Upstream, midstream, and downstream: these are the three stages of change management that Prosci has identified to help you know where you are in the change management process.

The idea was launched by Prosci Chief Innovation Officer Tim Creasey, who discovered the notion of stream stages at an oil and gas conference in 2013. In the oil and gas industry, upstream is the first stage of oil and gas production and involves exploration, when workers look for oil and get it out of the ground. Midstream centers on transportation and processing, or moving the oil from where it was discovered to where it needs to go. And downstream is the refining and distributing stage, where the industry turns the oil into something that can be used and sends it to gas stations around the country.

While sitting through these presentations and learning about the stream stages, Tim thought that using stream stages was a useful way to describe what a change management practitioner does as well. In the upstream stage, you sell change management to leadership or to a project team. In midstream you actually do change management on a project, and then in downstream you evaluate how you did and then leverage or advance that experience to your next project.

Upstream Change Management: Selling Change Management

In upstream change management, practitioners work to get on a project. This is everything from winning over leaders and project teams to gaining commitment and priority. Do you have the budget and resources you need? Are your executives sponsors committed and prepared to be the sponsors your project needs?

When selling change management, Prosci’s study participants stressed the importance of providing the right context when talking about the value of and need for change management. Practitioners who talk about how a project is “missing change management” aren’t communicating the value and necessity of change management. But when practitioners talk about how a project's results and outcomes depend on people doing their jobs a new way, change management becomes the necessary solution. When discussing the value of change management, practitioners need to communicate the real problem: Your organization needs to get results out of this project, and a lot of those results depend on people doing their jobs differently.

Prosci has worked hard to supply you with the resources you need to succeed in selling change management: The CMROI™ Calculator is designed to demonstrate to senior executives how much of a project’s ROI depends on people doing their jobs differently. The Business Case for Change Management Template walks you through how to communicate the value of change management to project teams in the language they already understand. Prosci’s host of webinars and tutorials helps you learn how to change the conversation to communicate the value of change management while giving you the most current research and tools to be successful in getting on a project and getting the resources you need.

Tools for Upstream Change Management

Midstream Change Management: Doing Change Management

Midstream is when you actually do change management. This is the stage where you apply a structured approach to develop the strategies and plans you need to drive employee adoption and usage. In fact, this is where you would use the 3-Phase Process, Prosci’s research-based approach to doing change management. At this point, you should have all the buy-in and resources you need, and you are now ready to start creating and implementing your communication plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, managing resistance plan and more. It’s also where you would dive into integrating change management and project management.

In this stage, you would use the Practitioner eToolkit and its many templates to create your change management plan. You could also use the Change Management Research Library, Prosci’s web-based version of the largest body of knowledge on change management. By using keyword searches, favorites, playlists and notes, you can discover how other change managers handled resistance or built employee buy-in and gain additional insights as you do change management on your project or program.

Tools for Midstream Change Management

Downstream Change Management: Evaluating Change Management

In the downstream stage of change management, you’ve completed change management in the project, and now you must take a look back at the project and evaluate how you did. Downstream has two parts: first, you must evaluate how well you did on change management for this project. Secondly, you must discover how you can leverage forward the work you did on this project on your next project.

The first element of downstream—evaluating how you did—is a tricky piece of change management that people have been trying to get their heads around for decades. Prosci’s latest addition to evaluating change management is now available in the eBest Practices Audit, an interactive online tool that allows you to evaluate how well you are doing change management against industry best practices. Prosci is also developing a new tool that will offer a holistic way to measure not only the activities we do but also the outcomes we achieve.

For many organizations, the second part of downstream takes them down the path to organizational change agility, where Prosci’s Enterprise Change Management (ECM) tools and resources can help companies embed and build an organizational change management capability. When embedding organizational change competency, you move past a project-by-project view and instead make “great change management” part of the DNA of the organization; change management then becomes the expectation, not the exception.

Tools for Downstream Change Management

Every change management project has to go through upstream, midstream, and downstream. In organizations that have moved down the path of building core organizational change competencies, change managers will probably be able to spend less time in upstream as change management starts to become expected. But by viewing change management through these three streams, practitioners can understand where they are in the change management process.


A lot of work done in the change management industry today fits into midstream change management—actually doing the work. However, there is so much more to change management as you prepare for a project and reflect on a project. Viewing change management as stream stages enables you to remember those vital elements as well as gives a home for the many tools that Prosci has created to help you as you work on selling (upstream) or evaluating (downstream) change management.


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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.