4 ways to remove the treacle in change management

You Build It You Run It accelerates your time to market, increases your service reliability, and grows a learning culture. All by empowering your product teams to own every aspect of digital service management. However, there are some pitfalls, which can put the success of You Build It You Run It at risk. One pitfall involves implementing the same reactive change management process. It creates something we like to refer to as treacle. 

In our recent You Build It You Run It playbook, my co-author Bethan Timmins and I take a deeper look at the change management treacle pitfall. You can guard against it. And how you can even completely escape it.

Change management is needed

Let’s start with a little more explanation of the You Build It You Run It hybrid operating model:

  • Product teams build, deploy, operate, and support their own digital services, such as user-facing microservices. 
  • An application support team manages foundational systems, like self-hosted COTS and custom back office applications for which there’s no equivalent SaaS or COTS.

This diagram shows how we think of deployment throughputs for digital services and foundational systems in You Build It You Run It. 

In the diagram, you can see an approval step for foundational systems, prior to the release step. The delivery team has to file a change request to the change management team, who then review the change and approve or reject it. If the change is approved, the application support team performs the production deployment.

“Our change management is too slow” is a complaint we’ve hear often. Now we all recognise the need for change management, it’s necessary for large, complex changes with lots of moving parts. It’s also important that your IT department can produce an audit trail of all production changes, to assist in incident diagnosis and to satisfy internal compliance requirements.

It’s easy to blame slow change management on ITIL. But we’ve helped plenty of organisations to implement daily deployments within ITIL parameters. 

In our experience, slow change management is caused by using a heavyweight, one size fits all process. We’ve seen many organisations get stuck when they don’t make the time to rethink how to do it well. But You Build It You Run It depends on a slicker change management process, which still satisfies the needs for change approvals and auditing. 

Change management treacle

Bethan and I refer to slow, heavyweight processes as treacle. You can’t move faster, because you’re stuck in sticky syrup where you are. 

When you adopt You Build It You Run It, copying and pasting the same reactive change management process causes a lot of treacle. Product teams are empowered to build, test, and deploy their own digital services, but every change still has to be approved by the change management team. This causes a lot of problems:   

  • The change management team can’t approve changes fast enough for weekly or more frequent deployments, so product features can’t be rapidly tested with customers 
  • Changesets per deployment become much larger, which makes it harder to test changes and diagnose production failures when they occur
  • Product teams suffer from low morale, because their hard work is often trapped in a change request queue for days at a time
  • Relationships between product teams and the change management team become frayed, and resentful

This is what we call the change management treacle pitfall. It prevents you from achieving one of the key goals of You Build It You Run It – an acceleration in deployment throughput, as a means to increase product revenues, keep BAU under control, and reduce operational costs. 

You need to re-implement change management for digital services and You Build It You Run It – but how?

Here are our 4 suggestions to remove the treacle

We recommend you aim for a twin-track approach to change management. This way you allow digital services to move at a faster pace than foundational systems, while allowing for change approvals and auditing. Try these practices and you will quickly see how you can cut out the treacle.

  • Pre-approve low risk, repeatable changes. This is known as ‘standard changes’ in ITIL. Establish a template with your change management team for pre-approving small digital services changes, and retain the regular process for large changes to digital services or foundational systems. 
  • Encourage frequent, small changes. Incentivise your product teams to make their planned features and changesets as small as possible.  
  • Automate change auditing. Record all deployment pipeline changes in a persistent store, and create an information portal so your change management team can view ongoing changes.
  • Run regular chaos days. Ensure every product team runs Chaos Days, to validate their approach to change management, deployment failures, and incident handling.

This will result in a streamlined change management process for digital services, akin to:

  1. Product manager creates a pre-approved change request template
  2. For any low risk and repeatable changes, automate filling in a pre-approved change request whenever a release candidate passes all functional tests
  3. For any high risk or unrepeatable change, send a change request to the change management team for approval. 
  4. Automatically check prior to a production deployment that an approved change request exists.
  5. Automatically close the change request when the deployment is completed.

That’s it. It’s the most effective way we have discovered to remove your change management treacle, and allow your You Build It You Run It adoption to be successful! We hope it helps.

 

To find out more, you can continue our You Build It You Run It pitfalls series:

  1. 7 pitfalls to avoid with You Build It You Run It
  2. 5 ways to minimise your run costs with You Build It You Run It
  3. Why your head of operations shouldn’t be accountable for digital reliability
  4. How to manage BAU in product teams
  5. 4 ways to remove the treacle in change management – you are here!

 

Our You Build It You Run It page has loads of resources on on-call product teams – case studies, conference talks, in-depth articles, and more. Plus our You Build It You Run It playbook gives you a deep dive into how to make it happen! Get in touch, and let us know what you think.