Change Management 101: An executive guide to change management

Change Management 101: An executive guide to change management

A few painstaking steps offer numerous payoffs

How important is change management compared to other quasi-technical processes?

Change-management success depends more on your team members' ability to relate to each other and to customers than on hardcore technical skills such as, say, refactoring. Fine. But where exactly does change management rate among all the other can't-we-all-just-get-along goals spouted by helpful human resources departments everywhere?

The answer, according to a 2006 research article in The Journal of Computer Information Systems, is smack dab in the middle. Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, an associate professor of information systems at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Santiago Delgado, a product manager at National Instruments in Austin, Texas, administered surveys and conducted interviews about ERP implementations and upgrades at two large, creaking bureaucracies — a public university and a government-owned utility.

During havoc-wreaking ERP implementations, the researchers found that team composition, top management support and organisational communication proved more important than change management. During ERP upgrades, change management fared similarly, coming in fourth behind team composition, organisational communication and project management.

This is not to diminish the importance of change management, which the authors say belongs on any list of critical success factors for big projects. Rather, it's a reminder that even the best change-management plans can go awry if other organisational processes are not up to snuff.

What about the importance of change-management software compared to other business process or application lifecycle management tools?

Change management, though mostly about the human touch, also frequently requires various software tools. Especially in the world of application development, an array of such tools exists — some commercial, some open source. These tools can be essential, especially when they can automatically catalogue all changes to a code base associated with a given change request.

Having a detailed record of changes is required in highly regulated industries, such as food and pharmaceuticals. Indeed, in the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), the change-management system of any publicly traded company is potentially fair game for government regulators.

Those steeped in code say good change-management software is potentially more important than other process-focused tools, such as those handling configuration and requirements management.

One veteran coder told me the reality is that most development teams end up maintaining just small, functional subsets of the larger software program, hardly enough to justify using a configuration management tool — no matter the price. And capturing requirements, he said, could be as simple as scribbling on napkins and then organising the stack in a decidedly low-tech “napkin organiser.” In contrast, he declared his change-management software to be the heart of his development process and the glue among his developers, testing organisation and wider community of users.

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