Project Change Management: Buy-in vs. Engagement

A failure of project change management. Indigenous leaders and environmentalists beat drums and sang as they protested Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday morning. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Image Credit:

A helicopter buzzed overhead, shattering my peace as I sat in my backyard patio on a beautiful summer weekend. I could hear loud chanting and drumming not too far away. Parked cars lined the usually empty main road. Some streets were blocked by police. It was 2018 and I live on Burnaby mountain, right next door to Kinder Morgan, the site of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. I was experiencing a massive failure in project change management.

This was not a mere local problem. It was a national political issue in the run up to the Federal Elections of 2019. The British Columbia and Alberta premiers were at loggerheads. Alberta boycotted BC wine. BC wanted a share of the oil revenue being transported through those pipelines.

The underlying tension was felt years prior to 2018. At the International Association of Facilitators conference hosted by Alberta in 2015, first nation, governmental and industry facilitators met and discussed best practices for community engagement for large-scale projects affecting the economy, land use, climate, environment, and politics. There was no template process that was guaranteed to work—no simple solution. There was, however, a community of practitioners who were dedicated to, pardon my French, “not be facilitation sluts.”

Project Change Management: Community Buy-in versus Engagement

That means not being engaged to get community buy-in for an agenda or a decision that has already been made. BC knows better than that. Way back in 2011, 55% of British Columbians voted to reverse the Harmonized Sales Tax in a referendum. Logically, the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) would benefit business, non-profits, and the overall provincial economy. British Columbians, however, felt betrayed. They were not properly consulted before Premier Gordon Campbell foisted the HST on them. So, even though it would hurt their wallets, British Columbians voted to reverse the tax. It is rare to see a tax being reversed. Some tout it as the only time taxpayers successfully reversed a tax in a democracy. It also effectively ended Gordon Campbell’s political career.

This summer, Burnaby residents were surveyed about a proposed gondola project to connect Simon Fraser University that sits on the peak with Production Skytrain station at the bottom. Burnaby Mountain residents were asked their opinions about three possible routes. In the midst of COVID-19, virtual public meetings were held. People wrote into BurnabyNOW, the local paper. All four members of my household were able to respond to the survey. My neighbours discuss it. There is a sense that we are being properly engaged and consulted.

Exercise Project Leadership and Strategic Skills

Provided there is transparency in sharing the results of this consultative process, it increases the chances that the broader community buys into the solution. But if the final decision is being made behind closed doors and taxpayers are left to foot the bill, that will erode whatever trust is left in local government.

As professional project managers involved in major projects, we can exercise our leadership and strategy skills to promote community engagement instead of a way to bluff the community to buy-into a premade decision. That is proper project change management and will ultimately enhance your career in the long run.


Leave a Comment