Introducing changes into running software systems is risky. There’s always a chance of failure, and that can have a negative impact on your business. It’s important to mitigate that risk, but there’s more than one way to do so.
Change Management is all about ensuring that changes to existing systems and software in production are done in a controlled way. Change managers review the changes that are to be implemented, assess their impact, and perform due diligence, before giving or withholding their approval.
Continuous Delivery (CD) is about improving the process of delivering software and increasing efficiency. It aims to cut down the time between ideation and realization. It’s about reducing the scope for error and increasing the speed to market to generate a competitive advantage.
Is there an inevitable clash between CM and CD? Are they really compatible? At heart, the CD pipeline is intended to achieve the same thing as CM by enabling the smooth, error-free roll-out of changes, but today they are usually coming from very different angles.
If CM is to have a future in the CD revolution, then it needs to change. Before we discuss how that might be achieved, let’s take a look at the current state of play
Is Change Management delivering?
Ask yourself what impact change management is having on your organization. If change management was working perfectly then there wouldn’t be any production problems, and yet issues still crop up. There are a few things to consider:
- How many entries in the CM checklist could be automated? Is the change manager doing anything that really requires human input? Fact collection and verification could be a part of your CD pipeline.
- How much value do check boxes deliver in the first place? What is change management really bringing to the table?
- Is the process fit for purpose? Does it actually prevent problems, or is the change manager really just a fall guy, there to sign off on the release and take the blame if something goes wrong?
Clashing with Continuous Delivery
CM is intimately linked with the idea and practice of big complicated transformations, but with CD we’re not talking about enormous, disruptive changes. CD is about changing small parts of a system and doing it often. The risk to reward ratio is different when you think and work iteratively. Smaller change sets are less likely to cause problems and easier to rollback when they do.
Does the process really require human input? Heavyweight validation will slow it down and speed is one of the key benefits Continuous Delivery offers. Streamlining and automating the checklist process makes perfect sense in many business contexts. The aims of CM and CD are in sync, but CD is better placed to deliver.
A possible advantage of traditional CM is the presence of a human eye, offering intuition that a machine or a piece of software may not be capable of. By moving beyond the checklists and reimagining the CM role we can retain this advantage and push CD forward.
From Gatekeepers to Masters of Continuous Delivery
If the bulk of CM is really an administrative exercise in checking boxes then it could be an unnecessary overhead, but there is a way to retain that human oversight for organizations wary of full automation. Why not ask the former gatekeeper to own the CD process? For a CD pipeline to be truly effective someone has to guide the process, engage with all the teams involved and understand exactly why and how the process generates business value.
A change manager, paired with a build or release engineer to handle the automation, could work to help organizations move towards CD. They are uniquely well placed to identify dependencies, map processes, and help construct the CD pipeline with minimal disruption. They can help sketch out what the pipeline should verify, what data and dependencies need to be taken into account, what automated tests are required, and how it fits with other components to automate that release procedure. They also have experience mediating between business and IT.
The traditional CM approach of committee meetings and spreadsheet checklists is dated, and for many organizations it no longer makes sense. You can find much greater business value in focusing on an efficient rollback procedure that kicks in immediately and automatically when changes fail.
Take a look at your CM and ask yourself – is it really adding anything to the process, or is it just another bottleneck? It may be time for a change.
About the Author/Andrew Phillips
Andrew Phillips heads up product management at XebiaLabs. Andrew is an evangelist and thought leader in the DevOps, Cloud and Continuous Delivery space. He sits on the management team and drives product direction, positioning and planning.