What’s difference between project management and change management?

Change management and project management are often thought to be the same thing. They aren’t. Here’s how they differ.

By Moira Alexander
Sept. 20, 2016


Project management involves the use of people, processes and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor and close activities. It is designed to meet an organization's project goals, and hopefully overall strategic objectives.

Change management, similar to project management, involves people, processes, and tools to effectively help organizations manage all the changes that occur, whether as a result of project initiatives, or other factors that might impact the business.

While project management and change management are two areas often work side-by-side -- and they should -- there are some similarities. However, these are different disciplines. Think about project management in the example of software development and implementation. A project manager works with a project team to plan, communicate and execute the actual development and implementation itself. A change manager will work with the same project management team to identify, communicate, and effectively manage all aspects relating to how any changes will ultimately impact all stakeholders.

Characteristics of Project Management

Project management should enable strategy and is a formalized and well documented discipline guided by a formal project management body of knowledge (PMBOK). There is a defined start end date for each project that includes tasks, milestones and final deliverables as well as formally identified processes and agreed to requirements and goals. Project management typically involves the implementation of a product or service.

Characteristics of change management

Change management, while increasingly becoming a highly recognized and documented area, doesn't involve a formalized set of guidelines and processes like PMBOK. There is no start and end date, and no set formal tasks or milestones. The change management processes can vary, despite goals. This discipline manages only the impact of changes that result of organizational and PM activities, and involves the implementation of strategies to deal with change (sustainability aspects).

What does a project manager do?

A PM leads projects from initiation to close, to ensure stakeholder objectives are met with success, and facilitates meetings between team members, company leadership, stakeholders, vendors, and other relevant parties. The project manager maintains communication relating to project activities with all stakeholders and is responsible for ensuring projects remain within scope. Their project management knowledge and experience is used to help sponsors, team members and other stakeholders to effectively collaborate and make more informed decisions. They work with the company leadership to ensure projects are aligned with overall business strategies and to ensure project risks are mitigated and negative impact to project stakeholders are minimized. Ultimately, project managers play the role of facilitator and leader for project activities.

What does the change manager do?

A change manager guides, communicates, documents and implements strategies to effectively manage changes that assist company leadership, employees and other stakeholders transition better during times of change. They aid in the process adoption and buy-in, reducing resistance when changes occur, and in essence play the role of liaison and advocate for the business activities. They also maintain a strong focus on the people and how changes impact them to ensure business risks are mitigated and the impact to people within the company is minimized.

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