Who killed change?

Reconsidering the relationship between projects and change

Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


Society is full of potential change agents agitating for improvement, enhancement and further development. Aspirant initiatives range from improving public services, reforming government and available services, and engaging younger voters in politics, to the transformation of organisations, the successful implementation of mergers and acquisitions, and the development of digital presence, experiences and perspectives to corporate life, social communities and consumer behaviours. Yet, while change is ubiquitous to thriving societal and organisational life, change initiatives continue to flounder at an alarming rate. The poor success rate of change initiatives has intrigued change management and organisational psychology researchers and practitioners for over half a century. The remainder of this article focuses on some of the leading insights into change management and its successful adoption.

Leading change

In 1995, Harvard Business School Professor, John Kotter, published the results of a 10-year study of more than 100 companies that attempted major organisational transformations and turnaround projects (Kotter, 1995). His research highlighted the eight most significant errors made by organisations seeking to implement change programmes that can doom any change effort (and are slightly enhanced and expanded below):

Error 1: Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency: Often augmented by underestimating the difficulty of driving people from their comfort zone, or becoming paralysed by risks.

Error 2: Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition: Potentially relegating change leadership to a functional manager, instead of seeking a senior line manager or sponsor with the ability to connect across silos and functional units.

Error 3: Lacking a vision: Presenting a vision that is too complicated or vague to be communicated briefly and effectively.

Error 4: Under-communicating the vision: May include missing opportunities to sell and present the change, settling on a single communication channel (e.g. a single meeting or one leaflet), or not getting executives to behave in ways that support the proposals.

Error 5: Not removing obstacles to the new vision: Obstacles may include organisational structures, culture, processes, systems or individuals, and may thus require changes to risk taking approaches, and the acceptance of radical or revamped approaches and ways of thinking.

Error 6: Not systematically planning for, and creating, short terms wins: Transformation takes time, so potential pitfalls to success may hinge on not including visible short-terms goals that can demonstrate achievement, failing to provide compelling evidence of success, and failing to identify and score success early enough in the process.

Error 7: Declaring victory too soon: Not recognising that early performance improvements are only early wins and thereby leading to failure to consolidate improvements and deliver more of the agreed upon change.

Error 8: Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s culture: Potential failure to create new social norms and shared values consistent with the required change, or failure to promote and create a succession plan that is consistent with the new transformation.

Kotter maintained that many managers failed to recognise that transformation is a process rather than an event:


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. In October 2011 he was awarded a prestigious lifetime Honorary Fellowship from the Association for Project Management for outstanding contribution to the discipline of project management. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has delivered lectures and courses in many leading institutions worldwide, and has won multiple awards and prizes. He has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering and published over 30 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Software: Evolution and Process published by John Wiley. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series, Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including the PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the Chartered Management Institute Academic Council, the British Library’s Management Book of the Year Panel, and the APM Group’s Ethics and Standards Governance Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected]

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.