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Change Management Learning Center - managing change library

Definition of change management

Helping others understand change
management in relation to project
management and organizational change

By Tim Creasey
Director of Research and Development
Prosci Research

- Tutorial highlights -

  • A concise view of the definition and role of change management
  • How much change management and project management do you need

Download Defining change management tutorial

Change management: the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve a required business outcome.


Providing context - the background of this definition

"What is change management?" This is a question you may have heard from colleagues or coworkers in passing or in formal presentations. While many of us 'know' intuitively what change management is, we have a hard time conveying to others what we really mean.

In thinking about how to define change management, it is important to provide context related to two other concepts - the change itself and project management. This tutorial shows how change management and project management are two critical disciplines that are applied to a variety of organizational changes to improve the likelihood of success and return on investment.


Ultimately, the goal of change is to improve the organization by altering how work is done

When you introduce a change to the organization, you are ultimately going to be impacting one or more of the following four parts of how the organization operates:

  • Processes
  • Systems
  • Organization structure
  • Job roles

While there are numerous approaches and tools that can be used to improve the organization, all of them ultimately prescribe adjustments to one or more of the four parts of the organization listed above. Change typically results as a reaction to specific problems or opportunities the organization is facing based on internal or external stimuli. While the notion of 'becoming more competitive' or 'becoming closer to the customer' or 'becoming more efficient' can be the motivation to change, at some point these goals must be transformed into the specific impacts on processes, systems, organization structures or job roles. This is the process of defining 'the change'.


Formally defining change management and project management

However, it is not enough to merely prescribe 'the change' and expect it to happen - creating change within an organization takes hard work and structure around what must actually take place to make the change happen. To begin, lets look at the formal definitions of project management and change management - two key disciplines required to bring a change to life. These are two commonly accepted definitions that help us begin to think about these two distinct but intertwined disciplines.

Project management Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements.

Project management is accomplished through the application and integration of the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

* From PMBOK® Guide, Third Edition

Change management Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve the required business outcome.

Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change.


Figure 1

As shown in Figure 1, both project management and change management support moving an organization from a current state (how things are done today), through a transition state to a desired future state (the new processes, systems, organization structures or job roles defined by 'the change'). Project management focuses on the tasks to achieve the project requirements. Change management focuses on the people impacted by the change.

Any change to processes, systems, organization structures and/or job roles will have a 'technical' side and a 'people' side that must be managed. Project management and change management have evolved as disciplines to provide both the structure and the tools needed to realize change successfully on the technical and people side.


Discipline: Process: Tools:
Project management
  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

* From PMBOK® Guide, Third Edition

  • Statement of work, Project charter, Business case
  • Work breakdown structure, Budget estimations, Resource allocation, Schedule
  • Tracking, Risk identification and mitigation, Reports on performance and compliance
Change management
  • Planning for change
  • Managing change
  • Reinforcing change

* From Prosci's research-based methodology

  • Individual change model
  • Communications
  • Sponsorship
  • Coaching
  • Training
  • Resistance management


Thinking about what each tool is trying to achieve

So, project management outlines the specific activities for defining and prescribing how to move from point A to point B (by changing processes, systems, organization structures or job roles). Change management outlines the steps needed to help the individuals impacted by the change adopt it and do their jobs in the new way (for example, people transitioning from fulfilling function 'a' to function 'b' as shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2


The goal of project management is to effectively deploy resources in a structured manner to develop and implement the solution - in terms of what needs to be done to processes, systems, organization structure and job roles. The goal of change management is to help each individual impacted by the change to make a successful transition, given what is required by the solution.


Using the right amount

Each initiative or project you undertake requires some level of project management and change management. These two disciplines are tools used to support the implementation of a variety of changes that you may be undertaking. For example, think about the simplistic but illustrative table below:

Project: Needs PM? Needs CM?
Deploying an ERP solution across the entire organization Yes Yes
Reengineering the work processes and contact scripts of your call center agents Yes Yes
Integrating two organizations and their information systems following a merger or acquisition Yes Yes
Redesigning the physical layout of an office space Yes Yes
Developing a new sales channel Yes Yes


Note: All of the projects mentioned above need both project management and change management. There are very few instances where you will not need both disciplines.

Change management and project management are tools that need to be applied independent of the actual change that you are undertaking. Anytime you alter processes, systems, organization structures or job roles, you need a structured approach to manage both the 'technical' side and the 'people' side of the pending change.

Do project management and change management look the same for every initiative? Typically not. While the right amount of project management and change management is at least some, each of these tools are at their best when they are customized for the unique situation that you are facing and are fully integrated. Your organization, its culture and history, and the specific change that you are implementing all influence the right amount of project management and change management.

How much project management is needed?

How much change management is needed?

Depends on the complexity and degree of change to processes, systems, organization structure and job roles Depends on the amount of disruption created in individual employee's day-to-day work and the organization attributes like culture, value system and history with past changes


Separate but integrated in practice

So far in this tutorial, project management and change management have been discussed as two distinct disciplines. While separate as fields of study, on a real project change management and project management are integrated. The steps and activities move in unison as teams work to move from the current state to a desired future state.

As an example, think about what activities occur during the planning phase of a project. On the project management side, teams are identifying the milestones and activities that must be completed. They are outlining the resources needed and how they will work together. They are defining the scope of what will be part of the project and what will not be. From a change management side, teams begin crafting key messages that must be communicated. They work with project sponsors to build strong and active coalitions of senior leaders. They begin making the case of why the change is needed to employees throughout the organization, even before the specific details of the solution are complete. The most effective projects integrate these activities into a single project plan.



It can sometimes be hard to separate out 'the change', project management, and change management. In practice, these three components are intertwined in order to deliver a positive outcome to the organization. However, there is value in separating out the components. First, thinking about the three components separately makes it easier to define and help others understand these distinct elements. Second, separating out these three components is a solid first step when troubleshooting on a particular project that may not be moving ahead as expected. For instance, are our challenges coming from issues around designing 'the change'? Are the issues related to the 'technical' steps, activities or resources (project management)? Or are concerns coming from how individuals are accepting or resisting the change (change management)?

Think about what each component is trying to achieve (see the table below) - this is the best way to tell someone else what change management is, and how it is related to 'the change' and project management.

Element: Goal or objective:
"The change" To improve the organization in some fashion - for instance reducing costs, improving revenues, solving problems, seizing opportunities, aligning work and strategy, streamlining information flow within the organization
Project management To develop a set of specific plans and actions to achieve "the change" given time, cost and scope constraints and to utilize resources effectively (managing the 'technical' side of the change)
Change management To apply a systematic approach to helping the individuals impacted by "the change" to be successful by building support, addressing resistance and developing the required knowledge and ability to implement the change (managing the 'people' side of the change)



What do you think?

Comment on this tutorial: Share your comments on this tutorial and how you've been able to define change management.




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Ask a Prosci analyst - find out about best practices and how you can use the checklist in your organization
Order online - secure server Order the Change Management Toolkit or Change Management Pilot for complete change management assessments, templates, guidelines and plans



Tools for applying change management:

  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former Fortune 500 executives at locations across the U.S.
  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology, includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes 4 copies of the Employee's Survival Guide)
  • Change Management Pilot ($449) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Pilot Professional ($559) - the content of the Change Management Pilot plus additional benchmarking data and an online version of the Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change (14.95) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change, answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change


*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources


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Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




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