January 28, 2021
10 Components of an Effective Change Management Strategy
Change management is a crucial aspect of organizational success.
When you provide a clear path toward transformation, it allows you to drive meaningful change within your ranks.
That said, if you haven’t updated your strategy in recent months, it’s probably time for a refresh.
Due to a converging set of factors, including the rise of big data, widespread cloud adoption, empowered consumers, and yes, the coronavirus, there’s a good chance that circumstances have changed considerably in a matter of months.
In other words: the change management strategy needs to evolve in response to external drivers. Here, we’ll go over the components of an effective change management framework.
1. Run a Change Impact Analysis
Start with performing a change impact assessment. This strategy aims to influence the various factors used to support the proposed change and should accomplish the following objectives:
- Determining the extent of the change by comparing the current state to the desired outcome.
- Estimating the impact of making this change. Then, define requirements for supporting the transition.
- Ranking requirements according to priority and impact and priority ratings.
- Making decisions based on the specified requirements.
The impact analysis can vary depending on the project code base maturity.
For Greenfield projects (new, built from scratch; analogy for a literal “green field” with no existing infrastructure), everything is mostly new and imposes fewer constraints. The team can follow existing architecture patterns and integration with existing code is clearer.
For Brownfield projects (projects focused on modifying/expanding existing infrastructure/systems), things can range from simple to very complex, depending on legacy code, third-party libraries and old architecture patterns.
Hence, the analysis should include arguments and recommendations for how to approach the new implementation. Some examples of decisions you might make at this stage:
- Use the old architecture for the new feature if it makes integration easier.
- Use new architecture patterns if the new feature can be decoupled from old code.
- Refactor legacy code first to comply with new standards used in the team.
- Implement compatibility bridges or interfaces between old and new code.
- Make exact copies of existing old code with a few modifications. This helps for quick prototypes and experiments.
In some cases, a tech lead or architect creates a proof-of-concept or quick-and-dirty prototype to explore the scope of a feature and test potential changes. This provides decision makers with a better understanding of what needs to change and how different solutions might influence outcomes.
For engineers and developers, prototyping allows them to propose architectural guidelines for the new feature and find potential integration issues before the project kicks off.
2. Make the Case to Stakeholders
Transforming organizational culture requires leadership from the top. Fundamental changes to existing processes may require a significant upfront investment both in terms of time and money.
Initially, you’ll need to present your case to executive decision makers—using data that can demonstrate the potential impact updating the change management strategy can have on the bottom line.
3. Build a Team of Sponsors
Per Prosci’s Change Management checklist, you’ll want to select a team of sponsors who can serve as active and visible participants throughout the entire project life cycle. According to the organization, leadership participation is the number one contributor to a successful change management plan. Sponsorship should align with the size and scope of the proposed change, organization size and structure, and level of impact on workflows and employee responsibilities.
This group can be used to communicate directly with employees and create a sense of transparency (and psychological safety) during the transition.
4. Create a Communication Plan
Regardless of methodology, change management plans live and die by good communication.
According to Gartner, effective change requires clear, consistent messaging, access to information and supporting resources. It also requires two-way communication structures for sharing feedback regarding what is or isn’t working.
Your communication plans should empower employee-decision making, put new strategies into context, and explain the impact of the change on all aspects of the job. This process helps build judgment by supporting employees and their ability to navigate change/shifting cultural norms—big driver for aligning your people around the big transformation.
The Product Mindset
5. Involve the Team Early and Often
Once you’ve secured the go-ahead from the top, you’ll need to get the team onboard. Chances are, this will be your biggest challenge, as change tends to scare people.
- Combat these negative feelings by involving people early on.
- Be upfront about how change will impact the organization, as well as individual roles.
- Start implementing small process changes/collect feedback/adjust strategy.
Effective change management processes rely on supporting activities and tools—usually developed and managed by the change management “coalition” or the stakeholders involved in a particular project/process/department.
In the context of software development, it makes the most sense for the development team to lead the charge while working closely with others impacted by the change—C-suite, product managers, etc.
