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Emergency Change Management: Please Stop The Drama

I recently read a great quote by industry analyst Adam Holtby, of Ovum, that:

“Change is inevitable in any organization, but with change comes risk.”

Though personally I prefer the Spider-man quote:

“With great power comes great responsibility”

Which rather interestingly is equally true about change management.

The two sides of the change coin

Change is a positive thing, whether that change is:

  • Reactive to resolve errors or to adapt to changing circumstances; or
  • Proactive to provide new services.

But the reverse side is where uncontrolled or poorly managed changes lead to business-affecting incidents and problems and/or cause issues with corporate compliance initiatives.

It’s an interesting contradiction, especially when change management is considered one of the most used and most mature ITIL-espoused IT service management (ITSM) processes after incident. The itSMF USA/Forrester annual ITSM Survey is a great proof point – with change management second only to incident management in its ITSM process maturity league table.

The cause in my opinion? The long shadow thrown by emergency changes.

Emergency change? Really?

Pop quiz:

  • How many emergency changes does your organization have?
  • Ever wondered how many of these emergency changes cause incidents?
  • How many of these emergency changes really were emergencies?
  • Does your organization confuse emergency and expedited changes?

There is a big difference between emergency and expedited changes, and the need and delivery mechanism. But while they are different beasts the respective volumes should both still be minimized, as both bring added business risks. Check out Pink Elephant-er Troy DuMoulin’s great blog on handling expedited versus emergency changes from which I borrow his definitions:

  • Emergency changes – changes that are required to restore service due to an incident or a change that needs to be implemented quickly in order to avoid one.
  • Expedited changes – changes that are required quickly due to a pressing need such as legal requirement or a business need but are not related to restoring service.

My real beef, however, is the volume of emergency or expedited changes organizations are still dealing with. Let’s call them “fast-tracked” changes.

This #ChangeManagement blog will help you to become better at implementing emergency change management and provide some food for thought when it comes to fast tracked changes. Click To Tweet

Fast-tracked changes: getting to an avoidable bad outcome quicker?

Independent of the definitions of emergency and expedited changes, an organization should not tolerate speed-of-change-related risks and incidents ultimately caused by a lack of planning by, or the inefficiency of, those involved in “creating” and “delivering” the change. They like everyone else need to realize that there is a legitimate reason as to why there is an agreed change management process and timeframe – to protect business operations.

Based on my experience (and ideal world thinking), fast-tracked changes should be kept to a minimum. Less than 10% of all changes and as close to zero as possible – there will of course always be a need, but it should be closely monitored and managed. Instead the IT organization should ensure that that change management process is as efficient as possible while still providing adequate protection to business operations. I’m sorry for stating the obvious here – my point is that sometimes this isn’t obvious to all.

So aspire to better emergency change management

Many see this as handling emergency changes better. But this is one-dimensional, the second dimension is reducing the volume of emergency (or expedited) changes. In my experience fast-tracked changes are often an indicator of lack of IT operations influence or power, or a lack of ITSM maturity. It might also be a sign that a serious IT crisis is imminent.

In my experience fast-tracked changes are often an indicator of lack of IT operations influence or power, or a lack of ITSM maturity. It might also be a sign that a serious IT crisis is imminent. Click To Tweet

If all the analyst firms out there are to be believed then fast-tracked changes are often 30-50% of all changes. This should be managed down to less than 10% over a planned timeframe. In terms of improving, a realistic target for the typical organization stuck at the 30-50% level should be < 20% within the first year of improvement and < 10% after the second year. It’s said that the best organizations are below 2%, but this is unrealistic for the average organization (clearly I’m an IT super hero but even I can’t achieve that). One can also go deeper to look at the ratio of emergency to expedited changes. I once heard that this should be circa 1:2 when looking at fast-tracked changes. Sadly I can’t remember where this ratio is from, but I’m sure it was from someone clever and it sounds reasonable.

Finally, look beyond fast-tracked changes. Don’t ignore the changes that are bypassing or circumventing the formal change management process and the risks that they pose.

So how is your change management? What advice would you offer to others?


Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).


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