Five things your change consultant won’t tell you

Five things your change consultant won’t tell you

I’ve worked in the change arena since 2005, and related people performance and HR disciplines for 14 years before that.  I’ve engaged in a number of technical, business and organisational change programmes both in New Zealand, the UK and Europe.  During this time I’ve meet a number of consultants that tended to overestimate and overstate the complexity of change management with a proportional impact on cost and time to deliver.  

I believe embedding the required change may not be as complex as presented and the essence of change is as simple as enabling people to want to do it.  So, I’ve capture five things you need to know when talking to your change management consultant and questions you can ask to validate what they are selling you.

1.     It’s not that complicated

Some change consultants present managing change as a complex, complicated process which requires many years’ experience and a degree in psychology or the sciences.  While knowledge and experience in any disciple are valuable, especially in the early identification of risk & opportunity, I believe anyone with a basic understanding of human behaviour can manage change using proven processes and methodologies.

I’ve worked with people from various backgrounds; project managers, business analysts, human resources, training & development, strategy development and the evidence is they have delivered change to a high standard.

Change at an organisational level requires another set of skills and experiences including an understanding organisational strategy. However, the underlying principles in the delivery of people change remain the same.

Question:  Please detail the process and tools you will use to implement change?  If they cannot provide a change process linking the application of change tools to the defined outcomes, you’re unlikely to get the required results.

2.     There’s nothing new

Little new thought has been added to the science of change since John P. Kotter’s “Leading Change” was first published, Harvard Business School Press, in 1 January 1996.  Kotter identified the most common mistakes leaders and managers make in attempting to create change and offered an eight-step process to overcome the obstacle.

I believe everything since then is a variation of Kotter’s work; – Create Urgency, Form a Powerful Coalition, Create a Vision for Change, Communicate the Vision, Remove Obstacles, Create Short-Term Wins, Build on the Change and Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture.

3.     Change methodologies are all the same

It really doesn’t matter which change methodology you use, as the science of change hasn’t changed, at their core the methodologies are pretty much all the same.  As long as you follow the principles of a change management model then you’ll be fine.  An approach I used on a recent NZ change programme was to pick the best bits from the published methodologies and help the organisation develop their own change processes adapted to their current situational requirements.

My philosophy on methodology is taken from film maker Jim Jarmusch (who stole from everyone) “originality is non-existent, don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it and, always remember it’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Question:  Please explain why / how your process is different or better than Kotters.  What outcomes will your process enable that Kotters’ wouldn’t?  If they try to sell you on their enhanced deliverables (except practical simple to use tools and processes) then they may be overselling their services.

4.     It’s not a one person job

Efficient and effective change management requires a team approach.  Change is never effectively achieved when implemented by a single change manager.  Depending on the type and scope of change, a change team should be created.  It may include contributions from a Project Manager, Technical & Business Process Managers, Human Resource / People Capability Managers, Communications / Internal Relations Resource, Stakeholders, End Users, Customers and Systems Technical Leads.

A recent approach I used incorporated key resource from the list above, an internal change lead, and myself as a part time Change Management Coach (Change Coach).  I ran a series of change management coaching workshops each week until the team were set-up and self-sufficient.

Question:  Please define your approach to incorporate your change management practices into our organisation?  Be concerned if the response does not include the development of a team and the hand-over to your internal resources because you will need to continue to reinforce and imbed the change after their services conclude.

5.     It’s all about the people

In the end, it’s just a bunch of humans behaving a certain way and the role of the change team is to help them behave differently.  I believe human behaviour is really quite simple and can be summarised in 15 words “People do what they do because of what happens to them when they do it”.

This is a phrase stolen from a great book on performance management, “Bringing Out the Best in People”, by Aubrey Daniels.  Daniels methodologies are, he quotes “grounded in the evidence-based application of behaviour analysis derived from nearly a century of research “   However, you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the science of behaviour and his book is a much easier read than this description suggests.

Robert Mager and Peter Pipe published “Analyzing Performance Problems”, with an even simpler approach.  They defined change in 4 words – “You Really Oughta Wanna”.  Their book, first published in the 90s, discusses how to figure out why people aren’t doing what they should be, and what to do about It.  They’ve refined managing human behaviour (change) to a one page process map.

Question:  Please describe how your approach will change the behaviour of the people affected by our initiative?  Be concerned if you receive a complex psychological response or worse a 10 page presentation.

About the Author: 

Bruce Swain is a senior change and programme manager with 20 years’ experience in NZ and globally. He has an extensive background in human resources and people development.

Bruce is Director of the Change Institute New Zealand Limited and is principle in the development of the X4MIS™ Change Management Methodology.

