Project and change management – how to survive the improvement process

25 May 2017, Continuous improvement

Nowadays, the necessity to improve processes in every company is something inevitable. The majority of companies has already implemented the culture of continuous improvement or at least has some programs that aim at implementation of small improvements within the scope of responsibility of each employee. We can observe the positive results of such programs, projects already implemented or methodologies applied through participation in different initiatives, workshops or trainings organized internally in our centre or just by working in the operational process that is covered by the change. Apart from our own experience gained while working in SSCE, we can continuously benefit and learn from the experience of other companies and their Continuous Improvement departments by visiting them, attending thematic conferences and workshops offered on the market or reading publications in professional magazines.

     Taking into consideration experience gained and lesson learnt so far, in today’s edition of Shared Word we would like to draw some conclusions from the realization of improvement projects. What is the key to implement the project with success, how to avoid problems during its realization, how to engage people and carry them through the change are the main questions we would like to answer in this article.

     Very rarely we hear and read about negative examples of implementations, articles describing failures or unexpected challenges requiring significant correction of the plans. How many of realized projects are completed with success? How many of them require to adjust or change assumptions on the budget, scope or expected results? What were the reasons of the problems met?

Below you can see statistics from the research conducted by “The Standish Group” in 2014 that are not only raw numbers but confirmed data through our own experience from the realization of improvement projects and many informal discussion held with project managers:

  • 9% of projects are completed with full success – project objectives have been met in the given time (or even quicker) and the project costs have not exceeded the allocated budget.
  • 61% of projects encounter problems that require adjustment of timeframes, costs and expected results.
  • 30% of projects are cancelled during their realization or are completed with no success meaning project objectives and its assumed results are not achieved.


     While analyzing the root causes of unsuccessful projects, there can be listed several main factors having the major impact on failures and problems encountered. They are described more in details below.

  • Business analysis - wrong definition of assumptions

The majority of projects starts from the preparation of business analysis presenting: scope of the project, its aim, resources required (human and financial ones) and the expected results.

Based on the research conducted, there is quite big discrepancy between assumptions done in the phase mentioned above and real data achieved during the project realization and after its completion. Too optimistic initial assumptions are the most common mistake made, especially if the they concern expected results. Very often, the benefits that are planned to be achieved are the critical indicator deciding about realization of this particular project. But the willingness of project manager to “sell” the project causes that we often take the risk and plan to achieve much more optimistic than realistic effects. Additionally, if the assumptions made have not been reviewed during project realization, it could occur that results achieved are far from expected ones. Estimation of resources is the similar example. We usually provide some approximations concerning cost of work and its duration instead of calculating them more precisely.


  • Project surrounding – openness to changes

Each project introduces changes. The level of openness to them is not only determined by the cultural factors respective for particular geographical location but also by the organizational circumstances. The most serious mistake made by many project managers was improper estimation of openness to change in the organization or even lack of including it in the project plans.

In order to have a good understanding of the problems causes and the resistances during implementation of any changes, project manager has to go deeper into the process where the change is going to be implemented. It is because each process – it does not matter if less or more organized – is in the harmony state and has to be treated individually.

Change process in the general characteristics looks the same, but duration of particular implementation phases of the change depends on conditions and attitude of each particular team and process covered by the change. Each change moves the people outside the kind of comfort zone, where they were before the project start. The same we can observe in our private life: child birth, change of the place of residence or work – even if these changes bring some tangible benefits, they are connected with the feeling of discomfort and uncertainty.

Therefore, the programs aiming at continuous improvements implementation are very helpful in implementation of the change. We can even say that implemented changes are going more smoothly in comparison with the companies where such programs do not exist.

It is worth to mention also that small changes referring to small area and engaging only part of the process are implemented much easier than “revolutions” touching whole organization.


  • Underestimation of resources

Change process is closely connected with people. The resources required to realize the project are defined on the project beginning, in the business analysis phase. Realization of projects in the organizations usually requires from the project team members necessity to connect operational work with the tasks resulted from the project plans. Sometimes intensification of operational tasks additionally blocks the realization of project tasks. Moreover if we face delays in the tasks that should be completed, there is always a risk to increase further delays as well the risk leading to lower productivity of employees. There are also situations where team members are more focused on the operational tasks and unfortunately this stops realization of tasks in accordance with the project plan.


     In order to be in the group of companies that complete 9% of projects with success, it worth to take into account the following recommendations:

  • Business analysis should be conducted carefully especially in relation to input data (project assumptions) together with the  risk management plan prepared for different scenarios.
  • Openness to change implementation of people engaged should be analyzed precisely and based on that adaptation plan should be included in the preparation phase of the project.
  • Involvement of the resources from outside of the organization that will be dedicated only to realization of the project can be reconsidered.
  • Performing the role of project manager you should not avoid of making corrections in the assumption plans or dynamically adjusting it to continuously changing circumstances.
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