What is most important for managing the changes a project will cause?

I know how to define the priorities of all the requirements for this project and the related project activities, but what is most important for managing the changes this project will cause?
It's a hot topic in business skills development: improving the way we manage change. Often this can be the trickiest and riskiest part of a project truly achieving the desired outcomes.

By "change" we mean the tangible differences people and organizations as a whole experience in how things work, get work done, etc., as the result of a project. A new product launch can cause changes to processes, manufacturing efforts, sales quotas, etc. A new application can require users to learn new tools or change how they do a daily task.

Although the person or entity affected by the concrete change may perceive a very binary "switch" to the new environment, in reality, there is a process of transition from the old state to the new state. The key to handling change is to truly manage a transition process as an explicit part of the project—the activities needed to make the transition to a new way of doing things, as well as the moods, emotions, and reactions people may have along the way. And because people are impacted by change and aren't guaranteed to like the impacts they experience, the most important aspect of managing the transition is good communication. Consider these tips:

  • Never assume that everyone thinks the change is a good idea, no matter what business case has been written or executive approval granted. Be able to clearly communicate the reasons for the changes, the benefit to the organization, to individuals, and to customers.
  • Realize that the changes will affect different people and groups in different ways, so they may require different communication venues, level of detail, and communication frequency. Also, we tend to respond to change individually; thus, some stakeholders are bound to be less or more enthusiastic about the change than others. Make sure your project's Stakeholder Assessment and Communication Plan explicitly calls out different types of stakeholders who are affected by the changes, and what communication should be done with each group during the project.
  • Involve different stakeholders up front in exploring exactly how a project will change things in each group's world, and what could be done to make the transition easier. Planning the transition process is a key place to earn support and buy-in, by planning for the smoothest possible transition, rather than being perceived as "flipping a switch" on people.
  • Never underestimate the value of communicating thoroughly and often about a change—as potential changes are being discussed, during the transition period when the various changes are being made, and after every aspect of the change is in place. Don't assume everyone understands the change in the same way, or that they're equally up to speed with the current stage of the transition. Remember "Seven Times, Seven Ways"—people need to hear a message many times, in many ways, in order to thoroughly internalize it. And even though a change is complete in terms of its implementation, it may be well short of complete in terms of acceptance and adoption.
  • If you're communicating with a broader group than those who work closely on the project, remember that they'll need plenty of time and information to get up to speed on what will be changing in their world, and why. Because they aren't working as closely on the project as you are, there will be a learning curve related to whatever new processes, tools, expectations, etc. will affect them. They'll need additional time to process and absorb the new information.
  • In your communications, always be honest and straightforward. If you don't have the answers, admit it, and explain what you do know. State that you'll find the information that's needed, and tell them when you'll get back to them with the information.

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