As Project Managers we feel our projects are successful if they come in on time, within budget, and deliver the solution we have been tasked to provide.  But, this is not always the case.  For example, if the project deploys but nobody uses the application, is the project a success?  Or, if the technical solution addresses all of the business requirements but people don’t know how to use it and end up creating "work-arounds" to get their jobs done, is the project a success?  Or lastly, if the project is implemented and people are using the application, but not correctly, is that project a success?

These are the questions that the return on investment (ROI) focuses on in regards to Organizational Change Management (OCM).  According to the "ROI of Change Management Model" 1, Prosci 2010, there are three human factors that play a significant part in determining the ultimate success of a project:

  1. The speed of adoption across the organization
  2. The overall ultimate utilization of the changed system or process
  3. The proficiency of the users in effectively embracing the changed system or process

Without addressing these human factors Project Managers may end up successfully deploying a project that may never reach the business and financial goals that were originally intended across the organization.

Speed of Adoption

The speed of adoption determines the rate at which users embrace any new system and or process changes that are introduced as a result of the new solution.  The driving factor behind the speed of adoption is how quickly team members can adapt to their new, or modified, roles while also using new skills and behaviors relative to the change that has been introduced into the organization.

Ultimate Utilization

The ultimate utilization rate relies on the number of team members that are actively engaged and practicing the "new way of doing things" as a result of the changes in their operating environment.  These people have not only adopted the new solution, they are also trying to incorporate it into the way they perform their individual job functions.  Many team members who are threatened by the change may have "adopted" the change only to determine that they preferred the "old way" they did their work, and thus, they find "work-arounds", or other ways to get their job accomplished in spite of the new solution.

Proficient Users

Proficient users have both adopted the new solution and are effectively utilizing the features and functionality as was hoped when the new system or process was developed. Many times return on investment (ROI) calculations assume that all users will become proficient in the new solution thus improving productivity, lowering costs, or some combination of the two.  The truth is that ROI on any new system is directly tied to users who are leveraging the new system or process in the manner it was intended.

Combining Human Factors and Project Management

In many cases Project Managers are adept at creating communication plans, managing schedules, and working with the project stakeholders, however, these actions do not necessarily mean that the human factors are being addressed.  For the project to be a success the Project Manager must understand the impact of the changes across the organization.  If only a few individuals will have to modify how they currently perform their roles, then the human factors can be easily addressed by working closely with those users.

However, if the change has a significant impact across a department or the entire organization, then the Project Manager should incorporate OCM best practices such as leveraging a strong OCM Sponsor, making sure that middle management has sufficient support throughout the change, and addressing early and often what the change means for team members across the organization (addressing the "what does this mean to me" question).

Simply having a Project Sponsor does not necessarily equate to having an OCM Sponsor.  Generally, a Project Sponsor is directly responsible for the success of the project whereas the OCM Sponsor is responsible for ultimately driving the adoption, utilization, and proficiency.  A strong OCM Sponsor addresses the key issues of the change such as 1) What the change is (describing the new system, solution, or application), 2) Why the change is necessary for the organization, and 3) What will happen if the change is not introduced into the current operating environment.  The OCM Sponsor sets the stage for how well the change will be embraced across the organization.  If there is no visible executive support for the change, then team members may decide that the change is not very important thus negatively affecting the speed of adoption.

Leveraging the middle management team to reinforce the importance of the change and how the change affects their team members is a critical step that many Project Managers are rarely focused on in relation to the project deployment.  Middle management must have the answers to questions they will receive then the new system is launched.  Failing to include middle management in the OCM communication effort may not only result in poor adoption, it may contribute to users that are not utilizing the system and effectively changing the way they perform their job functions.

Lastly, if there is not a communication plan in place dedicated to addressing the changes that are taking place across the organization and impacting team members then the odds are low that the level of proficiency assumed in the original business case will ever be reached.  Unless team members understand what the changes mean to them personally, and why they should support the change, they may never use the system as it was intended.  Without proficient users the project may have deployed on time and within budget, but overall, if the ROI is not recognized the project ultimately may not be considered a success.

Project Managers who combine human factors with OCM best practices and strong project management processes are demonstrating their ability to drive a project successfully to its conclusion.  They are also assisting the organization in understanding the issues that are faced when changes in operating environments impact individuals across the organization.  Ultimately, human factor impacts are key to overall project success.

1.  ROI of Change Management Model. Page 3. Prosci 2010