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3 key differences between project management and change management

Change management is a topic all project managers should be aware of. It may be more relevant to your role than you think.

Updated on: September 26th 2019

It’s a common misconception that change and project management are the same thing. This is simply not the case and both roles working together can benefit each other. Learning People | desk scene with a clock, a pen, a notebook and a phone

We’ve already discussed what a project manager is but what is a change manager?

A change manager is concerned with the ability of the company stakeholders and infrastructure to adapt to change. Think of it this way, each project is going to affect other aspects of the company, change management can predict and implement the best way to prepare and cope with these changes. 

Here we discuss the main key differences between the roles and how they are both crucial disciplines for an organisation.

Team and motivation

Although both roles appear similar in the way that both largely involve managing people and implementing processes, they have a clear difference in the details. As discussed above, change management is all about managing the companies ability to adapt to change. They would examine company goals and look into how that will affect the employees, the culture and structure and put the appropriate processes in place. They don’t have deliverables that are set on a timeline and their goals aren’t particularly concrete. Whilst they implement strategies that help to guide a business during periods of great change, they’re not on the front line of change like project managers.

Project managers are very much motivated by stakeholder-set targets and will need to manage their team effectively in order to reach these. They manage all aspects of a specific task and are the ones on the ground making sure that the project is running smoothly. They consistently check in with their team to make sure that objectives are being met and will maintain a constant level of communication from the front line to the top of the company.


It’s no secret that to be a great project manager you need to have some relevant and up to date qualifications behind you. Project managers need to be leading projects with confidence and the only way they can do that is by truly knowing what they’re doing and having some industry-recognised methodologies in their toolkit. Project management training is target-driven and it is vital that a project manager can take a brief and provide their team with all the information needed to hit these targets effectively.

The change management process simply isn’t as target-driven in the sense that there isn’t one simple method to approach every task. The training will teach you rather what to evaluate in order to implement a strategy. 

  • How organisational change occurs.
  • How to assemble teams that will achieve organisational change.
  • Managing people during periods of change.
  • Developing strategies to keep people motivated whilst a business undergoes change.
  • How to keep stakeholders engaged as an organisation undergoes change.

The two complement each other and should learn to support each other to achieve both of their goals.  

Life cycle

A life cycle describes the length of time expected for a task, whether it is specific and rigid or fluent and on-going. 

For project managers, having a clear deadline is crucial to every project to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Their life cycles are therefore on the specific end and will be reflected in their chosen methodology. For example, companies that expect Agile processes are focussed on a project being completed to the best of its ability regardless of timeframe, there is still a clear deadline in place but project managers will meet with relevant stakeholders to reassess it at regular periods. Alternatively, when using another methodology, like Prince2, you will be expected to hit strict deadlines by using the most effective route and there is little room for extensions.  

A change management life cycle is much more fluent and on-going. Changes will constantly be happening as an organisation develops and a change manager will need to be ready to adapt to this. The process should begin prior to the beginning of any project and will continue long after targets have been hit. 

Find out more about our change management courses or get in touch for a personal career consultation with one of our career experts.