Change management and project management are quite different in nature, but the two disciplines often get confused, especially in the midst of significant enterprise projects. Large projects often involve wide-scale organizational change, while change management efforts are often managed using common project management concepts.
Despite the fact that they may overlap, the two endeavors generally involve different goals and different priorities. In order to work together effectively, change managers and project managers should understand what their efforts have in common, and where they differ.
Project management, by definition, is the process of guiding a project team through a series of tasks that eventually lead to the completion of a defined goal, with a defined target date for completion. Change management, on the other hand, is intended to help an organization adapt to changes in internal processes or external factors. Change management often involves ongoing efforts with no clearly defined deliverables, as organizations continually evolve in order to meet changing market conditions and technological challenges.
Perhaps the most obvious distinction between project management and change management is the degree of structure that is typical to each. Project management, especially at the enterprise level, is a highly-formalized process, involving clearly-defined phases, techniques, methodologies and stakeholder roles. Change management, while it may share all of those characteristics in individual cases, is not as regimented in general. Part of the reason for this distinction is that change management is highly unpredictable by nature. While project managers often try to plan out their entire project in detail before work begins, change managers have to be prepared for unexpected reactions and developments, and often need to change their approach on the fly.
Training and Responsibilities
Given the difference in how project managers and change managers perform their work, the two roles tend to require different forms of training and different areas of expertise. Project managers generally begin their careers developing expertise in a specific field, and eventually start leading projects as they gain knowledge and experience. More and more PMs today are earning professional certifications like PMP in order to hone their skills and improve their career prospects.
Change management experts often come from backgrounds in communication or management consulting, having developed an understanding of how high-level organizational decisions are made and how the change management process tends to affect employees, vendors and customers. While there is no widely-recognized change management certification in use, some enterprise project managers may actually build on their expertise by earning PMP or other project management credentials for themselves.