By James McFadden
The growing complexity of network infrastructure is challenging teams’ ability to manage systems, implement changes and configurations, and ensure the stability of services. Let’s paint the picture: IT budgets are expected to increase 13% on average in 2023, despite a possible recession. Companies have deployed hybrid, multi-cloud infrastructures and are using software-defined architectures, trading hardware for software. Large companies use an average of 211 apps to streamline work across business functions. And data centers are stocked full of digitally enabled hardware assets, such as servers, storage, power management equipment, cooling systems, and more. All of these assets must be deployed, monitored, managed, and continually updated.
That’s a lot of change. And without standardized, disciplined processes, updating and upgrading digital assets would quickly descend into chaos. Networking issues are already the single biggest cause of IT outages over the past three years, according to The Uptime Institute 2022 Data Center Resiliency Survey. The survey also found that 40% of organizations have experienced a major outage due to human error over the past three years. When IT teams lack standardized processes — or fail to follow them — they can break things. It is common knowledge in the IT industry that many outages are caused by people who make changes without fully realizing or testing their impact.
Nearly all (85%) of data center outages caused by human error were due to staff failing to follow procedures or from flaws in the processes and procedures themselves — The Uptime Institute
Which brings us to change management.
Change management is a systematic way that teams can transform and maintain technology. By using standardized change management processes, teams can improve IT service uptime, reliability, and lifecycle. A change management process flow guides teams through the steps of architecting change, including creating ideas and preparing for, implementing, and ensuring the success of the initiative.
ITIL: A Way for Teams to Implement Disciplined Change Management Processes
Many organizations now use the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the leading framework for service change management. Teams that use it can enable an optimal change management process flow, improving service quality. Unfortunately, information on ITIL and its processes is not easy to find online, as the methodology is gated and protected by Axelos, the organization that created it, and the service providers that provide coursework and test practitioners on their mastery of key concepts.
A recent survey found that 20.1% of IT service management practitioners had adopted ITIL4 or parts of the framework at their company, while another 32.5% were planning to do so.
My experience with ITIL began in 2016, when I took the ITIL Foundations course. I was working for a managed service provider and partnering with a customer’s technology team to change and configure systems. To move effectively through change and process management, we all needed to be on the same sheet of music. By doing so, we were able to avoid critical problems.
I saw firsthand how even simple things, like terminology, could trip up teams. As an example, take the word “risk”. If an engineer is not familiar with how ITIL defines risk, he or she might react negatively when a project manager (PM) identifies key risks. The engineer might see the PM’s input as criticism and a reflection on his or her work skills. Having a common vernacular, such as with ITIL terminology, helps teams work productively and develop good interpersonal relationships.
Understanding the ITIL Change Management Process Flow
The ITIL change management process flow (defined in ITIL as a service value stream process) includes six steps: plan, improve, engage, design and transition, obtain and build, deliver and support. ITIL Foundation Essentials ITIL 4 Edition – The ultimate revision guide, second edition provides definitions for each step.
Source: ITIL Foundation Essentials ITIL 4 Edition – The ultimate revision guide, second edition
- Plan: “Ensure a shared understanding of the vision, current status, and improvement direction for all four dimensions and all products and services across the organization.”
- Improve: “Ensure continual improvement of products, services, and practices across all value chain activities and the four dimensions of service management.”
- Engage: “Provide a good understanding of stakeholder needs, transparency, and continual engagement and good relationships with all stakeholders.”
- Design and transition: “Ensure that products and services continually meet stakeholder expectations for quality, cost, and time to market.”
- Obtain and build: “Ensure that service components are available when and where they’re needed and meet agreed specifications.”
- Deliver and support: “Ensure that services are delivered and supported according to agreed specifications and stakeholder expectations.”
So, why is this important?
The ITIL Foundations Essentials guide cautions, “Activities in a chain don’t necessarily happen in a linear flow. Activities may be in parallel, repeated, or occur as a series of iterations.”
