Change is inevitable — except from vending machines

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I get called a lot of things at work (especially last Christmas when I tried to pass off my macaroni art as gifts), but one official title I do have is that of Change Manager.

I would like to discuss what Change Management (CM) is and why, if you’re looking for process improvement from your IT department, you should consider implementing it. To do so, I will call on the help of some historical figures.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin

In the business world, change management has two definitions. One is a process to engage change on the human side (it’s what most people experience when their organization is undergoing transformation and it is often run by an HR department); the other is an IT process that has become a cornerstone of many maturing IT departments. These definitions are often differentiated by capitalization: the IT version is capitalized, the organizational is not. This article will focus on the IT version.

CM’s primary goals are to ensure mistakes are not repeated, successes are, and a clear path to an overall standardization of processes is achieved. CM is a cornerstone process of a framework called Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) that came out of the U.K. government in the 1980s and is a leading driver of IT process framework development. You would think a nation focused on process improvement would figure out how to serve beer cold, but perhaps that is still in the works.

{advertisement} I have been a Change Manager for several years, but it was not too long into that process that I realized that I was also a change manager. This is because every adjustment or new service introduced brought changes to staff members’ work, which in turn often created fear and uncertainty. In most cases you will need to utilize lower-case change management and some handholding before you implement CM.

“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” — George C. Lichtenberg

Change can be scary and people are often naturally adverse to it. Kids, this is why grandma still has a VCR, your mom still tries to pass off that hair colour as natural, and your dad still thinks
those pants fit.

Just like changes around us, changes in IT bring about these same fears. Having a documented process with a core focus on facilitating communication on what different resource areas are doing, when they are doing it, and what the risks and benefits are is paramount to having as smooth and successful a transition as possible.

Many organizations that implement ITIL often begin with a similar process called Incident Management. This is of little surprise: reducing incidents can be the low-hanging fruit that can engage more devotees to the entire process.

But my experience tells me you should first consider Change Management. CM will help limit errors, document successes, and enhance communication between IT departments and their customers. Winning over your staff and customers (internal and external) will assist in building a better framework for Incident Management to be implemented rather than the other way around.

The objective of CM is to ensure standardized methods and procedures are used for efficient, prompt, and successful handling of changes in an IT infrastructure. It also helps to minimize the amount and effects of any unwanted incidents into “live” systems. If you have a website or other customer-facing, revenue-collection systems, you can have enhanced confidence in upgrades if a mature CM system is reviewing the process prior to the launch date.

“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.”
 — Robert F. Kennedy

Some people who initially learn about ITIL and CM incorrectly perceive it as an administratively heavy process. Those opinions will melt away as proper procedures and successes are documented and later retrieved, making future changes to the same systems smooth, efficient, and risk-free to budgets and customers. Like any new initiative, you must have the involvement and support of senior executives to ensure success.

A talented technical writer can be an effective shortcut toward successful implementation of CM. These personnel are essential for helping staff fully utilize ITIL. Just as everyone expects to remember their passwords and not have to write them down (why is it that websites always reject “Dougissmart”?), a technical writer works with staff to ensure that key repeatable tasks and testing are properly documented to enhance confidence in necessary changes for your organization’s advancements.

If you attempt to implement CM, I guarantee your biggest detractors will lurk inside your own department. They will tell you they are too busy to document and test, and that you are preventing them from doing their real jobs.

I have been involved in some unpleasant meetings after a “simple” unplanned, undocumented change brings down all the company’s cash registers, and these initial detractors then generally do two things. First, they sweat a whole lot during the investigation of the outage, and secondly, they suddenly embrace CM going forward. You will get “cowboys” who will strongly resist but it is just a matter of time before lack of participation will bite them. Start with getting as many early adopters on board as you can to further isolate the detractors.

CM does not just help implement new products or services. Changes in any infrastructure will always be required in response to critical system failures, externally imposed requirements (legislative changes), or requested service enhancements. CM is a lighter form of disaster recovery, and if done properly, you will understand the services and risks of each component in your environment. It will also allow you to get a service back up and running quicker if there are issues, and it outlines whom to update along the way.

CM and ITIL are just methodologies, so cost of implementation is almost nothing on top of training. Service providers will try to sell you tools to manage it, but this is not always essential with an initial implementation. Training staff in ITIL and CM could be your only initial costs, but the payback from doing things right is priceless.

But if all this does not persuade you to implement CM, I’ll call on one more voice from history. I believe it was The Brady Bunch who sang, “Don’t fight the tide, come along for the ride, don’t you see? When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange … sha na na na, na na na na na.”

Doug Caton is a Victoria IT manager.