Create a change management plan: Guide, how to and a template for success

Written by
Wendy Gittleson
Wendy Gittleson
Updated on
  10 min read

When it comes to adopting new software and processes, change is rarely easy. However, it often enables growth. Fortunately, for as long as change has been a challenge, people have been strategizing how to make the most of it. With a change management plan, you can improve your chances of a successful and seamless transition from old to new.

I’ve spent years working in software, helping organizations get the most out of their technology investments. In that time, and in my current role ensuring our customers can maximize the value of their RFP software, I’ve become a firm believer that change management is the foundation to long-term adoption and success.

In this blog, I’ll share what I’ve learned and explore what change management is, as well as why it matters. Then, I’ll share how to create a change management plan along with an example. And finally, I’ll provide the five best change management plan examples and templates to help you get started.

A guide to change management: What is it and why does it matter?

Change management defined

Change management is the process of preparing for and guiding an organization through change. It provides a framework for change that reduces risk and resistance while improving communication and long-term adoption of the new system or process.

What is a change management plan?

A change management plan is a document used to offer a detailed, step-by-step strategy for adopting change. The plan ensures a smooth transition for individuals affected by change as well as the business.

What a change management plan contains

  • Description of the change
  • Background and context for why the change is being adopted
  • Anticipated areas of impact
  • Who is involved and in what capacity
  • Required resources and budget
  • Timeline of the change process
  • Goals and final outcome

The goals and benefits of change management

Preparing for change delivers a number of benefits. In software, return on investment is paramount and a successful change management plan can help users get the most out of the platform. Management Study Guide (MSG) addresses the importance in their comprehensive guide to change management saying:

“For any organization, people play a very vital role in driving business excellence as they are the most valuable assets. Hence, a change in the method of handling a job role, implementation of facilitating interventions and training people about the new practices or techniques, can result in impressive results in terms of the return on investment (ROI).”

Additional benefits of change management:

  • Define and plan for process dependencies
  • Provide a clear timeline for the transition
  • Improve communication and user buy in
  • Optimize use of resources
  • Minimize disruption and inefficiency
  • Reduce implementation time and shorten time to value
  • Remove the risk of creating unforeseen process gaps

Certainly, replacing, or even just updating, a process is hard. Humans are creatures of habit and change introduces feelings of uncertainty and doubt. And, just like breaking a bad habit, embracing change is easier when you understand what, why, when and how the change will occur.

Types of change within an organization

Fundamental change

Sometimes referred to as organizational change, this type of change includes any large-scale, business-wide shift. For example, a merger or acquisition, leadership changes and restructuring. This type of change can span many years and be unpredictable, which makes a change management plan crucial to achieving a positive outcome.

Transformational change

When a business undertakes change to improve their systems, operations or infrastructure, it’s called transformational change. This type of change has a clear goal in mind and the change management plan addresses how the business will transition from their current state to the future state. For instance, adopting new software, introducing a new solution and process improvements fall into this category.

Developmental change

Generally, the need for developmental change is easiest to spot. It is often a quick change undertaken to mitigate a risk or challenge faced by the business. While a change management plan is still a good idea, these changes are the quickest to implement.

3 change management strategies worth exploring

The idea of creating a system to help process and manage change is not new. In fact, in the 1940’s psychologist Kurt Lewin developed a three-step model for processing change ⁠— and that was just the beginning. Then, in the 1990’s, businesses began adopting the idea of change management.

Indeed, the experience of (and struggle with) change is so universal that dozens of theories, models and processes address the issue. While the specifics of each approach vary, most models include a number of phases, steps or goals that people go through when experiencing change. For simplicity, we’ve selected our favorite three approaches, including the one we recommend to our customers.

1. ADKAR model

My favorite approach, and the one we base our own change management recommendations on is the ADKAR change management model. ADKAR stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement, which are five steps that can improve the change process. The steps must be achieved by the organization as a whole as well as each individual impacted by the change.

2. Kubler Ross model

The Kubler Ross approach uses a curve model to map the progression of individual sentiment toward change. Similar to the ADKAR model, the curve has five stages including denial, frustration, depression, experimentation and decision. By anticipating these reactions to change, an organization plans for and mitigates each with the goal of quickly reaching the decision stage (and a favorable outcome).

3. Change management curve

Our last approach uses the five stages of grief and a curve model to illustrate the change process. The stages of grief describe common reactions to change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. General familiarity with this concept makes it easily adapted for a change management plan.

If none of these three models seem to quite fit, don’t worry! Upboard provides an impressively thorough list of dozens of change management approaches. In addition, they provide details and background of each as well as tools and templates to help you get started.

How to create a change management plan

Outlined below you’ll find the steps to creating a change management plan. To best illustrate the process and provide some real-life context, I will use elements from our own RFP software change management process as an example. But remember, these steps apply to any change.

Define the change

The first step in the software change management process is to define the current state, how it will change and who is directly impacted at each stage. It’s a good idea to bring together any key stakeholders or executives that are invested in the process and collaborate together. So, in the case of a new RFP management system, you’ll want to map your current RFP process. Here’s a simplified example:

Change management chart

After this exercise, you should know exactly what is changing, who will be impacted and how.

Create your plan and communicate

Now that you have a good idea of the changes required and who will be impacted, it’s time to create the change management plan. As I mentioned above, we use the ADKAR approach and below you’ll find examples from our own change management plan. When you’re building your plan, remember the stages: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement.

1. Make the initial announcement (Awareness)

Your initial announcement will create awareness and introduce the coming change. Keep it short, clear and positive. Typically this communication comes from the executive sponsor. It should state why change is needed and the risk of not changing.

