Change Management in Software Development Projects

by Katerina Trajchevska

7 min read · Oct 18, 2020

Here's how to practice effective change management in software development projects, every time, any time.

Customers change their minds. The competitive landscape shifts. New and better technology enters the market. 

In the Agile development world, change is constant. New project requirements can appear unexpectedly, while established requirements can shift multiple times. Failing to manage those new project requirements can lead to project failure. 

To avoid this scenario and build a high-quality product, software development teams must deal with the dynamic work environment. 

How?

By using a streamlined approach to change management. 

In this article, we'll take a look at what change management is and why it is important. Then, we'll talk about the importance of establishing a framework for managing the change process, and offer a few tips for effective change management in software development projects.

What Is Change Management? 

Change management is a systematic approach towards dealing with a change. It involves coordinating resources, applying tools and managing knowledge in order to effectively drive organizational success. 

Why Is Change Management Important?

Operational excellence. In many cases, organizations focus on doing many things at once, instead of focusing on the right things. Change management helps organizations focus on doing the right thing in accordance with the business strategy. 

Management of risk. Managing change is really about managing risk. When deciding on implementing a change, the team involved in the process has to assess whether the change would bring any business value to the company. If it doesn't, then that's a risk it shouldn't be taken. 

Overall strategy. The change has to support the overall strategy of the business. The change manager has to understand the direction the business is going in to know whether a change needs to be implemented or added to the "skip" list.

Establishing a Framework to Manage the Change Process 

Change management in software development projects doesn't have to be challenging, expensive, and process-heavy. 

If you take a framework approach to change management, you can quickly and easily reduce incidents while keeping processes agile and minimizing work disruptions. 

Here are seven items I'd like to recommend that should be part of your change management framework: 

Identify the Change Type

The first thing that should be on the agenda during your first change advisory board (CAB) meeting is identifying the change type.

Generally, there are three major types of changes: standard, urgent, and normal changes. 

  • Standard changes are changes to a service or to the IT infrastructure. The risks and the implementation process of this type of change are known upfront. 
  • Urgent changes, on the other hand, are the opposite of standard changes. They indicate a crisis or an opportunity that should be addressed as soon as possible, with as little risk as possible. Before you implement an urgent change, you need to get specific approvals and authorization from stakeholders. Urgent changes follow a similar change management process flow as normal changes, but at an accelerated timescale. So, at the end of the day, how well you can manage urgent changes will depend on the organization's agility.
  • Normal changes are not a standard or an urgent change. Although they're quite common, they require unique and novel approaches. These changes have to go through a change process before they can be approved and implemented. 

Identifying the type of change is critical for establishing communication with everyone involved in the change management process, getting authorization, calculating the risks, etc. The whole team needs to be on the same page so that proper steps are taken for the organization's health. 

Discuss and Prioritize the Changes 

Don't introduce too much change at once. Sometimes, your organization can't support too many changes, or your customers can't accept too much change. 

For example, if you apply a change to your application twice every month and ask your customers to test it, they may not be fans of so much change in such a short period. They may prefer changes that happen twice a year, or once a year, so they can consume them correctly. 

If a user opens your app and sees a new update every time, they may eventually get frustrated and even stop using your app altogether.

Assess the risks and impact of each change, communicate with the stakeholders, and finally come to a decision about which change should be prioritized and which one should be put on the "postpone" list.

Review the Current Workload and Organizational Structure

People are the most important ingredient in the change management process. Sometimes, your developers might be against the change from taking place, whether because they don't understand it or because their current workload doesn't allow for it. 

However, getting collaboration from them is critical. 

Your developers are key to delivering and supporting the change. That's why you have to make sure they're on-board. They don't just have to be compliant with the change process but believe in it so they can do their best work. 

Next, do know your resources. Understand the capabilities and resources you have in your organization: the infrastructure, the people, the financial budget, and everything else. 

Review and Communicate the Risks to the Stakeholders 

Change management shouldn't happen in a silo. 

Coordination and collaboration across the organization when change management is taking place is crucial. You want to make sure the stakeholders are aware of the change that's about to take place and inform them of the risks associated with the change. 

Not communicating the risks to stakeholders can lead to incidents and overall disruptions to the business at the end of the day. 

Incorporate Testing of Changes to Avoid Incidents

Deploying to all regions at the same time has many risks. A breaking change can potentially bring every region down and the customer impact can be substantial. That's a scenario you want to avoid. 

A better alternative is to deploy in stages, with a fair amount of testing, to avoid incidents. 

For example, what many companies like to do is to first deploy the change to an internal production-like environment, then to a specific region in production, and when they're confident that the change is safe, to deploy it to all regions.

You can be confident that the change is working seamlessly in all environments and regions by monitoring, anomaly detection, and alerting. In case something goes wrong, the monitoring tools will detect the failure and trigger an automatic alert.

Use the Right Tools to Track Changes and Collect Data

To take some of your team's burden off their back, using the right tools and technologies to track changes and collect data can be of great help. 

Change management tools offer a structure for the often chaotic process of change that affects teams, businesses, and organizations.

Change management tools and technologies can replace the unnecessary six-layer approval process and weeks of back-and-forth with compliance approval boards. They will ensure non-compliant changes don't see the light of day. 

Review, Analyze and Improve the Process 

After the change is implemented, a good tip is to discuss how the change went, discuss any bottlenecks, and see how you can improve the process. 

Ask questions such as:

  • Which changes were successful?
  • What were the most common changes?
  • What was the average time to implement the changes?

Learn from your processes so that you can continuously improve and do better for your company and your customers next time.

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FAQs

Q: What is the purpose of IT change management?
Change management is a systematic approach towards dealing with a change. It involves coordinating resources, applying tools and managing knowledge in order to effectively drive organizational success. 
Q: What are the benefits of change management?
  • Helps organizations focus on doing the right thing, in accordance with the business strategy. 
  • Helps manage risk.
  • Building a higher quality product.
Q: What are the steps in the change management process?
  1. Identify the change type.
  2. Discuss and prioritize the changes.
  3. Review the current workload and organizational structure.
  4. Review and communicate the risks to the stakeholders.
  5. Incorporate testing of changes to avoid incidents.
  6. Use the right tools to track changes and collect data.
  7. Review, analyze and improve the process.