Anatomy of a Change Request – The Basics

In most IT environments you’ll find some kind of Change Request (CR) form.  Some of them are simple forms for simple workflows and some of them…well, aren’t.  What does a typical CR look like?  If you’re creating a Change Management (CM) process for your organization (and you should have one!), what should your CR look like?

In this post I’ll talk about the very basic information that should be in every CR. In a subsequent post I’ll go through some of the optional information that more heavyweight CM processes may use.

A minimal CR

Any CR should have at least the following information:

  • Title
  • Requestor
  • Executor
  • Execution Time
  • Purpose
  • Procedure (including execution, validation, and rollback)
  • Results

Let’s go through these one by one:

This is a short (less than one line) summary of the CR, used mainly for displaying CRs in lists.
Who asked for this change? This is important to have in case there are any questions about what should be done or decisions that need to be made about different options that can be chosen. If you don’t know who requested it, you can’t get answers to those questions.
Who is actually doing the change? This is important to know for later troubleshooting purposes – if something goes wrong you’ll want to consult the person who made the change as they will have the best knowledge of what happened and if anything strange occurred.
Execution time
For troubleshooting it is critical to know exactly when changes took place, so you can correlate with service impacts or other important events. (Your CM process may record execution time as part of the change workflow itself, in which case it’s not critical to have it actually in the CR – but it needs to be somewhere).
Why is this change being made? What is the business value of doing this? This is the field I see missing most often. Everyone involved in the CM process should understand the reason why changes are being made – and those reasons should be tied to the needs of the business. This understanding allows everyone to make informed decisions at every stage about priorities, strategies, tactics, etc. Without this understanding, the people making the changes are disconnected from the business and become disengaged and jaded, eventually leading to poor decisions.
Procedure (execution, validation, rollback)
What are you going to do? What order are you going to do it in? How are you going to make sure it worked, and didn’t break anything else? What are you going to do if something goes wrong? There are many different viewpoints on what level of detail and rigor this procedure needs to have – there is no one right answer but I always think of every CR as a candidate for future automation, and the more detailed, specific, and complete the procedural section of the CR is, the easier it will be to automate in the future.
What happened when the change was executed? Typically this part of the CR will contain pasted output from execution or validation commands, or screenshots showing the effective change, etc. If there are any problems later this prevents wasted time while people ask “did you do _____” or “what does ______ command show?” A tiny amount of work to cut’n’paste some info here can save a huge amount of heartache later.

This may seem like a lot of information for a simple CR, but in practice it doesn’t take very long to fill these out for simple changes. And for complicated changes, you shouldn’t be worried about the extra overhead of typing – if you’re not thinking through and planning your complicated changes, you’re taking big risks with your business.

Where does a CR form live?

When your CM process gets started, CR forms will often be simple documents – they could be in GDocs (this is how we do it at my company today), they could be in a wiki, or they could live directly in the ticketing system that manages your CM workflow (if you have one). What’s important is that the CRs be easy to fill out and easy to find later.

How do I start using a CR form?

Once you’ve created your CR form, the next step is simple. Just start using it for your changes! Ideally the person in charge of your infrastructure already understands the value of CM, and will be eager to have everyone start using the CR. If that’s not the case, use the CR form yourself, and ask others to use it. Even if no one else does, at some point there will be an incident that will make the value of using CRs obvious to everyone – and when that happens you’ll be ready.

About Paul Guth

Old Timey Web Ops guy. I think about cars and clouds, and how they could be faster, cheaper, and more resilient. View all posts by Paul Guth

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