"Change Implementation: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons" - Thoughts from Cutover CEO Ky

3 minute read

Organizations have struggled for a long time over the asymmetry of risk when implementing change. Even when contributing to a single goal, multiple parties coming together to enact a change will bring with them different and often conflicting agendas. For example, when those making the change have no control over how it operates and those in operations have no control over how it is built, it leaves a gap at the point of implementation that neither side takes full ownership of.

This problem led to change being gathered into large batches for awareness. However, this has not solved the issue of crossing the implementation chasm safely. Recent approaches have involved the innovation of joining the change organization and the operations organization into a DevOps function. DevOps seeks to eliminate the theatre and embed change activity into the fabric of day-to-day activity so that change is not a set of major performance steps but a continuing evolution. While this has led to some improvements, there fundamentally remain operations engineers and change engineers, as well as a large degree of risk for some changes going live into operations.

Automation helps with some of this but it is more a solution to repeatability issues. It does not remove any issues around accountability and differences of interest between teams.

Risk asymmetry is traditionally solved by ensuring all parties have skin in the game to avoid a “heads I win, tails you lose” response from either change or operations. The implementation space is fundamentally a “commons”, a shared space that is not completely owned by ops or change, despite some organizations giving it to one or the other in terms of title.

“The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.” However, the “commons” can be managed well if handled by a small set of functions. In this case, the key requirements are:

  • Visibility of the tasks that each party will conduct in the commons
  • Insight into the conduct of each party i.e. the performance data associated with each task
  • Accountability to ensure all parties act to secure collective success instead of any winner-takes-all approach for a single party
  • A system of record to ensure that each event is not seen as a single transaction but the continuation of relationships between the involved functions

These principles can help but both teams also need good data to work with. Much of the data around the world of work is still unstructured. Most of the methods of doing implementations are still held in spreadsheets, word documents, diverse build pipelines and individual expert knowledge. The ability to bring this “dark matter” into structured data or ontologies will be essential to enable critical interfaces, such as the implementation space, to be effectively managed in the future.

Whether change is being implemented using the traditional Waterfall method or in an Agile manner with a DevOps team, tools to provide orchestration and visualization are essential for removing complexity and risk while providing accountability and visibility for all parties working in the commons.


Ky Nichol is the CEO of Cutover. Formerly the Global Head of Government and Major Sporting Events practice at a niche global consulting firm, Ky has 15 years of experience in major launch events and transitions. These experiences span EE, NASA, European Space Agency, Barclays and the London 2012 Olympics.