Change: the enemy of stability, sometimes

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I’m a great fan of change at work.

Sometimes I like change for the necessity of just changing something. As a small example, at work I recommend people keep moving desks a couple of times a year, to sit next to different people (for many reasons – spread knowledge, establish a good, deeper relationship with different people, get a different perspective, and so on). 

The one element of change at work that I don’t like is system changes. When I speak to friends outside of work, they are amazed at why organisations need such large IT organisations, or even why a website needs so many technical resources.

Changing a system always brings a level of risk. Always. No matter how much everyone thinks “nothing can go wrong” – and yes, I hear this from experienced people as much as junior people – it can always come back and bite.

Unfortunately, the only way that you can assess risks of change appropriately is to be burnt (aka “get it wrong”). And after being burnt, its important to act almost scared of it happening again.

Several years ago we made a small modification to a website on a Friday afternoon. You can tell what happened next – there was a problem, and we all ended up working late into the weekend. Since then, we have a blanket rule of no live rollouts after Friday lunchtime.

I spoke to a senior manager at Endava about this recently, and he said that whenever his Managed Services division engage with a new client having stability issues, the first thing they improve or implement if it doesn’t already exist is a full Change Request procedure. This immediately requires people to stop fire fighting and think about any changes. And it always reaps rapid improvements. 

Another example is that retail banks have a code freeze during the last quarter of the year, to prevent anything impacting Xmas sales. On some of our sports websites at work, Xmas can be the busiest period (e.g. football). However we insist on a system wide freeze well before the Xmas period, and this creates the highest level of stability of the year. Let me repeat – the busiest time of the year in the most stable!

People adapt to change well. Even if it requires some help during the initial change ‘shock’. However systems rarely respond to change well.

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