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Wrap up warm... it's time for the festive change freeze

Posted By Matt Hoey, 16 December 2015

As we approach the festive season many organisations look to put a change freeze in place over the Christmas and New Year period. But for when should it start and when should it finish and can there be danger in the melt waters when the freeze thaws?  The Service Transition SIG investigates...

 

The main reason we implement changes at Christmas is of course the drop in resource both within organisations and their suppliers.  Pat Bolger indicated that at Hornbill they see a slow down in support requirements and surprisingly no customers are keen to implement their ITSM tool projects as Christmas advances!  So as well as enjoying the festive period, many people simply find the offer of a week and a bit off for the price of three days holidays too good to turn down.  If left unchecked in this situation changes could be the source of many own goals and un-needed pain during this time.


Additionally, as the end of the calendar year rolls round, some organisations are gearing up for their financial year end.  This in turn adds even more risk to any changes to services.  Rolls Royce is one of those companies and Tony Oxley explained how they deal with this period.


"Our restricted period starts on the 22 November with a restricted change window.  At this stage we attach enhanced rigour to any changes for key services, for example financial systems, ERP, network, etc.  This period runs through to 6 December when we implement a full freeze.  This means no changes except break-fix until 23 January.  After which time we revert to a restricted change window until 6 February.  Only then do we revert to a normal schedule of change.  Whilst a long window it ensures we protect the organisation."


"Any changes which must take place during the window, in other words not doing so would have a material impact on the organisation, are labelled as 'non-compliant' as in non-compliant with the freeze.  This allows those changes to be flagged and reviewed both before and after appropriately."


Peter Mills described a similar lock down at Arqiva. With the organisation's main customers including the BBC and ITV, change is locked down from  mid December through to early January - like retail organisations, there is simply too much risk in this period of high activity. Surely no one wants to be responsible for that Christmas episode of Doctor Who being interrupted!


At the opposite end of the spectrum, academic institutions find themselves with a dramatically reduced customer base as students and teachers head home for the Christmas holidays.  One might assume this would be a time to pile in the changes and be as disruptive as possible, but as Jon Morley explained at the University of Nottingham there tends to be an informal freeze as the IT resource also enjoy some well earned time off.


But what happens when that freeze ends?  As I found out after the first year of deploying a change freeze over the festive period and ending it on the first Monday back, this can be risky business.  This first 'normal' day back at work has the potential to be a service desk's busiest day of the year.  Password resets are one of the most frequent types of calls even with self service software, and in recent years as more and more customers receive technology Christmas gifts, this week sees the amount of BYOD queries rise too.  As a backlog of changes start flowing through a failed change here could further increase the pressure on the service desk.  Instead of releasing the freeze on the first main day back, considering extending it to allow time for customers to return and bed back into work and the support teams to get back to normal levels. A day or two later may be sufficient.  If changes need to start flowing again as soon as possible, you may want to allow them but with enhanced rigour around the scheduling and allow low risk changes like Tony's change restriction period outlined at Rolls Royce.


The Service Transition SIG meets monthly over teleconference and physically on days throughout the year.  They're a group of ITSM practitioners working in all walks of business and run seminar days and conference sessions, produce blogs like this, whitepapers and other material on Service Transition topics.  If you'd like to get involved, please head over to the Contact Us area of the web site to get in touch.


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