8 steps for a successful change project

March 22, 2017


When it comes to modern software development one thing is certain: you need to move fast. In order to handle varying demands, new technologies, tougher competition than ever and increased expectations organizations need to work both agile and quick. Regardless of what methodology and service or product you use. If not, you’re in great need of a successful change project.

There are many theories about how best create a change. Many of these stem from the great author on change projects, John Kotter. The professor at Harvard Business School introduced his transformation process consisting of 8 concrete steps in his book Leading Change in 1995. 

The change project

Step 1: create a sense of urgency

In order for the transformation to be implemented, everyone involved needs to feel that it’s absolutely necessary. By creating a sense of urgency, you as a leader will receive support and energy from you colleagues.

This step is not about showing declining numbers or talk about increased competition. It’s is all about having an open and honest dialogue about what is going on in the market and how to best respond to it. When enough people understand and follow, the sense of urgency will be built automatically. One great point of view to use is the opportunity for something, as people often not want to risk missing a good chance for success.

Step 2: form a guiding coalition

After convincing people that the change is necessary, you need visible support from key resources. It’s simply not enough to manage change from above – you need to be a part of it.

The change project also needs to be controlled and overseen. You therefore need a strong guiding coalition with a lot of influence over the execution of the transformation process. This group doesn’t necessarily only consist of management – the important thing is to find people who are passionate about the change and who have influence in various ways (classic hierarchy, informal status, expertise, etc).

Once the coalition has been formed, they need to build on the sense of urgency and act outside normal hierarchy.

Step 3: create a vision

In the beginning of a transformation, there will always be many ideas and suggestions as to how it should be done. With an end goal, a vision, you can help people relate their own ideas and efforts to the desired result. In addition, you as a leader will have an easier time bringing colleagues in on the project.

By using a clear vision with connected values, everyone involved can better understand why each task needs to be performed. In addition, they can also see how it all works together with the end goal. When people have better understanding of what they are trying to create, the directions they are given are often better recieved. 

In essence, you should clarify exactly how the end result will look different from how it is today, and how you will reach that goal together.

Step 4: communicate the vision

What you actually do with the vision created in step 3 can directly determine whether or not the change project will be successful or not. In order to let the vision flow through everyday work, you consistently and frequently need to communicate the vision. Talk about it every day and make sure the organization will rely on the vision as it runs into problems.

The vision should always be in the back of everyones mind, no matter what. When you keep it fresh, people will remember and respond to it. It is also absolutely necessary to be the paragon of the vision itself. If you as the leader isn’t following the specified type of behaviour, why should anyone else?

Step 5: remove barriers

This step will always look different depending on what barriers and obstacles your organization runs in to. It can vary from old processes and structures to individual employees or groups that oppose the change.

You need to make sure that the guiding coalition creates a structure for the change and habitually removes any barriers. Then you need to manage identified problems to simplify the coming work.

By constantly working to smoothen the transition, you create space and freedom in the workplace. This space is needed, as you also have to work across silos and divisions to create long-lasting and impactful change.

Step 6: identify subgoals and small victories

Success is and will always be the best motivator. It is of outmost importance to recognize, collect and celebrate small wins, not only to motivate people but also to track progress.

With smaller subgoals related to the vision, you create possibilities for more wins in the bank. As you communicate and celebrate achieving these smaller subgoals, you provide the taste of victory which only further motivates. In addition, any potential opposers and critics will have a hard time justifying their position if you constantly prove that the transformation have positive effects. 

Step 7: accelerate on the change

Kotter claims that one of the reasons behind many failed change projects is declaring victory too soon. To create lasting change is a long process and the small victories from the previous step are just one part of what’s needed to reach a real, long-term transformation.

After your first success, you need to push even more. Look for areas of improvement, parts of the vision that can be communicated better, unsuspected barriers and in general any opportunity to be better. Be persistent and perform all these small steps until the vision is a reality.

Step 8: anchor the change in culture

To really succeed with the transformation, it needs to become a part of the organization and its culture. Many times culture decides what actually gets done. This means that the vision must integrate with the culture and become a part of everyday work.

It’s important that leaders (both formal and informal) continue to support the change and work in line with the vision. These people should articulate how the new behaviour drives the new and improved results, and emphasize this until they become strong enough to replace the old habits. Without these leaders, you have nothing to fall back on.


When working with a change project, you need to put in a huge effort. Plan carefully and using a methodological approach and the actual execution will likely be much easier. Be too impatient and the risk of failure increases dramatically. However, succeed and you might become one of the very best there is.


Have you experienced any successful change project? Perhaps a partially successful, or even a failed one? Let us know in the comments below!