Guide to change management risk assessment

Identify what is needed for a change to be successful 


Change management risk describes factors that may cause a project to not achieve the desired results. Understanding the risks can also illustrate what is necessary for a change to succeed. 


The initial risk assessment identifies gaps or barriers that may inhibit a successful outcome, and it sets the foundation for developing the change management strategy and plan. The process includes identifying the factors that are necessary for success and interviewing business and project leaders to understand what might be weak or missing. Input from additional people will be gathered in subsequent assessments and refinements of the plan.


To get started, below are the critical success factors that are necessary to improve the success of a change and a guide to evaluating a project’s risk. 



What is change management risk?

Every project has desired results, and there are two elements that contribute to successfully achieving those outcomes:

  1. The quality of the solution
  2. The quality of the acceptance or adoption of the solution

It is common to focus on the quality of the solution. Organizations thrive on innovation and many are veterans at developing superb solutions and managing any associated project risks.


Change management risks are factors that may inhibit or prevent the acceptance or adoption of that solution. These risks may involve any individuals involved or connected to the solution – both leaders and employees. 


Just as project risks may impede the quality of the solution, change management risks may obstruct the acceptance and adoption of the solution and can also jeopardize or hinder the desired results.



Consider success factors instead of risks

Risks are any factor that may contribute to failure. Instead of pointing out what may trigger failure, an alternative is identifying what is necessary for the outcomes to be successful.


Success factors are what is needed for a solution to be accepted or adopted – so what is needed to achieve the desired outcomes. 


This positive outlook achieves the same purpose as identifying the risks, and it has notable benefits for leaders and change practitioners. Use success factors in your risk assessment to:


Add credibility to change management: Instead of pointing out the negatives, success factors illustrate the big picture and what is crucial for success.


Reduce barriers with positive language: It is understandable that people may become defensive when negative feedback is attributed to them or their work. Success factors express how leaders and employees contribute to success – instead of failure.


Compare outcomes and evaluate success: Identifying the success factors creates a clear definition of success so outcomes can be evaluated.


This is the approach we use in our Managed Change methodology. It starts by understanding what is necessary for a change project to be successful, and then initiates an iterative process to identify and manage weak or missing success factors at every stage. 


Critical success factors

When a project is strong in every critical success factor, it is more likely to succeed. And of course, gaps or weaknesses show what can be improved to contribute to better results.


Strong case for change: The reason or purpose of the change make sense at the time to all audiences.  


Impact of history is acknowledged: The causes of poorly managed changes in the past are identified, analyzed and mitigated as needed.


Impact of culture is acknowledged: The culture of an organization is taken into consideration when planning the change, and this may require change as well.


Definition of desired state is clear: All elements of the desired state (structure, process, people and culture) are defined and understood by all impacted people.


Transition dip is acknowledged: The potential unwanted impacts of the transition are identified and mitigated if possible.


Impact of multiple changes is understood: Other concurrent or overlapping changes are identified, and the impacts are analyzed and mitigated as necessary.


Leaders are effective at all levels: Every leader involved understands the change and commits to fulfilling their role and responsibilities.


Change practitioners are capable and willing: Change practitioners are ready, competent and have the resources necessary to support the change.


Risk is identified and analyzed: Potential risks during and after the change are understood.


Risk is mitigated effectively: The change management plan includes strategies and resources to mitigate the identified risks.


Organization is competent in managing change: The organization has the resources and capability – from internal or external sources – to manage the entire change.


Project management is effective: The solution implementation team is engaged, capable and incorporates the change management plan into the overall project plan.


Decision making structure is operational: The role and responsibilities of all leaders are defined, and the change governance and decision-making structure are clear and operational. 


Together, the critical success factors describe the characteristics of a well-managed change. 



Assessing critical success factors

If you’re implementing change management in a new or in-progress project, the first step is to assess the critical success factors to determine what is weak or missing.


Complete a 10-minute assessment

Use this free tool from LaMarsh Global to quickly review your project for the critical success factors: 10-Minute Change Risk Assessment.


The speedy assessment is far from comprehensive, but it is a useful tool for practitioners and leaders to “take the temperature” of the state of a project. 


Interview leaders

Following a high-level evaluation, the next step is to talk to the leaders involved in the project to clearly identify the success factors that they see are strong or weak.


Leaders that are involved in a project can be the executive leaders, project sponsors, project management leads, team leads, department managers, or anyone responsible for the project or the employees that might be impacted. It is too early to talk with the impacted individuals, as many of them may have little to no information about the change at this point. For now, the goal is to understand what leaders perceive as risks and evaluate the alignment among leaders.


Chat one-on-one with the leaders. Here are some questions that can rouse a conversation to help you find out the necessary info.

  • What are the goals of this project?
  • Who owns this project? Or who is responsible for the project?
  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What are your peers hoping to achieve?
  • What do you think of this project?
  • What do you think your peers think of this project?
  • What could cause this project to not succeed?
  • How did previous projects go?

Document the missing success factors

The purpose of the interviews is to learn from the perception and understanding of leaders that are experts in the solution and leaders that know the people that might be impacted. 


Take special note of any critical success factors that are weak or completely missing. No matter how many success factors your project is lacking, it is essential to know this information and share it with the project sponsor and leaders.


Every project is different, but there are trends that we’ve noticed that can help you predict potential gaps:


Common weak success factors

  • Desired state definition: The goal (or goals) of the change needs to be clear for the leaders, change practitioners and people that might be impacted.
  • Leadership: Defined roles and responsibilities ensure leaders can make the necessary decisions and truly lead their people.
  • Organization is competent in managing change: Many organizations are highly proficient at managing the implementation of a solution, but managing the adoption and acceptance of that solution is often overlooked. 
  • Culture: The social fabric and people’s beliefs and attitudes within an organization makes the culture a potential challenge in many projects.

Share with project teams and sponsors

The information you collected speaks to the heart of a project: what is required for this change to be successful. Any following decisions – from project implementation to resourcing – depends on this assessment.


At this stage in the change management process, the assessment only identifies what is needed for a project to succeed. Be careful not to make promises that the risks will not be an issue, and instead rely on the data to appropriately resource and develop the change plan.


Review and update the success factors

As a project progresses, the high priority success factors will likely shift. Effective mitigation intends to strengthen what is missing, and there is the potential that new or unexpected risks may arise. 


Risks are relative to the time or stage of a project, and the prioritization of anticipated risks will shift as the project progresses. The goal is to anticipate the potential risks, and always use any new information to inform our understanding of the success factors. 



Start your assessment

This process of identifying and evaluating the critical success factors sets the foundation for effective change management. It’s a high-level assessment, but it provides a starting point for analysis and further exploration. 


Risk assessments are ongoing and iterative, but this process needs a starting point. 


Use our 10-minute change risk assessment tool to start an assessment of your own project.



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