Business-Level Change Management

It's impossible to pin down a universal definition of the term "change management," but what about at the business level? By incorporating executives and senior managers, key employees who are known for driving real change, perhaps we reach a more agreeable single definition.

For more than 10 years, change management has been a key process among CEOs for organizational change. The term change management is interpreted in different ways. One can look at change management as a catch all term that applies to not only the business and solution domains, but also an enterprise-level process. To some, change management is synonymous with configuration management (CM). To others, change management is a means to manage organizational changes. A special group is usually responsible for the change management process and the implementation of changes resulting from that process. Such a group may consist of CM practitioners (if related to configuration management), but if the change affects the organization, this group more likely will consist of designated senior members from different functions of the organization or enterprise.

Business-Level Change Management (BLCM) can be interpreted in a number of ways. BLCM may be viewed as an enterprise activity that includes executive and senior management who make top-level business decisions such as new or revised project management systems, enterprise resource planning systems, financial management systems, business direction, marketing philosophy, re-branding, process improvement initiatives, and so forth. BLCM could also be considered a project-level and system-level activity that manages changes to system development or to systems in operation that are managed by a program or project manager, or by customers or users of the system.

In my own research, I found an interesting number of definitions of change management on the Internet using the Google search engine ( which reinforces what I mentioned previously. That is, many believe change management is controlling and managing changes at the enterprise or organizational level, while others have a completely different philosophy of change management altogether.

Industry Standard Definition of Change Management
ANSI/EIA-649 [1] , National Consensus Standard for Configuration Management, defines (configuration) change management as follows:

Configuration change management is a process for managing changes and variances. The purpose and benefits of the change management process include the following:

    • Enable change decisions to be based on knowledge of complete change impact
    • Limit changes to those which are necessary or offer significant benefit
    • Facilitate evaluation of cost, savings, and trade-offs
    • Ensure customer interests are considered
    • Provide orderly communication of change information
    • Preserve configuration control at product interfaces
    • Maintain and control a current configuration baseline
    • Maintain consistency between product and documentation
    • Document and limit variances
    • Facilitate continued supportability of the product after change

The standard includes a fundamental principle for configuration change management: "Changes to a product are accomplished using a systematic, measurable change process." This is clearly a configuration management process focused on products or services, reflecting a business-level change management activity.

Three Basic Definitions of Change Management

According to Fred Nickols [2] , the notion of change management is defined using three basic definitions:

    • The task of managing change.
    • An area of professional practice.
    • A body of knowledge.

The Task of Managing Change

The first and most obvious definition of "change management" is that the term refers to the task of managing change. The obvious is not necessarily unambiguous. Managing change is itself a term that has at least two meanings.

One meaning of "managing change" refers to the making of changes in a planned and managed or systematic fashion. The aim is to more effectively implement new methods and systems in an ongoing organization. The changes to be managed lie within and are controlled by the organization.  Perhaps the most familiar instance of this kind of change is the change or version control aspect of information system development projects.

However, these internal changes might have been triggered by events originating outside the organization, in what is usually termed "the environment." Hence, the second meaning of managing change, namely, the response to changes over which the organization exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, social and political upheaval, the actions of competitors, shifting economic tides and currents, and so on). Researchers and practitioners alike typically distinguish between a knee-jerk or reactive response and an anticipative or proactive response.

An Area of Professional Practice

The second definition of change management is "an area of professional practice."

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of independent consultants who will quickly and proudly proclaim that they are engaged in planned change, that they are change agents, that they manage change for their clients, and that their practices are change management practices. There are numerous small consulting firms whose principals would make these same statements about their firms. And, of course, most of the major management-consulting firms have a change management practice area.

Some of these change management experts claim to help clients manage the changes they face - the changes happening to them. Others claim to help clients make changes. Still others offer to help by taking on the task of managing changes that must be made. In almost all cases, the process of change is treated separately from the specifics of the situation. It is expertise in this task of managing the general process of change that is laid claim to by professional change agents.

A Body of Knowledge

Stemming from the view of change management as an area of professional practice there arises yet a third definition of change management: the content or subject matter of change management. This consists chiefly of the models, methods and techniques, tools, skills and other forms of knowledge that go into making up any practice.

The content or subject matter of change management is drawn from psychology, sociology, business administration, economics, industrial engineering, systems engineering and the study of human and organizational behavior. For many practitioners, these component bodies of knowledge are linked and integrated by a set of concepts and principles known as General Systems Theory (GST). It is not clear whether this area of professional practice should be termed a profession, a discipline, an art, a set of techniques, or a technology. For now, suffice it to say that there is a large, reasonably cohesive albeit somewhat eclectic body of knowledge underlying the practice and on which most practitioners would agree - even if their application of it does exhibit a high degree of variance.

Principles for Managing Change
According to the LYNCO Associates [3] , there are 12 principles for managing change:

    • 1. Thought processes and relationship dynamics are fundamental if change is to be successful.
    • 2. Change only happens when each person makes a decision to implement the change.
    • 3. People fear change (when) it "happens" to them.
    • 4. Given the freedom to do so, people will build quality into their work as a matter of personal pride.
    • 5. Traditional organizational systems treat people like children and expect them to act like adults.
    • 6. "Truth" is more important during periods of change and uncertainty than "good news."
    • 7. Trust is earned by those who demonstrate consistent behavior and clearly defined values.
    • 8. People who work are capable of doing much more than they are doing.
    • 9. The intrinsic rewards of a project are often more important than the material rewards and recognition.
    • 10. A clearly defined vision of the end result enables all the people to define the most efficient path for accomplishing the results.
    • 11. The more input people have into defining the changes that will affect their work, the more they will take ownership for the results.
    • 12. To change the individual, change the system.