IT organizations have lots of practitioners. There are DevOps teams that follow standard processes to develop and release solutions. They use sprints to continually develop, test, and release new functionality. Then, there’s the cloud team, which is using a different methodology to deploy and update cloud infrastructure and services. Finally, engineering is migrating and maintaining data center equipment, executing changes on a regular cadence, and ensuring quality assurance for processes.
How can all of these teams work together?
ITIL enables these different teams, with their different priorities, methodologies, and release cycles to synchronize work. ITIL helps teams keep product development, equipment migrations, break/fix work, and asset changes and configurations all on track.
Without ITIL, one team might be ready to deploy but have to wait for another team to catch up. And then at the next step, the second team might be ready while the first team is not. It’s easy to see how this could quickly descend into chaos, negatively impacting a firm’s ability to innovate and maintain schedules and budgets. Fortunately, the ITIL framework helps prevent these types of situations.
What a Change Management Process Flow Looks Like Without ITIL
Let’s contrast what we’ve learned about ITIL change management process flows with a traditional model. According to Harvard Business School the steps of a change management process flow are in the traditional sense are:
- Preparing an organization for change: Raising awareness of the need for change and gaining buy-in from employees.
- Creating a vision and plan for change: Developing a thorough plan that includes strategic goals, key performance indicators, project stakeholders and team, and the scope.
- Implementing the change: Executing the plan and empowering employees to achieve key goals of the initiative.
- Embedding changes within the company culture and practices: Providing new organizational structures, controls, and rewards to make new processes and staff behaviors stick.
- Reviewing progress and analyzing results: Conducting a project post-mortem to see if the initiative was successful and capturing best practices and lessons learned that can be used for future initiatives.
Here is how ITIL is different:
- ITIL emphasizes the need for continual improvement and begins it at the start of an initiative.
- ITIL focuses specifically on improving service quality, which in many cases means digital services.
- ITIL focuses on engaging key stakeholders throughout the change management process flow.
- ITIL breaks down project implementation into key steps.
- ITIL is better suited to the millions of incremental changes IT organizations face, such as processes to configure and update equipment.
Benefits of Using ITIL Change Management to Enable Continuous Improvement
Developing strong ITIL change management competencies enables organizations to create a culture of continuous improvement, where everyone contributes to improving service quality and reliability.
By using standardized processes, continually engaging stakeholders, and focusing on creating a culture of change, organizations can improve ITIL maturity (including change management). Benefits of improving ITIL maturity include:
- Achieving desired project outcomes and driving more ROI
- Identifying new business opportunities more easily
- Developing a shared understanding of what is required to manage and improve services
- Improving service delivery, increasing stakeholder satisfaction and confidence in new initiatives
- Creating operational structures for implementing and managing continuous improvement initiatives
- Delivering beneficial, measurable results, making it easier to get new initiatives approved
The Relationship Between Change and Release Management Lifecycles
So far, so good. We have planned for changes, aligned our teams to deliver it, and now we’re ready to release new code or services. Our change management processes have us covered.
But what if we don’t know how to solve the problem? What if there are multiple options available, and we need to find the right approach and develop new functionality in an efficient manner?
Service teams use a release management process flow (part of the ITIL delivery and support step) to explore opportunities, settle on an approach, and ensure successful deployment of new capabilities. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll assume that the new service is software.
According to Simplilearn, an ITIL course provider, release management encompasses these steps:
- Request: Stakeholders, colleagues, and customers request new changes and features, which the software team considers.
- Plan: If new requests are desirable and technically feasible, the team will then create a plan for executing the change, which includes scope, milestones, and responsibilities.
- Design and build: Business and technical requirements are converted to code. The team then designs and builds the release into software.
- Test: The software release is moved to a testing environment for non-functional and functional testing, including user acceptance testing. As bugs are identified, the release is sent back to developers for remediation. This process occurs over and over until the release is accepted and approved for deployment by the development team and application owner.
- Deploy: The release goes live and users are trained on changes.
- Support in post-deployment: After being released, the software enters the support phase. Software users identify bugs and request changes, beginning the cycle anew.
So, how does release management differ from change management?
Change management involves applying a defined process to create a change, when the rationale and methodology are already known. While teams need to follow key processes, they are essentially pushing buttons to get the change implemented.
Release management presumes there are multiple paths available and teams will need to use a structured process to identify the winning approach, likely testing and discarding other options.
The ability to be good at both change and release management is increasingly important in an era where organizations have moved innovation into real-time. At many global enterprises, DevOps teams are releasing code every few hours or days. Amazon was the pioneer of this capability. And even slower processes such as developing and training machine learning models are picking up speed with the use of MLOps frameworks and processes.
All of this is adding up to organizations’ requirement to run change and release management processes in real-time — a task that ITIL Framework is uniquely equipped to help teams do.
Incorporating ITIL Change Management into Your OrganizationSo, in conclusion, ITIL can be a powerful tool in helping your organization create and improve an IT service management discipline. If you’re new to ITIL or ITIL4 or scaling it across more of your business, here are some best practices for incorporating its change management processes around your organization.
- Get buy-in to adopting ITIL: If your organization doesn’t yet use ITIL, you’ll want to secure senior leadership commitment to deploying the framework, training staff on new processes, and implementing it as your default methodology. It’s also best to get a champion: someone senior who can encourage teams to stay the course in using ITIL even if it seems strange and uncomfortable at first.
- Build a cadre of change experts: Encourage your staff to become ITIL4-certified, so they can help lead change at your organization. The ITIL Foundations course will teach your teams why using standardized, structured processes to manage change is important and how to do it.
- Develop customized change management processes: Use ITIL guidance and service management tools like JIRA, ZenDesk, and ServiceNow to customize workflows to your organization’s needs.
- Build a culture around change: People often resist change when it’s enforced on them. So, creating a culture where staff can contribute ideas, participate in vetting them, and testing new services can help build momentum for change and acceptance of it. Leaders can also recognize employees who embrace change and use ITIL processes to drive innovation or service consistency, encouraging others to do likewise.
- Understand your organization’s risk tolerance: Atlassian, a service management company, recommends developing a sound understanding of your organization’s risk tolerance, which can be impacted by such factors as business model, culture, regulatory requirements, and more. Use this information to inform change management process flow.
- Develop the right data: To keep stakeholder appetite for change high, teams need to provide a compelling rationale for rolling out or changing services. They can do so by developing baseline data and measuring progress throughout the course of service development, rollout, and maintenance. IT asset management platforms can assist with this process by auto-discovering all assets and providing software licensing and warranty information, while configuration management databases auto-discover all application dependencies and provide up-to-date information on configurations and changes.
Measuring the Success of ITIL Change Management Implementations
Walk.me, a change management blog, provides 20 metrics teams can use to measure the success of their ITIL programs:
- Total number of changes requested to create a baseline for measuring progress.
- Number / rate of changes rejected
- Number of unauthorized changes
- Number of successful change implementations
- Rate of failed changes
- Rate of service outages due to changes
- Number of changes backlogged
- Average time to implementation
- Number / rate of urgent change requests
- Number / rate of major change requests
- Number / rate of emergency changes
- Number of change-related incidents
- Number of change advisory board meetings
- Average time to approval / rejection
- Change acceptance rate
- Overdue change rate
- Number / rate of changes initiated by customers
- Ratio of change-related incidents to total number of incidents
- Number / percentage of incidents related to deficient documentation
- Ratio of changes performed during business hours to total number of changes
Organizations can choose to use all of these metrics or the most relevant ones for their business. Obviously, using most or all of the metrics will give teams a clearer picture of the success of their change and release management processes.
Get the Right Resources to Improve ITIL Change Management
The ITIL4 framework provides guidance and best practices teams can use to set up IT service management functions for success and standardize change management process flows.
If you’re looking for better data to drive change, Device42 can help.
Device42 ITAM and CMDB solutions provide up-to-date data on your hardware, software, and virtualized assets: auto-discovering all assets and dependencies and providing critical information that can be used to plan and execute ITIL change management initiatives.