The things that matter most in IT change projects

Putting data behind the factors that create success in IT change projects


June 2019


Nearly all IT projects require some form of organisational change for new technology to be implemented. We know that doing organisational change successfully can be a challenging task, so we set out on a quest to put some data behind the things that matter most in IT change projects. This has now been condensed into a report – and the results are rather surprising.

IT projects is a costly business, with some estimates putting the annual investment at more than USD 1.2 trillion. When we run IT projects, we almost always introduce new information technologies to the organisation in question. This affects products, business processes, sales channels and supply chains – and the organisation almost always needs to change to fully integrate and exploit the new technology that they have invested in.

From research and experience we know that implementing organisational change may be a challenge. Therefore, we decided to crunch some numbers about what matters most in IT change projects.

Seven levers of change – but not of equal importance

In collaboration with the University of Oxford, we studied academic literature and change frameworks, and we found the seven most commonly agreed levers that influence the success of change projects.

The seven levers that influence the success of change projects

We collected data from 155 IT change projects, testing the seven levers and their importance for delivering successful change through IT projects. Four levers proved statistically significant, but surprisingly, we did not find any statistical significance for the success of digital transformations for three otherwise commonly assumed levers.

The relative importance of each lever
The four significant levers are:
  1. Effective communication: Successful digital transformations require effective communication that is targeted, dialogue-oriented and carried out by front-line management.
  2. Establishing trust-based relationships: The project needs to focus on building trusted relationships between the project and its stakeholders and end users.
  3. Transferring ownership to management: More engagement from management (top, middle and front-line) is associated with increased transformation success.
  4. Providing effective training: Effective training comes in many formats and the content may vary, but generally, co-creating training with the people who need to change improves its effectiveness.
The three relatively insignificant levers are:
  1. A defined approach to change: Having a defined approach is essential to securing and safeguarding the dedicated resources and budget for change. Sticking to the change methodology is nearly always more important than what the change methodology actually is.
  2. A clear vision for change: Having a clear and appealing vision in its own right is not a direct lever of success. What matters most for success is what a project does with the vision.
  3. Early user involvement: There is no direct link between early user involvement and success. Data provide simple recommendations: Never test without user involvement. Test as early as possible.

However, six of the seven levers have some positive correlations with the success of digital transformation, some of course stronger than others. We found no direct link between early user involvement and transformation success. Nevertheless, what our data show is an indirect effect, as the success depends on the involvement of users in testing. And the earlier a project conducts tests, the better.

Also, the levers are associated with each other. For example, effective communication is linked to trust-based relationships, to having a clear vision and a structured approach to change. Here, having trusted relationships increases the effectiveness of communication and vice versa.

Based on condensed knowledge from science and practice

The report is a result of +4 years of research together with the University of Oxford as well as 155 change projects from both the public and private sector. We started out by condensing 2,000 academic articles and studying +100 frameworks for change management. From this, we found seven levers commonly agreed on as critical for managing organisational change in IT projects. We validated these in workshops with change practitioners, before studying the 155 projects in depth.

Learnings to create even more success in our change projects

In our report, we present you with research findings that illustrate multiple tools for application in practice. The core effects that you should consider within each lever are shown in the figure below:

The core effects that you should consider within each of the seven levers of change.

We hope that by applying these learnings in practice, you can deliver even more successful change in your IT projects.

To deep dive into the subject matter, you can download the report below. And you are of course also always welcome to reach out to discuss the application of the results in your project and organisation.

Get the report

+4 years of research, 155 change projects, 2,000 academic articles and +100 frameworks for change management. Dive into the report.

A fun fact from way back

Some time ago, the earliest book in our research literature was published by Elliott Dunlap Smith. Entitled “Technology of Labour”, it describes how to integrate and exploit novel technologies. Already in this book, Smith describes the pivotal role of dialogue-based communication from management on the change that is about to happen, general management support for the change initiative and the importance of training.

So, when do you think this book was published? It’s not from the 1960s or 1970s. It actually dates all the way back to 1939 and studies the textile mills that survived the Great Depression by being able “to do more with less”.

So, what rings true in the 1930s is still true today.