Whether public or private, organizations need to keep pace with evolving technology best practices if they want to be competitive in their field. From rolling out new products or services to updating their internal IT infrastructure to become more efficient, they need to be able to make changes confidently and quickly to be successful.
However, while organizations should be pushing themselves to adapt, stakeholders across internal teams need to be sure these changes don’t disrupt existing products or services. And they need to be especially careful that updates to IT infrastructure don’t unknowingly open potential vulnerabilities where bad actors have new attack vectors to exploit.
That’s where the change management process comes in. A critical subsection of IT service management (ITSM), as defined in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), change management is a school of thought governing how organizations should make changes to their IT environment without upending operations or disrupting the services their end users and customers rely on. More specifically, the change management process details the steps IT teams need to take to ensure everyone is on the same page—and nobody is caught off guard.
In this guide, I’m going to discuss the ins and outs of change management and the steps of the change management process. If you’ve asked, “What is the change management process?” this discussion should answer your question. By digging into this topic, you’ll be better prepared to shepherd your organization through changes you know are critical. Finally, I’ll wrap up by discussing my favorite tools for keeping change management workflows running smoothly and transparently.
What Is Change Management?
Change management is the means by which organizations can update existing internal or external products or services without causing widespread disruptions. Because of the interconnected nature of modern IT networks, it’s critical for IT professionals to invest time and effort in change management, so organizational infrastructure works as intended for employees and customers alike.
For the purposes of ITSM, we can define a change the way ITIL did in 2011: “The addition, modification, or removal of anything that could have an effect on IT services. The scope should include changes to all architectures, processes, tools, metrics, and documentation, as well as changes to IT services and other configuration items.” These changes can be further grouped into three different categories: standard, low-risk changes, normal changes that go through the change management approval process, and emergency changes in need of immediate attention.
As these categories imply, the changes governed by the change management framework can range from the routine to the critical. Standard changes can be as simple as adding a new printer to a network or downloading approved software to a workstation. For these changes, organizations typically are well-versed in what the process entails, what risks they’re facing, and what software change management process policies need to be followed to carry out the change appropriately.
Normal changes follow the defined steps of an organization’s change management process. This covers everything from gathering information about the kind of change needed to requesting change and deploying it once approved and tested. Normal changes—such as moving operations to a new data center—carry risk, which is why the change management process is necessary.
Finally, there are emergency changes. These changes call for someone or some team’s immediate attention and likely have their own established pipeline to ensure they receive the expedited status they merit. An example of an emergency change would be installing critical updates to organizational assets to contain a cybersecurity breach.
Whatever type of change is necessary, change management aims to integrate an organization’s evolving needs at the IT level with the ongoing work of personnel and the expectations of customers. Through effective change management, organizations can properly record changes they’ve made, monitor and plan for ongoing changes, and better evaluate what changes can be made in the future and how they can be made successfully.
What Steps Make Up the Change Management Process?
Change management as a school of thought calls for careful deliberation and collaboration when making changes to organizational IT infrastructure. To make this methodology productive, however, teams need to follow change management process steps—typically as laid out by ITIL. By breaking change management down into clearly defined steps, stakeholders on relevant teams can ensure they have the necessary buy-in and support to make changes without disrupting workflows or catching anyone by surprise.
The ITIL change management process begins with an initial request for change, or RFC. This will be generated after a problem makes the need for a change known, when maintenance uncovers something that calls for a change, or when internal personnel thinks a change is necessary in the course of their work. Following this request, the proposed change moves through to the evaluation and planning stage. This step involves assessing what kind of change is being requested and where it would best fit into the timeline of other planned changes.
Once this information has been fixed, the change is submitted for approval to the necessary decision-makers. This will often include a Change Advisory Board (CAB) tasked with reviewing normal changes, but it might also call for the participation of C-suite management for substantial modifications to organizational operations. If a changed isn’t approved at this step of the process, it will likely be reassessed, updated, and resubmitted for subsequent consideration.
If a requested change has received all the necessary approvals, it will then move on to the implementation phase of the process. At this point, release management personnel will begin handling the approved modification and shepherd it through the pipeline until it has been properly tested, integrated, and deployed. Once this has occurred, the change management team will check in to ensure the released change has had the expected result.
What Tools Support the Change Management Process Flow?
The IT change management process flow can easily get out hand, especially with so many moving parts to track and so many stakeholders to communicate with. This means organizations need powerful IT tools capable of making sense of what can otherwise become a messy process. Ultimately, change management requires software capable of streamlining disparate ITIL steps, making it easy for everyone to weigh in on critical business decisions.
Personally, I like Web Help Desk® and Service Desk from SolarWinds for my change management needs. Web Help Desk makes it easy to track work tickets for requested changes as they move through change management processes and even gives you convenient options for setting up CABs. With Service Desk, IT teams get a suite of IT change management capabilities to help with the deployment phase of change management and collect useful data for future changes. If you’re looking for change management support, you can’t go wrong with either of these tools from SolarWinds.