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The 7 habits of highly effective CABs

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As a former Change Manager I can honestly say that the Change Advisory Board (or CAB) is one of the most important and useful meetings a service orientated organisation can have. It sets out a view of what’s happening to key services over the next week, reviews previous Change activity and looks at CSI so what’s not to like? CAB meetings are all about the people attending them and handled badly your CAB meeting will have all the power of a chocolate teapot so here are our top tips for running them effectively.

Step 1: TCB Power!

A colleague of mine once told me that TCB or tea, coffee and biscuits was one of the most important acronyms in IT. When I worked for a large investment bank in London, one of my first tasks was to roll out a sensible Change Management process across one of our service families. Trying to persuade grumpy techies who saw Change Management as red tape rather than an important part of service delivery was not going well until I brought out the big guns; Krispy Kreme doughnuts and chocolate biscuits. In all seriousness, a CAB meeting is where you want people to feel comfortable representing Changes or asking questions so anything that makes your meeting easier, nicer or makes people feel more relaxed can only be a good thing.

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What not to do! 

Step 2: Get organised

Make sure that your CAB has a terms of reference document so that everyone knows what they’re doing and why. The Change manager should send out the CAB agenda, including the Changes to be discussed, the Change Schedule (CS) and any Changes that caused Incidents well in advance of the CAB meeting.  Service Delivery teams and Project Managers need time to read and consider the Changes as well as identify any potential issues or questions.

Step 3: Look for the big hitters

One of the biggest mistakes people make is insisting all Changes should go to CAB.  Not a good idea unless you want your CAB meeting to be overrun with server reboots or patching requests. Use automation where possible so that the CAB meeting can focus on the major, high category Changes that need to be sanity checked and talked through.

 Step 4: Play nicely with your attendees

Some members of the CAB will be needed for their opinion on every Change; for example the Service Desk, Network Services and Server support and will make up the core CAB attendee list. Other attendees such a Project Managers, Service Delivery Managers and external suppliers might only be needed to discuss a couple of Changes on the list. If this is the case then be kind. Move those Changes to the beginning of the CAB so that these temporary or “flex” CAB attendees can discuss the relevant Changes and then leave.

Step 5: Ask the horrible questions

You know the ones, what everyone in the room is thinking but no one wants to actually ask. Some examples could include:

  • “What’s the remediation plan? Do we fix on fail or roll back?”
  • “What happens if rolling back doesn’t fix the issue?”
  • “Is the person doing the Change empowered to make that decision or do we need to arrange for extra support to be on call?”
  • Or even; “is this really a good idea?”

It’s better coming from the Change Manager than from an angry customer or senior manager following a failed Change right? Make sure the Service Desk feel comfortable asking questions as well; they’ll be the ones at the sharp end of customer complaints if anything goes wrong so make sure they’re happy with the Change content and plan.

Step 6: Keep it pacey

There is nothing worse than a two hour CAB meeting. I guarantee you; if you are regularly putting your CAB attendees through marathon meetings then people will run short of both patience and good will. There’s also a very real chance that someone may fall asleep. Keep things moving. If someone has launched into a long winded, uber waffley technical explanation and you get the sense that it’s adding no value as well as making everyone in the room lose the will to live then break in with a question so that you can get things back on track. Do it nicely though obvs.

Step 7: CSI

Don’t forget to review your list of previously implemented Changes. If something’s gone well then brilliant! Let’s template it or add it to any Change models to share the love. If something hasn’t been successful or worse, has broken something generating a load of Incidents then look at what happened, figure out the root cause and look at ways of preventing recurrence. If your Problem Manager isn’t attending CAB then invite them – they are the subject matter experts in this area.

What do you think? What are your top tips for effective CAB meetings? Tell me in the comments!

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Vawns Murphy

Irish mum of 3. ITIL V2 Manager (red badge) and ITIL V3 Expert (purple badge). SDI Managers certificate. Further qualifications in COBIT, ISO 20000, SAM, PRINCE2 and Microsoft. Author of itSMF UK collateral on Service Transition, Software Asset Management, Problem Management & the "How to do CCRM" book. Reviewer for the Service Transition ITIL 3 2011 publication. When not being pelted with brightly coloured balls in name of ITIL, I am a senior ITSM analyst for Enterprise Opinions.

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