Change Management for IT Projects (8 out of 8)

One week ago (3rd of September) we published the seventh article in a series of eight about Change Management and the consequences for IT projects. It focused on how to sustainably realize the intended benefits in an IT project for a change effort. It is essential that companies don’t let go before the IT project is really completed! Declaring victory too soon will result in a situation that the organization could go back to its old way of working.

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 the last and eighth step (out of 8) of the model of Kotter: Institutionalizing new approaches

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 eight 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 8 of the model and show what it means for IT projects.

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Creating a vision
  4. Communication
  5. Empowering your employees
  6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing more change
  8. Institutionalizing new approaches
    1. Actions needed
      1. Articulate connections
      2. Improve performance
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Norms and values
      2. Promotions of non-contributing people
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. Especially after completion of projects, realize that all points above still apply. Maybe with less intensity but not with less relevance
      2. It is an ongoing effort, see step one in the model

Institutionalizing new approaches

The final step is about ensuring that change is embedded into the company culture. Company culture is described by Kotter as “the way things are done around here“. Company culture is something that can only be influenced indirectly when enough people embrace new ways of working and when these new ways of working stick around for long enough.

Time, changes in leadership and changes in staff can evaporate the impact of the change effort quickly and easily. To ensure that the change remains part of the company culture, the most important thing is to conduct the first seven steps in an appropriate manner. The appropriate manner means that you have sufficient means and energy left to keep going and to keep improving the performance.

Therefore, leading change in an organization is an ongoing effort! Communicating the vision and demonstrating that it leads to ongoing positive results is key and something that is never finished. No longer communicating the vision and the values that belong to the vision means that old ways of working can emerge again. An organization is like a garden, it needs water, sunlight and last but not least: regular maintenance.

Finally, embedding change in the culture may require replacing employees and managers who really cannot or don’t want to support the change effort even when a lot of progress can be shown. Turnover or reassignment is an unfortunate result but sometimes it is needed if business leaders want to ensure that the changes stick successfully in the organization.

Methods & Tools

In terms of methods and tools, step eight can be summarized in five items. Business leaders need to closely cooperate with the guiding coalition and other managers if they want to keep the results of the change effort and eventually embed it in the company culture. Kotter describes these five items for changing the company culture as follows:

  1. Comes last not first Most alterations in norms and shared values come at the end of the transformation process.
  2. Depends on results – New approaches usually sink into a culture only after it is very clear that they work and are better than the old methods.
  3. Requires a lot of dialogue – Without verbal instruction and support, people are often reluctant to admit the validity of new approaches.
  4. May involve turnover of people – Sometimes the only way to change is to change key people.
  5. Makes decisions on succession crucial – If promotion processes are not changed to be compatible with the new practices, the old culture will reassert itself.

Consequences for IT projects

Keep in mind that IT projects are often a part of a wider change effort. All the steps in the model of Kotter are relevant, but in an IT project not all of them will have emphasis. Iteration of the steps of an IT project can have different dynamics than the iterations of the overall change effort.

The consequences for IT projects are described below:

  1. Especially after completion of projects, realize that all points above still apply. Maybe with less intensity but not with less relevance
    1. Keep your people continuously trained to avoid that the desired business process is followed and prevent them from going back to old ways of working.
    2. Be vigilant that systems are used as intended. And if not, take appropriate measures in a timely manner.
  2. It is an ongoing effort, see step one in the model
    1. It is important to continuously explain the reasons why things are done as they are done.
    2. Keep the system and its supporting processes in sync with the vision.


Institutionalizing new approaches and embedding new values in the company culture is an ongoing effort. In every IT project it is essential to train people on desired behavior around systems and processes. After an IT project, this training cannot stop but should be continued as part of regular maintenance. Finally, successful project can only be run with people that actively support the new approaches.

Did you realize all this when you started your last IT project? 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: