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How Microsoft IT Approaches Organizational Change Management


Published: July 2010

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Microsoft IT created an organizational change management framework to drive an organization-wide competency around planning, managing, and implementing organizational change. By utilizing a structured process and specific set of resources for addressing the impact of change on people, Microsoft IT is able to realize faster change adoption, maintaining momentum and its commitments while mitigating the natural resistance to change.


Intended Audience

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The article is intended for anyone in an IT organization that is interested in learning more about addressing organizational change management


Change management is a defined framework or strategy for addressing change from a current process or state to another one. In Microsoft IT, there are two types of change management:

  • Organizational change management focuses on the people side of change: how people’s behaviors influence operational changes, and how changes impact the intended audience.
  • Operational change management focuses on the physical aspect of a change, for example, infrastructure, software, hardware, or environmental changes.

Because of the business of an IT organization, it is very easy to become focused on the operational side of changes. Operational changes are often physical, and they can be easier to define, justify, and quantify. Operational changes can be necessary for compliance, to make improvements, to release the latest version of a product, or be related to an effort to introduce efficiency. Yet, it is organizational change that drives the output and the success of the operational change.

IT organizations sometimes struggle when trying to address organizational change management, because it is a little more conceptual and deals with predicting behaviors and responses to change. Without understanding the impacts to the people that make up an organization when introducing change, and putting into practice strategies that will mitigate people’s natural resistance to change, it can be difficult to achieve success in any activity that requires change.

For example, a Microsoft IT team develops a new tool or process that introduces a high degree of efficiency when adopted and gets their leadership to endorse rolling it out to everyone in IT. In the past, an e-mail message was sent out to notify people in the organization that a change had been made and that they either needed to install something or use a different process. People that worked closely with the team that released it might have heard of its success, and might be eager to embrace the new tool. But, beyond that immediate sphere of influence, it becomes more difficult to perpetuate the change across the organization.

Some people are too busy to read their e-mail, or might not understand what is being asked of them, others may disregard the e-mail message because they feel like the tool or process they currently use is doing the job. Most people do not intend to deliberately undermine change, they simply may not be aware, or have been too busy to learn the new process. They just know that they need to get their job done and feel it’s easier to do it the way they always have. There is a small subset of users that do more directly sabotage change, often because they did not advocate the change or because they saw a similar effort fail. By replicating and perpetuating tools or processes that should no longer be used, then instructing or convincing others to use their tool or process work-around, they are undermining the success of the change activity.

Microsoft IT is primarily a functionally aligned organization. The need to address organizational change management within Microsoft IT came to light when the organization started to see redundancies in functions and activities that suggested that the functional alignment and the coordination between the functions were going away. There were also many important changes happening in Microsoft IT, and people weren’t aware of the changes. Whether this was due to attrition, people moving between teams, the failure to adopt new processes, or because they simply couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do, this lack of awareness was causing processes to break. People in one functional area did not necessarily know the others existed. For example, many functional areas were adding project managers and project management organizations. Because Microsoft IT already had project managers and a centralized Project Management Office (PMO), the benefits of having a functionally aligned organization were not fully being realized because of the infusion of redundant functions and activities and the lack of coordination across the organization.

Improving Project Success by Addressing the Organizational Change Management Competency

From a conceptual standpoint, the goal of addressing the organization’s change management competency was to raise awareness and drive greater success for change efforts across the Microsoft IT organization. Although the culture in an IT organization is to look to technology to solve business problems, this solution really needed to identify ways to influence behaviors. There was a need for improving communication among the levels of leadership that require or endorse change activities, the management that puts change projects into action, and the people impacted by the changes. It was important to develop a standard, easy-to-use framework that would help drive change by offering strategies to help users make the right decision.

To help identify what was needed to create a standardized framework for addressing organizational change management, a steering committee was put together to represent the functions across Microsoft IT that take advantage of existing internal IT processes. The committee included representatives from executive leadership, general management, internal project management and excellence organizations, human resources, IT marketing and communications, IT solution delivery, engineering, and IT operations teams.

Because it was decided that whatever toolset the development of this framework entailed, it needed to be concise and simple to use, an organizational change management toolkit was developed using a simple Microsoft® Office Excel® workbook.

Scoping the Overall Assessment of Change

Each representative was tasked with going back to their groups and compiling a set of standard questions that would be need to be answered to scope a change project within their organization. To meet the goal that the toolkit be concise and easy to use, the sets of questions were compared across the functional areas to eliminate duplicates. After the redundancies were eliminated, the questions were then reduced by number even further by rewriting some to be more inclusive of other functions or eliminating the ones that did not apply across the entire organization.

