Effective Change Management Requires Planning

Wayne Rash is senior correspondent for eWEEK and a writer with 30 years of experience. His career includes IT work for the US Air Force.

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Change management can prevent disasters and help a company clean up its act organisationally, but it’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re doing and why

The first challenge of change management is that there’s no real agreement on what it means, so before you can embark on a change management project you must first decide what you mean by change. The second challenge of change management is that you must know what you intend to change and how you intend to change it. In other words, you have to know what you want the answer to be before you know what question to ask.

Clear, isn’t it?

But what’s certain is that poor change management can lead to serious consequences for your company. Some of those consequences can be challenging, some potentially disastrous and some could put you out of business.

“There’s a definitional swamp around change, release and configuration management,” observed Gartner Research analyst Jim Duggan. In regard to change management, a lot revolves around the sort of change you have in mind: It could be organisational change, it could be a change in IT products or services, and it could be a product change or a software update. Each type of change requires some means of tracking it and evaluating the impact on the product, organisation or customer and overall operations in an organisation.

For many companies, change management involves IT systems and product deliveries. In other words, if you asked your IT department to move toward adopting Windows 7 on all company desktop computers, then you’d need some sort of change management process to track which computers could be changed, which could be changed only after something else (replacing a video card for example) was done, and which could not be changed. And then you’d need to track the progress on all of them as the change went through.

Fortunately, software products designed to handle change management exist. For some companies undergoing complex changes, the right software is a necessity. For some, it’s optional because they could use a manual system. And of course there are small companies or changes that don’t require much beyond a notepad. For now we’ll talk about software.

Getting Started

Every company will have a different road to change management, if only because no two companies are alike in their processes and practices. In addition, a great deal depends on how large the company is, how much change it needs to manage and what its IT department can handle. And, of course, the biggest single factor is knowing how change works in your organisation and deciding how that should translate into a formal change management process.

For Chris Moore, vice president of IT at Uponor North America, the process started with an Internet search for software. Moore had already come to the realisation that he needed to get a handle on managing change in the IT department, so he decided to start there and expand. He said lack of change management had led to some problems, or “catastrophes.” When changes were made, there were frequently unintended consequences.

“There was some business pressure to do this because they [his managers] didn’t understand why these catastrophes kept happening,” Moore said.