The term “Change Control” is one of the latest buzzwords in the IT industry. However, the term need not be restricted to the IT industry alone. The world has always been susceptible to change; however, the need for managing changes smoothly is felt the most nowadays across industries, especially the IT industry. This article will discuss about change control and its impact.
Change control relates to the procedures that are needed to introduce changes in IT products and services in a controlled manner. Addressing ad hoc changes needs to be coordinated well. Change control is a major component of a much broader subject – Change Management.
The change control process ensures that a product, service or a process is only modified according to the requirements of a change that is necessary. It has been observed in the IT industry that ad hoc, unnecessary changes have introduced bugs in software applications. People learn from experiences and a formal change control management activity was introduced in the software product life cycle.
A change “freeze point” was defined and all changes after that were discarded until the software was released in the initial phase. Some changes have risks and/or considerable financial implications. Some changes in this category are – operating system upgrades, change in network routing tables, and even something very basic to business – a change in contractual terms. Needless to say, this kind of changes need to be addressed through an organized, well-coordinated change control process, if possible with the aid of change control software (for example advanced Computer-Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools).
- A formal change control process comprises of the following steps:
- Record/Classification of changes
- Assessment of change impact
- Planning of change management
- Build/Test the modification areas
- Formal Implementation of changed product/service
- Closure of the change issue and obtaining acceptance from the client
At the very beginning, there is a “change initiation” from the client side. A person then has to record the change request and categorize it. The classification has to be done on the merits of the change, say “major”, “minor”, and “normal”. Thereafter, the change has to be prioritized as “emergency”, “to be expedited”, and “routine”.
Next, a thorough impact analysis has to be done. Impact assessors typically convey their risk analysis by answering a set of questions both to the concerned business and IT heads. Based on this analysis, the manpower planning for the change implementation is carried out. This change implementation unit is formally called the Service Delivery Unit (SDU). The analysis should be carried out from two corners – business justification, and technical justification.
The SDU team takes up a major role in the change control management activity. The very first thing that an SDU carries out is to plan the change implementation. A regression plan has also to be in place. Their plan has to be agreed upon by the core change control source committee, sometimes formally known as Change Advisory Board (CAB). If the plan is approved, modifications are made according to plan within the boundaries of a planned date. The product/application then has to be tested thoroughly with a compulsory regression-testing phase. After the change is implemented, the CAB should conduct a post implementation review.
Lastly, the client has to observe the effects of the change and give sign-off to the development party.
Let us now discuss about the goals of change management. First, most companies want that changes should have minimal impact on existing day-to-day functions. They want to ensure that affected users should be well trained about the change control process and existing documentation (like user manual/online help) should be modified suitably. Secondly, no company wants to recall existing software that has been running well because of mishandling of changes. There should be electronic tracking of changes suitable for auditing purposes. Positive impact of the change should be detectable and measurable as much as possible. Lastly, all companies want optimal and economic utilization of all resources involved in the change implementation. Change implementation causes lot of effort and money. All’s well that ends well. Every company will naturally be happy if all the time and money bears fruit at the end.
After the process and goals, let us discuss finally about the individual people contributing to the change control management activity and their respective roles. Change Initiator is the person who initiates the change request and confirms the completion of change implementation. Change Sponsor is the person who gives business approval to the change. Change Administrator is the person who carries out the initial investigation and conducts change assessment. This person also monitors change requests. Impact Assessors are people who analyze the likely impact of the change. The Change Manager is in charge of the entire managerial activity related to the change implementation. This person has lots of authoritative power and acts as a single point of contact and mediator among non-agreeing parties. Finally, the Task Owners are the people who are in charge of implementing specific tasks that add up to the actual change implementation.
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Software Change Management For Better Performance
The only thing constant in life perhaps is change. The Information Technology industry, the backbone of today’s business world, is no exception either. New technological innovations, data capturing techniques, system analysis, coding practices, and software enhancements are governed by change – constant, palpable, and at times subtle. In this article, we will explore the nature of software change management and the attributes of a change management system.
In today’s globalized world, the business environment has become too complex, particularly in case of geographically distributed entities. Today’s high capacity distributed systems can handle high volume sensitive business data, and have to cater to activity requests of varied types. This complex scenario has necessitated the practice of software change management, a new practice under the broader discipline of software project management.
A change management system allows software development companies to streamline software process in order to respond to change requirements more proactively. The practice prompts adherence to standardized methods and procedures in order to minimize the impact on other relevant areas of the software. The aim is to keep the overall system stable without touching a majority of the modules. Time and effort need to be factored in also. Every valid change request must be promptly addressed with minimum efforts.
Software process management needs to be robust enough to tackle external demands ranging from legislative impositions to initiatives in customer service enhancements. Another beneficial effect of change management system is that it strives to maintain a proper balance between the need to implement changes, and the negative effect of changes in a stable system. After all, we need to understand at some point of time that “change is not necessarily a progress”. Each phase of software development life cycle – IT project and portfolio management; requirement capture and feasibility study; requirement analysis; application design; coding; testing and debugging; user acceptance and overall lifecycle quality management – need to be practiced keeping provisions of the inevitable change requirements. The result of such a system is high visibility and greater predictability of software applications with respect to changes.
One or more of the following components may get affected due to the impact of changes:
- System software
- Communication equipments
- Application software
- All related documentation like design documents, user manuals etc.
Scope and Extent of Software Change Management
The first and foremost requirement of a change management system is the implementation of defined (and documented) steps to handle change requirements. Once established, the practice should spread to all areas of the software process management system. Today’s IT houses have already established change-handling mechanisms. At the beginning, software engineers and analysts pay attention to individual changes. However, in today’s business environment, organizations function in geographically distributed areas catering to diverse client segments. Naturally, an enterprise system cannot function like discrete information silos. An impact of a change in a particular segment of the software often has little to moderate effect in other segments also. If the overall system impact is not taken into account, inefficiencies may creep into the system. Such inaccuracies, if not addressed early, may lead to devastating impact at a later stage.
According to a research, about 45% of software development companies cater to software development initiatives that spread across geographical boundaries and cultures. The extent of change requests handled by these companies can easily be imagined. Over the years, the software engineering discipline has stressed the importance of measurements and metrication in handling changes. The mandatory internal and external audits have enforced process management practices. All these activities have a huge contribution towards software change management.
According to industry analysts, the competency in change management as achieved by software companies in general leaves much to be desired. The challenge is not only from the geographical distribution aspect. Organizational activities like mergers and acquisitions, inability to cope up with rapid hardware and software innovations and monetary concerns in times of economic recession contributes largely towards inefficiencies in change management.
A collaborative approach across functional silos is crucial in achieving a successful change implementation. All processes, including automation mechanisms must work in tandem in order to attain the broader goal of application stability in spite of continual change tremors.
Let us summarize the known building blocks of a well-coordinated change management system below:
- All development practices should be driven by well-defined processes
- Every activity in the software development life cycle should be properly controlled and measured
- An efficient asset management practice should be in place. This will help in optimum usage of assets
- There should be proper time management for all activities
- Change requirements must be properly validated in order to filter out the most pressing ones with respect to business criticality, time, money, and resource availability aspects
- A proper communication chain should exist in order to communicate change requests promptly across geographically distributed teams
- An efficient change tracking mechanism should be in place
- Geographically distributed teams should work in a scalable, expandable, and secure technical infrastructure
- Support from all quarters need to be garnered
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