Change Management Is Broken: Here’s How To Fix It
We go over the top reasons why change management has long been technology’s least favorite process and some successful ways to implement technical change management.
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Why do people hate change management? Probably because most of the time it feels like the management portion of change management is implemented with arcane approval processes and bureaucratic red tape that have historically gotten in the way of teams making change.
Needing to seek approvals up and down a long chain of command results in stalls from folks with the least familiarity with why the change is being made, the impact of it, or the cost of delay. Looking at change with velocity in mind, the people furthest removed from the impact of the change are the ones least able to add value to the approval process — so why are they the gatekeepers? Thus the frustration for many of us when even hearing the phrase “change management” uttered.
Change management has evolved quite a bit as developers, who are incentivized to make changes often, have started running their own software. They saw operational change practices and thought, “there has to be a better way.” Thankfully, there is, and it’s available to you with just a few key steps.
This article will explain the top reasons why change management has long been technology’s least favorite process, and explain smarter and more successful ways to implement technical change management.
Can you learn to appreciate change management? I think so. Let’s take a closer look.
Why Do Change Management Efforts Fail?
The reasons for change management failure are plentiful, complex, and vary depending on the type of change management initiative and the organizational structure. However, here are some of the most common reasons why change management efforts stall:
- Outdated approval methods. Many change management projects require orthodox approval methods involving large committees, multiple levels of management, predefined windows to make changes, and also require a separation of duties. Besides being huge de-motivators, these result in a 9x increase in inefficiency when compared to styles with fewer approvals.
- Inefficient approval methods. Change management endeavors fail when approval methods are complicated, involving mandatory wait periods, two or more required approvals, or approvals by an unqualified team member.
- Misaligned incentives. It's not uncommon for the Development and Operations teams to have misaligned incentives. Developers want velocity, operations want stability.
- Lack of a standard way to make change happen. Ad hoc implementations make each change bespoke, and thus expensive to plan and validate. It also leaves a lot of room for the unknown to have a large surface area.
- Poor communication. Low levels of autonomy and ineffective communication across teams cause problems and hold-ups.
Siloed teams. Poor change management often involves expensive handoffs between highly siloed teams with misaligned goals.
While traditional change management approaches are broken, there is a solution.
With the right planning and the help of smart automation tools, it’s possible to overcome common challenges and implement smooth change management processes at your organization.
How to Implement Change Management Effectively
Arguably, one of the most important first steps in successful enterprise change management is to keep an open mind about what to do differently.
Based on years of change management experience, and research from The 2020 State of DevOps Report by the team at Puppet, here are proven ways to approach change management that will result in higher change management success rates.
1. Standardize Deployment Practices
Change management efforts fail when teams work within manual systems, too many systems, and inconsistent systems.
For successful change management, it's critical for leaders to standardize and automate systems, technologies, and deployment practices across the organization. It’s also important to get team members and stakeholders to buy into the standardized system and processes from the get-go.
When teams deploy on a standard set of operating systems, built on a standard set of technology, and when processes are easily replicable, it creates unity, autonomy, speeds up work, and also decreases the need for complex approvals.
Standardization results in fewer variations across a technical state, improved outcomes, and fewer "if" statements in all flows and processes.
2. Make the Systems Fast to Deploy
If change management success is your goal, then one of the first items of business is to reduce the tools your teams use and to simplify processes and approvals.
While this is easier said than done, the research from The State of DevOps 2020 Report is clear: organizations that standardize tools and processes succeed more when compared to organizations that don’t.
In other words, for change management to effectively take hold, teams must deploy on a single standard operating system and a standard set of technologies. It’s also critical to standardize deployment patterns for building apps.
When organizations focus on adopting a standard tool, it’s possible to streamline processes, grant teams more autonomy, cut out unnecessary approvals, and speed up deployment.
3. Focus on Smaller Batches, Delivered Frequently
While massive digital transformations are often a worthy goal, organizations that take on massive projects all at once have difficulty getting lasting stakeholder and employee buy-in, setting up working processes, and accurately defining the scope of the project. The results are often disastrous.
A more effective approach is to focus on smaller batches, delivered more frequently. Start with your change initiative early, divide the whole project up into smaller, more realistic goals, and then properly define the smaller project scopes. With this approach, you’ll see more frequent deployments and faster cycle times.
4. Speed Up Feedback Cycle Processes
Slow feedback cycles with multiple manual reviews and approvals and long wait times are detrimental to change management initiatives, as it can lead teams down the wrong path and clutter up processes.
The better alternative is to minimize manual processes and approvals in favor of automated change management technology, i.e. continuous integration and delivery tools. With the help of CI/CD technology, improved systems, and processes, you arm your teams with real-time and metrics-driven feedback that will keep teams on course.
Not to mention, it’s possible to set up standardized and automated workflows with automated delivery pipelines, cutting out unnecessary approvals and feedback from outside teams.
5. Automate Infrastructure Delivery
It’s safe to say the most significant way to improve and speed up change management efforts is via automation.
Almost all problems that organizations experience while trying to implement change stem from too many manual processes, poor communication that comes from a lack of standardized tools, and inefficient manual approval methods.
Technologies that help with automated testing and deployment and advanced risk mitigation techniques are strongly correlated with performance sentiment, according to The 2020 State of DevOps Report.
Teams that automate see reductions in risk and downtime to services, glean more useful information, know that information is accessible to stakeholders, and experience a pace of change that advances the business.
Additionally, automation makes people more confident that their change management is effective. According to research by The 2020 State of DevOps Report, firms whose employees believe their change management is effective are 3x more likely to automate testing and deployment than firms where confidence in change management performance is low.
Not to mention, stats from the report show that automation leads to more employee involvement, and firms that have high employee involvement in the change management process are more than 5x as likely to have effective change management than those that have low employee involvement.
6. Focus on Self-Service
The final solution to broken change management is to focus on self-service capabilities where incident responses are automated, resources are available via self-service, applications are rearchitected based on business needs, and security teams are involved in design and deployment.
When self-service is the focus, it leads to more standardization, improved automation, reduced team handoffs, boosts in team trust, increases in team autonomy, and makes it possible for developers to work at their own pace.
Additionally, the report found a strong relationship between DevOps evolution and the use of internal platforms. Stats show that more evolved firms are nearly 2x as likely as mid-level organizations and 6x as likely as low-level organizations to report high internal platforms usage.
Solution: Adopt a CI/CD System for Change Management
While change management is challenging, the smartest approach is to adopt proven CI/CD systems that make communication, standardization, automation, and self-service a reality.
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