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Plutora Blog - IT Governance, Release Management

Change Advisory Board (CAB) and Release Management: The Connection

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For mature organizations, change management is a critical process. The business relies on software operating correctly to perform critical business functions. They also rely on software updates. Whether those updates bring shiny new features or critical security updates, the business needs them. The business also needs to ensure those updates don’t break existing business functions.

The process of ensuring that a software update doesn’t break business functions is called change management. Change management often flows into release management, which is the process of ensuring that all of some software’s users use the newest version. In some organizations, these are two distinct processes. In others, they bleed together. Organizations that adopt the ITIL framework empower a group called the Change Advisory Board (CAB) to administer these change management processes.

Change management is a critical process.

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How Are Change and Release Management Distinct?

The crux of the difference between them is that release management is an action-oriented process. It provides the schedule and execution while change management is a risk management process that authorizes making the change to controlled environments.

Change management focuses on smoothly transitioning new initiatives and procedural adjustments from development into operations.

The objective is to standardize methods and procedures for efficient and prompt handling of all changes. This process minimizes the impact of change-related incidents upon service quality, and consequently improve the day-to-day operations of the organization. At a high level, change activities relate to the process of requesting changes, assessing changes, authorizing changes and reviewing changes.

Release management is primarily concerned with the flow of changes through various pre-production environments, culminating in successful deployment into the production IT environment. It groups a series of changes into a collection known as a release, which is a group of changes agreed upon to move into a production environment together. 

Release activities include planning, designing, and configuring the change. Once the release manager finalizes a release’s group of changes, release management is the process of planning the roll out, testing communication and deploying the changes.

Release management makes the change management process more proactive and predictable. It is essential to manage the volume of interdependent change within an organization.

Release activities include planning, designing, and configuring the change.

What Is the Change Advisory Board?

The Change Advisory Board (CAB) are a group of empowered members of the business. Their role, as part of the CAB, is to evaluate changes and the risks those changes present to the business.

The CAB exists as part of the release management process, as kind of a gatekeeper. Empowered Change Advisory Boards are able to stop the release of changes that present a threat to the business. If a change lacks sufficient testing, or it breaks some other business function, the CAB is empowered to send that change back. The business unit requesting the change needs to do more work before the CAB will approve the change.

The ultimate goal of the Change Advisory Board is ensuring that all of the software the business utilizes is stable and safe. In this way, the CAB is a critical part of the change management process.

How Does the CAB Play a Part in Release Management?

If your organization follows the ITIL service management framework, then you will have a regular Change Advisory Board forum which evaluates change requests for deployment. The CAB is a part of the change and release management process. Often times, they are the gate between the change management process and the release management process.

change advisory board

Release Managers are responsible for raising change request tickets in order to get a slot into the forward schedule of change.  These change requests are then assessed at CAB if they are deemed a major release. In order for the CAB to make an informed decision around approving the release for deployment, certain information is required.

A summary of the information includes but is not limited to:

  • A description of the release to be implemented and, if necessary, the release scope to be included.
  • A rundown on the test results from user acceptance testing and confirmation of the business sign-off sought.
  • Confirmation of testing sign-off, given that CAB members normally require confidence that system tests and/or system integration testing is complete.
  • The deployment plan or implementation plan.
  • Availability of resources for the change window.
  • In some cases, release managers ask the project or test managers to support the change at the CAB to answer any detailed question about the release or test results.

The CAB protects the integrity of the target environment and is generally risk averse in nature. The release manager is responsible for satisfying the information needs of the CAB to assure the change will not adversely impact the target environment. If the release manager comes across as vague or dismissive, it is likely that the change will be deferred to the next release.

The Change Advisory Board in a World of Continuous Delivery

In many organizations, change management and release management begin to blend together. Approving that a change is beneficial for the organization is simply a step on the process to releasing it. This kind of blending can be a big benefit to companies. It means that software is in the hands of users much faster! 

However, it also exposes the company to additional risk, especially if the organization skips quality testing.

Counter-intuitively, this is where the CAB can be the most beneficial. If we think of the CAB as nothing more than a gatekeeper between change and release management, it doesn’t seem to have a role in this more fluid world.

However, if we think of the Change Advisory Board as a group empowered to make sure changes don’t harm the organization, they’re right at home in this brave new world. 

Instead of serving as a gatekeeper, the CAB serves as advisers to product teams. They work closely with those teams, to ensure the work they do doesn’t expose the business to risk. They can still act as a gatekeeper. If a change is too risky, they can put on the brakes to make sure it doesn’t go out. But they can also provide advice during the brainstorm and design stages to ensure the software is never risky in the first place.

In many organizations, change management and release management begin to blend together.

Supplementing the CAB With software

The most mature organizations have moved their change and release management processes into software. Instead of managing everything through meetings, they use software like Plutora’s Release Management Platform. This software keeps records of all ongoing change requests in a single place, which keeps things simple.

What’s more, the software can outline which changes affect which parts of the business. Having this kind of data available at their fingertips makes the CAB much more efficient. That efficiency turns into better, faster releases for each part of the business.

The Change Advisory Board Is a Linchpin in Release Management

Whether your organization uses distinct change and release management processes or not, the CAB is a critical asset. An effective Change Advisory Board understands both the business and changes made to software intimately. They’re able to plug themselves into the process and work together with engineers to make sure each change is of benefit.

The best CABs are able to become indispensable for their engineering teams.

While some engineers might see them as a pain, the best CABs are able to become indispensable for their engineering teams. They provide insight into business requirements and suggestions which save engineers days of wasted time and effort. They can multiply this effort by utilizing quality software that simplifies and streamlines the change release process.

While a Change Advisory Board can seem out of place in a world of continuous releases and product-focused teams, they’re a critical part of the process. All it takes is a few tweaks to the way they work.