The IIL Blog

LinkedIn Newsletter | Join our Email List
Change Management in Transformation Projects a Look Back at Some of the Essentials

Change Management in Transformation Projects : A Look Back at Some of the Essentials

By Olivia Le Jeune and Jean-Roch Houllier
May 15, 2024

Change management can be defined as all the operations carried out within an organization to enable it to adapt to change and environmental evolution. It is particularly human-centered, with cultural, behavioral, and social components for the individuals and teams affected. Here’s an insight based on our experience of change management within our projects.

Change Management: An Integral Part of the Project

Often relegated to the background, we believe that change management is an essential strategic lever in transformation projects. Minimizing change management creates major risks for deployment, appropriation, and social/human impacts, particularly during organizational changes. For example, projects where the technological dimension (the “how”) takes precedence over the initial raison d’être and intention (the “for what” and the “what”) remain “suspended on the surface”, with no real connection to the field, and ultimately no impact.

As soon as a project is structured, a dedicated team (commensurate with the level of complexity of the changes envisaged) needs to be set up within the project organization. This team is made up of various stakeholders, particularly change management specialists and field relays. Appropriate governance and methodology complete the team.

As far as deployment is concerned, particular attention will be paid to raising awareness of change management within the project ecosystem, by supporting teams and gradually developing a culture of change. Through the identification of personas, we can arrange “immersions” or “live my life” experiences to facilitate understanding of the existing system, enhance mastery of end user activities, evaluate gaps, and analyze the impact between of proposed changes against the current system. This process aids in diagnosis and better allocation of support efforts.

We believe the success of any transformation project hinges on its ability to sustain changes across processes, technology, and notably behavior over time. A well-structured and effectively deployed change management process plays a pivotal role in fostering a gradual evolution of the culture, despite its slow pace.

Emergence of a Vision: Anchoring and Respecting What Already Exists

Another lesson we’ve learned is the importance of a pre-defined vision and strategy in any transformation project. Vision sets the course (and the desired future state) over a period of a few years, while strategy defines the “how” to get there. When talking about vision, it’s important to anchor it in the history of the structure concerned, while at the same time proposing a step forward towards the desired future state. This link to the past has the added value of anchoring the desired new state in the history of the organizations concerned by the change.

Based on our experience, many projects are initiated without this essential requirement, despite its numerous benefits:  a thoughtful approach, alignment with the existing context, and structured, progressive implementation of stages and tasks.  A common mistake made in major transformation projects is to “wipe the slate clean” by adopting a binary approach, the consequences of which are to divide stakeholders into “has-beens” on the one hand, and “heroes of the day” on the other. What’s more, their lack of respect for what already exists encourages a wait-and-see attitude on the part of stakeholders, who, rather than commit themselves, prefer to wait for the next transformation project!

In our view, such approaches reflect a genuine lack of curiosity, humility, and respect, if not contempt, for “predecessors”. It’s amusing to note that these same “heroes of the day” are later called upon to become obsolete in their turn!

Perspective On Innovation: Incremental and Progressive Dimensions

Our conviction, forged by the change projects we’ve had the privilege of piloting, is based on the principle of a dual incremental and progressive approach, respectful of existing and previous achievements.

The former is typically the case in innovation-based transformation projects, where, in our humble opinion, incrementalism is more suited to the paradigm reserved for a few inspired geniuses. When it comes to our pedagogical and digital innovations, we implement a change management strategy based on a dual approach: building on what already exists and modifying one variable at a time. By way of example, our project to digitalize tutoring is built on the optimization of an existing tutoring process (the process is known to the various stakeholders) and the contribution of an innovative technology (a new platform is introduced into the training ecosystem). The simultaneous introduction of new processes and technology would undoubtedly have been more difficult to successfully deploy this innovation, which is now being industrialized within the company.

Secondly, the gradual dimension of the project also means that changes can be appropriated in stages; in innovation projects with a strong technological dimension, we have observed that minds quickly become saturated as soon as too many technological innovations are deployed simultaneously. For this reason, it is important to plan and spread out the deployment of innovations over time, for example, by means of an innovation plan.

After The Project: Support and Transition, Including the Project Manager!

Directing and piloting a large-scale project of strategic importance to the company is an exhilarating experience for the project manager. It’s both a thrilling and demanding adventure, on the one hand because of the feeling of creating something unique and impactful for the company, and on the other because of the many obstacles and challenges to be faced throughout the project, with uncertainty in mind!

But once the project has been delivered, the project team is disbanded, as it’s common knowledge among project management experts that a project has a defined timeframe, with a start and end date. The project manager is often left alone after a period of intense turbulence, the last to “jump ship” as it were, while everyone is already looking for their next project assignment.

So how do you go about it? As with any change management process, the project manager must prepare well in advance for this break-up phase and anticipate the famous mourning curve. He/she must prepare with their team, organize feedback and lessons learned, and support the project’s successors. It’s also important for the project team to celebrate the end of the project. This is a very important stage, providing an opportunity to take stock of the project, present the results, thank all contributors (project team and sponsor) and ease the transition to other destinations for all concerned.

These approaches form part of the change management phase at the end of the project. The project manager will be able to exchange with their peers, develop their network through a project community (if one exists within the company) in order to share and pass on their experience, rediscover a sense of direction towards another project (a phase also to be anticipated before the end of the project), and be supported by a coach or by their management.

Olivia graduated with a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the University Paris Orsay. She is currently an expert in change management and a project director with Groupe Société Générale France. Olivia is also a professor at Skema Business School Paris (Master Project & Program), and Coach (Personal development).  She is previously Presidente PMI France.

A graduate of HEC Paris, SUPAERO (ISAE) & SKEMA BS, Jean-Roch Houllier is currently Head of Operations, Learning & Digital at SAFRAN University, the SAFRAN Group university. Jean-Roch is also a research associate at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris, in connection with his research into prehistory, and a visiting teacher and professional thesis supervisor.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent

Scroll to Top