PMI Jargon

You’ll find formal definitions in the Glossary to the PMBOK Guide 6th edition.

OPAs: Organizational Process Assets

The documentation an organization uses to record its processes, plans, knowledge, and policies.

EEFs: Enterprise Environmental Factors

Factors within the wider organization that a project team cannot control, yet which can affect their project or program. We often document these as Constraints and Dependencies. See our article: Are You Making Proper Use of Dependencies and Constraints?

Examples of Organizational Structures

Our sister channel’s video course on Organizations offers videos about a wide range of Organizational Structures. I recommend you review a few of these. Particularly relevant would be:

However, as far as Project Management is concerned, we often focus on the way the organization is structured with reference to its projects. And there many structures that can help us support organizational change. These are in addition to a simple structure for which project management is somewhat alien; an exceptional and unfamiliar activity.

Table 2-1 of the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition has a full range of alternatives. But they are variations on or composites of three principal types of structure

Functional Organizational Structure

The organization’s functional structure dominates, meaning projects sit within the functions and are owned/sponsored by functional leaders. Therefore Project managers need to negotiate to secure additional resources with skills that fall within other functional disciplines.

Matrix Organizational Structure

This refers to a range of more or less complex organizational structures where managers and teams sit at intersections of organizational groupings like function, region, brand, market. Projects usually address one dimension in particular, but the matrix nature of the organization makes it easier to secure resources. However, the complexity can leave the PM with uncertain and even conflicting reporting lines.

Projectized Organizational Structure

In organizations like this, projects atre the primary way the organization is managed and projects support organizational change constantly.

As a result, Project Managers are important business leaders, with a lot of authority to request – and expect – the resources they need. Team members are often allocated full-time to the project and projects enjoy the budgets they need, allocated through proper project prioritisation and portfolio management.

PMO as a Component of the Organizational Structure

Increasingly, many organizations have PMOs – sometimes at different levels and certainly with varying responsibilities and resources to support projects and their teams. PMOs are small organizations themselves. So, they also have a culture and structure of their own!

We have a number of articles about PMOs, with more to come:

Managing Organizational Change: Implications for Your Project

PMI PMP ECO Enabler: ‘Evaluate impact of organizational change to project and determine required actions’

Organizational Change Management is at the other end of a spectrum from Project Management. Take a look at this short video:

What is Organizational Change?

And, if you don’t know what we mean by the term, ‘Change Management’, here’s another short video that spells it out:

We have a lot of resources on Change Management (as you’d expect, I hope). These include a full video course. I’ll list them in a box, below.

Rolling-out Organizational Change: The Progression Plan

In our course on Managing and Leading Change, we use the idea of a Progression Plan to move people from one stage of the change cycle to the next. It has 4 phases:

  1. Create recognition of the need for change
  2. Encourage dialogue
  3. Make the case for the change
  4. Help people make their commitment to the change

In building your roll-out plan to support organisational change, you will include all of the usual things. But it will often be built around your communication program. So, include things like:

  • Resources – people and materials
  • Stakeholders – users, customers, suppliers, partners
  • Scheduling
  • Communications – messages, media, and schedule
  • Pilots, prototypes, demos – nothing builds confidence better than a goo prototype or demo. And, if something is going to go wrong, the best time for it to do so is in a pilot. These are great ways to get feedback and encourage support for the organizational change.
  • Training and guidance – you will often need a stand-alone training plan
  • Support for users before, during, and after the change

Understanding Change Management: The Soft Side of Supporting Organizational Change

Here is a list of all of our resources that will help you understand Change Management.



Our Course: Managing and Leading Change

Managing and Leading Change

A Practical Introduction to Change Management
for Project Managers and Change Leaders.

Change is Predictable. You can anticipate how people will respond, and what you need to do to engage them positively. You can plan, prepare, and handle the resistance that will certainly come. To help you, we have practical tools and models.

Project Benefits Management: Harnessing the Value of Organizational Change

Here is a list of all of our resources that will help you understand Project Benefits Management.



Our Course: Project Benefits Management

Project Benefits Management

Learn Project Benefits Management Step-by-Step

Our organizations and clients are investing a lot in their projects. So, they will be right to expect us to realize the benefits that those projects promise. And it’s time for us for focus on Project Benefits Management and Benefits Realization.

Updates and Adaptability: Incrementalism and Iteration in your Change Management Plan

PMI PMP ECO Enabler: ‘Evaluate impact of the project to the organization and determine required actions’

If any aspect of Project management demands an adaptable, agile approach, it’s the part where we support organizational change. You can never expect people to think and behave the way you expect them to! So you need to be prepared to adapt your plan to new information.

Change Control

If your project is a formal one that follows a more traditional approach, this means Change Control – a means to stay in control of changing requirements and solutions to issues.

If you are not familiar with how this works, do take a look at or feature article, All You Need to Know about Project Change Control.

If you are taking an agile or hybrid approach, regular reviews and changes will be baked into your process.

Either way you need a mechanism to review the progress and effectiveness of your plan. What changes do you need to make to:

  • Your training/learning program. Often, knowledge transfer will be vital in preparing people for the changes you are implementing – and fr giving them confidence in you, the changes, and themselves.
  • Attitudes and behaviors
  • Roles and responsibilities of team members and stakeholders, to accommodate new priorities
  • Scheduling
  • Budgets and resource availability
  • Communication – this is going to be a key part of your plan. So, if in doubt:
    1. Give more information
    2. Spend more time listening

Please Share Your Experiences of Projects that Support Organizational Change

We love to hear tips, questions, and insights from our community. And I will respond to every comment.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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