Change Management Institute NZ X4MIS change management methodology

The Change Coach

We’ve been working with a client undergoing a major (multiple year, multi $M) systems and organisational transformation programme.

They weren’t ready to hire a full time change manager but realised the need to get started with their change strategy and planning.

Their project planning and structure for the system transformation programme was complete and robust.  It included business project stream leads for people, processes, product and an experienced project manager with some change management training.

We proposed a Change Coach.  Working with the steam lead resources as an initial change team and set up weekly workshops to define the organisational change strategy, create the change plan, initially for the systems transformation programme, and develop the change management delivery plan, milestones, effort and resource requirements.  For this organisation, many of the core deliverables were well documented in the project charter, including, stakeholder analysis, communications and training plans, so they were able to complete the change plan quickly and efficiently.  Our support effort focused on the strategy, key change themes, the future model, people benefits, a deeper stakeholder analysis, resistance management plans, a deep understanding of 2nd order change and change roles & responsibilities.

Successful outcomes from this process included the project manager confidently taking up the change manager role and a clear change strategy with repeatable processes presented to the board to initiate the more significant organisation transformation programme. Additionally, the initial change team was expanded to incorporate some of key business stakeholders and they have a change delivery project plan in progress…

Realised Change Management Strategy

The Change Coach Workshop

As a result of this experience we’ve developed a Change Coach Workshop.


The Change Coach Workshop is designed for those organisation who understand a full time change management consultant is not always required to:

  • Develop an internal Change Management Team
  • Select and customise an appropriate change methodology
  • Implement repeatable change processes
  • Train key programme and business resource
  • Reduce permanent & contractor resource costs

The workshop provides an effective, risk free process to move forward with your change programme initiatives.

Health Check 1 – Maximising value from the Project Health Check

Projects continue to be delivered late, over budget, incomplete, requirements omitted, delivered but never used or worse, benefits never realised.  Progress monitoring, reports, metrics and dashboards only provide a snapshot, they may inform stakeholders a milestone has been missed or budget exceeded, but they do not highlight whether it could be a systemic problem.  This level of reporting can also reinforce the notion that a project is in control, facilitating a tendency by project managers and sponsors to assume everything is OK.

The Project Health Check can mitigate these risks and provide real value but only when:

  1.  The right check is completed at the right time(s);
  2. Processes & procedures are well defined;
  3. Those completing the review have the necessary skills, knowledge and approach;
  4. There’s an action plan to put things right after the review
Realised - Project Health Check

1. The right time to complete a Project Health Check

Two occasions when you may be required to complete a Project Health Check:

i. Planned

As part of a standard project review process, often at a predefined governance gate or stage.

These planned checks are in place to ensure all the steps are complete in the current stage before governance permission is given to move to the next stage.  Unfortunately, they are often tick the box exercises with missing or incomplete tasks excused as not important, fudged as complete in another process or quickly thrown together without substance or due care.

To add real value pre-planned Project Health Checks must:

  • Be completed by resource which are trained to complete the process consistently and accurately
  • Include at least one reviewer independent of the project and programme office
  • Have a defined scope, effort and budget, to complete each Project Health Check, included in the Project Charter
ii. Ad hoc

When the project is showing signs it may be in trouble (example matrix below), to identify what needs to be fixed to quickly bring it back on track.  The project contingency plan should include effort and budget to complete ad hoc Project Health Checks


  1. Project Health Checks are not designed for use after a project fails, they are not “the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”, however a Project Health Check may be used in conjunction with a project review for a failed project.
  1. The cost of correcting an issue is many times the cost of preventing it. The longer you leave it the greater the cost.

2.   Well defined processes and procedures.

The Project Health Check must have well defined and documented processes & procedures.  The process must have the buy-in of the programme office and the commitment of all involved to deliver & follow-up on the Project Health Check

The process must include a well-documented (including names and contact details) procedure to select the most appropriate independent assessors, free from internal politics of the project and programme office, who can provide a balanced view.  The assessor will need to be sufficiently trained to follow the structured approach while taking the organisation’s unique nature and project management methodologies into account.

A good Project Health Check will encompass:

  • A well-documented, easily available and precise knowledge of the project methodology used in the Company
  • Review process which enables a common interpretation, understanding of the substance of the Project Health Check questions
  • A process which enables the identification of common problems and solutions to be applied to future projects and programs.

The terminology is as neutral as possible so it can be adapted ad hoc to certain projects and situations.

 3.   Skills, knowledge and approach

The application of the Project Health Check is not always a focus of the typical project management training courses, Prince2, PMI, etc.  It is critical therefore to develop training, classroom or on-line, for your organisation’s Project Health Check.  The initial and ongoing training effort is reduced if your processes and procedures are well documented and available on-line (company intranet).

