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UNDER ARMOUR: 5 LESSONS IN CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Your company is scaling rapidly — but can your tech keep up?

Jennifer Dunkerley

Technologist

Under Armour

Unleash Your Technology As sportswear brand Under Armour grew globally, they ensured their IT systems kept pace — despite a few hurdles along the way.

  • Under Armour was founded in 1996. As a football player, founder Kevin Plank grew sick of the way the weight of his sweat-soaked cotton shirts dragged him down. He wanted to create a T-shirt that took perspiration away from skin, rather than absorbing it.
  • Plank started the company in his grandmother’s garage in Washington DC.

How do you undergo rapid change management during a time of equally rapid growth and global scale? Sportswear company Under Armour did just that – and learned a few tough lessons along the way.

Their change management process and workflows transitioned from startup “get it done” mentality during the heady days in their Baltimore, Maryland HQ, to overcoming many hurdles they hurtled toward global success at scale for their expanding workforce.

“From 2007-2016 we went through tremendous growth and this meant the business had to change rapidly,” says Kristin Yau Ferrell who was appointed IT Change Management Lead at Under Armour in 2016.

“Before in 2012, we were still using ServiceNow but as kind of like a patchwork process. We didn’t even have a dedicated Change Manager, it was spread out across multiple team members within the IT group. When I was promoted into the position of Change Manager in 2016, the first task I had was to really look at was our change management workflow and our change management process to see if it can scale with the company and match the roadmap that the company had.”

Yau Ferrell, speaking at ServiceNow’s Knowledge21 event, shares the tough lessons and learnings Under Armour overcame for success in change management from this time until the present day.

“Unfortunately, what I realized was it couldn’t immediately fix the issues I needed to because of the over customization that we had done in the earlier years. So I spent 2016 and 2017 reviewing our change render process, looking at the workflow, and seeing how could we really reset back to out of the box.

“We couldn’t quite turn it off and turn on a new workflow. But we worked with a company that helped us scale back and peel back those layers to get it to a point where we were able to use the workflow across the department, not only for applications, but also for our operations and infrastructure team. In 2019, we went live with those workflows.

We saw an immediate benefit for it basically by taking away the over customization, and really getting it back to best practice out of the box.”

Founded in 1996, Under Armour’s motto is that the brand is ‘Designed to empower human performance.’

Yau Ferrell says that she became the “Queen of red tape” when it came to development and testing as she was constantly retraining staff because the overly customized workflow that was in place was preventing her team members from seamlessly using it.

“It became an all-encompassing process with demand, with development with testing with release management, we were tracking all these other processes within the change workflow and that didn’t really make much sense,” she says.

“We spent about a year and a half researching best practices, and really realizing these lessons that we had learned from the mistakes that we have made from those early years.”

Change management: Key Learnings

Here Yau Ferrell shares her learnings:

1. CONFIGURE, DON’T CUSTOMIZE

“One of the examples we did, when we go really customize or change workflow, was we created a custom field for current release date. It made sense at the time because we were using current release date in the legacy system. And as it was what our users were used to, what we didn’t realize in doing that was there was already a planned Start Date field that was in an out of the box on the change form.

“But we decided to go with the current release date because it was easier to train. And one of the first lessons that we had was basically let’s configure, don’t customize. If there’s an option already there, let’s use that option and then train our teammates on it, versus taking a legacy field and trying to adapt that to the new process. It just didn’t make sense.

“With a current or older workflow, we had development and testing tasks, we didn’t have people to actually drive those tasks or close those tasks and drive the change workflow forward on half of our department. So it didn’t make sense.

2. JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD

“Our second lesson is just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. We decided to make that task-driven workflow, we decided each step should be automated. But what we didn’t do is, we didn’t do the due diligence of meeting with all the other teams outside of applications to see if that would work for them. So, do make sure that you also have those conversations with every team in your department to ensure that these workflows are actually going to work for them.

