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: What are they good for?
Change is part and parcel of any healthy organization. And CAB meetings are what allow service-oriented IT organizations to chart a course for the better. But, if you don’t properly line things up for success, then—more often than not—these meetings can turn into the type of time-waster nobody wants to be around for.
Still, CAB meetings are part of the essential part of running a tight ship. Now, what is the point behind them? Let’s take a look:
- Give attendees an idea of what’s going to be happening to key services within the next week (or the timeframe of your choosing).
- Paint an overall picture of the impact your business is having, as well as key performance areas to assess and address.
- Any CAT meeting will also address previous changes, and the actions taken to make them happen. Also, they will take a look at whether these changes have been positive or negative.
Of course, these processes—overseen by a change manager and an advisory board—occur with a single thing in mind: CSI, Continual Service Improvement. “How can we keep improving by making changes, and make sure that these changes are the correct ones?”. Resting on your laurels is simply not an option.
Moreover, CAB meetings are an essential part of the new and improved ITIL v4 framework. Let’s take a look at that for a minute.
CAB Meetings and ITIL v4
ITIL is the most globally used and recognized framework for ITSM (IT Service Management) best practices. When it comes to the final word about how to handle IT services, it’s pretty much sacrosanct, and it’s used by millions of managers, practitioners, and professionals everywhere.
As of now, we’re operating under ITIL v4, which came out in early 2019. This framework isn’t updated frequently, and the last version dates back to 2011, so you can bet that it’s a big deal.
Unsurprisingly, change management is one of the stars of the new-and-improved ITIL v4. Let’s take a look at this bit from their Organizational Change Management Practice Guide:
“The purpose of the organizational change management practice is to ensure that changes in an organization are implemented smoothly and successfully, and that lasting benefits are achieved by managing the human aspects of the changes.”
And part of that human element comprises the experience of your change management, the change advisory board, and a diverse group of business leaders and representatives.
Yet, there’s a place where many fumble the ball, and pertains to the question: how to make these meetings run smoothly and painlessly? Because trust us, you’ll be running many CAB meetings—typically, they’re scheduled weekly—and if they don’t go smoothly and efficiently, it’s the type of thing people grow to dread. After all, you want your attendees to be happy and alert, not having their eyes rolling into the back of their skulls every time they hear “CAB meeting.”
So, how do you achieve success where others have failed?
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 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!