Managing the Change Process

Most changes to existing systems are processed in a highly inefficient manner; they take approximately four times as long as a change made during new development. IS organizations pressured to respond to business units often attempt the quick fix. Developers routinely enter complex software systems and perform minor fixes (often generating a stream of so-called fix-on-fix errors before completing the job). They then proceed to another task without leaving a record of what they did. The conceptual integrity of the original design, the documentation, and the implemented system itself rapidly degrade as repeated quick-fix alterations build up like electronic scar tissue. Such systems are inevitably difficult to understand and maintain.

Once again, some organizations are fundamentally rethinking their approach by treating the installed base more like packaged software, which means that change requests are rationalized and managed. These organizations have replaced the quick-fix cycle with an iterative enhancement approach that achieves the following significant benefits (Exhibit 4):

Exhibit 4. Quick-Fix and Iterative Enhancement Cycles

Exhibit 4. Quick-Fix and Iterative Enhancement Cycles

■ They gain a broader perspective of a series of minor changes.

■ They resist demand for expensive tinkering that delivers little business benefit.

■ They develop a more efficient approach to maintenance because they reduce the 50 percent of maintenance time that is spent understanding the current application.

■ They use advanced techniques such as workshops, business process reviews, and prototyping to ensure that the right problem is being solved.

■ They protect the integrity of design and documentation.

Through this approach, business and IS partners exert a far greater level of control and address the real business and technical issue. A formal oversight body or change review board joins business sponsors and process owners with IS portfolio managers. The board maintains a long-range focus (built around the 4R portfolio assessment) and avoids being caught up in the daily routine of change requests. Significant changes obviously require board approval, but even minor adaptations and fixes undergo some less formal scrutiny. Any contemplated change requires the answers to several questions:

To what degree is the requested change compatible with the original design?

■ To what degree is the change necessary?

■ How much will the change enhance the system? Does the benefit justify the cost? Is the change compatible with the strategic plan?

■ Is the change within budget limits?

■ How critical is the change compared with others in the backlog?

■ How soon will business payback be realized?

■ Are there combinations of changes that generate economies of scale or other synergies?

After these questions are answered, the organization then classifies changes, groups requests by urgency and business benefit, and establishes a review process to schedule changes by priority, cost-effectiveness, and appropriateness for overall legacy strategy. Urgent tasks — such as those associated with a system failure — are performed more quickly when the system is well documented and skilled people are available. Minor changes with no strong business case are grouped and implemented in a planned release to optimize the maintenance process.

Once a regular schedule of updates and releases is established, business users rely on organized batches of changes, plan the introduction of change into the business, and see the portfolio as a business asset from a long-term rather than a moment-to-moment perspective. Reducing the time IS personnel spend each day on possibly redundant or ill-advised system changes frees them for more types of work.

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Project Management Made Easy

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