Principles of Change Management for IT projects


This article is about Change Management and the consequences for IT projects. It will look in more depth regarding 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 parties 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 know how to achieve it. Simply stated, but not so easily done.

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

Change Management Models

Many Change Management models exist, but deploying them to your own projects is another thing. The reason for this is that many models are high-level but lack a practical framework that is needed for deploying them. The ones that do have a practical framework are often proprietary knowledge of service providers to which you do not always have access.

In this article, we will use a model that is well-known and also accessible to show the practical consequences of Change Management for IT projects.

The model of John Kotter for Change Management

This model was introduced by John Kotter, leadership and change management professor at Harvard Business School, in his 1995 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 the 8 steps of the model and show for each step what it means for IT projects.

The steps in the model are the following:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
    1. Actions needed
      1. Examine the outside world (market, competitors, technological developments) for Opportunities & Threats
      2. Convince more than 75% of management that the Status Quo is more dangerous than the Unknown
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Underestimating
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. IT itself is constantly evolving, developments go faster today than they have ever gone before. This means that there is potentially a burning platform that could result in discontinuity of your business. Always being alert on potential disruptors is vital here and should be regularly on the agenda of management. End-to-End Automation becomes inevitable
  2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
    1. Actions needed
      1. Assemble a coalition of the willing with enough power
      2. Make teamwork happen outside of regular structures
    2. Pitfalls
      1. No teamwork at management level
      2. Not enough power to lead
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. You will need to align People, Process, and Technology. It starts with management. Only when management realizes that ultimately there is no difference between Business and IT, you can realize a truly powerful guiding coalition
  3. Creating a vision
    1. Actions needed
      1. Creating a vision
      2. Develop strategies on how to implement the vision
    2. Pitfalls
      1. A vision too complicated or too vague
      2. Vision cannot be communicated within five minutes
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. Your IT strategy should be aligned with your business strategy and ultimately integrated. Without an IT strategy, no impactful and contributing project can be done. Last but not least, the IT strategy must be feasible
      2. Your IT strategy should be regularly updated, see step 1
  4. Communication
    1. Actions needed
      1. Communication
      2. Walk the talk, practice what you preach
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Under-communication
      2. Inconsistent actions
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. You must really start on time and explain your communities and stakeholders to your plans. This is followed by a structured project management approach, explaining all steps to your audience. For any project this is relevant, almost always there are many people involved whose daily work will change. An exception might be infrastructure-related projects that only affect a few people in IT itself
  5. Empowering others to act on the vision
    1. Actions needed
      1. Change structures
      2. New incentives
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Not removing powerful individuals who resist change
      2. Training people on technical skills but not on new behavior
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. You will need co-workers that are convinced of the plan and properly trained to execute the work to be done. Rarely this is possible without organizational change as well. This means that Management and HR will need to do their part
      2. Again, follow structured project management, but give people the freedom to operate within the provided framework
  6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
    1. Actions needed
      1. Define an engineer short-term wins
      2. Recognize and reward employees contributing to these wins
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Not planning for quick wins
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. Consider that there is no replacement for solid project management, but also keep in mind that implementations that take 9 – 12 months are not very attractive
      2. For this reason, a mix of a solid approach and an agile approach might be the best answer. This way you can realize some gains in an early stage. Seeing is believing!
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing more change
    1. Actions needed
      1. Use credibility
      2. Dedicated employees
      3. Follow-up efforts/projects
    2. Pitfalls
      1. Declaring victory too soon
    3. Consequences for IT projects
      1. A project is only finished until the last steps have been executed. Structured project management and persistence to execute all previously defined steps is vital
      2. Confront top-down and bottom-up approach on a regular basis and derive the appropriate actions
      3. Aligning People, Process, and Technology, finding the right balance is the key to success. Get into the continuous improvement mode
      4. A project never stands on its own. It should always be part of a wider program, see step 3
  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 point 1

To put things in the right perspective, some remarks can be made about Kotter’s model:

  • It is a bit a rigid approach, one step at a time
  • Some steps might not always be relevant because of different situations/context
  • Dealing with difficulties, the model might not be detailed enough to function all scenario’s
  • With regard to time aspect, short term benefits are within 12-24 months and circumstances might have been changed meanwhile
  • The model is very much top-down but bottom-up is as important

These remarks do not make the model less valuable, the 8 steps are still very true. It means that every organization must tune the model to need as practice and theory are never the same. With the help of Q7 Consulting, you can create an approach that fits best with your project so that you can obtain the intended benefits.


If you want to increase the likelihood of success in your projects, it is very important to follow a Change Management model e.g. like the one of Kotter. And when you adopt such a model, it is wise to follow all the steps. And if you want to skip one (because it might not be of relevance), do it consciously and ensure you have the backup measures in place.

It is even more important to finish all the activities and do not think that it is good enough when 95% is done, it is not. This requires persistence, motivation but also a celebration of successes, even small ones.

If you feel that large system implementations are a bit outside the normal business activities and maybe be even outside your comfort zone, you have already significantly increased your chances of success by applying a model as described above.

If you want more information or you have specific questions with regard to Change Management in your organization, you can book a free consulting session on our website.