The CAB (Change Advisory Board) is one of the most important meetings it’s possible to have an IT Service Management focussed IT department. This single meeting does more to get teams out of their individual silos and thinking about their part in the overall provision of a service than any 3 ITIL courses you care to name. It highlights risks to the business and should focus the IT department personnel on the potential impacts to the end users of their actions.
So why do so many organizations I visit view the CAB meeting with the same level of enthusiasm as a trip to the dentists? Boring, unpleasant and quite possibly painful to boot!
I have a few suggestions for those Change Managers who are expected to chair these meetings to ensure that they run a little smoother and get more value.
1st Tip – Bring doughnuts
Seriously, when I was a Change Manager for Yellow Pages it was almost routine that on the day of the CAB one of the Change team would nip out and purchase a couple of dozen doughnuts or equivalent for the attendees. It made everyone relax and open up a little more by setting a less formal tone. A formal tone is not to be cultivated in a CAB meeting. You’re trying to get experts to open up and consider the consequences of their planned actions, as well as everyone else’s. You MUST strive to create an atmosphere where any attendee can feel free to ask any question, no matter how stupid they think it might be. That is the whole point of CAB.
2nd Tip – Do your homework!
The Change manager should have sent out the CAB agenda, including the Changes to be discussed a good 24 hours before the meeting takes place. The technical teams need time to read and consider the changes themselves. The Change Manager also needs to read the changes and come up with 2-3 questions for each one. You should be leading the discussion in the room, not letting it veer into technology babble.
So the afternoon before the CAB, once the agenda has been locked and sent out spend an hour or two digging into each change and prepare some notes on them. Stay away from technical details but consider issues like “Have we ever done this before? If so what happened?” or “What service is going to be impacted by this? Which users use that service and what are they doing at that time that changed is planned?”
Your job is turning up at the CAB with enough background information to keep the analysis moving and not allow it to become bogged down in the pure technical analysis.
3rd tip – ASK STUPID QUESTIONS!
The whole point of CAB is to tease out the issues that have not been considered yet and examine them. Always have some stupid questions to ask the wider group. Things like “Just how long will it take to carry out your remediation plan? Under what conditions will you invoke it?” or “Has anyone told the users what this change will look like, and what new abilities it will give them?”
Don’t try to examine technical details of the change. That’s the role of the technical experts in the room. Do your best to represent the user community and ask questions on their behalf.
4th Tip – Keep the pace brisk.
I personally feel that the maximum time for a CAB meeting is 1 hour, and you should do everything in your power to reduce that. I like to aim for between 30-45 min if at all possible.
The best way to do this is to make sure that you keep things moving. If a long, detailed technical explanation is occurring look about the room if no one seems to be interested then (politely) break in with a question to keep the flow moving. It’s your meeting and part of the job of the meeting chair is to keep the flow moving and focused.
5th Tip – Don’t turn attendees into prisoners.
Some members of the CAB will be needed for their expert opinion on each change (Networks, Server Support, Service Desk are good examples of these) and form part of what I term ‘Core CAB’
Other attendees (Project Managers, Release Management, User representatives) might only be required for input on one or two changes. If this is the case then move those changes to the beginning of the CAB. Discuss them and once they have been dealt with allowing the relevant flex members to leave.
It shows that you care about keeping the meeting to the point and that you don’t want to waste people’s time for no return.
These tips are only a few of the ones I normally recommend but are ones that have served me well. They work best in a physical environment but some of them adapt well to phone-based virtual CABs.
It’s a sad truth that none of the formal ITIL courses address meeting etiquette, but it’s one of the easiest ways to start to change the culture.
So don’t make your attendees dread the weekly CAB meeting, as it’s probably the single most important factor that colors their opinions of how they view your whole process!
Written by Peter Hubbard, Senior IT Service Management Consultant at Pink Elephant EMEA.
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