I’ve helped a lot of organizations improve their Change Management capability.

When coming in from the outside, it’s important to quickly size up the culture and context to the best of your ability.  One of the ways I’ve done this is paying attention to language. In the Change Management space, if and how “CAB” is spoken about is meaningful. One thing I see a lot is where “CAB” is used interchangeable with “Change Management”.

For the 3 IT people out there who don’t know, CAB is the Change Advisory Board – a common practice where changes are reviewed by a diverse group of subject matter experts in a often-weekly meeting, with the net result of offering advice (A = Advisory) as to if the proposed change should be approved.

I say “common” because, with apologies to Mark Twain, ‘rumors of it’s death have been greatly exaggerated’. CABs are incredibly common to this day, and many organizations find them helpful.

However, Change Management is much more than a periodic meeting to review changes. It is an overall organizational capability, whereas CAB is one of many tools used to achieve Change Outcome Expectations of the organization.

Confusing the two is a bit like suggesting that “hand sawing wood” is the same as “cabinet building”. Yes, those who build cabinets often hand saw wood, but they also do a great many other things to achieve the desired outcome – delivering cabinets that delight the customer.

In my book IT Change Management: A Practitioner’s Guide, I gave the following goals for Change Management:

  • Support timely and effective implementation of business-required changes
  • Appropriately manage risk to the business
  • Minimize negative impact of changes to/for the business
  • Ensure changes achieve desired business outcomes
  • Ensure governance and compliance expectations are met

You’ll notice that not one of these mentions CAB. In fact, no mention is made of any specific process or procedure. When done right, it’s independent of (or, more accurately, in alignment with) any specific approach or methodology (ITSM, agile, DevOps, etc.).

This is intentional, because Change Management is an organizational capability and it’s end goal is to achieve things the organization cares about. Change Management is about achieving positive business outcomes.

To be clear: Change Management, as I’ve alluded to, is an organizational capability. Not IT. Not ITSM. Not IT Operations. But a business capability.

Because, IT *IS* part of the business.

IT as part of ‘The Business’

You may have also noted that the term “business” is in all but one of the above goals.

I’d like to expand on that a bit. So often in IT (and IT Service Management) we use loose language like “what the business wants”, “for the business”, and the like. And, while it’s not wrong, it’s also not entirely right. IT *IS* the business. Not some separate entity hiding in the basement waiting for requirements to fall from the sky.

There’s a problematic legacy in ITSM, which I want to touch on briefly. (Perhaps a separate article is needed.) The problem is, IT Service Management is a model that delivers value to customers *in the form of services*. Implicit is a provider/customer model. IT, then, is the provider, and, in the case of internal IT, “the business” is the customer. To many, there’s a clear line of demarcation between the two, which is memorialized in the Service Level Agreement.

The Service Provider agrees to provide *these*, and the customer agrees to pay *that* price. If either party fails to uphold the “contract”, there’s penalties – real or implied.

Which brings us back to Change Management. If Change Management is an IT process, then it’s primary goals has to be IT outcomes – successful change implementation. Whether these changes has a positive effect on the business, then, is a somewhat separate matter.

A bit of a “we implemented the change, now over to you to do something with it” kind of thing.

This was never the intention of ITSM, SLAs, or Change Management.

Change Management as an Organizational Capability

When we get our minds wrapped around the difference between Change Management as an IT process and Change Management as an organizational capability, we begin to see a much broader perspective of where and how Change Management fits within the organization.

Far more than “CAB”, Change Management is the ability to achieve meaningful changes within the organization.

Language, again: The scope of “Meaningful changes” is not limited to IT Changes. In digital organizations, there’s nearly no distinction between ‘business change’ and ‘IT Change’. They’re so highly intertwined in ways that make them inseparable.

Like every other part of the organization, IT exists for the sole purpose of helping the organization achieve business goals and objectives. Change Management is one of the ways we ensure desired business outcomes are achieved.

How its accomplished will be different in the various value streams and pipelines throughout the organization. It must be adaptive and dynamic – ensuring Change Outcomes are achieved in all cases.

And just like our friend the cabinet maker – a hand saw may still be used from time to time in specific situations, but far more frequently, cabinets are built without any hand sawing.