Getting the approach right, to avoid the “tick in the box” syndrome is critical to the success of the review.  Prior to a minor Project Health Check (see matrix below) the review team confirm the scope & objectives, and for the comprehensive Project Health Check the team will review the stakeholders and sponsor agreed scope.  This preparation activity, along with a brush-up of the review processes and procedures, will guide and focus the team.

The minor Project Health Check document will have a formal process checklist to ensure the self or peer reviewers are similarly focused with the right approach.

4.   The action plan

The Project Health Check doesn’t end at the review, the review will include options and recommendations for improving and moving forward with a healthy project.  The agreed actions will be prioritised with timescale for implementing changes and owners identified for completing each action.

There’s always risk involved with change and changing the way projects are managed is no different. An important step is to identify risks resulting from implementing new ways of working.  For example, improving change management by implementing a new process will require training and they may be resistant to doing things in a new way. The review risks plan will include mitigations to support improvement efforts.

Realised Project Health Check

 Applying the right level of Project Health Check at the right time


It may not be necessary to complete an in-depth Project Health Check every time there is an issue.  It may be appropriate to apply differing levels of checks for differing situations.  For example, the following levels could be applied:

  • Based on a few key questions around risk, team, commercials, requirements, sponsor, management and scope
  • Should complete in 30 minutes
  • May be a peer review / interview
  • For low risk profile and small projects
  • 20 to 40 key questions, dependent on the project stage
  • Up to an hour for the initial review
  • Group round table review may include an independent moderator
  • May include key project resource, stakeholders and sponsor representative
  • For high risk profile and large projects
  • 100 to 150 questions
  • 2 x 3 – 4 hours
  • Moderation is mandatory
  • Review scope and objectives defined and signed off by the sponsor & key stakeholders
  • Will include key stakeholders and sponsor at some stage of the review process

Engaging an independent External Moderator

While many project managers may view periodic Project Health Checks as an unnecessary distraction, assessments conducted by an outside expert add both value to the project implementation and added protection against the high cost of failure.  An independent and experienced third party will recognise the subtle issues and intervene to build consensus amongst project team members developing a collaborative approach to complete the Project Health Check.

The cost of project delays and peace of mind that the project is on the right track easily out way the incremental costs incurred for an additional resource to periodically support your Project Health Check.

About the author

Bruce Swain started his project management with IBM in the United States in the late 90s.  Over the last 25 years he’s has worked with both global and SME companies in most continents.  Now home residing in Auckland he has project management experience and qualifications in PMI, Prince2, Agile and variations of each.

Health Check 2 – Areas of Concern for an investigation?

My experiences confirm every Project Health Check is different dependent on the maturity of the organisation, programme office and driver for the review, planned or ad hoc (project at risk).

The following is a list I have gathered from various organisation and Google.  It’s not exclusive and I’m always interested in the views of my peers.

What’s the one check you would add that’s not on this list?

  • Strategy: The project is in line with the organisational strategy and IT road map
  • Scope: initial definition, variation, adjustment of the plan. Clearly understood by the customer / sponsor
  • Success Factors: Critical success factors identified and agreed with the customer / sponsor
  • Business Case: A strong business case has been developed and approved
  • Cost: tracking processes, reconciliation, projections and variations.
  • Time: schedule suitability, currency, reflection of scope, use of milestones, tracking, and action plans. Project timescales accurate, realistic and achievable.
  • Quality: existence of quality plan, quality review actions, testing, resourcing.
  • Resources: sufficiency, appropriateness, time allocation, co-operation, team management, efficiency, team morale.
  • Stakeholders: Level of stakeholder engagement
  • Communication: existence of communications plan, stakeholder identification and engagement, issues arising, expectation management and monitoring.
  • Procurement: use of external resources, contract negotiation and management.
  • Risks: existence of risk plan, stakeholder involvement, mitigation strategy effectiveness, review process, issues log, resolution, mitigations identified and escalation processes.
  • Contingency Planning: existence of contingency plan, contingency testing, robustness of contingencies.
  • Benefits: review of projected benefits, changes in relevance, measurement of benefits, delivery ownership.
  • Change Management: Completion of a Change Management Plan, engagement strategy
  • Business Process: impact on business processes, implementation, planning and testing.
  • Training: existence of training plan, time to produce materials, trainer availability, staff availability, pilot and review.
  • Implementation: existence of a detailed implementation / project plans, milestones, launch support, authorisation, delivery criteria, testing.
  • Governance: existence of management review checkpoints, meeting standards, Steering Group, progress through ‘gates’, tools, skills and process adequacy, compliance monitoring, company methodology.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: definition, accuracy, team support, executive support, responsibilities not covered in definition, team members understands their role and are committed to the cause
  • Documentation: availability, organisation, easy location, version control, construction, meeting agendas and minutes, signatures, glossary, decision register.
  • Requirements: documentation, tracking of changes, documentation of changes and approval.
  • Deliverables: A clear set of project deliverables has been identified.
  • Confidence:  Confident the project has every chance of success

