What are the Key Differences? Change Management versus Project Management – Everything You Need to Know

There is often confusion about the differences between project management and change management.

Both can involve similar goals and processes. They also often intersect, like when a project manager creates a change management plan for a change project.

To further complicate things is the change control vs change management confusion and the change request process in project management. That’s a lot of different types of “change” to keep up with!

It’s no wonder that it can be hard to keep project and change management straight and understand how one may be used with the other.

First, it’s important to know that, while seemingly similar, change management and project management are two different types of activities in a company. One is more general and deals with all types of tasks and timelines in projects. The other is very much tied to people that go through an organizational transition during a change.

change management process in project management

Understanding the Change Management Process in Project Management

If you’ve ever been confused about the difference between change management and project management, this article will help clear up that confusion.

We’ll discuss the change manager vs project manager responsibilities and how the change management process in project management works. We’ll also review the difference between change control and change management.

By the end, you should have a better understanding of a change request, change control, and both project and change management, including how they’re similar and how they differ.


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What is Project and Change Management?

We’ll begin with an overview of the difference between project management and change management. Each will contain some activities that are identical, but there are also some big contrasts between the two.

It’s important when looking at project management vs change management to understand the “people” component. Change management is focused on the people going through a specific change or organizational transition project, while project management is more process focused.

Project Management Defined

Project management involves managing and organization company resources (people, software, money, etc.) to accomplish a specific goal by a specific time.

A project can be anything from installing a series of new printers in an office to planning and implementing online learning events for customers.

Without project management, an organization would be left wanting to have something done, but without the person or team needed to fill in the dots on how to make that something happen. 

Project management is also about ensuring the end result of a project meets desired objectives, that it’s accomplished on or under budget, and according to the timeline.

There are many places that change management vs project management can overlap because change management also deals with needing to fill in the dots on making a project happen, only it’s a very specific type of project, one that deals with change.

Change Management Defined

Change management involves managing organizational transformations or any type of project that causes a change in how things are done. This can be a change in a type of software a company uses, a merger, or a change in job roles in a company.

If an office was transitioning to have 50% of its workforce work remotely from home, that would not just be a “project,” it would be considered a “change” project.

Why the differentiation between change management and project management?

Because change management focuses on the people going through the transition, when there is a change in a process or way of doing things, it impacts many people. They need to be adequately guided through the change for it to be successful.

People are naturally resistant to change, which can cause a change project to fail unless that resistance is identified and properly addressed.

Change management uses a series of tools and methodologies designed to manage the humans going through the transition, as well as the non-human parts of the transition itself (i.e., the mechanics of what’s being changed).


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Project Management vs Change Management

One reason that the difference between change management and project management is often confusing is that both deal with some type of project. And sometimes, a company may call a change project, simply a “project.”

A change project differs from other general projects in that it’s something that is transformational to a company. It’s also something that will impact stakeholders. Stakeholders are simply anyone impacted by a change (employees, managers, vendors, etc.).

It can be a fine line between what is considered transformational, i.e., a change project, and what’s just considered a project, that’s not particularly going to transform the company in a major way.

Project managers often find they need a change management process in project management because the line can be blurry at times.

For example, if a company is switching the printer/copier service they use and getting new equipment that’s similar to what they were using, it might just be considered a project. Not particularly transformative.

However, if the new equipment has any difference in how it is used that employees need to be trained on, there would be a change component to that project.

In this case, the change management process in project management would help communicate the update to impacted employees and put together training to ensure they knew how to use the new printers.

When thinking of change management versus project management, it helps to connect “change” with the transition people are going to go through, and connect “project” to the mechanical steps taking to get from start to finish.

Shortly, we’ll go through both the change management process in project management AND the project management process in change management. Now, let’s look at the difference between the change manager vs project manager.


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Difference Between a Change Manager and a Project Manager

Project managers and change managers are both in charge of accomplishing certain organizational goals by utilizing resources, delegating tasks, and moving projects forward through certain steps.

Again, when we discuss the change manager vs project manager, the people component is a key difference. Additionally, due to the nature of change management, the change manager will generally have more on their plate than the project manager.

Change Manager vs Project Manager

Let’s look at key responsibilities of the change manager vs project manager, which will help illustrate why project and change management don’t typically have the same average salary.

A noticeable difference between project management and change management is that a change manager is typically a higher-paid position than a project manager.

According to a change manager vs project manager average salary on Indeed, we found the following difference:

  • Project manager: $86,566/year
  • Change manager: $116,728/year

Typical Project Manager Duties

Project managers will be in charge of a project from start to finish, which includes the following typical duties:

  • Do project assessments, plan and implement projects
  • Define the scope, goals, and deliverables of projects
  • Define and organize tasks into a project plan and timeline
  • Direct a project management team
  • Manage the project budget and allocate resources
  • Monitor and report on progress
  • Manage risk and problem solve as issues arise
  • Responsible to ensure project is completed successfully

Typical Change Manager Duties

A change management project is a project, so the change manager will not only be responsible for the same types of duties as the project manager, but they will also need to manage the stakeholder transition through the change.

