Prosci and the Change Management Learning Center's final tutorial series of 2008 is titled Neutralizing change threats in the new year. Each tutorial in the series will address one of the biggest obstacles currently facing change management professionals and project leaders as this year comes to a close and the new year begins. Visit the first tutorial in the series to see all six threats and a snapshot of the tactics used to neutralize each threat.

The threat: Too much change

What is change saturation?

Change saturation occurs when there is so much change going on that it negatively impacts individuals and the organization. This typically occurs because no one in the organization keeps a "portfolio" view of all the change efforts underway. When a project team focuses exclusively on their particular business opportunity or challenge, they do not see how their change effort collides with other changes underway. Some Project Management Offices (PMOs) are beginning to make headway in project portfolio management, but the work here is typically limited to inventorying projects and their associated technical details, but they fail to create the necessary "portfolio" view of the collective or cumulative impact of all the changes. Given the increasing amount of change - including frequency, size and breadth of impact - organizations are often faced with "too much change".

Change saturation is a function of two variables: change capacity and change disruption. This is sort of a supply and demand function - how much change can a group or organization handle and how much change is currently happening. Think of the analogy of a bucket of water: change capacity is how large the bucket is, while change disruption is how much water is in (and being added to) the bucket. When change disruption is greater than change capacity, an organization faces change saturation.

Change capacity and change disruption can be broken down into the components that drive them. The picture below shows the Prosci Change Saturation Model.


Prosci Change Saturation Model

Change capacity is shown to be a function of: culture, history, structure, perceived need for change and change management competency. Change disruption is a function of the number of changes going on and the disruption that each one causes. The disruption a change effort creates (or, the amount of water the effort adds to the bucket) is determined by the nature of the given initiative and how effectively the people side of that change is managed. The Change Portfolio Toolkit includes a complete description of the Prosci Change Saturation model along with worksheets to determine your saturation level.

Are organizations saturated right now?

Many organizations are feeling saturated right now. Industries are changing, and many companies are facing growing pressure to change in order to survive. The current economic situation adds additional pressure to change.

Starting in the 2007 benchmarking study, Prosci collected data on current levels of saturation. Below is data showing the levels of saturation beginning in the 2007 study and continuing through the 2013 study. 


Results on level of change saturation: 2007 - 2013

Change saturation impacts how organizations operate. Is your organization feeling the strain of change saturation? Read on for three tactics to neutralize change saturation (and a special fourth note for reducing change disruption using change management)

Tactics for neutralizing change saturation

When enough is enough: raising awareness about the consequences of change saturation

Change saturation has consequences. It cannot be ignored. Participants in the 2007 study shared consequences of being at a point of saturation. Responses for consequences included individual behaviors, impacts on projects and implications for the organization as a whole.

Individuals - Ultimately, it is individuals in the organization who feel change saturation. They are tasked with completing their own work and adopting new changes to how their work is done. When there is too much change happening, individuals react. Some of the individual behaviors resulting from saturation cited by study participants include: disengagement and apathy; frustration and increased stress; fatigue and burnout; more resistance to change; confusion; cynicism and skepticism.

Projects - In times of change saturation, projects do not get the needed budget, human resources and mindshare that they need. The result is that projects do not meet objectives and fail to deliver the intended results for the organization. Study participants indicated numerous impacts on projects in a change-saturated environment, including: changes did not realize benefits; lack of resources; changes were not sustained; projects failed to gain momentum.

Organization - Finally, there are organizational consequences of having too much change. In addition to the individuals and the project suffering, the organization as a whole can begin to suffer. Consequences of change saturation for the organization cited by study participants included: higher turnover; a decline in productivity; increased absenteeism; loss of focus on business basics; negative morale.

Across the board, there are costly consequences of having too much change in the organization. The first step in combating change saturation is building an appreciation and awareness of these consequences. Senior leaders need to be shown what risks they are introducing by not managing the portfolio of change.

