Project Managers
Insight

Why Project Managers Make Great Change Agents

While typical project management responsibilities usually entail estimation, planning, communication, coordination, and day-to-day execution of the project, there’s more to the role than that. Project Managers often make exceptional change agents because in their role as stewards for launching a new product or program, they are also inevitably responsible for introducing change to a user audience and anticipating the impact and influence resulting from that change.

 

At BeyondCurious, we foster a culture of change and transformation, and we exhibit this through not only the products we build, but also our mindsets, methods and techniques. Here are a few guiding principles I keep in mind when aspiring to effect meaningful change.

Focus On Why Before How

It’s always tempting to start a project thinking about estimates and a project plan. PMs showcase the vision for the project by articulating key tracks of work, milestones, dependencies and individual deliverables. We paint a great picture illustrating how we’ll get to our end goal—the product launch. We think about project budgets and how we’ll manage the available hours and costs. We set up our communication plans and trackers so that we can report status and manage tasks, issues and risks. But how often do we actually kick off projects really thinking about the overall product objectives?

Start with the customer value proposition. Define user goals and specific behaviors that will be facilitated through the introduction of the product. What are the user needs? Articulate why the product is being built and share that with the team. If revenue is a key goal, how much revenue is expected to be generated and what is the overall growth trajectory? If you’re driving efficiencies, articulate how savings will be measured along with pre-defined milestones defining when the efficiencies must be realized. Take time up front to review the business case and proposed ROI. Think about what the product can do to achieve or surpass the initial investment.

Once the objectives are known and agreed upon, take the time to write the product requirements and orient the project plan around product features—and not just tasks and deliverables. What is the right product to build to meet the objectives? As great as it is to deliver a product on-time and on-budget, if the product doesn’t achieve the envisioned business goals, chances of making an impact or driving change are low.

Think Of Launch Date As “Day One”

Typically PMs think of the project kickoff as the first day, using the project plan to define overall timeframes. Instead, what if we were to think of the product launch date as day one? To the product users, the day they are given the product is really their first day with it, and this is when we start gathering real metrics about usage and performance. So how do we prepare for day one? First think about the people. Go back to the ‘why’ (hopefully it’s been the team mantra) and evaluate how you think the user’s life will change when the product hits their hands. Are they prepared for the change? How do we know? What are the implications on the user and all of the people who will be in contact with the user via the product?

Next, think through the processes that will be affected with the new product. Behind most products is an operational ecosystem required to power things behind the scenes. Define new roles and/or responsibilities or changes that need to be communicated to members of the ecosystem. How will users get support and what type of support would they require? Is everyone clear on their new roles and have you played out real-world scenarios that will occur with the product? A big part of being a change agent is planning for change and thinking of change broadly. As the PM, you’re introducing the product to the world. Make sure people are ready for it!

Drive Change For The Long Haul

It’s easy to get caught up in the typical measures of on-time, on-budget delivery. If you’re running agile projects, you are also tracking burn down and velocity metrics. Think about how you would add product metrics to your dashboard. Track metrics like user base, active users, and business impact. If those were your key performance indicators, would you conduct the project differently? What type of scope decisions would you make? How would you direct the activities of the team?

Think a little more product, a little less project. With your focus on the what and why, create or provide input into the product roadmap. How does the planned evolution of the product tie with the original assumptions around ROI? Define well in advance, what you’ll measure, how you’ll measure it and how that data will be accessed. Does a dashboard exist and if so, who’s responsible for monitoring it and sharing results with the rest of the stakeholders? Map out optimization strategies in advance and think through pivot points as you predict best case and worst-case scenarios with the product performance metrics. Monitor adoption and usage metrics and have programs in place to drive higher engagement. Since it is only “day one”, there is an entire product life to consider (yes, and more project plans to manage)!

Having been a project manager, product manager and a project sponsor, I’ve applied some lessons to make meaningful, measurable impact, and have learned that the change agent role is not limited to product managers and business sponsors. Project Managers are absolutely key change agents and if focused on all the right things, can be highly effective in driving not just project success, but also user and business significance.

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