What is the Difference Between Project Management and Organizational Change Management?

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: August 7, 2023

Effective project management is crucial for the success of any digital transformation initiative. Additionally, organizational change management plays a significant role in ensuring the success of such transformations. It is important to distinguish between organizational change and project management. In this discussion, I aim to explore the differences between these two concepts.

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To achieve success in any type of digital transformation, a robust implementation of project management and organizational change management is imperative. While these two disciplines possess distinct characteristics, there is a significant degree of overlap and similarity between them. Furthermore, their effectiveness is intricately intertwined. Today, the objective is to thoroughly explore the definitions of project management and change management, and to examine their interconnected nature in facilitating the triumph of digital transformations. This entails developing a comprehensive comprehension of project management and organizational change management, along with the integration of exemplary practices within these domains.

Overview of Project Management

To begin, it is essential to grasp the concept of project management. Essentially, project management encompasses the comprehensive planning, execution, and overall administration of an entire digital transformation or any change initiative. This encompasses activities such as planning, scoping, budgeting, resource allocation, milestone tracking, and quality assurance. Its scope encompasses everything necessary to ensure the successful execution of the project plan, from effective resource deployment to quality assurance and budget management. In essence, project management serves as the overarching function responsible for managing the diverse components and aspects of a transformation. This includes not only organizational change management but also technical work streams, workflows, data migration processes, and other pivotal elements of any digital transformation.

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Overview of Change Management

Having discussed project management, let's now delve into the concept of change management and distinguish its differences from project management.

Organizational change management is primarily centered around ensuring the successful integration of human aspects during any transformation. In essence, it represents a specific component within the broader context of digital transformation. While a project manager oversees various functions within the transformation, organizational change management is dedicated to the people-oriented aspect of change.

Change management encompasses numerous dimensions. These include ensuring internal organizational alignment, gaining executive support for the transformation, comprehending change impacts, effective communication strategies, and efficient training of employees in new processes and methodologies. All these components constitute organizational change management. It's important to note that while both organizational change management and project management are mutually critical for successful change, they distinctly remain two separate disciplines.

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The Intersection of PM and OCM

While we've explored the differences between project management and change management, it's equally important to acknowledge their similarities and the points where these disciplines intersect.

Firstly, it's crucial to recognize that both project management and change management encompass elements of art and science. Project management is commonly regarded as more scientific, adhering to specific processes and certifications, such as the PMP certification. In contrast, change management is often perceived as more artistic and less tangible, involving emotional aspects that can be challenging to grasp due to its transformative nature. Nonetheless, project managers should also appreciate the artistic dimension of change management, while change managers should grasp the scientific aspects of project management. This interplay between art and science is a significant overlap that strengthens the two disciplines, enhancing their combined effectiveness.

Another shared trait between these disciplines is the essential skill of stakeholder management. Both effective project managers and change managers must adeptly navigate various stakeholders and comprehend the internal dynamics and politics within an organization undergoing change. This awareness is vital for effectively managing projects and facilitating change.

How PM and OCM Support Digital Transformation

Lastly, a major commonality lies in the requirement for strong project management and change management for project success. In the context of a digital transformation, deficient performance in either or both of these areas substantially elevates the likelihood of project failure. Project managers should ensure they have a proficient change lead and a capable change management team. Similarly, change managers need to collaborate with competent project managers, and they might even apply certain project management principles to their approach to managing organizational change.

In essence, these disciplines are distinct fields, each demanding unique skill sets and strengths for success. However, there is a significant degree of overlap and interdependence between them. Their collaboration is critical to achieving success in both realms, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship they share.

To comprehensively conclude, the factors contributing to the failure of digital transformations and the limited success rate of such endeavors often stem from organizational shortcomings in either or both of the following aspects: effective project management and proficient change management. In many instances, organizations lack the oversight, guidance, and management of effective project management, or they falter in the domain of change management that deals with the human dimension of transformation. In essence, the key takeaway is that the amalgamation of both elements is imperative for achieving success.

As you strategize for your digital transformation, it is imperative to ensure robust project management and project governance to provide strategic direction and comprehensive oversight. Simultaneously, robust organizational change management must be in place to adeptly address the human facet of change. While solely relying on these disciplines can't guarantee success, their combined implementation significantly enhances the likelihood of success. This understanding underscores the critical importance of incorporating both project management and change management practices into your transformation initiatives.

I trust this has offered you valuable guidance and direction regarding the distinctions between these crucial disciplines within the context of digital transformation. Should you seek further insights, please feel free to explore additional resources.

I would enjoy brainstorming ideas with you if you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, so please feel free to contact me at eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your digital transformation journey.

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

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Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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