Organizational Change Process Steps and Your Projects

When starting a new project, or new to a role in the organization, you are part of a change. So how can you add more certainty in this change that you are part of?

This post explores a change process that can help, regardless of your role. It looks at the various organization situations, how the change process steps can help manage risk, and the strategic and project management impacts for having such a process.

Why a Change Process Work Flow?

STaRS Model

Change is complex and can be messy. And there are many approaches to managing change – and people can simply get exhausted with change.

How can you get organized in the face of this messiness and complexity?

The diagram at right is a starting point. It leverages the STaRS Transition Model, with four types of change situations to begin to organize your challenges:

  • Startup – There is little or no structure in place, and you and the team are building as you go. Startups are all about changing something. A process to follow can add some structure to improve chances of success.
  • Realignment – You are in a situation the may have worked in the past, but needs to change in order to more forward. Some structure in your approach can provide the clarity needed to move the team ahead confidently.
  • Sustaining Success – This situation is going well and is likely to continue – but can be improved. Analyzing the situation through a structured approach can help to identify the opportunities for improvement – and identify any potential issues.
  • Turnaround – Major adjustment is needed – building around core assets while restructuring the rest. A rigorous process can help to navigate the steps through the jarring change.

Each of these situations will have unique risks to the change being introduced, and working through a disciplined process is a great approach.

If you are working at a strategic, executive level, you will likely have a portfolio of challenges that align to more than one – maybe all – of these. If you are working in a middle management or project management role, you are probably involved with one or two of these at most, but also must understand the greater portfolio context within which you are working.

Knowing your context – Startup, Realignment, Sustaining Success, or Turnaround – is a first step in getting organized. But going deeper, there is a process for helping to ensure that you are ready to progress through the stages of the change process.

Organizational Change Process Steps

Organizational Change Process Steps

The diagram shows the ‘stage gates’ for progressing through the process. Here is some detail about each of these steps, or stage gates.

  • Awareness – Are people truly aware of the need for the change? This is most problematic in a Realignment situation, where things appear to be going well. For that reason, you can expect some resistance to the change. Universal clarity on what needs to be done, and the ability to gain buy-in, tends to be more straightforward for a Startup, Sustaining Success, or Turnaround situation.
  • Diagnosis – This can be complex. As the diagram shows, it involves performing root cause analysis. It is critical in all contexts to get the Diagnosis right in order to set the stage for success. Don’t move forward without it!
  • Vision – Vision involves developing the strategy for approaching the situation, given the strong Awareness and a credible Diagnosis. Vision may be more challenging in a Startup, where you are feeling your way through. Work your Vision, and know that you can make adjustments.
  • Plan – The Plan is where ‘the rubber meets the road’ – where implementation starts. This is easiest in a Sustaining Success. In a Startup and Turnaround, an agile approach with fast action, feedback, and adjustment are required. In a Realignment, even more careful Planning is required to maintain credibility. It needs to be good – not perfect – as you will probably tweak it as you go.
  • Support – No matter the context, the Support of various constituencies is required. This means that stakeholders of all kinds must be identified and clearly understood, and that a proactive effort must be undertaken to gain and keep their support throughout the process.

This stage gate process can help isolate risks. It provides the opportunity to manage issues at the earliest possible time, for the least cost, and with improved chances of success.

Impact to Strategy

There are different levels of strategies. Any initiative following the Change Process Work Flow above needs to first be aligned with the overall organization’s strategy.

But there are also strategies at the localized level of any initiative. Strategy is one key to the process work flow, as there are elements of strategy throughout the process, especially in the Awareness, Vision, and Plan steps.

In the Awareness step, for example, you may see indications that there is a problem – or an opportunity. That means that either there needs to be an adjustment to the strategy, the implementation (or operations), or both. Thus, some strategic thinking is definitely needed as part of the process. This is holds true, more or less, for the other process steps also.

Finally, any change process needs to be monitored and provide for feedback to strategy. The results of a change process effort will reveal a new point of view and vision. The result will be issues and opportunities to consider in formulating strategy in its next iteration.

Project Management Implications

I think the biggest impact of the Change Process Work Flow is in reducing risk. Risks can be reduced using this process at the project, program, and portfolio levels.

  • Projects – If the project is to succeed, you will need to consider the touch points in the process. For example, Awareness might be a factor with only small localized few people. Or, it could be much bigger! You need to determine that and make sure you have any risk covered. In project planning, you need to understand how each of these points might impact your project.
  • Programs – Programs are typically much larger and more strategic in nature. They will be subject to more risk in terms of the various factors. But they will also probably have the time, and maybe more wherewithal, to address them. Projects will most likely piggyback on efforts to manage these change process risks at the program level – or raise the issue if it is not being addressed.
  • Portfolios – Projects should be selected in part based on their chance of success. A group of projects may need to address the same or similar risks. It can be helpful to choose groupings of projects in part because they have those risks under control. If priority projects do not have those risks under control, then applying the process work flow and addressing the issues accordingly is needed.

Ensuring success on your projects entails checking the boxes on the touch points in the process – Awareness, Diagnosis, Vision, Plan, and Support – or some similar framework that you think better fits your situation.

Conclusion and Further Resources

This post explored the benefits of using a structured change process approach when starting a new project or new position. It explored how you can reduce risk when you are right in the middle of a change. It looked at several organization situations, how the change process steps effect each situation, and impacts to the approach to strategy and project management.

What are the key factors you have considered in a transition to a new project or position?

See the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Picking the Right Transition Strategy” by Michael D. Watson.

This post was based in large part on “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” (paid link) by Michael D. Watson.

The following is a related video by Michael D Watkins on “Major Career Transitions”.


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