In part 1 and part 2 of this 4 part series of blogs I outlined the importance of a unified interpretation of the term impact when we talk about change preparation. Specifically how different interpretations of the word "impact" can lead to significant increase in risk. We looked at impact from the point of view of technical impact versus business impact, limitations in scope, assumptions, documents vs real life. In this blog (part 3) I am going to outline 3 additional interpretations of the word impact and illustrate the risk involved; timing, business case and accountability.
During or after the change implementation
“The database will be unavailable for 1 hour during the change”. This what the database administrator (dba) had answered when she was asked about the impact of the change. One of their major databases needed patching in order to solve performance issues, and during the patching it needs to be offline. Subsequently the application needs to be stopped during the change. All of this was communicated with the customer as well, who agreed to the action as long as it took place in the maintenance window.
Sounds good? Well so far, yes. But this is not the full view on the situation, more questions need to be asked.
So far the information tells us about impact during change execution. But the impact after the change is something else. It could be that the performance issue is solved indeed (the desired result of the change). Or perhaps the patching will make the performance issue bigger or it may introduce yet another issue. Was it tested? Was the test representative?
If both perspectives are relevant (during & after), then why not describe both?
“The impact will be great if we don’t implement the change”. This definition of impact reflects on the importance of the positive effects of the change, but the impact of executing the change is not addressed at all. This information may rise the sense of urgency but leave it for the business case part of the change implementation plan (CIP). This is sometimes referred to as change justification or reason.
Accountability or compliancy
Take this very common example: “There is no impact, because the change will be implemented in the agreed maintenance window”. This interpretation of impact refers to the impact during execution of the change but only from an accountability point of view. In other words; the change is planned in agreement with the defined service levels and will not cause any non-compliancy as such. On paper this covers for any complaint or liability, but has very little meaning in any other context. However, if it is relevant, then by all means describe it in your CIP. The pitfall here is to be content with the answer, and not ask about the other interpretations of impact (of which I will provide an overview in the final article, blog 4).
These interpretations of impact (specifically business case, accountability & compliancy) are usually symptoms of a very cumbersome phenomenon in large organisations. On the one hand part of the organisation is customer or technology driven, and very eager to change things to make them better, more efficient, safer, etc. On the other hand, there is the part of the organisation that is business and risk driven, eager to be predictable and stable. Who is going to mediate between these two forces? Is it the change manager or a technical expert in charge of the change? The consequence of this is that the content of a CIP is sometimes misused to influence the outcome.
Those with a drive to execute the change may (subconsciously) down write the impact by only talking about accountability as described above. Those who have to approve need to keep the eyes open and ensure the entire situation is overseen when a decision is made.
The inherit contradiction between stability and change (or flexibility) is difficult to overcome in an organisation. However, if you want good impact analysis, and good CIP’s, ensure that the change process itself does not call for misuse in order to get things done. The word anti-fragile comes to mind (see my colleague Jaap's article about the anti-fragile concept). What would you suggest to do about it?
Next time (blog 4): RISK!! What is risk, and how does it relate to impact? And some practical tips for you to help overcome the pitfalls mentioned in this series of blogs related to change assesment & preparation.