How to Run Successful CAB Meetings

Running a successful Change Advisory Board (CAB) meeting is very important for all organizations. It ensures that multiple stakeholders have the opportunity to contribute to organizational decisions for service excellence. There are some key considerations that should be understood to be successful before, during and after convening a CAB. 

First, there are three types of CABs and each has an intended purpose within the change management process. The general purpose of all CABs is to advise the change manager. The change manager or change authority who chairs the CAB has the final approval of the changes with advice from the CAB. 

The three CAB types are:

  • Pre-approval CAB
  • Emergency CAB
  • Post-approval CAB

All CABs are part of the change management process, but are convened for different activities. The change manager or change authority decides if a CAB is needed. All CABs are optional and the change authority can make the change decision without advice, but the advice of the CAB can be very valuable for the change manager. 

The change management process activities are:

  1. Start/Begin change process
  2. Log change request or change proposal – create change record
  3. Categorize change
  4. Prioritize change
  5. Approve change for release management (build and test)
  6. Approve change for deployment (installation, training, etc.)
  7. Post-implementation review
  8. Close change record stop process

Failing to follow the process or other key activities can lead to challenges to changes in your organization. These challenges are sometimes blamed, for example, on the CAB, the technology, governance and the change authority. The blame can be well placed, but recording and retaining metrics and critical success factors related to the activities can help you find the constraints in your process. 

The change manager also works as a Continual Service Improvement (CSI) manager. He or she notes any lessons learned for continual approval of the change process and the effectiveness of the CAB to be included in an overall knowledge management system. Change management practices contribute to the success of the CAB with a thorough understanding of people, process, organizational structure, technology, governance and communication.


Pre-approval CAB meetings

The pre-approval CAB meets before a change is approved for release management. Attendees of this CAB should provide key perspectives related to the change, which include:

  • The customer perspective is very important and the customer (internal or external) or a representative of the customer, such as the service manager or business relationship manager, provides this perspective. Without an understanding of the customer’s needs or outcomes, the resulting project based on the change can have no value. If the project has no value to the customer, then it is a waste of time, effort and money for the organization.
  • The technical perspective helps to determine you have the necessary technical capabilities, which include people, capacity and infrastructure. If the change requires technical capabilities and you don’t have them, then the change cannot be approved until other pre-requisite changes have been completed.
  • The financial perspective contributes information and insights about the cost of a change. These may include any required funding, return on investment (ROI), total cost of ownership (TCO) and value of investment (VOI), all of which should be known before proceeding. Without sufficient funding and a comprehensive understanding of other financial metrics, it’s virtually impossible to accomplish a change.
  • The business perspective, which the change manager generally provides, is just as important as the customer perspective. After all, the business must survive and serve its markets at the highest level possible.

A CAB is not required to approve a change for deployment, which is typically the responsibility of the change manager. The change manager will decide when the change should be done in collaboration with the release and deployment team, and with support from the transition planning and support team if available. The next step is to create a future schedule of change (FSC), or change calendar, and other communications about change adoption to inform stakeholders.


Emergency CAB meetings

An emergency CAB meeting can be scheduled any time an operational emergency is declared. Sometimes, during the day, an emergency meeting may be held to determine a course of action for a failed operational issue. Emergencies can happen in the middle of the night too when fewer people are available, requiring an emergency CAB to convene. The emergency CAB process is usually defined in an emergency policy, but should still be considered a part of the change management process. After an emergency, the change manager should conduct a post-implementation review to assure the management of the change risk was done properly. 


Post-approval CAB meetings

Post-approval CABs should meet after the change moves to production or to assess the risk of a pre-approved or change that has be entirely processed. Some changes are pre-approved because the organization (change manager) has deemed them low-risk changes. Although the change is pre-approved, the change should still be monitored to determine if it requires more managing and to move through the entire change process. Pre-approved changes are faster, more agile and considered less bureaucratic. The post-approval CAB meeting should be convened to review the results of pre-approved changes to asses risk level and whether the change should continue to be pre-approved. 

Post-approval CABs can be very helpful on go-live days to help with fast decision-making for critical changes. Organizations usually have CAB members onsite or on-call to help with organizational risk for critical changes.


In Summary

It is important to engage the power of the CAB relative to the change management process and its activities. Each change management activity serves a key purpose to help manage risk and knowledge in the organization. CABs can function at a strategic/executive, tactical or operational level in an organization. Regardless of the level, the following guidelines can be helpful to run successful CAB meetings.

  • Establish and follow change process with an understanding of the different type of CABs.
  • Each CAB should have a distinct focus or intent. The policies and level of approval, such as operational, tactical, and strategic changes, should be understood.
  • The diversity of a CAB is important relative to your customers’ needs and those of the stakeholders. Different stakeholders have diverse perspectives (i.e., CFO, CIO, Operations manager, Service Owner, etc.) Collectively, the different stakeholders represent the values of the organization as a whole. Leverage them.
  • Provide pre-reading needed for change awareness and decisions for CAB members.
  • Automate CAB advice with deadlines – meet in person if needed, use workflow software.
  • Set behavior and other rules of conduct as for all meetings.
  • Understand service and organizational change cadence. This helps to manage knowledge updates, communication, constraints and urgent requests.
  • Understand impacts outside the specific change and to other services, infrastructure, etc. Configuration management database (CMDB) with impact-visualization capabilities can help with these decisions.
  • Note all risk in a shared-risk register. This helps with organizational coordination and collaboration for service excellence and strategic planning.
  • Conduct a post-implementation review to determine failed and successful changes. This helps to create patterns of successful change behaviors in the organization.


CAB meetings cannot be successful if:

  • Intent is not clear and there is no agenda. Create an agenda and distribute additional materials in advance to help with decision-making.
  • They are not planned. Use people’s time wisely.
  • The wrong people attend. The wrong people can be disruptive and derail agility.
  • There are too many people attending. CAB meetings with too many people use too much time and the impact on the organization can be significant when people should be focused on other tasks to support and deliver service and products. Find the appropriate functional group or team representative.
  • Time is improperly managed. This can negatively affect change scope, cost and quality.
  • There are technological challenges. Choose technology that enables teamwork and is easy to use.
  • There is too much bureaucracy. Policy, roles and responsibilities are very important for CABs to function effectively and for the people (change requestors) who submit or don’t submit changes. Many people have stated change processes slow their work and if the management team supports this, then it can be very difficult to implement an effective process. Education and understanding of risk is a good starting point to help with this issue. The process, if designed appropriately and continually improved, will also help overcome this issue.

CABs are very important to help organizations adopt a coordinated and collaborative approach to managing changes. Continually assess the efficiency and effectiveness of your CAB with success metrics and feedback from the CAB attendees and refine as necessary to keep the CAB relevant to support operational processes.

Cover Image by Swetha Kanithi