Five Keys to Better IT Change Management

Angela McCarthy, Manager of Digital Innovation and Technology, Nova Scotia Community College and Erin Tramble, IT Service Management Lead, Nova Scotia Community College
Angela McCarthy, Manager of Digital Innovation and Technology, Nova Scotia Community College

Angela McCarthy, Manager of Digital Innovation and Technology, Nova Scotia Community College

Change management is a critical component of IT maturity. Here’s how organizations can leverage change management to reduce downtime and improve IT service.

A significant number of IT incidents occur when someone makes a change to one system, and this change then affects other systems in unexpected ways. Organizations can dramatically reduce the chance of this happening by focusing on effective change management.

Change management involves making sure that any proposed change to an IT system goes through a thorough review process before being implemented. This process helps mitigate the risks involved in making a change, ensuring fewer outages and a higher quality of IT service.

Here are five keys to adopting an effective change management process.

Figure out how much process you need.

The more risk involved, the more thorough your process needs to be. We both have extensive experience with change management in other industries where IT downtime can be catastrophic, such as utilities and healthcare. In joining a college that doesn’t offer 24-7 IT support—we provide support between 6 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week—we have taken a more practical approach to our change management process here at Nova Scotia Community College.

To ensure buy-in among stakeholders, the process you implement must balance rigor and expediency. You want to collect just enough information to help you make good decisions, but not so much that it becomes too onerous for users to request a change. Understanding the needs and culture of your institution can help you find the right balance.

Appoint a change advisory board.

At our college, when staff have a change they require, they come to someone in IT and we shepherd their request through the process. We require a description of the change and the window in which it will occur. We also ask for a step-by-step implementation and backup plan, as well as the names of the team members who will be implementing the change. Someone else in IT then peer-reviews the proposal to make sure it meets our technical standards.

Once the technical reviewer has signed off on the change management plan, it comes to our Change Advisory Board (CAB) for review. Our CAB consists of managers from all of our operational areas. The board meets weekly to review new change requests, and anyone who is requesting or implementing a change must attend the meeting and answer any questions that arise.Erin Tramble, IT Service Management Lead, Nova Scotia Community College

Taking a team-based approach to reviewing change requests ensures that someone from each operational area is aware of the change and has an opportunity to weigh in. It also brings more insight to the review process. A CAB works best if its members can review proposed changes from a technical as well as a strategic perspective, and we have found that management-level (as opposed to director-level) representation is ideal.

Give board members the authority to make difficult decisions.

In our CAB meetings, board members discuss change proposals, raise questions, and look at our schedule of IT work to make sure there are no conflicts. Then, each member votes on whether the change will proceed—and the vote must be unanimous.

Institutions that struggle with change management often do so because their change manager or CAB has not been empowered with the proper authority and executive-level support to make tough calls, such as requiring more information or denying a change request that might cause a problem.

  Currently, we rely on conversations in CAB meetings, our institutional knowledge, and the documentation that change requestors provide to determine how a change to one system might affect others  

Use tools to help you communicate and manage change.

We use the TeamDynamix online platform to track and manage incidents, service, and change requests, giving us easy visibility into the status of projects and support tickets. We can build high-level public dashboards to show executives what’s happening, and we can create more detailed views that can be shared with our entire IT team so they can see what’s coming down the pipe that might affect them.

If a technician logs in at 6 a.m. and sees that a system is down, one of the first things that he or she does is look within the TeamDynamix change calendar to see if a change occurred the night before. This allows our technical team to identify the cause of the issue and respond to outages much more rapidly.

One advantage of using the same platform to manage incidents, service, and change requests is that our IT staff were already familiar with the platform’s interface from fulfilling service tickets. Therefore, we could focus our change management training on the process we would be using instead of the tool.

Currently, we rely on conversations in CAB meetings, our institutional knowledge, and the documentation that change requestors provide to determine how a change to one system might affect others. However, we plan to roll out the TeamDynamix asset management module in the coming months, and this will help us make these assumptions more accurately. We’re excited about the impact this will have on our change management process.

Focus on the ‘why.’

Convincing people to buy into change management can be challenging, because it’s not always viewed as necessary. Technical staff generally feel like they’re being asked to do too much already, and clients might resent having to go through the process and wait for their requests to be approved. There is often an expectation that IT should be able to make a small change very quickly: “What do you mean I have to wait a few days? Can’t you just press a button and make this happen?”

Communicating the value of change management and building strong relationships with both clients and IT staff are essential strategies that can determine the success or failure of a change management initiative.

If we tell students and staff that their online learning system is going to be down on Sunday night from 9 to 10 p.m. because it’s being updated, then it better be back up at 10 o’clock. Proper change management allows us to meet the expectations we set among students and staff, so they can trust what we tell them—and it helps minimize unplanned downtime. This allows IT departments to spend less time putting out fires and more time fulfilling service requests—which ultimately improves service.

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