The change advisory board (CAB) can be one of the most important and useful meetings a service-oriented IT organization holds. It sets out a view of what’s happening to key services over the next week (or longer depending on its frequency and timeframe), confirms the impact to the business, reviews previous change activity, and looks at continual service improvement (CSI).
CAB meetings are ultimately all about the people attending them and, done well, they can really up your game in terms of change communication and buy-in. To help, here are six tips for running your organization’s CAB effectively.
1. Set Your Agenda Early
Set out a clear scope and agenda for your CAB meetings so that people know what’s expected of them. Let’s face it – we can all face meeting overload at times, so make it easy for your CAB attendees to know what they’re doing and why.
The change manager, or the person chairing the CAB, should ensure each CAB meeting has a clear agenda (that matches the agreed CAB “reason for being”). This will include:
- The review of the implemented changes since the previous CAB. Did any fail, over run, or have an unexpected impact? Were there any incidents caused by changes? What changes went well? Are there any opportunities for CSI or new change models?
- The retrospective review of emergency changes. Did the emergency change go as expected? Was the use of the emergency change workstream appropriate, i.e. were the criteria for emergency changes met? Did the emergency change deliver the right results?
- The draft change schedule, i.e. the list of changes requiring CAB advice and approval
- Time to discuss any opportunities for continual service improvement (CSI)
- Any other business (AOB)
2. Ace Your CAB “Pre-Game”
To ensure that your CAB meetings are both efficient AND effective, ensure that your attendees have the list of proposed changes ahead of time such that they can review them and make a note of any questions or concerns.
Are your change requests being raised too close to the CAB? Then introduce lead times for any CAB routed-changes. One approach that we’ve found works well for Monday CABs, in particular, is to send a reminder the previous Thursday (or Friday if CAB members will have time to review them on the Monday) to remind change owners that they need to raise their proposed changes by the end of the day. This means that, on the Monday, the CAB agenda is set, everything is raised in good time, people are prepared as needed, and nothing is rushed.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Tough Questions
No one likes being “that” person. You know the one, the person seemingly hellbent on playing “devil’s advocate” or finding fault with everything. But the reality is that someone has to ask the tough questions of proposed changes. Some examples could include:
- “Will there be downtime?”
- “What happens if something goes wrong? What’s the remediation plan? Do we fix on fail or roll back?”
- “What happens if rolling back doesn’t fix the issue?”
- “Is the implementation team empowered to make the decision on remediation actions or will we need to escalate at the time? Do we need to have a senior manager representative on-call in case an escalation is needed?”
- “Are there any special requirements that we need to take in to account such as the proximity to business-critical periods or other transition activities?”
Sometimes it’s hard being the person who always has to prepare for the worst-possible outcome, but it’s much better coming from the change manager than from an angry customer or senior manager following a failed change.
Also make sure the IT service desk is represented at CAB meetings and that they feel comfortable asking questions. They’ll be the ones at the sharp end of customer complaints if anything goes wrong, so make sure that they’re happy with the change content and plan.
4. Organize Activities to “Keep the Show on The Road”
Keep your CAB meetings pacey – there’s nothing worse than a two-hour CAB meeting in our experience.
We guarantee that if you’re regularly putting your CAB attendees through epic meetings, then people will run short of both patience and goodwill. And it’s your job as change manager to “keep the show on the road.”
If all the CAB prep work has been done and the list of changes has been circulated in good time, then representing a change should take one to two minutes. All that’s needed, in most cases, will be the person representing the change to give a short overview of the work being planned, call out any risks, and confirm the right testing has been carried out and if any additional help is needed.
If you’re finding that each change takes upwards of ten minutes to be reviewed at the CAB meeting, then it may be that the impact hasn’t been fully understood, there are risks that need more mitigation planning, or that the change needs additional sign off outside of the CAB, for example business sign off.
5. Remember the Post-CAB Follow-Up Tasks
After the meeting, send out an update email with the CAB minutes. This should include:
- A summary of implemented changes and their statuses
- A summary of emergency changes
- The approved schedule highlighting
- Change reference
- Affected services
- Downtime (if any)
- Implementation dates
- Implementation teams
- Attendee list
- Details of any change freeze periods
6. Don’t Forget CSI
As with any other IT service management (ITSM) capability, there’s a need to keep moving forward.
So, always be open to the possibility of CSI. We’ve already talked about failed changes, but there’s also an opportunity use these failures as learning points. Keep a lessons-learned log so that improvement ideas can be logged, prioritized, and acted on. If a change has gone exceptionally well, for example ahead of schedule, look to see if the approach can be modelled or templated. It might not be obvious, but improvements can come from your successes as well as failures!
So, that’s our six CAB tips. What are your top tips for running a CAB effectively? Please let us know in the comments.