I heard a good talk on Friday that identified for me a real tension between change management and project management. That wasn't the point of the talk. The presenters were just presenting change management in the context of a major health care IT initiative that's underway in BC. However, their words of guidance to project managers triggered some thoughts.

To avoid confusion: We're talking here about "change management" in the sense of how to help people change the way they work, typically with the introduction of new technology. We're not talking about change management as in the management of changes to IT infrastructure itself.

The presentation showed the "Six Human Needs" that you had to look at when undertaking major workplace changes. First on the list was the need to be heard and have control. To give people control means they might change what the project has to do. The tension is that our standard project management approach in IT hates scope change. We have mechanisms to handle scope change, but we certainly don't encourage it.

I think there are a lot of situations where this sort of creative tension actually leads to a good result: The change management people will bring good ideas back to the project team. The project manager will push back due to budget constraints, and the customer will get the "best" result.

This puts a lot of pressure on the scope change decision-making process. You have to get those trade-offs between scope and budget mostly right. In my experience, it's been really hard to get the right people to take the time to truly work through an issue and come to a reasoned conclusion on that type of issue.

I think this is an area where the IT industry's "best practices" need to be improved. As a project manager, you're pretty much between a rock and a hard place when you get the change management input. If more projects would formally recognize the exploratory stage that most require before confirming budgets and scope, we'd be a lot better. Not being a PMP, I don't know if the Project Management Institute (PMI) has done a lot of work on the quality of a change management process, as opposed to the existence of one. I'd be interested in hearing what they've done.

By the way, the talk was part of BC Health Information Management Professionals Society (BCHIMPS) spring education session on Friday. The BCHIMPS spring and fall education sessions are excellent meetings for anyone involved in health care IT in BC.