Introducing Agile Methods: Mistakes to Avoid - Part 3
March 15, 2007
(Achieving successful change)
In Part 1 we looked at the W5 (Why, Who, What, When, Where) of introducing agile methods into an organization.
Part 2 dealt with why change is difficult, resistance to change, and when people do accept changes.
Today in Part 3, I will introduce a change framework to effectively implement agile methods (or other organizational changes) with less opposition.
Let’s recap the circumstances where people will accept changes:
• When the change is seen as a personal gain: in security, money, authority, status or prestige, responsibility, working conditions, achievement
• Provides a new challenge and reduces boredom – when we create more interesting work
• Opportunities to influence the change initiative – when we involve people in the changes
• Timing: the time is right for organizational change
• Source of the change initiative is liked and respected
• The approach of the change and how it is implemented appeals to us – when they buy into the approach being taken
These are the conditions we need to establish in order to stand a chance of having our change accepted. It is interesting to note that they are all personal, human-centered circumstances. There are no “When the change is awesome”, “When the change will reduce production costs by 60%” type conditions. Yet these are the types of drivers people try to use to introduce agile methods and then fail.
Mistake #13: Missing the personal side of the change initiative.
As a logical, rational person it pains me to acknowledge it, but as with making purchasing decisions, we make up our minds in our hearts first, and then rationalize it with our brains. The same goes for accepting changes, we must first go for the hearts by crafting a caring, inclusive, compassionate change environment and then follow it up with some sensible changes.
"...we must first create a caring, inclusive, compassionate change environment and then follow it up with some sensible changes"
(Weird cults and religions learned this years ago, if you are nice to people and actually pay them attention (love-bombing), they will be grateful and a certain percentage will even give you all their money. However with cults, most people later realize they have been “had”.)
I am not suggesting we use love-bombing or subliminal messages to introduce agile methods. We do however need to understand that a key component for change acceptance is the human side of introducing the change. The best changes in the world will meet resistance and take longer to accomplish if they are implemented without regard to the human side of change.
A Roadmap for Effective Organizational Change
So, we need to consider both strategic and human related steps and follow a proven route to effective change.
The change roadmap shown above uses parallel strategic and human threads to achieve successful change.
1. Establish the need – gain consensus on why a change is needed. Qualify and assess the organization, analyze and document current problems and shortcomings. Capture previous stakeholder complaints, issue log and post-mortems problems. Keep it real, but if there is a burning platform from which we have to move forward, document it fairly. Determine the business benefits and describe where we are now.
2. Create a vision – describe a better state, outline the goals and objectives we are aiming to create. Unite everyone with a common end goal of what success would look like. Describe where we want to be.
3. Form a change coalition – Identify key stakeholders, get people involved, not only on the initial project, but also on advisory and review boards. Provide mechanisms for general input and information exchange. Use web sites, lunch and learns, etc. Be civil, be humble, be nice. Do not assume or give the impression the change team has all the answers. Ask people how we should get there?
4. Communicate the vision – provide a clear outline of what is going to happen. People generally need to hear things five times in five different ways to ensure it sticks. Use different formats, analogies and styles. It is generally impossible to over communicate a change initiative vision. Plan and promote the organizational changes.
5. Encourage employee participation – After inviting people to be involved, make sure they are. Schedule follow-up sessions, speak to people about their concerns. Ask for volunteer reviewers, give praise and thanks for reviews we get back, especially if negative. This is the opportunity to turn people around while the resistance is only at levels one and two. Work on forming good relationships, select and train the team.
6. Plan for and create short term wins – Identify the initial project. Schedule some early small victories to build momentum, demonstrate progress and reassure sponsors. People only trust for so long, give them something to justify their continued support.
7. Provide rewards and incentives – change on top of a regular job is a lot of extra work. Reward contributions as well as organizational norms will allow. If you can not give bonuses, plan for some decent food for the lunch and learns. Give good mementos and freebies, arrange for time off if teams work hard on initial projects. People have to see benefits in taking part otherwise they will not bother. Goodwill, loyalty, and corporate benefits do not cut it with everyone.
8. Consolidate improvements – Make sure the successful changes get repeated. Document the successes and spread the word. Monitor and perform mid-project retrospectives
9. Institutionalize new approaches - Complete and review the initial project. Measure and promote business benefits, get the sponsors and users to promote the benefits. Identify the next project and broader roll-out plan. Make the changes stick by institutionalizing them, make them part of the standards and culture. Support other groups trying to repeat the process.
