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How to create a change management plan (and get it right!)

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

October 21, 2022

Like death and taxes, change is an inevitable part of life. And how an organization navigates these choppy waters can be a dealbreaker. 

Do it well, and you’ll minimize disruption and seize any opportunities that come knocking (remember, not all change is bad). Make a mess of it, and you’ll miss out, fall behind, or worse, end up on the rocks. So, how do you manage change to make sure it goes off without a hitch?

With a change management plan.

Change management is a process that helps organizations understand how to navigate change effectively. And one of the most important aspects of change management is the plan document. But what is it? And how do you create one? We’re here to help…

What is change?

The definition may seem obvious, but it’s worth being clear. In business, change can mean lots of things: a new product launch, an acquisition or merger, a rebrand, a relocation of your premises, or a shift to remote work. The list goes on. 

Change can be internal — like a new process or way of work — or external — like a change in the marketplace. It can be planned (we’re implementing a new CRM system in three months) or unplanned (a global pandemic throws our business plans into disarray).

In every case, though, it’s vital to have a plan that sets out how you’re going to manage the transition and ensures everyone is aware of what’s happening, when it’s happening, and what they need to do. That’s where change management comes in…

What is change management?

In short, change management is the process of managing change within an organization. But it’s not just about making changes; it’s about doing so in a way that minimizes disruption, maximizes efficiency, and keeps everyone on board.

Think of it this way: if your company is a ship, change management is the process of keeping it sailing smoothly through choppy waters. And just like a ship needs a map to stay on course, an organization needs a plan to manage change effectively.

What is a change management plan?

A change management plan is a document that outlines how an organization will manage change.

This can include everything from small changes, like adding a new employee to the payroll, to large-scale changes, like moving the company’s headquarters. 

It covers every little detail — from outlines of the change plan to task assignments for each stage to implementation guidelines. Just like a map that guides you to your destination, a change management plan outlines how you’ll navigate through the change and the aftermath. And just like any good roadmap, a change management plan should be clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Why is a change management plan important?

A change management plan helps organizations manage change effectively. By outlining the hows, whats, whys, and whos, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and keep disruption to a minimum.

Understanding different change management processes

There are a number of different change management processes out there to make transitions easier. Here are the most popular: 

  • The Kubler-Ross model: the Kubler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief model, helps people understand and come to terms with change. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first developed it in 1969, and organizations continue to use it to manage all sorts of changes, from downsizing to mergers and acquisitions.
  • The Lewis model: in this model, organizations manage change by understanding how people respond to change. Developed by organizational change management expert Richard Lewis, the Lewis model is based on the idea that people go through three stages when confronted with change: denial, resistance, and acceptance.
  • The Prosci model: this approach helps organizations understand and address the three areas most affected by change: people, processes, and technology. It was developed by Prosci, a leading provider of change management research, tools, and training.
  • Kotter’s 8-step Change Management Process: this method is built around eight key steps: creating a sense of urgency, forming a guiding coalition, developing a vision and strategy, communicating the vision, empowering employees to act on the vision, generating short-term wins, consolidating gains and producing more change, and institutionalizing new approaches.
  • The McKinsey 7-S Framework: created by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in the early 1980s, this process addresses seven key areas: strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff, and skills. 

As you can see, there are a wealth of options. Choose the one that best fits you and your team, as well as your project. Or try a blend, as we’ve done below with our tips! When it comes to change, the more you structure it, the smoother things will be. 

How do you create a change management plan?

Creating a change management process is relatively simple. Just follow these steps: 

  1. Define the scope of the change.
  2. Identify the stakeholders.
  3. Assign responsibility for making each change.
  4. Develop a timeline for implementing each change.
  5. Create a budget.
  6. Determine how you will measure the success of each change.
  7. Document everything in a clear and concise manner.
  8. Review and update your change management plan regularly.

Let’s go into each of these in a little more detail.

1. Define the scope of the change

The first step is to identify the necessary changes. This can be anything from adding a new vending machine to the breakout area or rebranding to introducing new tech or moving the company’s headquarters. Be as specific as possible when identifying the changes on the way. 

2. Identify the stakeholders

Once you’ve defined the scope of the change, you need to identify who will be affected by it. This is known as a stakeholder analysis and should include everyone from senior managers to front-line employees.