When this exercise was complete, there was a set of seven questions that could be used by any functional area within the organization to help them think critically about the scope of impact their change project would have on the people in the organization. The answers to those questions were predefined based on the scope of possible acceptable responses. Recommendations based on selected responses are provided, as demonstrated below.

Figure 1. Assessment tab composed of seven standard questions

Figure 1. Assessment tab composed of seven standard questions

After completing the questions on the Assessment tab, the questionnaire results are ranked. The ranking, illustrated below, is intended to inform the stakeholder management process and help the user create or manage a comprehensive team that can address the requirements for executing the change management plan.

Figure 2. Assessment questionnaire results

Figure 2. Assessment questionnaire results

Stakeholder Management

A tab in the toolkit is dedicated to stakeholder management. It includes a summary of the initial assessment, a register for assigning team members, and a simple-to-use assessment process for managing data throughout the projects. The Stakeholder Management tab of the toolkit was developed after reviewing a variety of internal templates and external processes. The committee chose to use an existing assessment process that included six categories for classifying stakeholders based on current and ideal behavior.

“Stakeholder management and communication planning are living, breathing processes that don’t end until a project is over.”

Kris Lance
Senior Program Manager
IT Standards & Execution

Figure 3. Stakeholder Tab demonstrates mapping stakeholder to awareness

Figure 3. Stakeholder Tab demonstrates mapping stakeholder to awareness

Communication and Readiness

The Communication and Readiness tab of the worksheet provides a standard template for communication planning and includes examples of differing methods for delivering key messages to diverse audiences. As illustrated below, it includes a framework to assign type of communications items, the owner of the item, who the audience is, the timing and frequency of its delivery, and the format and purpose of the communication.

Figure 4. Communication and Readiness tab

Figure 4. Communication and Readiness tab

The goal of providing the different examples of methods for communicating a change project was to facilitate creative and critical thinking from the project owner about choosing the most effective method for communicating about their project.


The committee engaged instructional vendor resources to create the curriculum for two, four-hour workshops. One workshop focuses on stakeholder management and the other on communication planning and execution. These workshops provide hands-on classroom training designed to build organizational change management momentum. The workshops deliver the key message about how measuring success is based on good planning, and provide, in drilldown detail, some of the critical thinking behind the need for a strategy organizing framework.

Brown bag (learn-and-lunch) sessions, and a variety of communications targeted at the project management community were used to let them know about the toolkit and to get them to use it to scope ideas and to build awareness.

"Every year, based on strategic needs, we have to introduce change into our business. To help ensure the success of projects that include change activities we have to be very mindful about how they are implemented. This toolkit provides the right guidance and support to help us land the message with impacted users so they will be able to understand and adopt the changes we are rolling out." 

Gus Gustafson
Director Business Operations
Solutions Delivery, MSIT

How Success Is Measured

Organization change management deals with the people side of change. As a result, direct measurements can be difficult to capture and often take more time to document because the processes are manual. Piloting the use of the toolkit on key projects has been effective in collecting feedback for process updates and improvement goals. Microsoft® SharePoint® contains built-in metrics that are used to track and calculate document downloads, but the most effective method for understanding how well the toolkit is being received has been through interviews and personal feedback from the people that are using it. Real success is measured based on quality project plans that are well executed, and it will take more time to directly attribute project success to toolkit usage.

For the project management community at Microsoft IT, simply meeting the numbers associated with a deliverable does not signify a project’s success. How the project was received, and how the people impacted by the project perceived that experience are important measures of success as well.

Microsoft uses an employee survey, as do many other organizations, to determine how people feel about their job, the organization, and the company. Organizational change management can have a huge impact on these survey results. Helping employees understand why they are doing things a certain way can help them maintain a perspective that their employer respects them, values their time, and cares about what they do.

Moving Forward

Microsoft IT is continuing to improve the processes around organizational change management, and using the organizational change competency and toolkit in the development and adoption of organizational standards. Microsoft IT has a standard review board that is now requiring that each standard being considered for approval be accompanied by a feasible change management plan. Evolving and maturing the change management skill-set into the next year, Microsoft IT also wants to include mapping between business capabilities and tracking to project success metrics. As they look forward, Microsoft IT is considering the complex questions, "How do we map our activities to what our business is capable of?" And "How do we then map the activities and capabilities to the people in our organization, so that they can understand the different aspects of change activity?"

For More Information

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