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Entries in Change Management (2)

Monday
Oct082012

When IT is in Crisis

We often get asked to help companies return their environment to stability.  Companies can erode customer good will and lose business with extended or recurring IT issues.

When IT organizations find themselves in crisis, digging out can be difficult. 

We’ve covered stability issues in the past, in two posts “The Insanity Must Stop” and “Change Management.”  For a company to reach out for help indicates strength.

Why strength?

Weak organizations will continue to try an solve the issue.  When “really bad,” this often takes a toll on staff.  People make mistakes when they are tired.  Engaged management sets ego aside and asks for (ultra-confidential) assistance.

A strong organization will recognize a fresh perspective is often needed to objectively understand the situation and make positive strides.

We deploy a team of experienced professionals (20+ years) with interdisciplinary perspectives, including:

  • Process Analysis – to review processes for issues, particularly in the change and configuration management space (often weak change processes can cause instability.)
  • Data Analysis – to gain a perspective from any ticketing system (such as BMC Remedy, ServiceNow, CA Service Desk Manager) or error logs.
  • Interviewing – To collect data from the front lines. 
  • Subject Matter Expert – if the client appears to be having issues in a single technical discipline, we bring a Subject Matter Expert in this discipline.

We do a time boxed assessment, limiting ourselves for a first pass.  We use our methodology of SCAN-FOCUS-ACT-CONFIRM:

  • Scan – Rapid, high-level, holistic assessment identifying areas for further research. During the scan phase, conceptual models are established, risks and opportunities are identified
  • Focus – Targeted analysis detailing opportunity and risk areas. Areas are scrutinized and evaluated thoroughly.
  • Act – Execute action plans delivering solid results using client’s staff, vendors, and third-party consultants.
  • Confirm – Assure deliverables achieved the desired business impact, reentering the process if needed.

The S-FAC methodology originated with MG Taylor’s Scan-Focus-Act model with a goal of a swift assessment, followed by a focused effort and action. Harvard Partners added the Confirm step as we believe validating results achieving the intended business goal is critical.

In a production stability assessment, we do a quick SCAN developing a list of FOCUS areas for further investigation.  We do this in a week to two weeks (of really long, completely intense days.)

At the end, we are able to produce an assessment with actionable steps to be “ACTED” on by the company, either independently or with our ongoing participation.

Can companies do this analysis on their own?  Of course, and we find companies doing it every day.  When companies need a fresh perspective to get them over the hump, external views are often vital.

Can companies spend more time on analysis?  Yes.  Lots longer.  We simply believe in staunching the bleeding quickly, and then taking more time for further analysis.

What thorny IT issues have you experienced?

Monday
Jul092012

Change Management

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.