A Culture of Change Management

The single most important process in an IT shop is operational change management. Unequivocally.

Change is a constant in the business place and IT is often the clearinghouse for that change. Whether it’s in response to new projects, new functionality in existing systems, regulatory requirements, maintenance, or an outage, there is constant change. And change very likely has ripple effects across the enterprise.

In the telling publication NSM: Often the Weakest Link in Business Availability, Gartner stated…

Gartner research shows that an average of 80 percent of mission-critical application service downtime is directly caused by people or process failures…. The most common cause of people and process failures is change. Enterprises that have established strong change management practices typically have the highest levels of availability.

If change causes 80% of our headaches as IT managers, how can we not *manage* it?

The goal of the Change management process is to ensure that standard procedures are used for efficient and prompt handling of all changes to the Production environment, in order to minimize disruption to service availability and quality, and therefore, business operations. In their The Visible Ops Handbook, Kevin Behr, Gene Kim, and George Spafford found in their research that higher performing IT organizations had a “culture of change management”. The first step to making any change was to solicit and receive approval from the change board. Change management was integrated into their daily lives. This was not seen as overly bureaucratic  or a needless hurdle, but rather an absolutely critical gateway. And these organizations were executing 1000-1500 changes per week with a 99+% success rate.

Change management is not intended to prohibit change, but rather shine a light on it, so all affected parties have visibility and a voice. It is analogous to brakes on a car – it helps you get to where you are going quicker and without wrecking. Change management allows us to adapt and respond appropriately to change. As Charles Darwin supposedly quoted, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

A culture of change management must have the support of the organization, from line management to business executives. It then begins with some very basic Change Guidelines, which although obvious need to be explicitly pushed down to those making changes. Those guidelines have to be fully supported  From there, IT needs to have an agreed-upon, documented Change Process, and then depending on the organization’s size and volume of changes, a tool to automate that process.

Note the process and the tool are discrete items. In the Burton Group’s 2005 report “Change Management for the Enterprise“, they state:

No single tool can fully serve the enterprise’s change management needs today, and nothing in the foreseeable future will alter this situation. Change management combines all facets of enterprise management and operations as well as aspects of legal, human resources, physical security and physical plant, and technologies. As a result, while tools can help manage the process, the process itself requires the attention of people at all levels.

I fear some organizations get too wrapped up in the tool, when it is the culture and the process that count.

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