Abel Gonzalez Garcia recommends holding regular check-ins after that initial discussion.
He says, “after involving the team, it can be good to share updates about how the change is coming on. It allows all stakeholders to be better informed.”
6. Reduce Cultural Tension
According to Gartner, 80% of employees experience cultural tension while navigating change in the workplace, citing competing priorities as a source of tension. Examples include profits vs. people, efficiency vs. innovation, quality vs. speed.
Factors like seniority, experience, corporate norms, hierarchies, and a lack of organizational alignment also need to be addressed. In turn, this means that your change management strategy needs to reflect the culture you want, not the status quo. Otherwise, you’ll continue on with the same problems.
7. Identify the Activities & Tools that Support the Change Management Strategy
Next, identify the resources you need to support the change. That might include any of the following, depending on what kind of change you have planned:
- Investing in new infrastructure, employee retraining, and/or new software.
- Identifying new practices and processes.
- Defining a business case, milestones, and metrics.
- Developing training materials and documenting processes.
- Creating an implementation roadmap, resistance management plan, or process improvement strategy.
- Implementing new tools to facilitate the process.
- Creating a process for measuring success.
- Gathering data and selecting reporting tools/methods.
“Depending on the organization’s needs and team maturity, change management strategy might benefit from an engineering reorganization. For example, a small company might have a single engineering team that implements all features. However, as the organization grows and some business features demand more engineering resources, it might make more sense to divide the team into smaller groups.”
Paul Estrada – Software Engineer Lead
He says that these small teams are typically focused on “specific business lines or features, which makes development iterations faster and collaboration more efficient. To some extent, this can also help to comply with SLAs and customer support.”
8. Develop an Official Resistance Management Plan
Resistance is normal—people tend to dread change—whether that’s out of a fear of the unknown, loss of control, or new risks that could undermine the success of the project, or worse, your entire organization.
Arm yourself with the tools and tactics for combating the resist change. Managers can plan ahead to avoid human roadblocks down the road.
- Develop proactive strategies that identify areas where you’re likely to encounter objections and use them as a tool for generating early support.
- Work on reactive tactics for dealing with resistance as it happens
- And finally, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the success—of both the teams and individuals—involved in the process. This helps improve adoption rates of both the change management process and the change itself.
9. Focus on Generating Early “Quick-Wins”
Targeting “low-hanging fruit” is often a fast, cost-effective way to create a positive business impact. It’s also an essential step for securing buy-in from resistant employees.
As employees start to see the first signs of positive change (change that they helped make happen), it starts to build a sense of hope among the ranks.
Long-term, these small wins play a critical role in driving lasting improvements to the development process—and by extension, the quality of products and services. Additionally, it is also a major factor in preventing and fighting burnout.
Make sure to be transparent about processes and provide data that demonstrates the impact of the new strategy and grounds claims in a tangible reality.
Essentially, these initial “quick wins” help demonstrate that, yes, there’s a valid reason for making everyone embrace new ways of doing work—and that their efforts really do make a difference.
10. Change management frameworks should always be changing
Your change management strategy should feel like the Agile development process—iterative, collaborative, and ever-evolving.
Make sure there’s visibility into all steps of the change management process, as well as goals and metrics, to help measure progress and identify and remove roadblocks.
Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines, in-house or outsourced, should be able to see what’s going on at any given moment and can pivot as needed.
Ensure your strategy offers enough flexibility so that it can be adjusted as teams work through the project and find better ways to do things. It’s important to note that you may need to adapt Agile principles/values to fit new situations.
As Paul Estrada points out, “Agile favors working software over comprehensive documentation. However, for change management, written technical documents, design specs, and implementation plans can help to keep development teams on track as they implement new features.”
He says that these documents should provide developers with an overview of the expected change and outline how work is divided into smaller tasks, which often span several development cycles.
Still, it’s important to note that the goal of these documents isn’t to provide an up-to-date “state of the feature” report. Instead, it’s best to think of documentation as a tool you can use to streamline the development process and facilitate discussion. This is becoming more important as more companies embrace remote work and rely on asynchronous communication tools to collaborate and share information.