Modernizing change management for enterprise digital transformation
- Case Study
- Change Theme
- Change management
- Change Enablement
October 12, 2022 |
9 min read
- Case Study
- Change Theme
- Change management
- Change Enablement
The Co-operative Group (Co-op) is a collection of diverse businesses spanning the food retail, funeral, legal, and insurance sectors. Founded in 1863, the Co-op is owned by its members and recognized leaders in social and community initiatives. Co-op has over 2,500 retail convenience stores and its Funeralcare business is the number one funeral provider in the UK.
Since 2016, the organization has been on a digital transformation journey. The catalyst for this was a move to a more modern way of doing business. For example, by exploring the online potential for its membership scheme to improve interactions with members, modernize the proposition, and open the business to a customer demographic that is representative of its members and communities.
This has included introducing digital technology, products, and services, such as online membership, digital offers, a mobile app, home food delivery, and other services, particularly in the online and e-commerce space. These services are at the forefront of improving and expanding the Co-op’s customer experience in an omnichannel world.
Various teams were involved to support the introduction of these products, including engineering, IT operations, and governance. Each team had differing perspectives on how to manage change. Therefore, this required a new approach based on collaborative working and shared outcomes.
Sundeep Singh, a Lead Technology Service Owner within the Customer Technology space, has been leading the way for introducing different ways of working. This includes a combination of service management and agility to deliver change at pace, at the same time as managing risk and ensuring the safety and reliability of operations.
His role is to ensure that the technology used by Co-op customers and internal product teams remains reliable, usable, meets user requirements, and continues to provide value. This often involves bridging different practices, methods, and approaches to deliver business critical outcomes. His team have been ambassadors and change agents for this new and forward-thinking approach
The change initiative
The teams at Co-op started by introducing speed and agility into the organization’s infrastructure. Nonetheless, they still had to operate within the wider governance and systems. Many of the new products and online services were designed and created using cloud-based services. This required a different approach regarding the skills, processes, tools, systems, and overall ways of working compared to the on-premise technology that the Co-op was accustomed to.
So, how could the Co-op’s product teams, who were designing, engineering, testing, and releasing new technology changes on cloud based platforms, manage the increased flow of change alongside the increased risk?
The product teams’ approach conflicted with the existing service management and risk controls, which created a tension between agility and stability. Sundeep explained: “The team needed to facilitate a greater volume of change, but at the same time not compromising service stability. However, the approach to change management at the time didn’t work.”
Initially, most changes were handled using a typical service management approach, whereby a central change advisory board (CAB) met on a weekly basis. This resulted in a five-day lead time for any new changes. Therefore, it was more difficult to meet the pace of change required from customers, or to capitalize on new business opportunities.
This was originally designed for systems that undergo infrequent changes following a more waterfall approach and where, due to the size and nature of the change, could pose a greater risk to the service they support. This approach did not complement the continual delivery changes, where changes are not released in large batches, but divided into smaller changes that are released and deployed frequently.
The Co-op’s teams trialled a daily, local CAB for smaller, product-based changes, where they visualized the flow of changes on a Kanban board for service team approval. Despite a shorter lead time, the team soon discovered that with almost 50 changes a week, the approach was unsustainable. A backlog of waiting changes, tested, and ready to deploy, started to grow and created more risk and service incidents. The result was a decrease in trust across the teams, a volume of change that the operations team could not scale to, and all-round frustration and low morale.
As the development teams moved to decoupled, microservices architecture, which is the current approach to designing and delivering complex software systems, the service teams realized the need to modify their approach to change management and to be better aligned with Agile and DevOps values. Ultimately, the approach taken by the team is a combination of ITIL 4, DevOps, and the Jira Service Management tool. So, the development and operations teams could share the same platform to integrate and manage the pipeline of change.
The Co-op’s business objectives are aimed at improving customers’ access to digital products, online channels and services such as mobile applications. Therefore, the existing ways of working had to evolve.
The goals over the past few years have been to improve change management and maximize the number of changes that can be safely made. Sundeep said: “ITIL 4 was used to achieve these goals by aligning service management and product teams, to create a simpler, leaner, and more valuable change management process.”
The shift from change management to change enablement in ITIL aligned with the Co-op’s need to increase technological changes, as well as the implementation of effective risk assessment and scheduling authorized changes.
The aim was to ensure that the changes happened in a timely and effective manner, to minimize any negative impact, satisfy stakeholders, and meet any governance/ compliance requirements.
The digital product teams now use an automated release process. Changes are assured through a pipeline of development and test environments before they go live, occurring frequently but in smaller batch sizes, with less risk involved.
As this entire process is automated, it has allowed the team to devolve aspects of change management, such as testing, scheduling, and conflict management to the teams closest to the change. Sundeep explained: “This negates the need for CAB to be involved with every digital product change, so the first thing we did was to remove the daily CAB. Instead it was scheduled only if necessary, as the people who authorize the changes are now part of team stand-ups where changes are discussed. So, they don’t come as a surprise which is a big step forwards in changing how we work. The decentralization of change management enabled our service team to provide value through an advisory role for changes that pose a greater risk, are high impact or need further business visibility”.
