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Change Management, IT

Change Management (Part 3b) – Success with IT Change

Why does change management lead to the failure of so many IT projects? What causes them to be particularly vulnerable and what can be done about it? This final article in the series draws on the conclusions from the previous articles and additional material to look at the drivers of successful IT related change.

Before I am lambasted by the purists (and called a hypocrite based on my previous writings) – most undertakings should be classed as business projects (with the possible exception of some pure infrastructure changes). The simple act of thinking of it as an IT project could be enough to ruin any chances of success…….. so for the purposes of this article IT project is defined as “a business project with IT content”.

This series of articles has so far explored: Top Down vs Bottom Up change (Change Management (Part 1)), step models of change (particularly Kotter’s 8-step model) (Change Management (Part 2)) and finally building an adapted Change Capability Framework (Change Management (Part 3a)).

Success with IT related Change – 9 things to remember

1. Ambition – base the project around a sufficiently ambitious business change, of which IT is just one component.

Is the change ambitious enough? Whilst an IT related change may have a large, complex and widespread impact, it may not generate major change to the business or organisational structure, which in turn may mean that the change fails to motivate the organisation to alter and adopt new processes and systems. Therefore, for an IT change to be successful it is best to make it part of a larger business change project.

2. Project Name – name the project carefully by picking a word, phrase or acronym related to the business processes changing. Do not name it after the technology, remember, it’s not an IT project!!

3. Structured and Coherent Change Programme – Kotter, Carnall and others have all highlighted the importance of the change programme being well organised and structured, for more on this see Change Management (Part 2) – Step Models of Change and Change Management (Part 3a) – Change Capability.

4. Leadership – the change requires strong leadership from senior management, with them painting a clear picture of the reason for change, leading the impacted staff towards a new vision (“the promised land!”) and then anchoring that new reality in the organisational culture.

“When management pulls back the curtain to show employees not only the benefits of the change but also the negative consequences of remaining static, employees may respond to the full honesty and rally, and even come up with their own innovative solutions. When combined with careful messaging and a clear strategic context, fear is a truthful message that can help motivate change.” Barbara Kivowitz

5. Urgency – the leadership and the management team need to take the reason for change and create a real sense of urgency within the business. Without urgency it becomes just another management bright idea……. The urgency in the business motivates the staff to take action.

6. Ensure it resonates with staff – make sure the staff can understand and embrace the vision and the need for change. If it resonates with them as the way to move forward then they will start helping drive the future and over time this will develop into the bottom-up change you need to sustain it (see Change Management (Part 1) – Cracking the Code of Change). If you can achieve this then the battle is 50% won already.

Does the change resonate with the employees? Are the impacted employees driving the need for the change, or was it an idea that came from Management or worse still from IT? Unless the solution resonates with the employees and they are fully behind it then the change is very likely to fail.

7. Involve Everyone – Involve as many of the impacted staff from day one so that they are part of the decision making process. Having the impacted employees as part of the decision process, helping to define the needs, the solution and the revised processes means they are far more likely to embrace change. It also goes a long way to reducing the fear factor. The problem for management becomes how to involve as many people as possible, keep the project moving forward and continue their daily business.

8. Define how they benefit from the change – or more commonly know as “what’s in it for me”. Staff will become far more interested if they know how they might benefit. This can range from ability to influence future directions, elevation of status, new opportunities, recognition etc., what Barbara Kivowitz refers to as “matching incentives to the people, to shape genuine and long lasting change”.

9. Reduce Resistance (especially when caused by fear) – as discussed in the first article of this series the key to this success is involving the impacted people throughout and helping them to understand how they are impacted, in order to remove the fear of the unknown? This is especially true for projects involving IT where staff may not understand a new technology and working practices, which leads to increased anxiety and fear. Therefore it is imperative to help them make the transition and to feel they are part of the decision process, not just a victim of the end result.


It is difficult to sum up how to be successful and distill it down to a few words, but probably the best advice I can give is to communicate often and involve people throughout. By doing this you will have a far better chance of achieving project success. Additionally, a well run transformational business project that includes IT change is a great opportunity to foster collaboration between IT and business teams.


Related articles:

Change Management (Part 1) – Cracking the Code of Change
Change Management (Part 2) – Step Models of Change
Change Management (Part 3a) – Change Capability
Change Management – What’s in a Name?
Why are IT projects Change Management time bombs?
The Importance of Change Leadership – Beyond “Step Models of Change”
Beer & Nohria – “Cracking the Code of Change
Lewin’s (1951) original 3-step model of “Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze”
John Kotter – “Leading Change”
Martin Webster’s blog
Change Management Blog
The five motivators of successful change by Barbara Kivowitz




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