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We Need to Talk…About Change Management

By | May 27, 2015 in ITIL

Change Management process

You know those awkward conversations that start with “we need to talk”? Well, it’s time. We need to talk.

About ‘change management’.

Ever see someone endorsed for ‘change management’ on professional networking sites, and wondered what kind of change management?  Ever thought, “wait, they don’t know anything about IT Service Management”?

There seems to be a fair amount of confusion around  the term ‘change management’.

Most of us IT service management folks think of IT change management, emphasis on the ‘IT’.

Project managers think of changes in the scope or definition of a project - change management being the formal process to review and approve material changes to the project scope, schedule, or resources.

Yet another is organizational management of change, frequently known as ‘change management’. This change management has to do with the people aspects of changes in an organization, and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘transition’.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Add to these a host of also-known-as variations:

  • Change control
  • Change board
  • Change enablement
  • Change leadership
  • Transition management
  • Management of Change (MOC)
  • Change adverse culture

Not to mention:

  • Game changer
  • Culture change
  • Theory of change
  • Change agent
  • Course change
  • Change framework

And my favorite:

  • Spare change

Adding to the difficulty is that many of them are closely related. ‘Change control’, for instance, is often used interchangeably with ‘IT change management’. ‘Change board’ and change advisory board (CAB) are often used to describe the same thing.

Change management is a process that’s covered in the ITIL® Service Transition lifecycle.

Change agents and change leadership usually has to do with leadership and the ability to achieve change in an organization.

In the United States, Management of Change (MOC) is a well-defined standard for risk management, generally associated with occupational health and safety in manufacturing and facilities management.

It’s no wonder there’s a lot of confusion surrounding change management.

Time to Face the Strange Cha Cha Changes

Each term is important in its own right, and has a context-specific meaning. The problem isn’t so much confusing the terms themselves. That would be easy enough to clear up, and you can usually derive the meaning from the context. No harm done.

Where there’s a problem is when the meanings get confused,andit happens more than you might think.

Shall we, as David Bowie famously put it, turn and face the strain?

IT Change Management

Over the years, I’ve come to add ‘IT’ in front of ‘change management’ to make it more clear to what I’m referring.  ITIL doesn’t make this distinction; I’ve just found it helpful to avoid misunderstandings.

IT change management, then, is the process that manages the lifecycle of all IT changes.  Stuart Rance does a great job describing it succinctly in What is Change Management For?

There’s no single right way to manage change, but when talking about IT change management, we’re generally talking about some variation on the best practices approach described in ISO 20000, COBIT, and ITIL.

In short, IT change management seeks to:

  • Ensure timely and effective implementation of business-required changes
  • Appropriately manage risk
  • Minimize business impact and unintended consequences from changes
  • Ensure changes achieve desired business outcomes

Most IT people are familiar with the change advisory board (CAB). CAB is perhaps the most recognized component of change management.

The change management process is triggered by a request for change (RFC), which is a record that describes the proposed (requested) change in enough detail that CAB can effectively evaluate it.

Where it gets complicated is when IT change management has to consider the cultural implications of a proposed change. In these cases, organizational changes must occur for the proposed change to produce the anticipated outcomes.

This is where IT change management intersects with organizational management of change, which is an altogether different thing than IT change management.

Organizational Management of Change

Whereas IT change management is focused on managing changes to IT services, processes, and infrastructure, organizational management of change is about managing people and organizations through changes of any type, generally separate from IT changes.

Good examples include implementing a new work-at-home policy, outsourcing a function, reorganizing a division, or closing a site. Management would be wise to carefully apply organizational management of change to successfully transition to the desired new state.

Prosci describes change managementlike this:

“Change management is the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.”

The key difference here is ‘…the people side of change…”, which is similar to, and yet very different from IT change management.

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Change?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus infamously said that the only thing that’s constant is change, and that’s probably about right.

In our time, businesses must constantly change and adapt to stay competitive. That requires an IT organization that can execute changes with speed and precision.

Good reason to be clear about what we mean by change management.

That’s a change we can all agree on.

Like this article? You may also like: Change Evaluation: The Seven R's Revisited

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Greg Sanker

About Greg Sanker

Greg is an IT Service Management blogger, speaker, and practitioner with decades of global IT experience ranging from Fortune 10 tech giant to public sector. He lives in the Pacific Northwest (USA), where stunning natural beauty and high tech form a unique lifestyle. In his spare time, Greg hikes, bikes, and plays a bit of blues guitar. He blogs about Excellence in IT Service Management at

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