Change Management vs. Project Management: Top Differences

Change management vs. project management – how are they different?

And how are they the same?

Both of these fields are closely intertwined … after all, change management requires project management.

And projects often revolve around change.

Below, we’ll explore points that highlight the differences and similarities between these two disciplines.

Change Management vs. Project Management

Change management refers to the management of organizational changes.

These are typically complex projects with long life cycles, involving many departments and stakeholders.

Project management is a broader discipline. 

It can include large-scale projects, small projects, or anything in between.

Change management always requires some project management. 

But project management may also take on projects that are not related to organizational change.

Let’s look at 5 key differences between these two disciplines.

1. Scope

The scope of change management includes:

  • Managing organizational changes. These can include cultural changes, digital adoption programs, restructuring, and more.
  • Motivating employees and overcoming resistance. Humans are the drivers of organizational change. But they can also be its biggest obstacles. 
  • Analyzing problems, assessing risk, and designing solutions. Depending on the organization, change management may also be required to create the end solution to a project.

Project management is strictly focused on effectively managing and executing projects, regardless of the nature of the project.

In short, it can apply to a variety of project types – not just change management:

  • Coordinates team members. Communication and management of team members is one of the most essential duties within change management.
  • Manages resources and timelines. Resources, from human capital to financial resources, must be coordinated throughout a project.
  • Creates project roadmaps. Project managers must design action plans, replete with goals, milestones, team member assignments, and more.

Below, we will see other ways that these two disciplines differ.

2. Strategy

Advanced change management practitioners are often involved with corporate strategy.

Enterprise change management can:

  • Ensure that change projects are aligned with the overall business strategy.
  • Work together with executives to design change programs.
  • Propose change initiatives or strategic changes.

More advanced change management departments will, in other words, take on certain leadership responsibilities.

Less sophisticated enterprise change functions, however, will restrict their duties.

As mentioned, project management differs in scope from change management. 

In and of itself, project managers typically do not involve themselves with organizational strategy. 

When implemented in the context of other disciplines, though, project managers may adopt leadership responsibilities, such as strategic leadership.

3. People Management

People management is essential to both disciplines.

Project managers must:

  • Communicate with and coordinate among a project’s team members
  • Communicate with external partners and stakeholders
  • Coordinate human capital
  • Resolve conflicts and friction

Change managers must also manage people.

But their efforts tend to focus on problems unique to organizational change, such as:

  • Enabling change through education and employee training 
  • Overcoming resistance to change
  • Building enthusiasm and motivation

To name a few.

4. The Nature of Projects

Project management is applied in a wide variety of roles.

For that reason, the nature of the projects can vary to a great degree.

Team members may be full-time workers who can devote significant time to a project. Or they may be sub-contractors.

Organizational change projects, however, are almost always “extra work.”

Employees are already busy with their jobs, meaning that:

  • They must work change projects into their existing schedules
  • Organizational change projects require extra motivation and inspiration
  • Employees are more likely to resist change

Problems such as these can be difficult to deal with … some can even result in project failure.

On the other hand, these problems are predictable to a certain degree. 

Common issues – such as resistance to change, mentioned above – can be planned for ahead of time.

This is not to say that project managers have it easier…

On the contrary, they may not.

Project management is broader in scope, so its obstacles may also be broader in scope.

5. The Role of Technology

Technology trends play an increasingly important role in every business discipline.

Project management and change management are no exception.

For the most part, there is a great deal of overlap when it comes to tools used in both fields.

For instance:

  • Data and analytics can offer insight into any type of project
  • Both disciplines will adopt modern business practices and methods
  • Digital literacy is becoming increasingly relevant

The technology trends in these two disciplines do not overlap 100% of the time, however.

Today, for instance, digital adoption and transformation are major trends in change management.

These trends often have the same requirements – onboarding, employee training, automation, and so forth.

Therefore, change managers can rely on tools specifically geared towards these projects, such as digital adoption platforms.

Final Thoughts

We have seen that project management and change management overlap to a certain degree.

Change management, for instance, always involves project management to a certain extent.

Project management, however, may not always revolve around organizational change. 

It is true that both disciplines require project management skills. 

But change managers tend to focus their efforts on tools and skills that help them execute organizational change.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.