When it comes to business processes, I find that a large number of organizations struggle most with change management, mainly because it's so rigid and the process is always changing.
It doesn't matter if your business is big or small, changes have to be managed to be successful. All too often, though, change management is ignored or circumvented. When I worked as an IT auditor, I spent months learning, documenting and testing change control processes at Fortune 500 companies. Then, as the CIO of a small healthcare company, to my utter shock, our company experienced the same challenges when managing change that I had studied and tested as an auditor.
Since no two companies are the same and no one process template meets everyone's needs, I can't tell you how your change management process should work and evolve over time. I can, however, share my theory on the change management evolutionary process and how you can use it to be successful.
The 'monkey' phase
For me, the first phase -- the "monkey" phase -- in a change management process conjures up an image of two people starting a company. They don't have time to document anything or create a change control board, get signed approvals -- none of that. In essence, the monkey change management process leaves these two entrepreneurs with an undocumented mess.
But they are successful (at first anyway) for a couple of reasons: They speak on a daily basis and agree on short- and long-term objectives. They also have a clear division of tasks and, thanks to constant communication, their workloads are manageable.
Despite its inherent flaws, the lesson from this scenario is that the foundation of change management is communication. As the translator of business needs to IT deliverables, you can't even begin a change management process if you don't have a solid communication plan.
The "Neanderthal" change management process can best be likened to a teenage boy -- awkward and struggling to be more mature. A company in the Neanderthal stage realizes that a plan that worked for 10 people doesn't work for 40. They know they need help and are quickly sold on a tool to fix to their change management problems -- a tool like Bugzilla or SharePoint, which they acquire, install and use. The company will flounder during this process until it learns how to make a fire, meaning the light comes on and everyone understands that a tool is useless without a defined process.
Eventually our two savvy partners realize that a tool will never be better than the change management processes it supports. They create a change control board and an SDLC (Systems Development Life Cycle) policy that they periodically review and update.
The 'human' phase
In my opinion, not many change management processes make it to the human stage. In fact, I have only witnessed a handful of companies that have matured that much. It is, essentially, the nirvana state, where changes are clearly documented and tested and when the company also has a tool or product that supports rock solid procedures.
The process is somewhat organic in that it inherently adjusts priorities and allows others into the process. It also systematically learns from past mistakes and implements tools that support and enforce process controls.
Don't let my examples fool you; the size of a company doesn't necessarily correlate with where it is in the evolutionary process. The message I'd like to get across to those two original business-building hopefuls and to anyone seeking to create a change management policy is that it boils down to a simple equation: Create an environment of communication, add your business processes and implement tools that support those processes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell Olsen, CISA, GSNA, MCP, is an IT professional with a wide range of experience as a CIO and as a VP of product development, VP of operations, and as a senior auditor for a Big Four accounting firm, performing technology risk assessments and Sarbanes-Oxley audits.
This was first published in May 2009