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Dealing With Change!

To say change comes hard to many, is an understatement. I've seen and been part of many agile transformations and the one thing they all have in common is "resistance" to change. I don't believe people just don't want to change, or are resistant to change for the sake of it. I read this "resistance" to change differently. I read it as fear of unknown, or uncertainty. We are all wired differently. Some of us see change as learning something new, others see change as uncertainty. There are times, what seems to be resistance to change is really an environment problem.

Why are we changing now?

How often have you heard this before? When was the last time you were explained why something needs to change? Were you asked to be part of the change? I bet it went something more like a mandate across the organization, something like "all are projects will be agile". When change starts this way, uncertainty sets in, and from here there will only be distrust. The longer this distrust is given time to root itself, the harder it will be to help someone through this. I remember a few years back, failing bad at helping someone who was in this state. They were told they were moving from waterfall to scrum, and provided training. They learned there are only three roles in scrum, Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development team. He was a project manager, how do you think he took this? To make matters worse, when he raised the question leadership was not prepared to answer it. The fear of losing his job quickly set in. Everything I tried, made him dig his heels further in. I tried listening, helping him see what the change consisted of, laying out career path, nothing worked. I wish I knew then what I know now.

The environment

Often times the best way to help someone through change is to change the environment there in. In my case, had I been able to help leadership answer the question he had asked, I may have been able to help this person. But how do you change or influence the environment after the fact. Many of us agile coaches and scrum masters are brought in after the announcement is made and training is provided (sometimes). Looking to make small meaningful changes that can make a difference to your team is a good start. Evaluate what changes you can make, that can help your team through change. A while back I was at this organization that decided to transition to Agile, but its teams were seated away from each other. They were expected make the daily stand up and other meetings on time, and their persistent latest was seen as resistance. I pointed out to leadership the fact, and asked if it was possible to sit them in a conference room during the day. Small change with big impact. But sometimes this is still not enough. You can try to motivate, and address their anxiety, but they have not changed. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch write "for individuals behavior to change, you've got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds". They propose three steps to doing this.


Provide clarity. Outline as crystal clear as possible what the new direction is. Don't assume training took care of this. Take the time out and walk your team through what the Agile practice looks like. If it is scrum, walk them step by step through the framework and answer as many questions as you can. If there are questions you can't answer, let them know you will come back to them with answers.


Engage peoples emotional side. Find a way to keep them motivated. I usually help teams set goals that can keep them inspired and motivated. Something they all work to. I also add fun to the mix by introducing games and team building exercises.


Shape the path. Think of my attempt in moving everyone into a room as shaping what was to come. Think of small solutions with big impact. How difficult has change been for your team? Leave me a comment with your experience.


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