Finding out where you are today: mapping the current portfolio of change

Managing the portfolio of change requires someone to take a step back and evaluate the various change efforts and cumulative impacts in the organization. When organizations are introducing large amounts of change, rarely does someone step back and evaluate the collective impact those changes are having. Senior leaders know what initiatives they have invested in, but they do not see how those change efforts impact employees. Project teams focus on delivering the best solution they can for the opportunity or issue they have been handed, but they do not see how their work interacts with other change efforts. Front-line employees and managers are often the ones who feel the brunt of change saturation, but they rarely have any recourse.

portfolio-process2The time has come for organizations to take seriously the entire portfolio of change impacting employees and workgroups. While there has been some progress made in the field of "project" portfolio management, this work is typically limited to inventorying the technical details of the formal projects impacting an organization. Prosci has developed a Change Portfolio Management Process to help organizations and leaders do a better job of understanding, evaluating and managing the portfolio of change (this process is available in the new Change Portfolio Toolkit). The image to the right shows Prosci's Change Portfolio Management Process.

  • Phase 1: Identify - Here the boundaries of the analysis are established. An inventory of the change efforts underway is created - both formal projects and non-project change. The different groups in the organization are segmented so change impact can be evaluated in the next step of the process.
  • Phase 2: Investigate - This phase is dedicated to learning about each of the change efforts in the portfolio. A common set of data is collected about each change including the size, impact, disruptive nature, risks and health of the initiative. This is also where the mapping of each change to the groups that are impacted by that change occurs.
  • Phase 3: Analyze - In the third phase, a portfolio perspective is created. Heat Maps are graphical depictions of who a change impacts. The cumulative impact of all the changes in the portfolio drives an Organizational Heat Map which shows areas of change saturation. Various other graphs are created to show the positioning of the current portfolio. Finally, a Portfolio Dashboard is created which captures high-level data and risks for the portfolio.
  • Phase 4: Act - In the Act phase, the portfolio moves from an academic to a pragmatic tool. Risks are identified for specific change efforts, groups in the organization and points-in-time where there is too much disruption occurring. The portfolio is presented to senior leaders and others in the organization who will benefit from a "big picture" of the current change environment. Actions are taken to alleviate change saturation and the consequences of changes colliding.
  • Phase 5: Monitor, Manage and Control - This is the final step of the Change Portfolio Management Process. Here, the portfolio becomes a management tool for evaluating new change efforts being proposed and change efforts that are concluding.

The Change Portfolio Toolkit includes complete step-by-step instructions for applying the Change Portfolio Management Process. It also includes the worksheets, tools and templates you need to be successful in creating the portfolio perspective. The four main tools include Change Scorecards, the Group Impact Matrix, Heat Maps and the Portfolio Dashboard.  

Entrance and exit: managing your changing portfolio

The portfolio of change is not static, it is constantly changing as a result of new change efforts being introduced and old change efforts being retired. To manage the portfolio of change requires attention to efforts that are entering or exiting the portfolio. With a portfolio management system in place, new changes can be evaluated based on the impact they will have on the entire portfolio. When changes exit the portfolio, you can evaluate the impact of the change and learn lessons that can be applied to upcoming efforts. The change portfolio system closes the loop.

Special note - applying effective change management

A final note about the role change management plays in addressing change saturation. In the Prosci Change Saturation Model, there are two characteristics of a given change effort that determine how much capacity it consumes. The first is the nature of the change, and in most instances you cannot impact the size or type of changes required by the effort. However, the second factor is how effectively the people side of change is managed.

If an initiative is introduced with no change management, it can be extraordinarily disruptive. People will be left constantly asking why the change is happening in the first place. There will be more resistance to change and greater instances of people dragging their feet or fully opting out of the prescribed change. This is very disruptive and can consume large amounts of the capacity for change. However, if change management is done effectively and proactively, it can greatly reduce the disruption of the initiative. Senior leaders are engaged and actively and visibly supporting the effort. Communication plans are developed early in the process, targeted for particular audiences and contain the right messages. Managers and supervisors are prepared to coach their employees through change. Resistance is anticipated and addressed before it impacts the effort.

You can help address change saturation immediately by applying a structured approach to the people side of change. You can learn more about Prosci's methdology for managing change on a given effort by reading a more detailed description about Prosci's change management process.

 Intro to Change Portfolio Management

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.