Managing Change in the IT Department


Managing Change in the IT Department

By Saeed Elnaj

Vice President, Global ICT, Project Concern International Project Concern International

Saeed Elnaj is vice president of Global ICT at Project Concern International (PCI). PCI is a member organization of Humentum.


A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine expressed concerns about the change management effort on one of our enterprise initiatives. The conversation reminded me of a quote from Charles Kettering, the American inventor, engineer, businessman, and holder of 186 patents, who once said, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” There is no doubt that technology has brought tremendous progress to humanity along with pain and frustration due to changing the way we perform tasks and consume products and services. After all, we are creatures of habits, and changing habits generates resistance, pain, and frustration.

The introduction of new technologies in organizations likewise generates pain and frustration. This requires an effective change management methodology to successfully deliver those technologies and reap the desired benefits and ROI.

Almost every activity within the IT department, simple or complex, involves change and requires a corresponding change management effort. To manage change effectively, it is important to understand the types of changes that we undergo and the types and relevant methodologies that we need to apply. Change can be classified based on its impact on end-users, customer experience, revenue, and IT and business operations. Change in IT can be classified into three categories: operational, transitional, and transformational change. This categorization helps me identify the relevant methodology to apply to effectively manage the different change types. Below is a table that lists the three types of changes that an IT department goes through with examples, complexity levels, change management methodologies, and suggested tools.



Change Type







Software release to fix bugs, improve security, enhance performance

Low to medium


ITIL processes with change management software tools: e.g., Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, open source



Email migration to O365, deploying digital marketing tool, major ERP upgrade projects

Medium to high


Communication plan, stakeholders' analysis, training



Enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), digital transformation initiatives

High to very complex

Kotter's Eight Steps

Change management eight-step tool



Operational change

Operational change is the simplest of the three. It is about the management of day-to-day IT changes from software upgrades, backup procedures, security monitoring, etc. These changes are about managing the existing operations and improving the existing IT infrastructure. Such changes do not create something new; rather, they improve the existing software, hardware, security, integration, and systems’ performance. These types of changes can be effectively managed using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology. ITIL is a set of processes for IT service management (ITSM) that has become the industry standard to manage IT operations.

ITIL is most efficiently applied when used with software tools to manage the processes. The tools will depend on the size and complexity of the organization, but they will make the ITIL processes actionable. Major software vendors such as HP, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft offer such tools. So do Salesforce and the open source community.

In addition to applying ITIL and using software tools to manage the operational changes, CIOs need to monitor the performance of these changes through key performance indicators (KPIs). One important KPI is the change failure ratio. This KPI is calculated by dividing the number of incidents related to failed changes by the total number of changes during a period of time. This produces a percentage number that should be monitored for trend analysis. It also should be reviewed frequently by operational managers and the CIO. Another KPI that can help in overseeing operational changes is the number and severity of incidents that should be reviewed frequently for trend analyses.

Transitional change

Transitional change is more complex and refers to unstructured changes that are introduced through IT projects. Usually these projects replace or require a major upgrade to existing IT assets or require some integration between the IT assets. Applying a rigorous project management methodology can address key aspects of the change management effort. For the change management effort to succeed, an emphasis must be put on preparing and executing an excellent communication plan. Applying the techniques and tools proposed by PMI in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guides are very useful for transitional change management. The PMBOK methodology is covered in detail in the book A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. For an effective change management effort in projects, I normally use a communication matrix that lists the stakeholders, what needs to be communicated to them, how frequently, when, by whom, and how. In addition, project-induced change requires emphasis on training and a clear stakeholders’ analysis to address their needs and concerns appropriately.

Transformational change

Transformational change is much riskier and by far more complex and challenging, impacting many business units in an organization and usually involving multiple change projects. Therefore, the traditional project change management tools and techniques are no longer sufficient. In addition, transformational change involves a vision of a future state that is radically different than the current, and people and culture might be required to change in order to implement it successfully. In fact, transformational change will most likely involve new structures, systems, skills, staff, processes, technology, and culture. To manage such a change effectively, applying a well-proven change management methodology is imperative. One of the most well-known of these is John Kotter’s eight-step process for managing change. The eight steps are covered in Kotter’s excellent book Leading Change. Below is a diagram depicting Kotter’s eight steps:



Kotter’s eight steps might seem to be a long list, but each step in this methodology is rather important, and according to Kotter, none should be skipped. Skipping any step or not implementing each step to the fullest is one of the biggest mistakes that frequently hinders the success of transformational change.

To successfully apply any change management methodology, a solid tool with a set of techniques and processes is required. When we look at ITIL and PMI-PMBOK, they are mature and readily available methodologies with industry-standard techniques and software tools that support them. While Kotter’s methodology is mature and well known, techniques and software tools that would be required to enable it are not as readily available. Such tools and techniques might be offered by consulting companies as part of a large and usually expensive change management contract.

To deal with the scarcity of tools for Kotter’s change management methodology, I created my own tool that guides me through the eight steps in a structured and systematic format. The tool is a fairly simple spreadsheet template with a worksheet for each of the eight steps. In each worksheet I detail the tasks that should be conducted to complete each of the eight steps. I also list the tool or techniques that would be needed for each task, who needs to implement it, when, and how. Below is an image of the tools showing step one, “Create a Sense of Urgency.”




Composing a detailed lists of tasks for each of the eight steps might make Kotter’s methodology even more complex, but the reality is that change is hard and complex and requires hard work, structured methodologies, and proven tools. And going back to Kettering’s quote earlier, only by applying such a structured methodology can hate and resistance to change be removed and progress ensue.

## Comments

Login to join the discussion.