The evolution that the Co-op needed covered culture, communication and collaboration with people across the teams sharing the new vision. The department required this people who can adapt, embrace change, and manage ambiguity. This was both a different way of thinking as well as working.
From a training and development perspective, ITIL 4 was essential as the Co-op’s digital transformation matured. ITIL 4 was used to create a common language across teams and stakeholders, build communication, collaboration, and recognize the importance of Agile, DevOps, and modern service management methods.
Sundeep added: “the cultural change included treating risk as an opportunity to continuously improve and learn from failure, in other words fail fast. For example, when changes are rolled back, they are done so quickly to minimize the impact on the customer. Accepting that major incidents and outages will happen, and instead focusing our efforts on promptly restoring service, required a mindset change. This would enable rather than prevent change and allow it to be implemented in smaller increments. Therefore, it would be easier and quicker to recover by rolling back to the last working configuration in the event of a problem.”
Trust and compromise have also played a pivotal role in supporting the cultural change. Product teams now take ownership and are accountable for the services they build and operate. The service team knows that they have the support to fix problems. As a result, product teams understand that some changes might need to wait. Sundeep said: “During business-critical periods it is common for change across enterprise organizations to be limited or restricted. Thus, greater caution is required, so that service stability is not compromised. But with the increased security risks posed to modern digital services, applying blanket ‘change freezes’ can be harmful in the long run to an organization’s ability to respond to security threats. This is where the approach to change requires a shift in mindset as moving to a more agile, automated and responsive way of delivering change during these periods can strengthen an organization’s position with regards to the reliability of the services it provides
Introducing ITIL 4 to the Co-op
Service management practices within the business had arrived at a crossroads. The team was trying to reinvent service management for an Agile and DevOps world, but the best practice methods at the time had not evolved and there was nowhere for them to go. They had only historical techniques along with other, newer, service management approaches that were not scalable to the necessary enterprise level.
Sundeep explained: “then, ITIL 4 arrived; it virtually codified what the team was trying to do and provided it with an externally recognized reference. As ITIL 4’s best practice guidance reflects the challenges that other organizations are facing, it gave the team confidence that they were on the right path.”
Although other colleagues in the team found ITIL 4 a departure from previous versions of ITIL, they nonetheless agreed with it. ITIL 4 made sense and conformed both to the overall direction of service management and to the functioning of the wider technology teams.
Sundeep added: “rather than the process driven approach of previous ITIL versions, ITIL 4 has instead allowed the team to consider value and outcomes. Along with the flexible and adaptable nature of ITIL 4, the team now performs tasks that make sense and bring value to the customer.”
ITIL 4 Managing Professional
After gaining a certificate in ITIL 4 Foundation, as well as encouraging other colleagues to do the same, Sundeep was the first person at the Co-op to be certified in the more advanced ITIL 4 Managing Professional.
According to Sundeep, ITIL 4 Managing Professional raised the level of knowledge and introduced specialisms such as high-velocity IT, which is the key to digital transformation. It also included ideas new to ITIL, such as culture, ethics, people elements, and concepts from Agile, Lean, DevOps, and site reliability engineering.
The common language of ITIL 4, both within the team and the wider development teams, improved communication. It unlocked the ability to better collaborate with product teams and understand each other’s perspective.
This has created an appetite across all the technology teams to understand, learn, and embed ITIL 4. It has become a conversation starter and is helping others on their own change journey.
ITIL 4’s four dimensions of service management
The adoption of ITIL 4’s four dimensions of service management (organizations and people, information and technology, partners and suppliers, and value streams and processes) resulted in Sundeep and his team looking at improvements from multiple perspectives.
“You have to look at it holistically, because you cannot make improvements and changes without considering what has happened around these decisions, including the people and skills aspect,” Sundeep said.
“So, the four dimensions really bring things to life when you are having improvement conversations.”
ITIL 4: guiding principles
The seven guiding principles in ITIL 4, which provide universal recommendations for how organizations can drive continual improvement, are now central to the service team’s approach.
“We tend to refer to the guiding principles in their day-to-day work, when solving service management problems and implementing continuous improvement,” Sundeep said. “The customers are the product teams and the guiding principles have played a massive part in simplifying the service management approach with them.”
The guiding principles have had a variety of practical applications, for example:
Start where you are
The service team decided to adopt several different systems that were already in use across multiple technology teams. For example, it utilized existing Kanban boards that were already favoured by the product development teams. This required the service team to effectively integrate with existing methods, cultures, and learnings
Focus on value/keep it simple and practical
l The current request for change (RFC) form had questions that were used for all types of change across an enterprise. However, it was more suited to changes where the technical steps to implement the change vary significantly, where testing is largely manual or where the risk profile varied. This is different to the approach for contained, product-based, or business as usual change.
