Best practices for planning IT changes

Through bitter experience we all know that things tend to work smoothly when we leave them alone and they’re more likely to break when we go about changing something. As a result, we take care to make sure everything can be restored to good working order in the time allocated for the job.

In the world of IT, it’s not uncommon to hear of service availability or quality issues arising on the back of change implementation. Why is that? Why do seasoned IT people still manage to cause problems when implementing changes?

During one of my recent work engagements I drafted a brain-dump list of best practices for planning IT changes and gave it to the IT Change Manager. That wasn’t because I thought for one minute that the Change Manager was inexperienced. I wanted the Change Manager to circulate the guidance points to the IT community and challenge them all to add to the list. Everyone can contribute to best practices and everyone can learn from the experience of others.

As we race towards December 25th, we’re well into the Christmas period so I thought I’d use a few festive shopping trip examples to illustrate a few of those best practices.

Know when you’ve got to start making your way back to the car

I was in York on Sunday and I’d parked in a pay and display car park north west of the city wall, just beyond Monk Bar. I had until 3:15pm on the ticket. As we walked into the city centre and made our way towards the Christmas markets, I was making a mental note of how long it was taking us. That meant I knew it would take us 20 minutes to walk back to the car and, allowing a little bit of wiggle room, I set a drop-dead time of 2:45pm in my head. That was the point when we had to begin making our way back to the car in order to avoid any possible parking fines.

#1 – Make sure your Go / No Go decision point allows sufficient time for you to backout your change and get the service up and running before the end of your agreed change window.

Simple, I hear you all cry. Yes, it is. But how many times do people go into a change window with an overly optimistic estimate of the time required to back the change out? How many can say, hand on heart, they have tested the backout procedure and timed it? How clearly is the time for that decision point specified in your change implementation plan?

I’m sure lots of you will answer yes. I’m also sure lots of people will admit they don’t do this with as much rigour as they would like.

Know what you’re each shopping for when you split up

When it gets really crowded it’s not easy to navigate through the shops as a large group. So, we sometimes split up and share the shopping list burden. There’s a little bit of a hurried chat about what to get for some of the relatives, then everyone goes their separate ways. When we meet up later in the day, we realise that we’ve bought three presents for Uncle Jack and nobody’s bought for Auntie Ethel. Why? Because we weren’t as clear as we could have been about who was going to cover each relative on the Christmas list. We made too many assumptions.

#2 – Make sure you have a fully documented plan with clear roles and responsibilities defined and assigned.

Another obvious and simple one. But how much detail do you include in your plans? How well are the steps documented? In the event of last-minute illness, could someone step in at the last minute and take on the actions? Or is the success of the change dependent on a specific individual? Who is the overall orchestrator? Who will make the decisions when something has gone wrong? Are the dependencies fully understood between steps? Or are you going into the change window with too many assumptions?

If you get split up, know how you’re going to communicate and meet up again.

You’ve decided to take different routes and meet up again at Café Nero at 12:30. But you soon realise there are three Café Nero coffee shops in the city centre. You ring your friend but there’s no answer. You send a message clarifying which one will be the meeting point. This should be easy because we’ve all got the technology, but it can be frustrating – sometimes it’s hard to hear a phone in the middle of a crowded shop and we all have different habits when it comes to checking for missed calls and messages.

#3 – Make sure you have a good communication plan defined for your change implementation.

This is particularly important when a wide team of people are involved in a large change, perhaps spread across multiple office locations (even countries). It is better to have well defined checkpoints and expect everybody to participate, rather than be chasing everybody for progress every ten minutes. Do you have the communication vehicles in place – a messaging app the specialists can use to communicate technical details, a conference phone number for those regular checkpoints, a separate conference bridge for management updates.

Have you drawn up a list of contacts who want regular email progress updates? Or will it be a communication black hole until Monday morning?


I’m sure lots of you will know all this stuff. Some of you may even have done what I’ve done and written it down. Equally, some may be reading this and starting to have a few doubts floating through their minds.

My list has run up to 20 hints and tips. If you’re interested in hearing about the other best practices, please get in touch.

Brian Lancaster

07470 002019  /  0114 398 4344