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What Does a CAB Do All Day?

The change advisory board (CAB) is the route through which all changes pass. We all know it's best practice to have one, but what do they actually do?
Feb 5, 2011

Elizabeth Harrin

"The Change Management process is the process for submitting change requests, prioritizing, evaluating, seeking additional information and eventually approving or denying the change based on risk and value," said Wayne McKinnon, president of Canadian firm The McKinnon Group. "The CAB evaluates the proposed change and makes recommendations to the change manager who is accountable for the decision."

At the change meeting, the CAB members review proposed changes, raise any concerns and make their decisions.

"The most powerful addition to any change meeting is the forward looking visibility of future changes, their relative risk, and the actions required to reduce that risk," added McKinnon. "If forward looking changes are made visible early, then by the time the actual request is submitted, it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone and the design work has not simply focused on functionality, but maintainability."

Making decisions without conflict

As you'll have gathered, the key role for the CAB is to make decisions about what changes to do and what changes to reject or defer. This can create conflict between those in the meeting who represent the development team and who want change fast, and those who represent operations, who want to keep things stable. A clear way of making decisions will help to reduce the conflict, but many CAB processes remain shrouded in mystery.

"One thing that is often missing from these entities is a transparent, well-communicated decision making process," said Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, a business strategy consulting company headquartered outside Charlotte, North Carolina. "Too often, a CAB looks like the meeting where they decide the next Pope, with a raft of bearded men heading to a secluded tower, conducting secret meetings while the rest of the world waits for the white smoke."

Gray believes that for a CAB to be effective and credible, the organization should understand how it will make decisions, what factors it will weigh, and who has final voting rights when it comes time to actually make a difficult decision on which business projects move forward, and which do not.

Who's on the CAB?

The CAB has responsibility for approving which changes go ahead, so it's important that the people who attend the meetings have an overview of the business as a whole, and can make these decisions from a position of information.

"The change advisory board consists of people who have a stake in ensuring that changes are successful and do not impact the services they use or deliver," said McKinnon. "The makeup of the CAB varies depending on the nature of the change being discussed. If IT is proposing a change, are the people in IT aware of any patterns of business activity that could be impacted? Have they consulted the business? Is a representative from the business units invited to join the CAB? Knowing the full picture of how the item that is being changed relates to other items, and the services they enable, and the nature of the change will help determine who should be members of the CAB."

CAB members also need to have business acumen, according to David Dalka, a digital business strategy expert based in Tucson, Arizona. Understanding operational impacts and implementation across the business is important. "They need to be able to understand both the high level impacts and understand what tactically is and isn't possible," he said. "They need to understand how budgets can either restrict or enhance making the best IT decisions."

There should also be someone on the board who understands change management from an implementation perspective and the way in which it affects the users. "Change is complex," he said. "It can be warmly welcomed or resisted in an organization -- at least one board member should understand how to drive these issues."

Allowing changes to happen

The CAB should look at all changes, not just the technical changes that operational teams want to do in order to keep the environment stable. CAB members should link up with project teams and find out what changes are in the pipeline as a result of their work. Project managers should seek out their CAB representative and have these discussions, but if they don't, CAB members can make the first move.

Ensuring everything goes through the CAB avoids clashes when several systems are changed at once, for example, or confusion when something is changed and the service desk folks are unaware and unable to deal with the resulting calls.

The overarching purpose of the CAB is to make sure that changes are understood and prioritized, and that risks are known. The CAB members need to do this in a way that is transparent, makes business sense and allows the organization to grow through a mix of service enhancements and new projects. However, the change management process doesn't deliver any of these changes -- it just makes sure that the things that need to get done are done in the best possible way.

Elizabeth Harrin is Computer Weekly's IT Blogger of the Year 2010. She is also director of The Otobos Group The Otobos Group, a business writing consultancy specializing in IT and project management. She's the author of "Social Media for Project Managers " and "Project Management in the Real World". She has a decade of experience in IT and business change functions in healthcare and financial services, and is ITIL v3 Foundation certified.

IT management, change management, IT steering committee, IT project management, ITIL/ITSM

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