Change management is a crucial governance ITIL process that sits as the gatekeeper for all changes going into services. This process needs careful consideration in terms of the process definition and implementation. These stages of architecting the process are taken care by the process owner. However, it is the accountability of the change manager to ensure that the process activities run smoothly, in compliance with what is defined. In other words, the operations of change management, where all changes are scrutinized are directly under the control of the change manager.
A change manager’s role is a thankless job. He is expected to make decisions on go/no-go on every single change. And when changes fail, the change manager is one of the first few individuals who is targeted for not carrying out complete due diligence. In any organization, there are a lot more successful changes than unsuccessful ones. But nobody lauds the change manager for the successful changes, but whip him on the backside every time a change does not go as planned.
In this lopsided setting, you need a change manager who can weather the storm when needed, and play the role of judge and jury. Let us look at the skillsets that are absolutely necessary in a change manager to ensure that the organization’s changes are passing through the right set of hands.
Change Manager’s Skill #1: Analytical Qualities
The most important skill that a change manager must possess is the talent to analyze changes. Changes must be analyzed for the benefits it is producing, and the possible business impact if it goes south.
Analysis is performed generally based on what is documented in the change record, but it is the reality that plenty of things that go unstated will potentially be affected due to the change.
A change manager must ensure that the stated and the unstated are analyzed. Of course, he must be aided with a powerful knowledge management database and a configuration management database to help with the analysis.
Change Manager’s Skill #2: Semi-technical Proficiency
A change manager’s role is meant to semi-technical. A non-technical person may not be in a good position to analyze changes, and hence there is a good percentage chance that changes with flaws might be let through.
A purely technical person may not be keen on doing the role of a change manager for obvious reasons. So, it is ideal to find a person who understands technology, has a conceptual knowledge of technology, software, infrastructure and networks.
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Change Manager’s Skill #3: Willingness to Seek Help
This skill may not be unique to a change manager alone, but to all roles in IT and beyond. In particular, I specify this skill with the change manager as a change manager will be exposed all types of changes, from various technologies – ranging from networks and infrastructure on one end to software development and database related changes on the other. A change manager ideally is semi-skilled, meaning, he understands how things are connected, and how they work as a unit. But, when it comes to analyzing changes in detail, he may not be inherently ready with all the bolts and whistles. So it becomes necessary for him to seek advice from experts in the respective fields on certain changes.
An egotistical change manager may be swayed to finding answers on his own or to go with gut feeling. But, in IT, where businesses could be completely impacted, such chances are not to be taken. Instead, the change manager must be wired for collaboration, and must know when to seek help. Even overdoing it will dilute the change manager’s position!
Change Manager’s Skill #4: Pessimistic Attitude
Yes, you read it right! I opt for change managers who are pessimists. It is better that the change manager analyze changes from the perspective of potential failure rather than somebody who believes in luck.
When a house is on fire, we need optimists who can take quick decisions on their feet, but when we are making preparations for momentous projects such as space shuttle launches, pessimists are always a better choice.
What else could go wrong? What if the spare server does not turn back up? Have you tested whether the spare server actually works? How long has it been sitting idle? – Such questions puts the technicians implementing changes at ill-ease, but is definitely the right approach to play the devil’s advocate for all scenarios.
Change Manager’s Skill #5: Eye for Details
When you are analyzing 1 or 2 changes a day, then you have all the time in the world to look at every aspect of a change. Often, change managers are hoarded with many changes every day. And, when this becomes a routine, often they miss the fine details embedded in the change records.
It is accepted that IT organizations do not hire change managers to analyze a couple of changes everyday, no matter how critical the systems are. The science of finances just doesn’t gel with practical considerations. So, the change manager will have to skill-up to see the details in every single change he analyzes. This is a skillset that comes with practice.
Change Manager’s Skill #6: Organization
As I mentioned before, a change manager is expected to handle a number of changes, in a day, which probably translates to hundreds in a week. Each change would be in different stages of the change management lifecycle. For example, some may need to be on the agenda for CAB, some awaiting further responses, others pending analysis and so on. So, it is absolutely necessary that the change manager has his organization skills to the tee, or he would be filled with a deluge of confused states, often leading to escalations and a variety of mini and major mishaps.
There are a number of tools to help organize and manage. In practice, most organizations do not change the default settings on these, as it comes at a cost. They prefer minimum customization and configuration. Therefore, these tools are limited to its statuses, and from experience, I can tell you that a change goes through various states that are outside the purview of toolsets. Like a change pending an approval from a stakeholder, who does not have access to a tool to approve it. So, it may be necessary for the change manager to keep track of such change requests separately.
There are also cases where a change manager is involved in various reporting, and chairing meetings. In order to do it successfully, he needs to be organized in a manner in which the changes that require to be reported at his fingertips rather than writing a query each and every time.
Change Manager’s Skill #7: Chairing Meetings
Change managers have a number of meetings up their sleeve, to chair and to attend as participants. The most important meeting is chairing the change advisory board (CAB) meeting, where all high priority changes are brought to the table, with stakeholders present in the meeting, and decisions taken to push them through.
The change manager is expected to the pivot around which all elements of a CAB meeting are run. First, he decides who participates and who doesn’t. Second, he keeps a tight control in the meeting to ensure that it doesn’t turn out to be a planning session rather than a decision making one. The meeting is of utmost importance, as there are stakeholders from all corners of the organization, from the customer and supplier organization as well. Keeping the flock together to collectively taking a decision is a skill, and it does take some experience to become proficient at it.
Change Manager’s Skill #8: Soft Skills
I believe that soft skills are absolutely necessary as much as any other technical skill for everybody working in IT. It doesn’t matter how big a magic you can perform with your technical skills, if you cannot convey what has been done.
For the change manager specifically, he is required to spend more time communicating over the actual analysis and other activities that he is expected to perform. Communication is generally through emails and calls, and also through tickets. Within a single line or two, he is expected to convey the message, as people have lost patience reading lengthy notes, and the change manager no longer has the luxury of spending too much time on a single change.
Change Manager’s Skill #9: Reporting
Although most reports these days are automated through tools, there’s always a need for ad-hoc reports to be sent out. The most common tool used for reporting is MS Excel, and as long as the change manager knows his pivots and formulas, he can get through reporting what has been asked for. But, the reporting skill asks more than just the knowledge of tools. It requires the change manager to identify the right filters, provide a right framework for drafting reports and making it look good and reusable.
Change Manager’s Skill #10: Decisiveness
I withheld the most important skill for the last. The outcome of the analysis is a decision. The outcome of a CAB meeting is a decision to go or not to go with the change. Although not all decisions are made by the change manager alone, he is expected to be clear in his thoughts and decisive in his action.
After reviewing a change record, if the change manager feels that some additional approvals need to be sought, no matter how urgent the change is, he should be decisive in taking the course of his instinct.
I have seen some change managers have a soft corner for some teams, maybe because they know the teams’ work, or maybe they feel that the systems do not affect the business directly. It does not matter what the subject is, what application we are referring to. All decisions have to be taken objectively, and the same yardstick must be applied to ensure uniformity, conformity and consistency.
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