Let’s say that as project manager you decided you need change management on your project. But now you have another decision to make. Do you get a consultant, or do you do it yourself within the team?

Hiring a consultant impacts your budget, plus now you have to manage a more independently minded expert. In addition these individuals are good at building relationships, and who knows how they might sway people you rely on to make decisions your way? Furthermore, there is the risk that you “overbuy” – you either don’t have as much work for them as you anticipated, or you hire someone too senior. Whoops, costly. And embarrassing.

Alternatively, you can try using someone from your team to do change management. However, what if you underestimated the work required? This will show up especially during peak periods, for example just before a key milestone.

And what if they’re not really suited to this ‘people stuff’? Now you have a highly stressed and overworked team member or two. In addition you personally need to respond to disgruntled stakeholders somewhere, and mollify unhappy sponsors. That’s exactly why you signed up to be a PM, right?

It can be a tricky decision, but there are guidelines you can use. Here, for example and free of charge, is the information I would gather if you and I had an initial scoping meeting. Your responses to these statements would help me determine whether my services are needed. So far the answers to these questions have helped project managers choose either direction with more confidence.

Signs that you may be able to do it yourself
  • The company you are impacting employs fewer than 500 people

  • You are impacting 3 or fewer departments in your organisation

  • The employees work out of one, or at most two, locations

  • The project will not create significant change – people are not likely to have to relearn their jobs, change how they’re evaluated, or lose their jobs

  • People in your organisation tolerate change well and are used to it

  • Your project is similar to another one that was implemented successfully in the past

If all or most of these are true, then you are very likely fine trying to do it yourself. If not, it may mean you could still do it, but it may be wise to check in with an experienced consultant you trust to avoid any pitfalls.

Making sure your team has what it takes

Now that you decided you can try to do it yourself, you still need to stack the deck in your favour. You still need to make sure that your team member has the skills to implement change management successfully.

Luckily you can validate this with two simple questions. These are the two I always check for when recruiting for a change management resource, and you only need these two. These have never failed me. Does your potential change management resource…

  1. get why it’s important to make sure people are on board with the proposed changes? Simply put, you can’t “do” feelings. Your change management candidate actually has to care about people and how they feel. Cut the meeting short and stop wasting your time if the person doesn’t really care who’s on board and who isn’t, or doesn’t get what the fuss is all about. If they want to sound tough and believe that people should just “get on with it” they are wrong for this role. Your sponsor can be that tough, you can be that tough, but your change lead cannot be.
  2. show passion for wanting to inform and engage people? They will have a tough job. They will need to push back against you, and sometimes the sponsor, at times. Unless they have a touch of the evangelist in them, they will just cave and let you do whatever you want, right or wrong. Then, what’s their purpose? If they can’t stand up a bit to you they’re of no use to you. They will need some of that courage that comes from passion.
Final thoughts

That’s it, you should be good to go, with one final caveat.

Perhaps you are tempted to do this yourself rather than have a team member take on this role. And maybe you can, but here is my experience.

Whenever I managed a project as a PM, I have had to eventually give responsibility for change management to someone else. Frankly, I found it hard to balance the two kinds of mindset required.

As PM I was focused on task efficiency, following up on people to meet timelines and stay within budgets.

As change manager I had to be focused on effectively engaging stakeholders. This meant taking extra time to listen to them and collaboratively formulating the best solutions or messages.

It’s hard to be in one mindset one moment, trying to rush tasks to completion and pushing people, and then flip to a mindset where you need patience and active listening. Other project managers have had the same experience and found it too disruptive to flip back and forth.

Let me know whether you found this useful, or whether you have suggestions for other topics of interest to you. Good luck!