What is change management?

by Paul Kesler

Change management is defined as “a collective term for all approaches to prepare and support individuals, teams, and organizations in making any organizational changes” (Wikipedia, n.d.). According to the Human Change Management Institute “The most common change drivers include technological evolution, process reviews, crisis, and consumer habit changes; pressure from new business entrants, acquisitions, mergers, and organizational restructuring.” Learn about change management in projects, examples, its processes, developing a change management plan and its benefits, and change managing certification.

The history 

Change management has been around for over 50 years. It began at a time when people were starting to realize that a set of principles and processes were needed to support businesses and other organizations that were experiencing rapid change. It could be for example a change in business model, change in staffing needs or requirements, or finally, location changes brought about by globalization.  

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Early pioneers in the subject Julien Phillips from McKinsey & Company published a change management model in the journal Human Resource Management in 1982 (Wikipedia, n.d.). Other pioneers included Daryl Conner and Don Harrison, whose contributions led to the legitimization of the whole change management industry (Wikipedia, n.d.).  

Types of change in project management

  • Strategic change
  • Operational change
  • Technological change

Here’s just one change management project example: Let’s say your organization is making internal process changes; this would be considered an operational change because it is changing how it operates internally.

Change manager roles

Change Management practitioners are most often found within organizational departments such as Human Resources, Communications, IT, or Project Management. Think of areas within organizations that need to execute and communicate change at the enterprise level impacting the majority of people. Typical change management processes include a series of steps to follow to successfully manage changes with minimal disruptions.


Prosci is a leading change management organization that provides instruction and certifications in the field for those people interested in mastering the concepts and practices. There are several available certifications that are offered through different institutions, they include:

Developing a change management plan

Below is a simple process that I have found useful when leading teams and developing a comprehensive change management plan. By following this list, you should be well underway in organizing your team for a successful change event.

  1. Request for change: Typically this is driven at the executive level or from an external influence such as a new or existing customer or from external market forces. Lead your team through a current and future state exercise to make sure you have alignment on where you are now versus where you need to get to or be in the end. Involving all the right people from various functional departments and levels will ensure that your assessment is accurate and complete. It is extremely helpful if you can tie the change into the overall business strategy as it should become more apparent to the majority of the people why a change needs to occur. Be certain to emphasize this later in your change communications.
  2. Impact assessment: Ask yourself who will be most impacted by the change. Have we had well-thought-out conversations and dialogue to not only understand their needs, but how to communicate the impact the change will have on their day-to-day functions.
  3. Develop your plan: Pull in the right people throughout the organization to gain their valuable insights and experiences. This will almost undoubtedly lead to an overall better plan. Listen to their experiences and make sure to create a concrete communication plan that shares the vision, mission, and strategy that you are trying to achieve. Think of what barriers your team might experience and plan for ways to overcome these obstacles.
  4. Approve/deny: A formal checkpoint. What do the senior executives or customers think about your plan? Has it been well-constructed and does it meet the needs of the business? How comfortable are the key stakeholders with your plan?
  5. Execute change: Identify and secure your change champions early on and across the organization including people at different levels of the business. Review your plan on a regular basis with your team; ask what needs to be modified based on fluctuating conditions. Share quick wins inside your team and with the entire organization to spotlight those early adopters. You will be surprised at how this will now drive others to follow.
  6. Review/reporting: Is your change sticking within the organization? What can you do to help those that are still resistant? What new, unanticipated problems have been uncovered? These are all things that you can get in front of through being comprehensive in your initial planning. What are the success metrics you identified that you can track and review on a regular basis to ensure the organization is still on track?

Benefits of change management

There are a multitude of benefits organizations and individuals can derive from change management, let’s look at the benefits to organizations first and then the benefits for individuals. Organizations can assess the impact or benefits of changes quicker, respond to customer demands faster, implement changes with minimal disruptions to daily operations and reduce any risks associated with change. These are just a few of the benefits this profession has to offer an organization but what about individuals? Change management can help increase productivity, efficiency, reduce stress or anxiety associated with change, and reduce resistance to change. Again there are many other benefits this profession has to offer within your teams and for your success rates.

Be sure to make proper change management a priority and add these important steps to your project management toolbox.

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