3. Assign responsibility 

Who’s doing what? Nurturing a sense of personal accountability is important when it comes to organizational change. With so much going on, you need everyone on the team to know exactly what’s expected of them. As project manager, you have to clearly identify who will be responsible for making each change and make sure they’re empowered to do so. 

4. Develop a timeline

Once you’ve identified the scope and responsibilities, the next step is to develop a timeline for implementing each change (here’s a free project timeline template). This will include deliverables and project milestones and act as the heartbeat of the project, driving you forward. 

Project Management Gantt Chart in Backlog by Nulab
When it comes to project kickoff, an interactive, cloud-based Gantt chart is the very best option. Add tasks, set deadlines, and track progress, all in real-time.

5. Create a budget 

Budget forms one-third of the triple-constraint triangle. So, if you’re a project manager, you’d better be sure you have it under control. Change is a project like any other, and it’ll almost certainly incur costs. Set a budget for your change. This will help ensure you have the resources necessary to actually implement the changes. 

6. Determine how you’ll measure success 

If you aren’t measuring success, how do you know the project’s over? Make sure you have a process in place for documenting your achievements beyond the timeline or Gantt chart. This can be anything from customer satisfaction surveys to financial metrics. By determining how you’ll measure the success of each change, you can confirm whether your change management plan is achieving the desired results. Change can also be challenging and stressful, so celebrate your wins! 

7. Document everything in a clear, concise manner

Jargon, messy documents, convoluted processes — no thank you! When you’re creating a change management plan, pay attention to form as well as content. Are your documents organized coherently and easily accessible? Have you checked your spelling and grammar? Did you use diagrams to visualize data where possible (it’s much easier to take in data when it’s presented as an image)? Is everything written in plain language? These things matter. 

8. Review and update your change management plan regularly 

It’s important to review and update your change management plan on a regular basis to make sure it’s still relevant and effective. The best way? Create the document in your project management tool. Then, you can store everything in a single repository (a.k.a. a single source of truth). 

Checklist: which documents should your change management plan include? 

Your change management plan should include the following documents:

  • A list of the changes 
  • A responsibility assignment matrix, including stakeholders 
  • A change roadmap, with a timeline for implementing each change
  • A budget for each change
  • A communication plan

Alongside these formal documents, your change management plan should include/address:

  • The reasons and scope of the change
  • A list of stakeholders, which may include a change control board
  • A detailed description of the expected benefits

Change management plans: best practice

Some tips to guide you: 

  • Make it clear: the plan should be clear and concise and feature easy-to-follow processes. All stakeholders should be able to understand it and know their roles in the change management process. 
  • Be realistic: keep the plan realistic and achievable. Take into account the resources available and the timeline for implementing each change.
  • Be flexible: the plan should be adaptable to fit the changing needs of the organization and employees. And it should be in a format that easily accommodates changes as they occur.
  • Communicate regularly: keep the lines of communication open, especially when the plan changes. This helps everyone stay abreast of the developments, so they know what’s required of them throughout the process.
  • Review and update regularly: keep the plan up to date to ensure it remains relevant and effective.
  • Set targets: targets drive your project forward. When setting them, ensure they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (a.k.a. SMART goals). And don’t forget to set up key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring the progress and effectiveness of your plan. 
  • Ensure buy-in from all stakeholders: stakeholders are important and play a key role in determining whether or not the change was a success. So, don’t forget them! Make sure they understand the need for the change and are committed to supporting it. By seeking their input, getting sign-off on every development, and communicating regularly, you’ll keep these important people smiling. 
  • Use project management software: spreadsheets, MS Word formatting, version control, progress update emails — say no to it all, and go with a simpler solution. Project management software is the best option when it comes to change management plans, since you can get everything you need in one program. Project management software is a digital way to create, track, and monitor your plan from start to finish — all from one central repository, which everyone on the team can access in real-time.

Look for a project management tool that offers a way to:

  • Create and edit change request forms
  • Set different monitoring, access, and approvals capabilities 
  • Update the change plan, including reclassifying items
  • Break down tasks and assign work to individuals or teams
  • Change scheduling capabilities 
  • Configure the change management process
  • Access a change log for historical tracking
  • Alert team members with automatic notifications

Final thoughts

Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be chaotic. Armed with an effective change management plan (and some good collaboration tools), you’ll be able to navigate even the most challenging of changes with ease. Good luck! 

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