The service team reviewed the form that was used to capture and register changes and reduced the number of inputs to make it more intuitive. They also focused more on what was valuable for all stakeholders. The minimum viable form and the introduction of standard changes streamlined the process and reduced time, effort, and cost, for the digital product teams that were requesting the changes. This helped the service management team understand requirements quickly and enabled greater focus on value.
Collaborate and promote visibility
Service management needed a mechanism to collaborate more closely with other teams; therefore, the team introduced self-service dashboards. This improved the transparency of changes, so that everyone across the technology teams was aware of when a change would happen, allowing them to prepare for any issues that might arise. As a result, it removed the silo mentality and the us and them culture between development and operations teams. Also, self-service dashboards allowed leadership to have quick and easy visibility of technology changes, without having to request a report. This has also helped break down barriers between ‘business’ and ‘IT’ as transparency of changes allows the business to view progress and play a more integrated role.
Think and work holistically
The introduction of any type of change in an agile development environment means thinking not only about one area of activity, but considering other stakeholder perspectives, such as audit and risk teams, and also satisfying their requirements. This was about thinking holistically about the experience of other teams and ensuring that they were happy with a given approach.
Optimize and automate
By looking at the number of steps and time it took to make technology changes, the service team identified opportunities to optimize and automate tasks by using tools and systems. Therefore, the team integrated Jira Service Management for change registration and Slack communications tools to ensure that they were fully integrated and able to notify stakeholders of impending changes.
This reduced effort, time, and made change management more efficient. It has also unlocked opportunities to further integrate the IT service management tools with the systems used by the development teams and streamline approvals with workflow automation.
Progress iteratively with feedback
Although the service team followed the guiding principle of start where you are, it has also worked closely with its internal customers to get feedback on what it needs to improve. For example, this has included creating standard templates in the service management tool and developing forms and notification workflows in response to customer requirements. This has enabled incremental improvements and allowed the team to be more receptive to customer demands. The next steps are to continue to improve toolset integration and build APIs that can bridge change management with other enterprise systems, to further reduce manual effort of registering changes
Co-op’s change management process has decreased deployment time for production releases by 85%. This has doubled the number of deployments and accelerated the release of software features. This has also allowed service management to service a higher volume of change, both faster and better than before.
Taking a complexity-based approach to change has given our service management teams the freedom to apply the relevant level of risk controls, to balance the effectiveness and throughput of changes, as well as the outcome of the ITIL 4 change enablement practice. Increasing our use of pre-authorized standard changes where changes are routine, low risk, better understood, and more predictable has enabled an accelerated volume of change and helped to lower the costs of managing those changes.
This new agile and adaptive change process has encouraged changes in smaller batch sizes and increased shorter change cycles. In 2021 there were almost 1800 changes, with the lead time for most change approvals reduced from days, to under 30 minutes with a 98.7% change success rate. The Co-op’s overall change failure rate has reduced, along with the time to restore from failure without compromising on the safety of a change. Every change must pass testing through our continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/ CD) pipelines, before it can be deployed into a production environment
The team has already seen an improvement this year, with more teams adopting this new change process and change volumes already set to surpass last year. Moving to a model where changes are brought to a central change advisory board by exception has been a welcome evolution and a testament to how the development and support teams now operate.
Feedback from product teams has been positive with comments such as “It’s great to see service management evolve to support this way of working: enabling engineering teams to release code faster whilst doing so safely, changing the perception of change management as a barrier and bringing teams closer together.” Sundeep said: the team has been able to create a culture of enabling change to suit the needs of all the teams at Co-op.”
ITIL 4 has been used to build trust and confidence between the teams, who are now working more collaboratively and with greater mutual understanding.
As a business, this has resulted in Co-op adapting more quickly to market changes by testing, learning, and delivering new product features. For example, the team has significantly contributed to the company’s digital mobile app that delivers offers to customers for products in food stores. The team achieved this by launching and moving from proof of concept to a live service, based on customer feedback.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the business had to quickly respond to change; so, it was crucial that this was reflected in their websites and provided services. At the same time, the Co-op has demonstrated sound governance and risk compliance.
The team will continue developing on the foundations that it has created and leveraging ITIL 4 knowledge to make everyone’s lives easier. There is a lot of knowledge in ITIL 4 that the team has not yet implemented, so there is much more that it can do to explore future service management challenges. Sundeep believes that the team has only scratched the surface.
However, the digital transformation and change management journey has improved the perception of the team within the Co-op. This has led to other teams looking to the team for advice, guidance, and support on the challenges that they are encountering.
Sundeep said “change does not happen overnight, but by seeing our team’s successes, other teams within the Co-op want to learn about what we have achieved and how they can apply this knowledge.”
Sundeep Singh is a lead technology service owner at the Co-op. He has more than a decade’s experience of running service-focused teams, providing consultancy and technical support for ITSM tools, and implementing business-driven service management processes.
He is currently responsible for driving a focus on modern service management for the Co-op’s online e-commerce presence, across food retail and Funeralcare. He is especially focused on the synergies between ITSM, Lean, Agile, and DevOps.