Change management can prevent disasters and help a company clean up its act organisationally, but it's important to have a clear idea of what you're doing and why
The first challenge of change management is that there’s no real agreement on what it means, so before you can embark on a change management project you must first decide what you mean by change. The second challenge of change management is that you must know what you intend to change and how you intend to change it. In other words, you have to know what you want the answer to be before you know what question to ask.
Clear, isn’t it?
But what’s certain is that poor change management can lead to serious consequences for your company. Some of those consequences can be challenging, some potentially disastrous and some could put you out of business.
“There’s a definitional swamp around change, release and configuration management,” observed Gartner Research analyst Jim Duggan. In regard to change management, a lot revolves around the sort of change you have in mind: It could be organisational change, it could be a change in IT products or services, and it could be a product change or a software update. Each type of change requires some means of tracking it and evaluating the impact on the product, organisation or customer and overall operations in an organisation.
For many companies, change management involves IT systems and product deliveries. In other words, if you asked your IT department to move toward adopting Windows 7 on all company desktop computers, then you’d need some sort of change management process to track which computers could be changed, which could be changed only after something else (replacing a video card for example) was done, and which could not be changed. And then you’d need to track the progress on all of them as the change went through.
Fortunately, software products designed to handle change management exist. For some companies undergoing complex changes, the right software is a necessity. For some, it’s optional because they could use a manual system. And of course there are small companies or changes that don’t require much beyond a notepad. For now we’ll talk about software.
Every company will have a different road to change management, if only because no two companies are alike in their processes and practices. In addition, a great deal depends on how large the company is, how much change it needs to manage and what its IT department can handle. And, of course, the biggest single factor is knowing how change works in your organisation and deciding how that should translate into a formal change management process.
For Chris Moore, vice president of IT at  Uponor North America, the process started with an Internet search for software. Moore had already come to the realisation that he needed to get a handle on managing change in the IT department, so he decided to start there and expand. He said lack of change management had led to some problems, or “catastrophes.” When changes were made, there were frequently unintended consequences.
“There was some business pressure to do this because they [his managers] didn’t understand why these catastrophes kept happening,” Moore said.On the other hand, he had a limited budget and couldn’t afford to pick the wrong package. Moore also decided to move deliberately so the process would disrupt his day-to-day operations as little as possible. As a result of his Internet searches, Moore eventually picked ChangeGear from  SunView Software. The process, according to Moore, took a while. He talked to SunView Software for several weeks, and spent a couple of months planning and more weeks loading the IT assets into the software before it was ready for full-scale use.
Paul Smith, senior network engineer at  Metafore Technologies, a division of Montreal-based IT solutions provider  Hartco, approached it from a different direction. He needed to get a handle on changes to his operating environment, specifically Active Directory, so that he could allow changes to take place in an orderly fashion without unintended consequences – but also without giving assistant administrators too much access. In short, he wanted to automate the change process, remove manual steps and in the process eliminate most errors.
Smith said his company chose  Ensim Unify to automate the change process. “It’s removed a lot of administrative overhead for my department,” Smith said, “and it’s saved a lot of time. We used to have a lot of manual steps for user management. We don’t have those steps anymore. From my own experience it has lowered [the number] of errors.”
As was the case with Moore, Smith did his research on the Internet and performed his own implementation. Because his goals were specific and limited, he was able to choose a package that solved his exact problem and implement it himself. “Implementation took not even an hour,” Smith said. “It was done with guided installation help [from] one of the system engineers from Ensim. An hour later we were up and running. No changes were needed.”
Ultimately, change management is an organisational issue. While change management software can be a real help, if a company’s change process is broken or if the people handling change management don’t have the authority to enforce it, then change management software will only automate the chaos. On the bright side, users often report that adopting change management software led to organisational improvements.
“Do process first,” said Glenn O’Donnell, a Forrester Research analyst. “If you automate anything, it’ll just do it faster. If you automate a bad process, it’ll do bad things faster.” O’Donnell suggested that the fundamental action must be to get your head around the process and what the process ought to be.Once you have the process figured out, you need to have a commitment from all of the stakeholders in the process to make the changes you need to make with the change management system. Otherwise you can’t implement those changes, O’Donnell said. He also suggests that the easiest way to get buy-in is to go after the low-hanging fruit first; but which part of your operation meets that description depends on your company.
In many businesses, the process of adopting change management software is the event that moves organisational efficiency forward. “It can really clean up your act as a company,” Duggan says. “Companies that are notorious for bad IT systems are companies that have poor change systems or practices.”
Making change management work
In some companies change management needs a cultural shift to work. Such companies often reward “IT heroes” who make their reputations by fighting fires and overcoming disaster rather than those who avert disaster by planning ahead and managing the process. Change management systems can’t help these companies unless they commit to changing that part of their culture.
Sometimes the cultural shift happens after a realisation that the company has been rescued a few too many times to continue on in the same way. Or the shift takes place because the board or the CEO decides that change management is necessary and issues a directive. But in whatever case, everyone in charge of the process must agree.
Once the stakeholders agree to the necessity of change, then they have to agree on the process. The process does not have to be a companywide solution. In fact, it should be a limited solution that can be clearly identified, the process of change needs to be well understood and the results should be immediately measurable. Once the first step is taken and is successful then the next steps can be taken, and more of the organisation can benefit from change management.
In the case of Uponor, for example, change management came first to the IT department where the person in charge had a limited goal and a clear path and directive, and where improvements were easy to measure. Then other departments joined in, and eventually the company expanded change management to its manufacturing division and its European head office.
The existence of an international standard for change management has helped make it easier to spread the adoption of change management. The  ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) includes a set of best practices for change management. Notably, this is not a software standard, but rather a set of procedures, practices and concepts. Change management software can use those practices to define how it handles change within an organisation.
But the critical thing to realise is that change management software is only a tool that helps organisations manage change. Without a commitment to change and a process that works, the tool is useless.