Designing for change in IT projects

Is there something more we should think about when planning enterprise IT initiatives when it comes to change management in an agile context?

I recently was asked to define what constitutes a change management strategy for a government IT project. This is a straightforward (and awesome) question but it had me revisiting my earlier thoughts about the intersection of change management practices and design processes. Is there something more we should think about when planning enterprise IT initiatives when it comes to change management in an agile context?

First I think it helps to see the focus of each discipline and then look at what is shared and what’s unique:

CM UX Functions diagram

In change management, the focus includes:

  • Type of change: what do people do now and what will they do after the change
  • Skills and competencies: individual capacity to do and sustain the change
  • Processes: current and future state models relating to business goals and objectives
  • Organizations: internal structure and culture
  • Leadership: active and visible sponsors of the change to the end of the project

In user experience design, we see the focus including:

  • Context: situational, demographic, ethnographic, business, social, environment factors informing an experience
  • Tasks: what the person does now and how that might change in a new design
  • Ecosystems: the various channels and devices that can be part of a user experience

What’s shared between these disciplines, and is essential for successful IT projects, is an understanding of roles and impacts.

Role definition for IT projects

Our projects need to define roles to understand how groups of people are either impacted by a single change or multiple changes. Individuals of course have different ways to reacting to change but when planning a project we are typically limited to thinking about categories of people, or roles, to manage our scope.  In change management strategy, we need to define who will embrace, adopt and use a solution coming from a project or initiative.  Depending on the complexity of the IT product, this may involve many roles or just a few.

Once roles are defined for the change management strategy, the required tactics to manage awareness of the impending change(s) as well as potential resistance to the change(s) are developed within a change management plan.

Roles come into play during the design process in two respects:

  • Use cases, where a role has similar needs and motivations for using a product or service
  • Usability testing, where we want to see how different roles interact with our prototypes and whether they can complete the task without errors in a reasonable period of time

Use cases help refine functional requirements during the design process. Usability testing confirms or debunks our design assumptions and provides some insurance through the sprint cycle that the project will deliver something people can and want to use.

Defining impacts for IT projects

Assessing the impact of a change on a role determines your change management strategy. This includes how many people are impacted by the change, overall impact on day-to-day work, and the amount of change to processes, systems and tools. This coupled with the attributes of the organization (culture, structure) and leadership (sponsors, managers) defines the scale of the change and the requisite tactics needed to support people through the change.

Impacts in user experience design are also captured by use cases. Here the focus needs to be both the impact on the user and the business. If someone can’t do something with a product or service, will they turn to another channel such as the call centre? Is that acceptable?  If they get an error, has that been accounted for that in online support or is there a need for support through another channel? Conversely, we also need to consider whether business units are ready to adapt to changes wrought by the new design in terms of available resources and existing processes. Is the enterprise ready to handle omnichannel support if their previous support model only supported phone calls?

One last thought

Research by the PROSCI organization has demonstrated that the application of change management principles increases the probability of project success. I posit that coupling this practice with UX depth in IT projects will go a long way to ensuring user acceptance and satisfaction, while avoiding the dreaded reboot-redesign-relaunch cycle for products or services that missed these critical components.


Denise Eisner is a senior consultant at Systemscope and currently serves as the senior content strategist for the Government of Canada’s Web Renewal Initiative. She loves great web content, mushroom risotto and cycling (as discrete activities).


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