3. USE A CHANGE MANAGEMENT CALENDAR

“Another area we had to improve upon was the fact that we were housing all of our change calendars, the maintenance windows and the blackout windows in an external application. We weren’t using the change calendar in ServiceNow. And one of the first things that I realized when I became Change Manager and I was able to dig into this a little bit more was really figure out why weren’t we using the change calendar. And the reason I’ve discovered was the fact that we were using the current release date custom fields. The change calendar is populated based upon the plan start and end dates which make sense. But for some reason, because we weren’t populating those fields, and we were using off of current release date, we lost that functionality.”

4. THINK THROUGH CUSTOMIZATIONS

“Make sure that for any custom field that you introduce, you don’t lose the ability for features and functionality that may be driven elsewhere. Some customization is going to be necessary because it’s not going to fit every single company’s process. So you are going to customize a little bit, but make sure those decisions are made a little bit more thought and really only use for tracking purposes. It shouldn’t be data driven, or shouldn’t be driving any workflow steps with those customizations.

“An unintended consequence was that I had to test all of those customizations outside of the release notes whenever we upgraded ServiceNow. And that became time consuming and a resource drain, I had to tell leadership that I needed extra additional time to actually test our change scenarios, because we had so many customized scenarios, and we had to ensure that they were working with every upgrade. You’re going to have to take that into account every time you upgrade to the newest version, because outside of the release notes, it’s going to be on you to make sure that those features still work.”

5. HAVE STRONG DATA

“The fifth lesson, final lesson is making sure that you have a strong data governance process, really, with any process that you introduce, you want to make sure that you have that in place. That also helps reduce the admin hours that you spend following up with teams.

“Luckily, in the early days, we were small enough where I knew every single person in the department, I could walk to their desk, and ask them about a certain change or certain conversation that I had heard. But as we grew as a company, and as we went global across multiple time zones, you had teammates, and consultants putting in changes all around the world at all hours of the day, it wasn’t feasible.

“We had to make sure that we had a change management process that supported that growth. So after we introduced all of these lessons, and after we took in all of these lessons learned, when we designed and implemented our new change workflow, we saw immediate benefits, our new workflow was more so out of the box, and it was much more streamlined.”

Yau Ferrell said the benefits to the team were tremendous.  

“The biggest increased benefit was the fact that of our teammates can use the change workflows. They weren’t frustrated with it anymore.

“And they didn’t abandon them in the change management. We saw a 30% increase in the actual recorded changes that were in the system. And we were able to make better decisions because we knew exactly what was happening. We didn’t have to second guess on whether or not someone was tracking incidents, or there was an IT request task out there that we had to make sure was properly recorded as a change request. And then as part of all of these benefits, and the immediate the biggest one that I felt was the one that leadership was most impressed with was the fact that we reduced our emergency changes by 20%.

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“We were able to foresee collisions earlier on and we were able to step in and prevent them from happening. So as we went through this process, I found myself asking the same questions based upon those lessons learned over and over again. If you’re about to introduce a new process, if you’re about to bring up a new module, ask yourself these questions and importantly: is there an out of the box option?”

“The other question is, does our process need to be reviewed or the workflow? A lot of times, it’s just tweaks in your process that you can change. And honestly, that’s easier to do, than changing an entire workflow. The amount of hours of research and the amount of hours of testing and implementing our new workflows could have been saved if we had just asked these questions earlier on in the process.

And then finally, one of the the biggest question is, when doing a process walk-throughs, who owns each step?

“If we had asked that question regarding those two development and testing tasks earlier on, we would have prevented a lot of headache.”

UNDER ARMOUR RESILIENCE

During the pandemic in 2020, Yau Ferrell said Under Armour were able to pivot quickly by having an enhancement module in place and she feels prepared for whatever else is coming down the pipe.

“I was asked to join the agile transformation team based on my experience with our Change Workflow,” she explains. “By enabling the same process, feedback loop, holding off on customization requests it was a huge win for the company. We needed to pivot pretty quickly and by having that enhancement module in place we could still deliver our projects on time with reduced risk.

“We reduced our admin hours and reduce any emergency changes. It was a much better year compared to previous years. And this only was able to happen, because of the fact that we were able to provide a better picture and better visibility into the number of changes that we were doing at Under Armour. In one system leadership could log in and see exactly what was changing across our production environments and now I can pair that against our enhancement module to see what changes were coming down the pipeline.”

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