Taking Competitive Advantage of External Change

In recent posts, I've discussed how project managers can become agents of change, and how managing change can drive their organization's business goals. In this post, I'll focus on the external events that can affect business -- and how project practitioners can help their organizations derive value from these changes.

Over the years, I have witnessed organizations incorporate external forces, such as fluctuating market conditions or the advent of new technology, into their business planning process to much success. 

A few years ago, I was part of a project team that helped harness external change. I was employed at an organization at the top of its industry, but one that was also facing shifting customer demands across its portfolio of products. The organization had to consider how to meet the demand changes, increase revenue and address the variability of the business plans. 

The organization defined a new strategy that would allow us to weather economic headwinds, advance our value creation by integrating new products and services, and increase shareholder value. That strategy relied heavily on investing in a multi-year journey to execute mergers and acquisitions. And to succeed in this strategy, we needed to adapt internally to incorporate newly acquired companies into our operations.

That led to the creation of a Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) integration team, and I was invited to participate in building up this capability. Management selected a core project team that included high performers, particularly those who demonstrated strong IT skills and solid project management experience.

Right from the beginning, our core project team focused on setting clear goals, based on how we would provide benefits to our organization's customers -- and shift the market demands back to our favor. We drove several goals-setting sessions to establish a project timeline and identify opportunities for synergy savings (syncing expenditures to reduce administrative costs).

Then, we selected the rest of the M&A integration team members -- mostly various subject matter experts and business analysts who were well versed in project and change management. This helped us deliver multibillion-dollar integration on time and closely aligned to strategy. We were able to do so because of our team members' clear roles and expertise, but particularly because of these standout team characteristics:

  • Agility: We were very nimble, moving quickly to pull and release team members across milestones.
  • Change management: Team members' ability to adopt additional support requirements within their groups allowed the full integration to occur.

Over the next three years, this same project team was called upon to develop knowledge and competence in the area of internal change. My organization dedicated a small M&A office to develop integration tools and codify our knowledge. We were even asked to continue to work together to build on the initial strategic goal: to help the company maintain its leadership position in the industry. That required us to support post-merger integrations by leading work streams and mentoring junior teams. Our competence increased in managing people across matrix teams, and the use of change management prepared us to lead and sustain other major initiatives of the organization.  

How do you identify external change and help turn it to your organization's advantage? For more on change management, download PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide, currently available for free download for a limited time only.
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