Does the change manager need technical skills and expertise

By ITIL® from Experience©

Many believe that the change manager must have technical skills and expertise to approve Request For Change (RFC). It is true that knowledge of the subject matter is needed to be an effective manager regardless of the subject matter being managed.

To set the stage; "the purpose of the ITIL® Change Management process is to ensure that:

  • Standardized methods and procedures are used for the efficient and prompt handling of all changes
  • All changes to service assets and configuration items are recorded in the Configuration Management System
  • Overall business risk is optimized”1

The above has no mention of a technical aspect. Moreover, the Change Management process goals and objectives described by ITIL®1 also does not mention a "technical" element. Accordingly, the ITIL® Change Manager has no technical responsibilities aside from relying on Change Advisory Board (CAB) members for advice2 .

As such the Change Manager does not need technical expertise to be a good at managing the change management process. To be sure, a technical background, years of IT experience and good knowledge of the business are highly desirable competencies to be an effective Change Manager (see the article “What skills does the Change Manager need” coming soon). Similarly a project manager does not need to be a developer to be a good project manager although a general understanding of how software is developed, tested and deployed is needed (e.g. SDLC).

Let’s take the analogy of an airport. The Change Manager is the equivalent of the air traffic controller. He/she ensures that planes wanting to land will not cause problems due to their size, special needs or that they conflict with other activities happening at the same time. The air traffic controller does not need to be a pilot to do this job.

The challenge in expecting the Change Manager to be an IT subject matter expert include:

  • The difficulty of finding someone with a very good knowledge of all technology domains (Hardware/Software, Operating Systems, Servers, Networks, Databases, storage, Web, etc.).
  • The inability of the organization to pay the salary an individual with these skills would demand.
  • The training costs and time required to develop an employee to meet this expectation. Moreover, once trained the person is likely to leave and the organization would have to start over again.
  • The demand and commitment required by this person to stay current given that technical skills erode over time (it’s tough to keep up with one technology let alone several domains!).
  • The monumental task of understanding interdependencies between Configuration Items given that even a small Configuration Management Database (CMDB) can easily have 10,000+ items.
  • The burden on technical teams to prepare briefings to provide the Change Manager knowledge and insight on the products and solutions used by the organization in order to approve RFCs.
  • Finding a replacement when the Change Manager is on vacation or sick.

Asking the Change manager to have technical expertise is the equivalent of expecting the manager of the Incident Management process to be an expert at troubleshooting and resolving incidents or the manager of Problem Management to be able to identify the root cause. Moreover, in large and complex IT environments asking the Change Manager to ensure that RFCs do not create incidents is as likely as winning a jackpot at a casino. That’s why ITIL® states that the Change Manager should rely on members of the Change Advisory Board (CAB)3 .

In general, the Change Manager does not need technical skills. However, the exception may be when the IT department is very small, or when the organization has several Change Managers each focused on a specialized core application such as the Enterprise Resources Planning system (ERP) or the core banking system.

Last updated on: 2015-10-01

"The change manager is like the air traffic controller of the production environment."

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More on Change Management

Category: Implementation > People ITIL Process > Change Management


ITIL® Service Transition, Section 4.2.1, 2011 Edition p. 61 ITIL® Service Transition, Section 4.2.1, 2007 Edition p. 43


ITIL® Service Transition, Change management roles, Section 6.4.6, 2011 Edition, page 227 ITIL® Service Transition, The change manager, Section, 2007 Edition, page 186 ITIL® Service Support, Change Manager, Section 8.5.14, 2001, page, 193

3 Change Advisory Board (CAB): (ITIL® Service Transition) A group of people that support the assessment, prioritization, authorization and scheduling of changes. A change advisory board is usually made up of representatives from: all areas within the IT service provider; the business; and third parties such as suppliers. Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations 2011, www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx


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