You're Doing it Wrong: Change Management Edition

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

The great irony of the Change Management process is that, once in place, it rarely changes. It should. All processes should be periodically assessed to determine what’s working and what isn’t – then updated accordingly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told during consulting engagements that organizations 1. Don’t have a Change Management process at all, or 2. Have one, but it’s a clunky, bureaucratic mess. Let’s tackle them in order.

We don’t have a Change Management process.

This one makes me weep a little inside. If your organization doesn’t have a process for managing changes, put down your coffee, read the below steps immediately, and put one in place. Right now. Do not delay.

1. Find Someone To Own The Process

Find someone willing to take ownership of the Change Management process. Can’t find anyone? You have two choices, do it yourself or have management voluntell someone (I heard the word voluntold many moons ago and think it’s pretty much the best word ever). Sometimes, people have to be voluntold.

2. Define Your Important Stuff

Document the key services you provide (write them down on a back of a napkin if you have to). If you’re struggling, start by making a list of the assets people shouldn’t be touching (eg. Don’t be touching that server, Bob. Not after that little stunt you tried to pull with the  last year).

3. Protect That Important Stuff

Take that list and write a simple policy that says, “If you want to make a change to our Important Stuff (that’s a technical term), you need to let us know beforehand.” Then provide basic instructions on how to submit a request for change and to whom. At the very least, each submission should state:

  • Which Important Stuff I’d like to mess with
  • Why I’d like to mess with this Important Stuff
  • When I’d like to mess with this Important Stuff
  • What I will do if this Important Stuff gets messed up

This information should be sent to any key people (usually managers from each IT team) whose review and approval would be required prior to the change. You’ll be amazed at how dramatically this simple process will reduce the frequency with which your Important Stuff gets messed up. Now let’s look at what happens once the process is in place.

We have a process, but it’s a clunky, bureaucratic mess.

Here’s a not-remotely-exhaustive list of the ways your Change Management process could be less than great: Every change is treated the same, our Chance Advisory Board (CAB) meetings are long and not a very good use of people’s time (for newbies, this is the group that reviews and approves changes), or people go around the process all the time so we are surprised when things break (and waste a lot of time trying to track down what broke).

All of this is fixable. Here are some simple steps to follow:

1. Find Out What’s Not Working

Get the following people in a room together: CAB members, anyone who submits a large number of changes, and anyone who’s especially vocal about hating the process. Get their feedback and ideas for how to improve it. Take this seriously. If you subject people to a terrible change management process, they’ll just go around it (whether you realize it or not), which opens your organization up to a huge amount of risk. Good Change Management allows for more change and less risk (which is, you know, preferable).

2. Fix Those Things

Change the process, update your tool to reflect those changes, and let people know you’ll be trying some new things. If people hate the new process, you can always go back to the way things used to be, but give it a few weeks (people will bellyache for a little bit because no one likes change – myself included). The best piece of advice I have ever gotten when it comes to Change Management (or any process, really) is to make it as easy as possible for people to follow the process and as difficult as possible to not. Keep that in mind when you are making changes to your process.

3. Measure Your Improvement.

Measure any changes you make to see if the process is working better than it was before (Are we messing up Important Stuff less often? Are we able to make changes more quickly?). Show this data to folks, so they can see in no uncertain terms that the organization has actually gotten better. Easy peasy. Now, go forth and change that Change Management process!

The CAB Meeting is an integral part of any Change Management process.
Here’s how to run a successful one.

Originally published October 10 2016, updated December 12 2019
ITIL/ITSM