Organizations experiencing instability are often perplexed as to why. While there are occasional environmental factors (disk drive failures spiking three months after a cooling issue), most instability is introduced by change.
Organizations can have all the trappings of a good change process and still be poor executing change. Simply having a meeting doesn’t make a change go well. Often we find change meetings conducted with unspoken rules, such as “I won’t question your change if you don’t question mine.”
Successful change has to be baked in to everyone’s fiber. Not doing change well can lead to catastrophic circumstances, as RBS found out recently after a failed software upgrade.
When a client questions stability, we often chart the number of changes and the number of trouble tickets on a single chart. This often produces a chart similar to the one shown. You don’t have to be a statistician to see the relationship.
The quickest way to institute stability is often easily accomplished….freeze changes. (While RBS was struggling with one subsidiary, they instituted a global change freeze.) This draconian measure will eliminate all change induced issues….allowing visibility to any underlying issues.
Turning off the change faucet is easy. This also creates issues, with application releases, patch cycles and the like.
Turning the faucet back on requires close scrutiny and square jawed determines to value stability. Every change is examined, with attention to upfront planning, timeframes (including backout times), backout approaches, etc. Leaning into changes rather than accepting the necessity of Big Bang is encouraged.
Getting through the change board becomes a (positive) challenge. Failed changes require review, and people are held accountable.
Companies also frequently use artificial change freezes (quarter end, year-end). Conceptually these are good ideas, as people are often on vacation and unavailable during these times. The issue we see with immature processes is a rush to get changes in before the freeze, and then a corresponding glut of change afterwards. When not appropriately managed, these activities actually have the inverse effect if introducing instability.
And as a practical matter, there is never really a freeze. Business often has to continue…so a freeze becomes a frost.
During a frost, the basic tenants of good change management must be followed and not overlooked, “because we’re in a freeze.”
Good change management is an art and a science. If your shop is flirting with instability, look at your change practices and philosophy.