Realised Change Management Case Study – Network Management Centre

This case study was an assignment completed in the UK in 2005 when I was practice lead for a boutique customer strategy, programme and change management consultancy.  It is relevant to Realised’s business as it provided the foundation for the CINZ Methodology, now redeveloped as a change model for New Zealand.

We were asked to help optimise a Network Management Centre’s (NMC) alarm monitoring activity (a major mobile Telco with a UK network encompassing 12,000 base stations servicing 15 million customers). The network generated 26,000 critical alarms each month and the NMC shift teams were struggling to meet KPIs for alarm clearance remotely or by passing cases to field engineers.  The necessary change management skills were not available in-house and the NMC team were facing a number of ‘business as usual’ challenges.  It was felt by the NMC senior management team that an external perspective would be highly valuable.

To understand the true level of change we baselined current performance identifying and prioritising areas for improvement using a comprehensive Discovery Audit.

Realised Change Management Case Study – Lean & Team Building

The Challenge:

  • Prior to the arrival of the new Managing Director, staff and managers were discouraged from being innovative… “just get on and do it my way”
  • The sales, development, support and operation teams were often feuding
  • Dysfunction within teams from dominating, overbearing or opinionated team members
  • Product transition from development to delivery causing product release quality and delivery date problems
  • Customer dissatisfaction

The Solution (overview)

  1. The CINZ Change Methodology was applied
  2. Change Message – the Managing Director delivers the “need to change” message and gets buy in from the management team
  3. Team Building – a team building programme was developed using Belbin Team Roles (measuring preferred behaviour when working within a team)
  4. Lean Process Improvement – A Lean Continuous Improvement Programme was initiated
  5. Develop High-Performing Teams – Building on the initial Belbin team building workshops to develop high-performing teams utilising Team Architecture and Team Tool-Box principles







Leadership Solutions represents Belbin Associates in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. As the licensee they are responsible for the distribution and servicing of Belbin products throughout New Zealand and the Pacific Islands region.  They also provide consulting services that utilise Belbin Team Roles and similarly focused concepts and instruments – drawing on the fundamental development tenets of ‘strengthening your strengths’ and ‘making best use of the differing talents around you’


The Executive Manager the CEO’s new EA

Some time ago while consulting in Human Resources for a large electrical engineering company, we sourced an additional Executive Assistant (EA) for the then CEO.  The CEO already had an EA, she was a more than capable personal assistant who also performance managed the company’s PAs and secretarial support staff.  The CEO had been with the company for 30 years starting as a Trainee Engineer, he was a capable leader and what he didn’t know about the company and industry was really not worth knowing.

So why a 2nd EA?

A month earlier we’d taken the Executive group on a team building and strategy weekend to the Marlborough Sounds.  One of the exercises over the weekend was to race two sail boats with the CEO at the helm of one and the CFO the other.  We noticed during the race the CEO’s boat would sail in a straight line for about 5 minutes then veer off course, then sail straight again, then veer off course.

The sailing represented to a degree how the CEO managed the company.   It was a time of change, the company had recently separated from a larger ex-government state owned enterprise and there were many organisational initiatives in progress.  The CEO and Management team were clear about the strategy and were focused on the Priority 1 requirements, however the focus on the delivery of the Priority 2 initiatives would often veer off course especially when the next P1 emerged.  We seconded one of the mid-tier Managers from his portfolio to be an Executive Management Assistant to the CEO which had an immediate impact.

  • The Executive Management Assistant became a doer and confidant for the CEO
  • The Executive Manager assumed responsibility for the CEO’s key P2 initiatives ensuring their focus & realisation
  • This freed up the CEO to focus on the P1 initiatives and to keep the company on course
  • The Executive Manager gained valuable experience and years later took over as CEO having had some real grounded experience with that role.


Realised provides a trusted Executive Management Service for the CEO or MD.  We focus on those Priority 2 requirements or one-off Priority 1′s that require action before the next Executive or Board Meeting. 




Realised Executive Management Service

Realised Executive Management Service

Bruce Swain is an insightful, results-oriented consultant and leader with real life people and change experience in NZ and globally.  He is passionate, self-motivated with a pragmatic straight talking style that is very effective at getting things done