Duties include:

  • Do project assessment, plan and implement change projects
  • Define the scope, goals, and deliverables of change projects
  • Define and organize tasks into a project plan and timeline
  • Direct a change management team
  • Manage the project budget and allocate resources
  • Monitor and report on progress
  • Manage risk and problem solve as issues arise
  • Identify stakeholders and assess readiness for change
  • Do an impact assessment to understand the scope of stakeholder disruption
  • Manage stakeholders as they’re impacted by the change
  • Coach leaders to support the change and develop a change champions network
  • Create and implement a plan for communications about the change projects
  • Create and implement an employee training plan
  • Manage resistance and resolve barriers to the change projects
  • Responsible to ensure project is completed successfully


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How Would You Integrate Change Management and Project Management?

The thing about project management vs change management is that the two are very much connected. This includes the need for change management at times in a project that might not be considered a “change” project.

Project management is also very much a part of every change management project because it needs to also have resources aligned and organized into a project plan, which then needs implementation.

change manager vs project manager

Change Manager vs Project Manager

We’ll discuss both the change management process in project management as well as the project management process in change management. While it initially may sound a little confusing, it will help to clarify the difference between change management and project management even more.

Change Management Process in Project Management

Many types of projects will have a change component to them. Meaning that while the project itself might not be considered a transformational change project, it can still cause a change in how things are done.

The “change” part of a project would be anything that causes someone to need to do something differently than what they’re used to. In other words, it would require a certain behavior to need to be changed, and a new behavior adopted because of the project.

If an office were going through an operating system upgrade on all their computers, this might be considered a project, rather than a change project. But the upgrade might mean that users have new features on their systems and a change to the user interface.

In this case, the change management process in project management would be the need to communicate the upgrade project to employees who were having their computers updated. This may also require going through user training on any features and user interface changes that result from the upgrade.

Any project that impacts the way people do their jobs benefits from having a change management process in project management. This ensures the people being impacted are taken care of so they can easily adopt the new way of doing things. 

Project Management Process in Change Management

Now, let’s look at change management vs project management from the other side of things.

In any change management project, there is a project management process because a change project is a project. It’s just a specific type of project, which involves the transformation of an organization and how things are done.

The project management process in change management is the part where the scope of the project is being assessed, the assets are being organized, and tasks are being laid out into a change project plan and timeline.

Project management is an integral part of change management and is one of the many parts that come together to guide a transformational change project.

When looking at change management versus project management, we can say that every change project includes project management. However, not every project will change the way something is done, and thus not every project will require change management.

Next, we’ll get into some of the other “change” terms used in project management that can be confused with change management. This includes “What is change control in project management vs change management,” and “What is a change request process?”


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Change Control vs Change Management

Change control is a natural part of the project management process. Because it uses the term “change,” it can make people wonder about the difference between change control vs change management.

To recap what we’ve discussed about project and change management, change management is managing an organizational transition, especially the people going through that transition to ensure the change project is implemented successfully.

What is Change Control in Project Management?

The difference between change control and change management is that change control is what happens when someone requests a change to a project. It’s a set of procedures that are followed. It does not specifically have to do with the change management process in project management.

During the course of a project, something might need to be changed. For example, someone might want to have the project completed two weeks earlier.

Any change that is requested to a project will go through the change control process; otherwise, things could get messy very fast if multiple change requests were being made.

In answer to, “What is change control in project management?”, here are the typical steps of the change control process:

  1. A change is proposed
  2. An impact summary is done
  3. A decision is made to approve, reject, or defer the proposed change
  4. If approved, the change is implemented
  5. The change request is closed

So, as you can see, there is a big difference between change control and change management. Change management is about guiding people through a change; change control is about handling a request to change a specific project parameter.

It is important to note when talking about change control vs change management that specifically in the ITIL v3 standard for delivery of IT services, the term “change management” is often used to mean the same thing as change control.

This is not related to the change management that we’re discussing; however, it does feed into confusion about change control vs change management.

In ITIL v4, to help clear up confusion, they’ve replaced the term with “change enablement” and actually added organizational change management as we understand it to the ITIL framework.


Change Request Process in Project Management

Another change that you’ll hear discussed for projects is the change request process in project management. This is closely related to the answer to, “What is change control in project management?”

The first part of the change control process is to receive a proposed change. This is typically done using a change request form. So, if someone wanted to move the deadline for a project, they would state that on a change request.

The change request process in project management is the same thing as the change control process. It’s just a difference in the nomenclature that someone uses to describe when a project change is prosed, evaluated, approved/rejected, and implemented.


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Conclusion: What’s the Difference Between Change Management vs Project Management?

Both project and change management require having a project plan created, implemented, and managed.

The big difference when looking at change management vs project management is that during an organizational change, there is a new layer of responsibilities that have to do with how to guide people through a change and ensure their needs are met for training, communications, and more.

Because of the additional responsibilities when it comes to change management, there’s a difference in the job requirements and average salary of a change manager vs project manager.  

Change and project management will often intersect. The change management process in project management is needed any time a project impacts the way employees do things.

And every change management project has a project management process to it, which is why there is often a change management project manager position on the change team.

While it’s easy to get confused about project management vs change management, the two are different, yet intrinsically linked.


Authors: Ogbe Airiodion (Senior Change Management Lead) and Francesca Crolley (AGS Lead Writer)
Content on Airiodion Global Services (AGS)'s Airiodion.com website is copyrighted. If you have questions, comments, or tips about this Airiodion Global Services content, please contact Airiodion Global Services (AGS) today.
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