Making Sense Out Of Change Management
by Donna Campbell

Sound familiar? These well worn, often heard phrases are usually accompanied by looks of dismay, frustration, and more often than not, System or Application outages. Methods do exist that can not only reduce the confusion factor, but even prevent large periods of unscheduled downtime.

Change control systems begin as bits and pieces of paper being passed between concerned individuals and departments. This is effective as long as the installation is small, has little or no maintenance to perform, never experiences software errors, and has a staff that never calls in sick, and doesn't ever take vacation. However, when you consider new releases of Control Programs frequently on the horizon, Program Temporary Fixes (PTFs) and Small Program Enhancements (SPE's) appearing almost monthly, the possibility of facing the dreaded Data Base Reorganization (DBR), and the continual effort to create and enhance Application software, the pitfalls of a paper controlled system become readily apparent.

Coordination and communication of changes and problems are the factors that provide for a cohesive relationship between all system users. Pinpointing the possible causes of system errors or downtime becomes much easier when the information regarding changes is readily available. Users put on happier faces when forewarned about changes and planned outages to their system. An effective change management system need not be cumbersome or bureaucratic. The best are automated, are accessible by all users, and allow for growth as needs and requirements change. It's never too late to implement an automated change management system if your current method is unmanageable or ineffective. Several packages are available from various vendors that can be tailored to your specific business requirements. Other installations choose to take advantage of in-house programming talent, and design their own customized facility.

Getting started is easy. Your best approach is to use an analyst or management consultant specializing in change management systems to analyze and evaluate current procedures, and recommend corrective steps to address existing weak areas in your methodology Specific goals to achieve specific results, can be established with input from user departments. Some examples of this are:

While this is not a comprehensive list, it should give the reader some food for thought. The analysis phase should provide management with a basis for decisions regarding either the purchase and installation of a vendor supplied product, or the design and development of an in-house product.

A document defining the intent, policies, and procedures of the change management process should follow the analysis. Types of changes, and the formalized procedures for change requests and approvals, department responsibilities, required forms, etc. should all be included in the document. Additionally, a designated coordinator who assumes responsibility for monitoring the system generating reports, and chairing regular meetings where all departments are represented must be appointed.

If your management equates downtime to lost revenue, and your installation is experiencing user dissatisfaction due to unplanned outages and poorly coordinated changes, it's time to evaluate your current change management system.

Donna Campbell is vice president of Realtime Consultants, a management consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of TPF systems. She has 13 years of experience in change management and quality assurance.