The Satir Change Model
Supporting people as they try new approaches is an important part of effective change initiatives. The Satir change model describes a common cycle people experience as they try something new. Before a change initiative people feel comfortable and excited to be trying a new approach.
Then as they use the new tools and approaches their comfort level drops. Feelings of: this stuff is new, I no longer know how to do things, etc. are normal as people experience the trough of confusion and loss. However it gets worse before it gets better.
The next phase is characterized by turmoil and despair as people ride the emotional roller-coaster of new working practices. On some days things seem to work, on others it feels like this new approach will never work. Our old process may have been broken, but it was a “familiar-broken” and I knew where to fix it. This new process makes no sense and nobody knows what to do. This back and forth can be draining on people, but it does get better.
Eventually people become familiar with the new working practices. Momentum begins to build and while there may still be a few small set backs, they are minor and quickly overcome. Comfort levels rise to points higher than they started from and the team runs with the new processes.
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” –Seneca
This Satir change model is useful because to many people this process is a shock to them. By drawing it on a white board and showing them that it is normal to feel loss, confusion, or even despair, it can help people accept this is just part of the process. Also they can look ahead and see that this low is not an end point, but just a transition point and things will get better.
Mistake #14: Not explaining that things will feel uncomfortable to begin with
Managing Adoption Speed
When rolling out agile methods we inevitably have some team members who are really keen and want to charge ahead with all kinds of agile practices, and others who need more persuasion and mentoring. This gives us a challenge as we have to simultaneously rein in the eager folks and push the laggards.
Mistake #15: Allowing some people to charge ahead and others to lag behind
An effective way to manage this challenge is through “change wedges”. Imagine the change initiative is like stewarding people through a curved path (we are trying to change the development direction)
The keen staff are rushing ahead and the laggards are dragging behind. Trying to manage this diverse group is draining and time consuming. Change Wedges limit the amount of change to manage by reducing the change scope.
We can insert a wedge behind the team by stating that’ “For iteration 1, all requirements will be recorded as user stories” and stop the laggards reverting back to their old detailed specifications. At the same time, by stating that” “We will not automate the build process until iteration 2”, we can insert a wedge ahead of the keeners and prevent them from charging ahead and spreading the mentoring focus to thinly.
Then as we get everyone used to writing stories, we can introduce the next set of changes, (which might include the automated build process). Using a managed, gated approach like this we can ensure people adopt the new processes in order to move along, yet nobody gets so far ahead that they are inventing standards without peer involvement or getting enough mentoring.
Sustaining Organizational Change
Finally we need to make sure the changes persist. There is no point going through all the time and effort of rolling out these changes, if one year or three projects down the line the new techniques have been abandoned. The key to making changes stick is threefold:
1. Create an in-house sustainment team – make it someone’s job to champion, steward, and nurture the new process.
2. Facilitate changes through existing staff – External consultants have their place, but engage them to work through existing staff. We do not want the initiative to end when they leave the building. So, make sure the change team has a lasting presence beyond any short term initial projects.
3. Employ a continuous improvement model - improvement is never done. Employ a model that promotes and continues improvement. Some, like Toyota’s, require a mind set shift that is likely harder to implement than agile methods, but others like the IDEAL model are simple and have plenty of supporting material.
Mistake #16: Not creating an in-house sustainment team
The IDEAL model takes its name from the five steps in the process (Initiating, Diagnosing, Establishing, Acting, Leveraging) and can be used as a how-to guide for in-place groups like development-team-interest-groups or project-management-offices to continue process improvements after the initial push.
The model is sound from a methodology point of view, but is sometimes used without enough stakeholder involvement. So, be sure to remember the importance of inviting and engaging everyone in the process if you use this approach. Or, draw a “return to start” arrow on the Organizational Change Roadmap model shown earlier and reuse this approach for the next set of improvements to make.
Hopefully these 3 articles have provided some useful pointers for introducing agile methods.
As a consultant in a project management role, I only get to help a couple of companies each year adopt agile practices. However, I am pleased to say that despite the mistakes I have made in the past, none of the 25+ companies I have worked with over the last 13 years have switched back to their original approaches after trying agile methods.
So take heart, plan your agile introductions in close collaboration with all the stakeholders that will be impacted. Listen, pay attention to the sceptics, avoid the common mistakes and have faith that the good changes will prevail.