Software development is a dynamic process, as we all know. It is far from static as it can be. Not one software will be the same, and as such, the process of developing one will differ. Even though we can establish SDLCs and follow some structured approaches, changes are bound to happen. Change requests are a common occurrence and that’s why software development companies need to have a change management system in place. Especially, if they work on complex and big projects that are sensitive to errors.
We can sometimes call software developers rebels, but when something derails the plan, it’s good to return to some rules. Scope creep and gold plating are situations where changes can significantly influence the SDLC and the whole development process. So, controlling response to changes is quite integral in keeping the process on track.
Setting the scene
Change requests are not an unfamiliar term, quite the opposite. You can perform perfect requirements elicitation, set up the SDLC to cover each point, and define features that align with every single requirement, and yet, at some point and new change could come up internally or externally, from the client. Changes come naturally, and they are nothing to be especially afraid of. Often, most of them are expected.
But, even when changes happen, anticipated or not, software development teams and companies should have change management systems in place. Yes, it may seem like an extra task and something not many want to be burdened with, but it can help them get back control over the process if they know how to react.
A change management system is a set of guided, controlled, and effectively communicated processes that help teams understand and implement changes in the software development process. It follows the transition from the current to the new state of the software. Change management systems help plan, track, and implement changes while reducing the offchance of mistakes and setbacks. It should always be accompanied by a change management policy.
Change management policy
Even though this sounds like an administrative thing, change management policy is a set of steps one needs to take when tackling change requests. The wrong thing would be to just take a change request, do it, and that’s it. No, there are some vital processes to follow, so that in the future, you can react more swiftly and efficiently.
A change management policy in software development is a set of rules, guidelines, and procedures on how to effectively manage changes. They are there to provide stable and guided recommendations on how to approach changes, and their implementation, and push them to production and deployment.
As said above, changes don’t happen just like that, or they shouldn’t be approached without enough consideration. Doing them without proper planning and structure can considerably influence the whole software development process. That’s why change management policy should cover some aspects or elements. The policy should cover change management processes, who on the team is responsible for them, how you review and approve processes, testing, how you keep records about change, and compliance with rules and laws.
They can also be translated into common change management steps:
This is where you need to plan how will you address changes and what are some consequential steps. “Why, how, and who”, are the answers you are in the end looking for. You also have to plan how will you design and implement changes in the system or solution.
Risk evaluation refers to the evaluation of what will the changes do to the software and development process. Will the outcome bring more value or only costs? It’s about assessing whether the changes are worth it and if they won’t obstruct further development. One important thing is to determine if changes align with the goals and objectives of the software and user expectations.
This stage is where changes either get accepted or discarded. It’s an important step because if you approve the wrong change, you’ll find yourself right back here. All the parties involved (team members, stakeholders) have to approve the change since they will initiate and perform it.
Approved changes have to be communicated across each individual involved in the software development process. What has to be communicated is the scope of changes, what they implicate, the time frame, and expectations from it.
This is where the approved changes have to be performed according to the plan and in a set time frame.
Don’t forget about documentation and change records! Each change has to be written down and documented to comply with security standards. But it also serves as a guide for future similar changes to show how they were executed.
Each change has to be monitored to see if it was executed correctly and if further adjustments are required. Reviews are there to see if the process was successful or not.
Why are change management systems a necessity
Well, change management systems are basically sort of risk assessment and management tools. They exist so change requests are done correctly and when they are absolutely necessary for the software to reach its full functionality to provide a great user experience. Rules have to exist somewhere just to guide people involved in the process. Standardization of processes is not a limitation but rather a helping guide on how to approach unexpected situations. Making everyone familiar with the change management system and its policy is quite integral. Hence, each individual knows exactly what is expected of him and how he will approach the issue. It’s also about defining responsibilities and roles for each stakeholder in the process.
Easy in theory, but what in practice?
It’s easy to define how change management systems should look, but what about practical implementation? It’s one thing to have a system defined, but it’s another to comply with it. How do you stick to guidance and make your team live and breathe it?
Communicate the system clearly
Each stakeholder should be familiar with the ins and outs of the change management process. This doesn’t come with just letting them know that there is a process, it’s about conveying each aspect clearly and making them understand why is it important. If there is understanding from each point, then its implementation will be much smoother and more efficient. They won’t have to ask additional questions, raise doubts, or make mistakes during change integration.
Introduce the vision, mission, and goal of the software you might be working on
How can your team evaluate if the change is in line with what the software needs to do? When each project starts, you should clearly introduce its vision, mission, and objectives. They need to be familiar with who this software is for and who will most use it. If they know the whole product concept, they can more effectively determine if the upcoming change request aligns with the project.
Precisely declare roles and responsibilities
There is nothing more binding than a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Also, people tend to follow procedures more if you assign them to a part of it. Change requests shouldn’t be handled by whoever has the most time to deal with them. Each stage of the process needs to be clearly defined and given to the appropriate person to work on.
Provide training on how to handle request changes
A document or a process without proper training is just that, a theory. You can’t expect someone to jump into the shoes of someone who deals with change request steps. You have to ingrain change management procedures into your employees and their habits. It’s not only about making changes the right way, it’s also about complying with best practices, security measures, and governance.
Seek employee feedback on change management system
Change management systems and processes should be continuously updated based on employee feedback. They will know best what works and what doesn’t when assessing and implementing changes, and how to get from client requirement change to the update. They are the best source of information. Also, including them in the process just means that it’s easier to make them understand each component or step. Improvements in change management are always more than welcome.
Set leadership for change management
This process is not a free-for-all activity. Someone has to be in charge of it and lead the team through each step or guideline. Set leadership helps monitor the whole process and optimize performance. Leaders ensure that steps are not overlooked or missed.
Continuously reassess the change management system
Reassessment is almost self-explanatory. There is no perfect system you won’t need to change up or upgrade. This is why you have assigned roles in each step, so those employees and stakeholders could provide insight into how to improve the whole process for more efficient change integration.
Changes might be uncomfortable, but they are bound to happen
There is no way you can avoid changes or even change requests. Yes, you can set up a project perfectly, and the client might not ask for new requirements, but internally you might go through change-ups when you discover that something doesn’t work as you expected. It can be uncomfortable and daunting, but it’s a natural process.
But, it’s more about how you approach change requests. You want it to go over smoothly and that changes don’t disturb your course of work. That’s why it’s important to have some standardization and guidelines. So, every time you get stuck on something or unsure how to proceed, you can go back to change management policies for help. It’s a support system and it should be treated as such.