A Change Management Model

According to the Change Management Learning Center [4] , the business dimension of change includes the (following) typical project elements:

    • Business need or opportunity is identified.
    • Project is defined (scope and objectives).
    • Business solution is designed (new processes, systems and organizational structure).
    • New processes and systems are developed.
    • Solution is implemented into the organization.

The Definition and History of Change Management
According to Jeff Hiatt [5] , the field of change management can be confusing and sometimes complicated to research and study, especially for new practitioners. Change management is the application of many different ideas from the engineering, business, and psychology fields. As changes in organizations have become more frequent and a necessity for survival, the body of knowledge known as "change management" has also grown to encompass more skills and knowledge from each of these fields of study.

A Definition of Change Management
According to the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Glossary [6] , change management is defined as:

The Service Management process responsible for controlling and managing requests to effect (requests for) changes (RFCs) to the IT infrastructure or any aspect of IT services to promote business benefit while minimizing the risk of disruption to services. Change management also controls and manages the implementation of those changes that are subsequently given approval.

Mastering Change: Why Organizational Change Fails

According to Mark Sanborn [7] , CSP, CPAE, the following are some of the most common reasons why organizational change fails:

1. Mis-starts

A mis-start occurs when a change is ill advised, hastily implemented, or attempted without sufficient commitment. This is a leadership credibility killer.

2. Making change an option

When leadership commits to a change, the message must be that the change is not an option. But the message that often comes across is "We'd like you to change, we're asking you to change, we implore you to change, please change..." Whenever people have the option not to change, they won't.

3. A focus only on process

Leaders can get so caught up on planning and managing the process that they don't notice that no tangible results are being achieved. The activity becomes more important than the results.

4. A focus only on results

This stems from a belief that the end justifies any means. Organizations tend to fail miserably in this regard: they downplay or ignore the human pain of change. It is this insensitivity to people's feelings that not only prevents the change but destroys morale and loyalty in the process.

5. Not involving those expected to implement the change

A great deal of resentment is aroused when management announces a change and then mandates the specifics of implementation. Employees need to be involved in two ways. First, their input and suggestions should be solicited when planning the change. Secondly, after a change has been committed to, they should be involved in determining the means. Leadership needs to communicate, "Here's what must happen. How do you think it can best be done?"

6. Delegated to "outsiders"

Change is an inside job. Although outsiders like consultants might provide valuable ideas and input, people inside the systems must accept responsibility for the change. Scapegoating and passing the buck is not an option.

7. No change in reward system

If you keep rewarding employees for what they've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. Make sure that rewards, recognition, and compensation are adjusted for the desired change.

8. Leadership doesn't walk the talk

For change to happen, everybody involved must buy-in. Leadership, however, must take the first steps. Change is aborted whenever leadership doesn't demonstrate the same commitment they expect from others.

9. Wrong size

In this instance, the change is too massive to be achievable or too small to be significant. Like a good goal, a change program should be neither too easy nor too impossible.

10. No follow-through

The best planning is worthless if not implemented, monitored, and carried out. Responsibility must be clearly defined for making sure that follow-through is timely and intense.

We have reviewed the industry standard on configuration change management, which is very close to what BLCM and the focus of this article is all about. We also visited several sources that illustrate, from other business-level perspectives, what change management means to those organizations. The notion BLCM to the manufacturing or IT industries for the control and management of product may be a configuration management activity. To function properly, a designated group (CM group) must be responsible for the execution of the requisite tasks of the change management process. The CM group may consist of one or more persons appointed by the project manager. On smaller projects, some project managers serve as the "Configuration Manager" and perform all CM-related activities.

However, as we have discovered through modest research, executive officers and senior managers of those organizations typically carry out BLCM for the purpose of implementing organizational changes. They are the primary stakeholders and the change agents that drive the most strategic aspects of change.


[1] ANSI/EIA-649, National Consensus Standard for Configuration Management

[2] Fred Nickols, "Change Management 101: A Primer"

[3] LYNCO Associates, "Twelve Principles for Managing Change" ( )

[4] Change Management Learning Center, "The ADKAR Model - A Model for Change Management" ( )

[5] Jeff Hiatt, "Employee's Survival Guide to Change"

[6] IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Glossary ( )

[7] Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, "Mastering Change: Why Organizational Change Fails"

About the Author: Dick Carlson is a consultant with more than 20 years of software engineering experience that includes software development, software engineering training and mentoring, development and implementation of software lifecycle methodologies, software configuration management, software project management, software quality assurance, and software process improvement. Dick has trained and mentored teams and individuals on efficient SCM activities, project management, requirements management and development, risk management, business modeling, and business re-engineering. He has also been involved in software process improvement initiatives preparing organizations for SEI CMM compliance.  

Dick is the VP of Education with the Association for Configuration and Data Management (ACDM) and can be reached at [email protected]

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