9 Common Change Management Mistakes (and How To Avoid Them)

Customer preferences are evolving just as quickly as technological advances! This can have a significant impact on your business and its internal operations. Such fast-paced evolution demands an equally agile change management function. Organizations that focus on the mechanics of change management but ignore the principles and intended outcomes are likely to make mistakes. But you can avoid these mistakes through intelligent design and application of change management.

Staying focused on live changes

Ideally, your change management function must be able to process changes at the pace dictated by your business. You cannot afford to have your business scale in leaps and bounds while your change management team is moving at a snail’s pace. In this case, the change management process will be perceived as a hurdle by both the business and IT. Any change management function that believes that its role is only to protect ongoing services risks blocking real change.

To avoid this situation, change management practitioners should proactively engage in all stages of the development lifecycle. Offering advice and guidance they should ensure the change is completed without any setbacks. Proactive engagement will also help those involved in the change management process to understand the contents of a change. This can avoid unnecessary questions at approval stages and ramp up deployment.

Change management practitioners should also proactively engage with the business. They need to understand what the business expects from the change and the level of urgency involved. Strong relationships between the IT team and the business will help change management team deliver value to the organization. 

Marking a tick in the box

The change management process in your organization needs to ensure that it adds value to the business through intelligent and appropriate risk management. Let’s assume you don’t pay enough attention to these dimensions while implementing change management. In that case, change management becomes just another tick in the box, where changes are presented for review and are approved without thought or analysis

Good change management requires intelligence, where each change is carefully analyzed in the context of its unique circumstances. If this is not done correctly, the organization may believe it has control over the changes, but, in reality, it is, simply, recording the change. 

On the other hand, change management does need to tick a few boxes

Confused?

Change management is neither involved in deciding the requirements for the change nor is it involved in building, testing, or deploying the change. In fact, the last three come under the purview of their respective release management processes. However, good change management ensures that changes work as intended. To do this change management must be the final ‘checker’. Checking that those responsible for each phase have done their part and signed off. This means change management must a) confirm changes and their deployment methods have been tested, b) all necessary training has been completed, and c)  the change owner is satisfied and the changes are ready to be deployed.

Giving up control 

The change management process inevitably slows all kinds of new developments that the customer wants—unless it is designed in conjunction with the development function, with a sharp focus on avoiding delays and bottlenecks.

While your design for change management must give control to the teams involved in the change it must keep an eye on timelines and speed of change. A common mistake that organizations make is having weekly Change Advisory Board (CAB) meetings and using the CAB as the change authority. The CAB then becomes a bottleneck and causes delay. You can easily avoid this by defining multiple change authorities in the change management policy, reserving the CAB only for high-risk and impact changes, and holding CAB meetings only when required. 

Complicating processes

In many organizations, change management is seen as bureaucratic, requiring a lot of paperwork. Focusing on just the change management process and not its intended purpose harms the business, service management, and all allied IT activities. The change management process must be designed from the perspective of the change owners. This will make it quick and easy for them to request a change. You can use standard changes for all low-risk, repeatable changes, this ensures effective use of change management principles. The change authorities in the change management policy should be designed to minimize the number of changes that need to go to a CAB. 

Organizations can also use workflow automation tools instead of emails and mundane paperwork to simplify change management processes  And lastly, you must take utmost care in designing and managing the CAB. This way, the change management process can be kept free of bureaucracy. 

Bypassing authority

When your change management process appears bureaucratic or causes prolonged delays, it will probably be bypassed. IT will make changes themselves without asking for approvals, hoping the changes work or that they go unnoticed if they do not. IT may also present high-risk changes as lower-risk changes or bundle changes together and only present low-risk ones for review. Which means many changes remain invisible. When this happens, ITSM may believe that they have efficient change management. While, it is just a bunch of changes without effective management, risking the services provided to the business. You can avoid this mistake by including IT staff in the design and evolution of your change management process. Another measure is to take early action and address softer aspects of change management which are attitude, behavior, and culture. 

Ignoring the human angle 

The most critical aspect of successful change management is the people of the organization. Organizations should take the 80-20 approach—Focus 20% on introducing processes and technology, and 80% on changing the attitude, behavior, and culture (ABC) of people. Presenting change management requires them to do something different and be part of a more extensive ecosystem. This is a common hurdle that organizations of all sizes face.

Here’s a workaround: Use established techniques for changing attitude, behavior, and culture. Ignoring these human elements and failing to improve them can cause your change management function to crumble and not meet its business objectives.

Shining the spotlight on CABs

Change Advisory Boards (CAB) are a common cause of delays and bureaucracy in change management. CAB meetings can last for several hours and still fail to deal with all the RFCs presented in the meeting. CAB attendees frequently ask questions where the answer is in the RFC or ask questions that demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the system and services impacted by the change. There are several ways to avoid this mistake. 

  1. Restrict CAB attendees to people with a genuine interest in the change. Questions on the detail of a change should be raised before the meeting.  
  2. CAB meetings need to be controlled by the chair, who is often the change manager, and it should be the change manager’s responsibility to keep the meeting on-point, ending any discussions that should have taken place before the CAB. 

Relying on antiquated methods 

Many businesses make the common mistake of using the same change management process for years without any revisions. The same error applies to the change management policy as well. Your change management team should regularly review their process and policy to ensure that they are still appropriate and relevant to their current business goals. Over time there will be changes to personnel, services, technologies, tools, business drivers, service providers, and other processes. Any of these could affect the efficiency of the change management process. 

Letting operational overheads slide

Change management activities add an operational overhead to the organization. It is essential to verify and continually review that the benefits resulting from change management outweigh the overheads. These overheads could be in the change management team, the teams that present changes for review, and all parties involved in assessing the changes. The benefits can be difficult to quantify, as they are likely to include reduced risks and greater service availability. Still, building a process to measure and track what benefits are being achieved can go a long way.

It is worth stating that over-engineered and bureaucratic processes add overheads that should be avoided at all costs. Change management should focus on putting more effort into managing high-risk changes and avoiding any activities that do not add value.