The Change Advisory Board inadvertently can create a crutch that gets in the way of members of an organization taking accountability for proposed initiatives. Here are the reasons why that might be, and what to do to combat those fears.

by Alma Miller
Date Published December 16, 2020 - Last Updated December 23, 2020

I never thought I would hear these words: “Can we bring the Change Board back?”

We worked tirelessly for months to create a culture and a process that would support eliminating the Change Advisory Board (CAB). But here we are, a year in, and people are clamoring for its return.

I had some pointed conversations with a few people in the organization, so I could start to understand why they would be requesting a meeting they once dreaded attending and viewed as a hindrance towards forward progress. From these candid conversations, I realized there were three main reasons why they were afraid of this new world without a CAB.

Reason #1: Lack of Understanding

The CAB in question was composed of about 10 individuals representing various parts of the organization. They each brought a different perspective when reviewing changes for consideration for implementation.

The funny thing about the CAB was that the representatives on the board really only cared about a small percentage of changes that were submitted. For those small amount of the changes they did care about, they asked very pointed questions to the technical subject matter expert (SME) to ensure system reliability, maintainability, availability, and all the other “itilies”. For the changes that they didn’t care as much about, they pretty much gave a rubber stamp of approval.

With this process, the SME built a reliance on the CAB membership to start performing all the due diligence on their changes. Instead of speaking to other SMEs and building their knowledge of the system, so they could have a clear understanding of how their change would impact the system, they started relying heavily on the CAB to provide that insight and knowledge to them. The CAB became a crutch for competence, and left the organization severely weakened.
After we eliminated the CAB, individuals came to the realization that they leaned on the CAB to supplement their lack of understanding of the system. They recognized they did not have a complete knowledge of the system in order to be able to conduct and document a thorough analysis of their proposed change.

At first, pre-COVID, it was fine to walk over to someone’s desk to have an informal conversation about a system change and ask the needed questions to fill in the gaps of their understanding. But since COVID and the institutionalization of remote work, SMEs no longer have these organic water cooler conversations. Email and instant messaging are more formal means of communication than hallway banter. More energy needs to be extended to formally reach out to individuals over electronic media. Additionally, written communication takes a higher level of communication skills in order to ensure your message transmits and is interpreted correctly. Lastly, written communication may not always provide the rapid response that one can receive from verbal communication. Because of all these elements, it is easier to have a planned designated time each week for these conversations. It removes the responsibility of the SME to initiate the conversation and allows the forum for verbal communication, which requires less forethought than written communication. In essence, the SMEs wanted the CAB to return because they lacked the comprehensive knowledge of the system, and lacked the initiative to obtain the missing insight and the written skills to communicate it effectively.

Reason #2: Lack of Accountability

The CAB was a crutch for competence but also a crutch for accountability. During the CAB meetings, a lot of pointed meaningful conversations happened when the right people were in the room. It was very telling to witness who consistently asked questions and could navigate the conversation in order to find the answers they were looking for.

But what was even more telling was the blame game when a change had unexpected impacts and disruptions to the system. The words, “It was approved by the CAB and the [insert CAB voting member] should have caught that or asked the right questions”, or “[insert CAB voting member] did not attend so they should have reached to me with their concerns”,….easily rolls off the SME’s lips in order to skirt any blame, responsibility, and consequences. The CAB turned into a Get Out of Jail Free card where blame was given not to the person that implemented the change, but to the individual that should have asked the appropriate questions so the SME could provide the appropriate response.

When the CAB was eliminated, that scapegoat was removed and the responsibility to ensure that the right people knew about the activity was now 100% on the SME. No longer could a SME rest on individuals attending a meeting or briefing themselves on information discussed in that meeting via meeting minutes, the SME had to initiate the conversation to brief individuals and ensure that the right people knew about the change. The failsafe of bureaucracy was removed which brought a level of accountability that most people would rather avoid. If something unexpected happens now, SMEs cannot fall back onto the same canned responses to avoid blame, responsibility, and consequences. Now, they are the first to be held accountable.

Reason #3: Lack of Trust

The first concern that voting CAB members raised when justifying the need to reinstitute the CAB was, “I am not reviewing all changes and the SMEs do not understand my perspective or know what I am looking for when I review a change.” While there may be some truth behind that statement, there is also a bit of humor. The CAB voting member didn’t realize they were becoming a single point of failure in the system. Instead of educating others on the criteria to evaluate changes and drafting up a tutorial for the masses, the easier solution for them was for every single change to be reviewed by them even though they only cared about a small percentage of them. They couldn’t trust the SMEs and other supporting staff to comprehend and abide by the guidelines that they set out for system changes. Trust is a key element for any high performing team. If it is missing from a team, there is only so much a team can truly achieve.

If your organization is experiencing the same kinds of challenges with attempting to eliminate the CAB or requesting for it to be reinstituted, it is most likely based on one of the three fears. The only way to conquer fears is to attack them straight on and continue to progress forward.

I always enjoy keeping the conversation going. Find me on LinkedIn. I am always open for connecting with people in the industry.

Dr. Alma Miller is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, speaker, DevOps thought leader, and educator with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. She obtained a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Catholic University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University, a Masters in Technical Management from Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctorate in Engineering from George Washington University. She started her consulting company, AC Miller Consulting, in 2013. Since then, AC Miller has provided services to government and commercial clients across multiple industries helping with ITIL and DevOps transformations. Dr. Miller speaks at industry conferences and events and teaches graduate courses for Johns Hopkins and University of California Irvine. She is the co-creator of the BVE Summit, a conference for entrepreneurs and business owners.

Tag(s): supportworld, problem management, change management


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