Change Freezes to Change Chills: The What, and the When.

The term “change freeze” is fairly ubiquitous in the IT world and certainly in our fintech corner of it. It is usually defined as a “scheduled halt to all planned change in an environment” (while excluding emergency changes in a break-fix scenario).

That certainly looks like a simple statement.

But of course, almost all of those words are open to interpretation, and we spend a great deal of time discussing with the team (and clients) the frequency, timing, duration of change freezes, what constitutes a change, and how it will affect an environment or environments.  It is also important to consider why we use change freezes, so as we enter this Labor Day weekend change freeze, we thought we’d elaborate on the point by sharing the first in a series of blogs on Options’ change freezes; when they happen, why they happen, and the impact that they have.

Ahead of this weekend, we felt the best place to start would be the “when”, as the most common change freezes are scheduled around key holiday dates. We firmly believe it’s important for both our team and our clients to actually take the breathers when they come along – this is a marathon, not a sprint.  So, while we are still closely monitoring and actively on-call, the majority of our team and the client’s team know we are hands-off the environment so it’s unlikely that anyone will get a call during a holiday weekend.

We set change freeze dates up to 2 years in advance and publish a reminder on the dates at the start of each quarter. An example of this calendar can be found in the table below.

The benefit of sharing this calendar so far in advance is that it allows clients, engineers, technical account managers, and the wider teams to be fully prepared and aligned, long before any change freeze occurs.

It is, however, the ad-hoc change freezes that get the greatest focus and debate. These are often due to social, political, economic, or even just plain old weather events that call for an abundance of caution. The obvious example in recent times was our response to COVID-19. It was, unsurprisingly, the longest change freeze in our 25+ year history.

That said, we were very transparent about our thinking and the approach (we published over a dozen blog posts in the first 3 months of the pandemic). Neither was it a complete cessation of work (more of a Change Chill, if you will) as we suspended only BAU work and focussed on changes relating to BCP and WFH.  There’s a great recap on the thinking at the time here.

Our priority around the COVID-19 response blogs and our wider client communications is to ensure transparency and certainty in an uncertain time.  But, we understand that any great plan rarely survives the first contact with reality, so we are always happy to discuss specific client needs and requirements.

In our next blog, we will delve more into change freezes, change chills, and why any top IT vendor or platform provider should be incorporating these into their long-term service delivery plans.

– Stephen Morrow, Options’ COO.