Use this stage to state the purpose and goals of the tool, as well as how it will help improve their day-to-day work. Remember that different groups will be more receptive to different messages. Consequently, it’s wise to tailor your communications accordingly. In our RFP software change management guide, we recommend using statements like:

“Many of you are concerned about the amount of time and accuracy of answers you use in your proposals, because of this we are evaluating a proposal automation tool.”

2. Publicize the plan (Desire)

Now, it’s time to share the details of your plan with the group. In this stage, you’ll answer two common questions that arise: “What’s in it for me?” and “How will it impact me?” Just as in the initial announcement, the answer and messaging will vary depending on the user’s role.

Two examples from our change management guide:

  • If you are working with a sales persona you may consider shaping this tool as an opportunity to respond to more proposals thus increasing the chance of winning business and helping the sales persona achieve more financial security.
  • Or, if you know an end user is passionate about advancing their career, you could position this tool as a way to speed up the time answering proposals so that they can focus on other career advancing projects.

In this stage, leadership from an executive sponsor is critical. They need to be able to answer tough questions and show confidence in the decision to implement the change. As the solution is rolled out, each level of management should be able to speak to the purpose and intent of the tool.

Engage end users early in the process. Direct participation in the planning and roll-out of change will help you in the long run. Typically, the end users who are part of the process become critical to promoting the tool and its benefits to their peers.

In addition, be prepared through the first two stages to encounter naysayers. Every person deals with change a little differently. So, remember to be patient, but address the concerns of detractors head on in a one-on-one setting.

3. Tackle training (Knowledge)

Empowering users with knowledge is crucial to the ultimate success of your deployment. So, now is the time to create your training plan. If your organization has a learning and training department, use them as a resource for this phase.

Start by considering what knowledge your users already have. Are you replacing an old tool or process? If so, you can tackle similar processes without starting from scratch. What other knowledge do your end-users possess as it relates to other software tools? Are they highly-proficient with a similar system? If so, don’t spend too much time on the basics of navigation.

Another important factor is the timing of the knowledge phase. If conducted too long after your go-live date, information will not be retained. If conducted to close, end users may not have time to practice what you taught them.

During training, be sure to include an overview of self-service tools. Our RFP platform, like most technology, comes with personalized assistance from a customer success consultant, in-depth knowledge base and 24-hour support services. By teaching your team how to find answers, you enable curiosity and confidence in the solution.

Finally, as you complete training, take note of which end-users seem to have a strong grasp of the new process or system. These users can become coaches and advocates in the next phase of the process.

4. Put it into practice (Ability)

After training, your users will need time to practice their new skills. Schedule a period of time for transition to the new approach. Rely on the coaches and advocates you identified during training to assist end-users who may be struggling. If necessary, invite your customer success consultant to the meeting to help facilitate.

Monitor the first few weeks of usage. At this stage it is important to measure and assess how your end-users have embraced the new process. Tracking adoption and improvements also helps you to report key metrics to your executive sponsor.

As everyone learns, ask users to share the tips and tricks with the group. Encourage the group with success stories and quick wins.

5. Celebrate success (Reinforcement)

After the new solution or process has been deployed it will be important to maintain momentum. When a customer completes their first proposal from beginning to end, I recommend that the executive sponsor sends out a note to congratulate and thank the group for their dedication.

As use of the solution increases, communicate key metrics, improvements and positive outcomes with the team. For example, RFP360 customers often report how much time proposal automation has saved.

Finally, solicit feedback and be ready to optimize. It’s difficult to get things exactly right the first time. With the benefit of multiple users interacting with and moving through the new process, you’re sure to uncover unforeseen ways to improve efficiency. As you make adjustments, document and formalize them within your organizational procedures.

5 best change management plan examples and templates

Berkeley change management plan example

When Berkley created their change management process, they were thorough. This change management toolkit includes a change management plan example, diagrams, definitions, a risk assessment and more. If you’re looking for a complete set of change management documents, this is the one for you.

Insync Supply Chain Management change management plan example

Supply chain management professionals are no strangers to change. As such, Insync Supply Chain Management specializes in operational and change management strategies within the sector. Consequently, their change management plan example includes everything you need.

Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) change management template

If you’re concerned that your change management plan might be missing something, I’d encourage you to check out this template from VITA. The template begins with instructions and a complete list of factors to consider when creating your plan.

MyPM change management template

Specializing in proposal services and project management consultancy that specializes in commercial and government, MyPM works with change a lot. To help their customers, they offer a detailed change management plan template that walks through each required component. From defining the change to evaluating risks, it’s a great foundation to customize and make your own.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) change management plan template

The CDC change management plan template provides helpful and detailed instructions for use. The template outlines the purpose of the plan, the process for having changes approved and provides links to additional resources and documents.

Change is inevitable. And the unfortunate reality is that without a plan, change is disruptive and stressful. However, creating a change management plan provides organization and structure to ensure success.

Ultimately, change management is about empowering people to embrace transformation. And, equipped with this guide, some practice and a bit of luck, you’ll be well on your way.

Wendy Gittleson

Wendy has more than 10 years experience as a B2B and B2C copywriter. She developed a passion for writing about tech from living in the San Francisco Bay Area and working for a technology school. From there, she transitioned to writing about everything from SaaS to hardware and cloud migration. She is excited to be part of the wonderful team at Responsive and looks forward to playing her part in building the future. Connect with Wendy on LinkedIn.


Ready to see Responsive in action?

Find out why leading response teams across the world turn to Responsive for their Strategic Response Management and RFP software needs.

Learn more about RFP software