When it comes to an IT project or major system upgrade, schedules can be completely derailed if there is a change in functionality or an addition to the project scope. To prevent these issues, the standard IT response is to essentially ban system changes from the time the requirements are signed off on until the project is completed. While this works well for IT departments, vendors and developers, it may leave clients or other business departments unable to respond to their changing world.

The old way of doing business — imposing a freeze period for seemingly arbitrary lengths of time — is no longer acceptable with the shift from IT-centric technology management to IT service delivery models. Businesses need enhancements from IT to maintain continuous improvement, constantly adjust for the competition, leverage new opportunities and meet the needs of their customers. The goal is to find a balance that allows for IT project success without putting the developers on ice with a backlog of changes to incorporate during the next upgrade cycle.

Reducing the freeze period

IT projects that follow standard project management techniques and align with waterfall delivery often rely on fully defined requirements and a managed change process. However, there are project and IT management practices that can mitigate or reduce the impact of a freeze period, depending on the nature of the project. System upgrades or migrations are most likely to create change freeze because resources are focused on replicating and testing for functionality that exists in the previous system. When the reference model is a moving target, reworking and retesting can significantly extend the project. This also introduces risk in ensuring the delivered system is fully tested to meet the end users' needs.

Freeze periods can be reduced by segregating or partitioning the system and staging work. If the entire system is addressed as a single project with fully committed resources, the project must be completed in its entirety before the freeze is lifted. By breaking the project into isolated elements, on the other hand, change can continue in system areas outside the current stage. As a result, the current stage can be completed more quickly with a much shorter freeze period.

Similarly, when vendor core functionality changes are addressed before customizations, the core migration can occur in a parallel system without interfering with business operations. After the core migration has been stabilized, customizations to the new platform can be sequenced to minimize the impact on the users.

Co-planning with the business

IT efforts typically operate in cycles, as do business goals. Software vendors release updates on schedules, and businesses tend to have seasonal cycles between planning and execution. However, these cycles are rarely in sync with one another. This can lead to a disconnect between IT and the rest of the business when a freeze period is required.

IT and any affected partners must work together on planning projects to minimize impacts on each other. A business lean-process redesign and a core IT upgrade sharing the same timeline are going to create conflict. Senior executive visibility on these initiatives can resolve business priorities and help avoid conflict.

Acceleration through automation

The addition of automation techniques can also accelerate IT time-to-completion and reduce the related business change freeze. Automation can play an important role in several areas for migrations and upgrades. Minimally, domain and core code migrations should be automated to ensure consistency and reduce overall project effort. Automation guarantees repeatability and reduces errors or rework.

Automation can have an even greater impact on custom or legacy code bases during these projects. When extensive manual effort is required to migrate code, project timelines are significantly longer. The use of automation can help businesses achieve a faster and more accurate outcome. Further, the automation of code migration combined with automated testing, can provide assurance that the delivered code is functionally equivalent and up to vendor standards.

Lastly, Dual mantainence can be an additional way to manage freeze time especially in cases where there are multiple projects being executed in paralell on the same code base.

Has your business been subject to or had to impose a change freeze period? What was the most effective strategy you used to mitigate business impact during this time? Let us know in the comments!

Jason Hannula is a seasoned IT business analyst who has worked with various agencies to deliver transformation projects that improve business processes and data usage. He has also been writing about the impacts of emergent technologies and trends on businesses for since 2013.