The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Coevolutionary Approach for Implementing Organizational Change - Case Study on a Business Process Change in a Large Organization

Tiina Tissari

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, for public examination and debate in Auditorium Luna in Spektri at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 30th of August, 2002, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-5907-9)   [1180 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-666-592-6)


The objective of this research is to study how to successfully implement organizational change in a large organization. The study deals with an approach for implementation that incorporates both efficiency and flexibility. Within the domain of organizational change, this research focuses on business process change, more specifically the supply chain processes.

The research question is approached by first studying how to carry out implementation according to the relevant existing theories of organizational change. Then, a real life change implementation program is reflected with the existing implementation approaches and finally characteristics of a successful approach for change implementation are concluded. This study follows the logic of inductive theory building and qualitative case study. The research is designed as an embedded case study, the primary research object being an extensive change program that includes 24 individual implementation cases. The case data is mainly qualitative of nature and is collected through participant observation, archives and numerous and diverse documents created within the program.

The focal terms and the scope of the study are defined based on relevant theory of organizational change. For understanding the existing body of knowledge on change implementation, a multidisciplinary review is carried out including the theories of organization development, organization transformation, business process reengineering, project management and organizational learning. As a conclusion from the review, four research constructs are elaborated for guiding the case study. The constructs define essential elements of change implementation: initiation, management structure, process and change advancement. Using the elaborated constructs, two generic implementation approaches are conceptualised: planned and emergent. The former represents centrally managed, sequentially proceeding holistic change, whereas the latter is about locally managed, continuous and incremental implementation.

The case program is presented and analysed using the research constructs. The case provides evidence of an implementation approach that complies neither with the planned nor the emergent approach despite of many common elements. The findings show how change can be successfully implemented using a different approach, labelled as coevolutionary in this study. The coevolutionary approach is characterized by 1) initiation based on a challenge, 2) co-ordinated, but decentralized management structure, 3) dynamic process and 4) systemic change advancement. A challenge sets the performance level targeted by the change. The actual solutions for meeting the challenge develop during a dynamic implementation process through interaction between local and central instances involved in the implementation, advancing towards an overall solution. The coevolutionary approach provides a balance between the extremes of planned and emergent change and thus incorporates the benefits of both scalability and flexibility, efficiency and innovativeness. Finally, the findings are linked with complexity theory to offer further explanation how change is most effective in systems that are neither too rigid nor too chaotic.

Keywords: change implementation, organizational change, planned change, emergent change, business process, organizational learning, coevolution

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© 2002 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26