Change management impacts everyone

May 26 · 8 min read

While companies have used technology nearly from the beginning, digital transformation has brought a new level of technology interdependency. In times past, businesses used technology to be more effective in doing things they otherwise would do without technology. Storing information on computers rather than in file drawers, financial management systems rather than ledger books, and the like.

But “digital organizations” are very different; apart from technology, there is no business. The products and services offered don’t exist separate from the technology that delivers them.

When you’re Facebook, Microsoft 365, LinkedIn, or Spotify, when systems fail you don’t resort to “doing it on paper, like we used to.”

Changes impact users

When it comes right down to it, how changes to technology are accomplished has a direct impact on everyone in the organization. How users experience the technology they use to do the work of the company has a direct impact on the ability of the organization to succeed in its mission.

When systems

  • are not available
  • don’t work as expected
  • lack desired or required functionality
  • become unstable and unreliable
  • change too much

users are affected. The impact ranges from mild annoyance to high levels of stress and anxiety, as well as business impact. And as with most things regarding human experience, it’s not a single instance so much as the long-term effect of exposure over time. The significance, then, is less about the scope and magnitude of any single event but more so the cumulative effect of how changes to technology are managed in the organization.

In other words, the change management capability of the organization has a direct impact on how users experience technology

The dimensions of change management that impact user experience

Change management directly impacts user experience in several broad categories:

  • Change execution: Implementing changes without negative impact on users
  • Change context: Considering the bigger picture, like how small changes impact users
  • Change velocity: Balancing the need for new functionality with constant change
  • Change governance: Upholding organizational governance while minimizing user impact

Each of these dimensions has unique challenges for IT, but to the user, they’re all part of how they perceive the technology they use, and how it helps or hinders their ability to do their jobs.

Let’s have a closer look at each of these dimensions of change management as employee experience relates to them.

Change execution

Always having the features users need or want can be a challenge, because users may not always know what they want. Or they may not know weeks or months in advance that they’re going to want a certain feature. The role of product owner—in conjunction with business relationship managers—can really help IT anticipate user needs and wants.

It’s no secret that users want systems that are always available when they need them, and they want everything to “just work.” Anytime a change is made, no matter how small, there’s the possibility that something may go wrong.

Modern change management seeks to engineer this type of risk out of the equation in a couple of really important ways. One is to reduce the size of any particular change. Smaller changes, as a rule, are less likely to have large impacts—positive or negative. Small changes also help us understand how the system works—a core component of managing complex systems—and actually improve our execution and resiliency over time.

Modern IT delivery is also dependent on highly automated build/test/deployment pipelines that facilitate rapid delivery of smaller changes but also allow for the rapid undoing of changes that did not go as planned.

Small changes and automated delivery make the dream of flawless change delivery more of a reality in modern organizations.

Change context

With a view to user experience, which is the aggregate experience users have with technology, we must take a more holistic view of changes. Changes in one system can have far-reaching implications on other systems. We cannot afford to look at each individual change in isolation. We must seek to understand how changes will impact the overall interrelated systems.

It’s also important to understand the business circumstances in which changes are being made. It’s perhaps unwise to make changes to a student information system during grading periods, or changes to financial systems during quarter or year-end close. Even if the changes go well, users may perceive the changes as unnecessary and unwelcome—negatively impacting the user experience.

By the same token, however, there are times when users are willing to absorb a tremendous amount of change in support of an important business challenge or deadline—releasing a new product or program at a critical moment, for instance. In these cases, business appetite for risk may be significantly elevated because the payoff of success is so high.

The point, of course, isn’t that there’s a universally right or wrong answer—just that change management must understand the context in which changes are being considered and ensure that whatever is done aligns with the organization’s expectations.

Change velocity

Much has been said about IT agility—the ability to more rapidly deliver business value. This is at the heart of agile/DevOps methodologies, which are heavily aided by automated build/test/deployment pipelines. These pipelines are key for both.

But while the ability to rapidly deliver business value is important, as we’ve demonstrated, faster isn’t always better. Too many changes too fast exhausts users to the point that their job performance suffers and change management is at fault. Change management must be mindful of the aggregate impact that the number and frequency of changes has on users.

Change governance

And, of course, all the above must be done consistent with the organization’s governance, risk, and compliance requirements, which, as a general rule, are unseen by the users of IT systems. The challenge is to build compliance into the value streams themselves, so all changes are accomplished in accordance with compliance requirements.

Automated testing plays into governance as well—where changes cannot flow into production unless they pass testing criteria established at the outset.

Outcome-based change management

Traditional change management attempted to achieve all this by requiring all changes to go through a change management process. Much time and effort was spent attempting to make sure everything worked as designed and there was no negative impact. Risks were documented and analyzed, and decisions ultimately made if the change was likely to be successful with minimal adverse impact. Unfortunately, this approach is all too often heavily weighted toward adherence to the prescribed process steps.

What’s true of each of the dimensions is that they are expressed outcome expectations, not process adherence. That is precisely the focus required to ensure that changes have a positive impact on user experience.

By shifting the focus of change management efforts to achieving outcomes, the methods of developing and delivering changes can be more adaptive and aligned with the individual needs of the users they serve.

When changes were larger and less frequent, running all changes through a rigid change process was not without some value, but organizations focused on user experience will do well to shift their focus to ensuring change outcome expectations are being achieved, and focus much less on individual changes. The value streams that produce changes must be engineered to produce changes that meet the organization’s outcome expectations.

Making the shift

Every organization is unique and has its own mix of business and technical challenges as well as company culture and organizational maturity. Some organizations are pushing boldly ahead with digital transformation because of competitive forces and the unique challenges the organization faces. Other organizations have significant technical and transformation debt.

It’s not a matter of right or wrong—it’s simply where the organization is currently. With that in mind, I encourage shifting change management incrementally toward a more strategic capability and away from a step-by-step process through which every change must flow.

Here are some practical steps you can take to move in that direction:

  • Elevate change management from inspection of individual changes to the level of holistic change governance and oversight.
  • Include user experience as part of the change oversight practice.
  • Establish change outcome expectations for the organization—those key outcomes changes must achieve to be considered successful.
  • Delegate as many changes as possible as close to the work as practical.
  • Work with automated development/test/deployment pipelines to ensure change outcomes are built into the workflow.


Leading organizations are using technology in innovative ways to be more competitive in the market. Technology has ushered in a world of new digital products and services that have shaken up old markets and invented new ones at an unprecedented rate. Most organizations have recognized the need for transformation—touching every aspect of how work is accomplished and services are delivered in digital organizations.

Change is constant—everything that is fixed or improved is the result of changes. Every new feature comes in the form of a change. Some changes are large and others are small, but unlike in days past, changes are happening all the time—no longer batched up in major releases implemented at night and on long weekends.

Users are subjected to more changes more often than ever before. For the most part, they now expect it. But they also expect it to work without problems. It’s no exaggeration that user experience with technology is directly tied to how well the organization manages changes.

Want to improve user experience? Improve change management!

About the author

Greg Sanker, Director IT Support, Taylor Morrison

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