What Is Change Management? Process & Models Explained


One thing is certain: change is going to happen in your organization or project. To best plan and respond to change, first, a clear definition of change management must be understood.

What Is Change Management?

The term change management refers to the actions, tools and models implemented to manage different types of change either at the project or organizational level. There are several organizational change management strategies that can be applied to manage work, resources, business processes and budget allocations as well as different types of organizational changes.

At the project level, you’ll need to set up a change management framework that guarantees that all changes to the project plan are properly approved, implemented and tracked so that the project timeline, budget or resources are not affected by any sudden changes made to the initial scope, schedule or budget baseline.

ProjectManager helps you make a change management plan and track it in real time, whether you’re managing project changes or organizational changes. Set up the plan with our robust Gantt charts, which populate the plan on a visual timeline so you can see it all in one place. Add resources, tasks, durations, milestones and task dependencies. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

Gantt chart in projectmanager
ProjectManager’s Gantt charts create a change management plan and track it in real time. Learn more

Change Management Models

Using change management models helps guide teams through necessary transitions at a project or organizational level. It can be difficult to adapt to new processes, but when you create a change management plan, you can obtain benefits for your organization. These change management models can help plan and manage organizational change.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist, developed a change management model that breaks down change based on three phases: unfreeze, change and refreeze. The first phase prepares you for the change, then it’s implemented and, finally, that change is solidified.

McKinsey’s 7-S Change Management model

A more involved model than Lewin’s, this involves seven elements. They are the seven S’s, which are strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff and skill. Unlike Lewin’s there is no specific order. They are used to address how each impacts the other in order to identify weaknesses.

Kotter’s Change Management Model

Dr. John P. Kotter is a professor of leadership, emeritus, at the Harvard Business School. He is known as the inventor of an eight-step process for leading change that has become instrumental in change management strategy.

  1. Create urgency
  2. Form a powerful coalition
  3. Create a vision for the change
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Remove obstacles
  6. Create short-term wins
  7. Build on the change
  8. Anchor the change

This change management theory is an expansion on what is the bedrock of change management. Change management stands on four pillars. They are the determination that there’s a need for change, preparing and planning for that change, implementing that change and, lastly, sustaining the change.

Get your free

Change Log Template

Use this free Change Log Template for Excel to manage your projects better.


ADKAR Change Management Model

This bottom-up method is focused on the people behind the change. ADKAR is an acronym that stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. These are not in any order, but address the need to change, participate and support the change, know how to make the change, have the skills and behavior necessary for the change and then sustain it.

Bridges Transition Model

With this model, you’re focusing on the emotional reactions to change as it is implemented. Rather than dealing with the change itself, this model looks at how the people respond to ending, losing or letting go of something, the neutral point after the change is done and then opening up to a new beginning.

Kübler-Ross Change Management Framework

Based on the five stages of grief, this method acknowledges the emotional reaction people have to change. Just as the grieving process has five stages, so does the change process. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Satir Change Management Model

This model is about measuring the emotional state of employees by tracking performance through these five stages of change: late status quo, resistance, chaos, integration and new status quo. Therefore, this model is about preparing and accepting change, not figuring out what needs change.

PDCA Change Management Model

Also called the Deming cycle, this model, PDCA stands for plan, do, check and act. These four phases help with process improvement by identifying the issue, making changes to address it, monitoring and taking action.

Nudge Theory

As the name implies, this theory is about using subtle, indirect suggestions that are evidenced-based to change employees into making the changes required. For this to be successful you must define the change, take into account the employee’s point of view, offer proof that the change is valid and it’s a choice, listen to feedback, limit options and offer short-term wins to solidify the change.

Change Log Template

This change log template for Excel is ideal to keep track of every change that takes place during your project life cycle. We recommend using this log along with a change request form which allows your employees and stakeholders to request changes and a change order template, a form you can use to approve any of those change requests.

We have created other change management templates that can help you build a change control system for your organization, which is very helpful as it helps you avoid scope creep, overspending and other issues that can be caused by poor change management.

Change Management Process

Change management can take many forms. From small projects to large organizations, we all must deal with change and there’s no single approach when it comes to it. However, here are some steps you can follow to guide you through the change management process.

1. Define the Change

First, it’s important to define what the change is and general information about it so you and your team know how to proceed. Ask yourself questions about the change, such as whether is it planned or unplanned. Will it have an incremental rollout, or will it need a faster implementation? These questions will help you gather information about the change so that you can create an effective change management plan. Make sure you use change orders to control change in your projects, programs and portfolios.

2. Create a Change Vision

Your change vision is a description of what your organization will look like after a change has been successfully implemented. Similar to a gap analysis, it describes the difference between the current state and the desired future state and the expected benefits for the project or organization.

3. Select a Change Management Model

There are several change management models you can choose from, each with its own pros and cons depending on the specific characteristics of your project or organization.

4. Create a Change Management Plan

A change management plan explains how the change will be managed, either at the project or organizational level. It describes what are the change management roles and responsibilities, who is on the change control board, how will the change request process work, and any other details that are related to change management.

5. Assemble a Change Management Team

Your change management plan has all the strategies, guidelines and procedures that you will use to manage change. Now you’ll need a team to execute them. Assemble a cross-functional team, so that you have different perspectives to analyze change.

6. Implement & Track the Changes

The work isn’t done once you’ve implemented a change in your project or organization. It’s important to follow up and track the impact of your changes using data and key performance indicators (KPIs).

More Free Change Management Templates

Here are some free templates that can help you with change management at the project level. We also have dozens of project management templates to help you with planning, scheduling and tracking.

Change Request Template

This free template is ideal to streamline your change request approval process. It can be easily customized and shared with your team.

Change Order Template

Change orders are a fundamental project change management document. This free template is ideal to get you started.

ProjectManager Helps with Change Management

Once you have defined your process, you need to decide on what tools you want to use to manage that change control process. Many teams turn to simple Excel templates to list change requests and track progress. Typically there are several data points you want to track when you are managing a change control process:

  • Description of change request
  • Who requested it
  • Priority of item
  • Assignee in charge of implementing change
  • Date change was implemented
  • Notes

That’s a simple way to track the full process. Some project management software tools, however, help you manage change as a part of your project management. For example, in ProjectManager, you can track changes, along with risks and issues, right in the software.

ProjectManager's risk task card

The benefit of incorporating change management into your PM tool is:

  • Track changes with the project
  • Attach change requests to specific tasks
  • Get email alerts when changes are updated
  • Track changes on a dashboard.

When changes are connected to particular projects, or even when you make organizational changes its own project, it can help to use tools that keep your process moving forward through automation and tracking capabilities. Whatever tool you use, be sure to remember that change must be led. While change happens, managing change takes leadership.

Change happens, but without the right tools to manage that change, it’s the change and not you who is directing the project. To have a strong change management process, you must have an able change management tool. ProjectManager is online project management software that gives you real-time data so you can identify change as it’s happening. Then you have the features you and your team require to resolve those changes. Get started with ProjectManager for free and manage change by taking this free 30-day trial.