Change Management

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Apart from the general confusion of what a change is and how it is best managed, Change Management is usually meant to be one of two different things:

  1. Management of regular or occasional changes to a plan, product or process
  2. Management of a special change process, a kind of project for an organizational change

The first meaning is a key ingredient in many project management and process improvement methods and frameworks, such as PRINCE2, CMMI and ITIL, while more holistic and philosophy oriented approaches like lean thinking do not need change management as everything is expected to be in eternal change, for instance managaged by a continuous improvement model like PDCA (ITIL actually have both change management and PDCA).

The second meaning is what many writers and speakers throughout the industrial age have been telling about – one more promising model after another. In contrast to all the philosophies on what to change and why, these models deal with how. John Kotter wrote an article once, later to become a book, on the idea of envisioning a burning platform and how important it is to make sure that everyone knows that they must change, or else… hasta la vista, baby!

Of course, change management can be less dramatic than that. Sometimes it is serious and really must be communicated in a way that leaves no doubt – like when lots of people are to be fired. But often it really isn’t that serious, like when a new management philosophy is to be implemented, because someone in upper management have decided so (as they believe it is the new formula for everything). Here it is much better to try to win the acceptance from the staff – or even better, tell about the idea and let all teams and individuals work with the idea and see what it brings.

One immensely annoying problem when dictating a change is that some people do not like it and therefore try to act against it. It looks like resistance, as seen with the eyes of the change manager, but really it is mostly attempts to sustain the quality and craftsmanship that has been hard earned since the last change.

And this is a bit funny, really! “Since the last change… something has been earned”. What am I saying here? That things changed since they changed? Yes, this is how it is. Managers often do not realize this fact of life – things are always changing, whether you are running a change process or not, so there is no such thing as “sustaining the change”.

As soon as you are done with your plan, or even during the plan execution period, myriads of small and big things happen that will change both the conditions for the plan and the preferred outcome. So here you either need the first definition of change management – thereby applying change management to your change management plan – or you should use an overall plan or concept which doesn’t depend on conditions and doesn’t have a particular desired outcome. There are models for that, and they work as good or as bad as any of the fixed models – with a failure rate of something like 70%.

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