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ITSM and ITIL Effective Change Management is still illusive

chuck_darst ‎03-05-2013 02:40 PM - edited ‎09-20-2015 07:47 AM

Change Management is one of the most commonly implemented IT service management (ITSM) processes, but effective change management still appears illusive for many organizations. Years ago, you could find  reports of 70 to 80 percent in papers or presentations of self-inflicted incidents being due to change unintended consequences.  I remember researching the also” illusive source” for these numbers, but more on that later. I haven’t seen numbers this high for some time, which could indicate that things are getting better. But, there still appears to be lots of opportunity for improvement.




What the survey results show


A couple of data points were recently provided by Forrester’s Glenn O’Donnell and his 2012 ITSM survey conducted with the itSMF USA. I have been unable to find a public copy of this on the Internet (I will give a beer or coffee to the first person that can find me a public link!). I do have a private copy, but was hoping to find a public reference to share.


First interesting data point, Change Management came up the second highest in the How would you assess your organization’s maturity question (Incident Management was first). The second  question that struck me was: How many of your incidents can be related to changes? Half of the respondents either don’t know or have rates over 40 percent. On the positive side, 23 percent  of respondents claimed 10 percent or less. For the the rest of this blog, I want to provide some pointers for becoming part of that 23 percent.


Food for Thought


The first path to consider is how structured and centralized your change management and review processes are. While, it is less common with each passing year, I still encounter organizations that track changes in spreadsheets – commonly Notes. This can provide a foundation and a record of change requests, but any associated processes can still be suspect. I vividly remember to talking to the person responsible for change management at a very prestigious university a few years ago and effectively hearing “our professors and researchers don’t want to be bothered with the process or structure”. They could check the box on having a change management process in place, but numerous questions remain.


This begs a question of what needs to be under change management, but never-the-less captures a still common sentiment. Obviously, I submit that a solid structured and followed change process, one that is built on ITIL, is a key starting point. Centralized is another important point. Here is a short statement from a blog I wrote last November on improving service quality.


“11 is the number of major incidents experienced by a Fortune 500 company in the past year. 10 is the number of these major incidents caused by change induced problems. So, 10 of the 11 major incidents were arguably self-inflicted due to change. And 9 is the number of these changes that spanned different groups or organizations.”


Avoid the unintended consequences of change


Having broader and better visibility is arguably the key capability in avoiding the nasty unintended consequences of change. So it follows, having a more centralized approach to impact analysis and approvals can play a significant role in improving change management effectiveness. This is just a short post as opposed to a whitepaper, but I would recommend considering how having current discovery information and understanding of the associated dependencies could further improve visibility. And speaking of whitepapers, while it is a couple of years old now, I would recommend reading Improve IT visibility: say Goodbye to change failures.


IT organizations that implement structured change management based on ITIL combined with better visibility are more likely to be amongst the groups with 10 percent or less of incidents caused by change. But I have another path to follow to become a member of the 10 percent.  


What could you or should you measure to have good controls around change management? Myles Suer has been writing a series on the IT best practice recommendations based on COBIT, and he wrote a recent post on change management. In particular, Myles suggests monitoring emergency changes to start.


And, if you’re looking for something that sums this all up and even has more (such as adding automation), please read Effective change management in 4 steps.




P.S. Back to the 70-80 percent of incidents caused by change. I never thought that this was a reasonable number. It was a struggle to find a good source for this. There was one Gartner paper from a number of years ago. If you dissected this, it would add in bugs or errors released as part of a change. So, if you introduced a new version of an application with a bug, an associated incident could be attributed to the change. I always thought that the 70-80 percent numbers were a misrepresentation with respect to the effectiveness of change management itself.

About the Author


HPE IT Service Management Product Marketing team manager spanning our solutions for the service desk, asset mngt, CMS, and more. My background is engineering and computer science in the networking and telecom worlds. As they used to say in Telcom, "the network is the business" (hence huge focus on service management). I always enjoyed working with customers and on the business side of things, so here I am in ITSM marketing.

chuck_darst on ‎03-19-2013 03:38 PM

Stuart Rance wrote an interesting article on this same general topic last week -


More on the policy and process side of things, but a good reflection of possible improvements. Stuart's blog is also interesting and supportive of some recent articles in this ( blog and also one's that Myles Suer has recently written on KPI's based on COBIT recommendations

chuck_darst on ‎03-20-2013 10:46 AM

An answer to my own question about Forrester's joint study with the itSMF AMS


The State Of IT Service Management In 2012

by Glenn o’Donnell, March 18, 2013


was just released -


Not sure if there is a publicly available version.



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