Change Management in IT projects (Part 1 out of 8)


Last week (6th July) we published the article about Change Management and the consequences for IT projects. It focused more in-depth on the specific change management topics in IT projects and it concludes with basic rules on how to effectively address the Human Factor in such projects by applying a structured approach.

The experience from many different sources tells us that 75% of System Implementations fail to deliver their expected benefits. The one constant factor is that Change Management for People, Process, and Technology is not appropriately addressed. Business leaders often do not realize enough how important this is or don´t know how to achieve it. Simply stated, but not so easily done.

This week we will look at step 1 (out of 8) of the model of Kotter: Establishing a Sense of Urgency.

You are encouraged to read further if you want to ensure your project ends up in the 25% quadrant.

The model of John Kotter for Change Management

This model was introduced by John P. Kotter, leadership and change management professor at Harvard Business School, in his 1995/2012 book, “Leading Change”. The model defines 8 key steps for change management, arguing that skipping any of the steps can be enough for the whole project to fail. Below we will go through step 1 of the model and show what it means for IT projects.

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
    1. Actions needed
      1. Examine the outside world (market, competitors, technological developments) for Opportunities & Threats
      2. Convince > 75% of management that the Status Quo is more dangerous than the Unknown
    1. Pitfalls
      1. Underestimating
    2. Consequences for IT projects
      1. IT itself is constantly evolving; developments go faster today than they have ever gone before. This means that it is likely that a burning platform could result in discontinuity of your business. Always being alert on potential disruptors is vital here and should appear regularly on the agenda of management. End-to-End Automation becomes inevitable

The most common error is not establishing a sense of urgency. Kotter argues that this first step is essential “because just getting a transformation program started requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people will not help, and the effort goes nowhere”. Approximately 50% of the initiatives already fail here.

Underestimating a Sense of Urgency

Most people know that creating a sense of urgency is not easy. Yet they underestimate the effect of complacency and the forces that help maintain the Status Quo. Human nature itself is one of these forces; changes cost energy and people must let go of old behaviours and learn new ones. A second force is the design of the organization and its processes. If the organization is not set up to actively seek feedback from the outside world and does not measure performance in a suitable way, problems will not be seen early enough.

Increasing the sense of urgency requires minimizing or removing the forces that maintain the Status Quo. This implies usually taking a lot of risks. Managers often lack patience and/or are afraid of the downsides of their own actions and fear the reactions of their staff.

If there are too many managers and too few leaders, creating a sense of urgency and conducting change will become almost impossible: “Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership. Phase one in a renewal process typically goes nowhere until enough real leaders are promoted or hired into senior-level jobs”.

IT projects

IT projects are often underestimated because Business Leaders do not realize enough how integrated People, Process, and Technology are. Doing an IT project successfully always requires Change Management for all three. If an IT project is seen as technology only, or technology and minor process changes, then the need for proper Change Management is easily overlooked.

Without alignment between People, Process, and Technology, it is almost certain that you will not be in the 25% of successful projects.

Methods & Tools

From a management point of view, there are multiple methods of examining the outside world and convincing enough people that the Status Quo is more dangerous than the Unknown. These methods boil down into two things: one is having people personally experienced that the Status Quo is not sustainable by letting things go wrong (creating a crisis); another one is creating more insight by actively seeking feedback from the outside world and measuring performance in a different way.

The first method is very effective, but we will not focus on this here since it is organization-specific (out of scope). Here we focus on the second: creating insight.

A tool that is very suitable for creating insight is the Three Horizons model of Sharpe & Hodgson. This model shows the route towards the future and the limitations of the present in 3 ways of thinking:

  1. First horizon (purple line): Managerial way of thinking
    1. Current strategy and way of working
    2. Focus on Operational Excellence
  2. Second horizon (green line): Entrepreneurial way of thinking
    1. Innovations which will replace the current way of working
    2. Focus on new tooling
    3. The innovations of the second horizon enable the transformation
  3. Third horizon (blue line): Visionary way of thinking
    1. Focus on innovation, disruption
    2. New Business Models, entrepreneurial spirit

This model is used to have a structured discussion about the future in the form of a workshop. It is recommended to conduct this regularly as a strategic exercise within your management team with the help of a moderator. Q7 Consulting can help you in the setup and execution of such a workshop.

In the near future, Q7 Consulting will come up with a tool to conduct the execution on-line which will facilitate the execution of this model in case of travel restrictions which are now applicable due to Covid-19.


As it is important to convince 75% of the Management that the Status Quo is more dangerous than the Unknown as a prerequisite for success, there is a lot of work to be done. It is understandable that not immediately all Management understands the sense of urgency, neither is convinced. Take into consideration the following examples: full focus on only the first horizon will lead to a similar situation as with Nokia or Kodak.

Now relate this to your own situation and convince yourself that proper Change Management is key for successful IT projects. If you want more information or you have specific questions, you can book a free consulting session on our website: