Alemba - 4 Change Management Tips for Surviving the End of a Change Freeze

4 Change Management Tips for Surviving the End of a Change Freeze

Vawns Murphy • 17 Jan 2017

By now the post-Christmas glow has probably worn off, the January blues are starting to kick in, and the holidays are probably starting to seem like a distant memory. To top it off, the end of the Christmas change freeze has probably ended – and all the planned work, delayed until after the holidays, now has to get done.

“Why are you so worried?” I hear you cry. I’m glad you asked, as – while change management is the process responsible for ensuring change activity is deployed effectively, efficiently, and safely – with the best will in the world, more changes often means more incidents hitting the IT service desk.

So, a sudden spike in change activity is likely to cause some incident management pain. From scheduling bumps to additional downtime, the end of a change freeze can be hard work for both IT and business colleagues, never mind the poor change manager. However, rather than donning your tin hat, or turning to the “hard stuff,” here are four tips for surviving the end of a change freeze.

1. Get Proactive

Hopefully you’ve done this already, but it’s not too late if you’re still in the last few days of change restrictions. Go through the list of changes to be approved to identify any pain points. If you know a certain type of change causes issues, speak to the implementation team and ask if it could be moved back a few days to a less fraught time. This has two benefits:

  1. It will take the pressure off an already packed schedule, and
  2. The implementation team has more time for testing and contingency planning.

If you know a change that has to go in despite carrying risk – for example, critical patching or a major release – then look at the areas of highest impact and give them an extra sanity check to ensure that: all the due diligence has been done, the implementation windows are at appropriate times, the right people have been told, and everyone is happy with the action plan.

2. Prioritize

Look through the list of planned changes and prioritize the most important work based on organizational importance. Things to consider when working with cross-functional teams to prioritize and schedule change activity include the change “drivers,” for example:

  1. Business criticality – changes that help the business innovate and deliver new offerings
  2. Stability – changes that ensure services are running at the appropriate levels of availability and performance.
  3. Security and compliance – changes that ensure regulatory requirements are met, the right levels of patching are in place, and any operational risks are taken care of.

By taking additional time to clarify “what needs to go in” as opposed to what’s “nice to have,” you are ensuring that the most critical work is done first – consequently delivering against important business requirements and enhancing service quality.

3. Don’t Forget Your IT Service Desk

As hopefully we all know, the IT service desk is potentially at the sharp end of any change activity and it is often the first team in IT to find out that something’s gone awry. So clue them in to the fact that the change freeze is nearing an end and make them aware of the increased change volumes so that they can plan accordingly. For example by having additional staff members on shift or on call.

Also, work with the service desk to ensure that knowledge bases and/or wikis are up to date. Thus, if things do go wrong, then at least all the relevant support information is in one easy-to-find place to help people with the fix effort.

4. Have Your Change Management A-Team in Place

Change management is all about teamwork, and this is particularly true when dealing with busy periods such as the post-change-freeze period. It’s time to pre-warn the affected support teams, customers, and management teams that the organization’s change activity will be returning to normal (and that it will be an eventful week or so while the backlog built up during the change freeze is dealt with). It might need greater engagement with the affected parties and stakeholders to ensure that, in the case of Christmas, the first few, hectic weeks after the holidays run as smoothly as possible.

This increased engagement could include things such as:

  • Ensuring (including justifying that) support teams have enough people to deal with the increased change volumes and both the expected and unexpected impact.
  • Talking to development teams to get a heads up of any new or pending code updates.
  • Working with business relationship managers, service delivery leads, or similar so that they’re forewarned of any additional risks caused by the reopening of the change floodgates. By making them aware, you’re enabling them to pre-warn customers of potential blips and, if you’re really lucky, they might even be able to negotiate/agree a relaxation of SLAs during the busy period.

Ultimately, by engaging these and other people, the potential for any change clashes, downtime, or resource shortages is significantly reduced.

Coming out of a change freeze is always a busy time for change management teams and the key to success is to find an approach that delivers stability and availability without restricting growth. By looking at priority, availability, and communications, not only do we reduce the likelihood of change-related incidents, we are also much more likely to deliver the best possible levels of service to customers.