Blog & Resources

It’s too Hard

As an Agile Consultant, one of the hardest parts of my job is in helping others realize that there is a better way to build software. The Scrum methodology speaks for itself, but getting others to change is one of the most difficult parts of the job. Recently I read a book by Chip and Dan Health called Switch, where the brothers provided insight on “how to change things when change is hard”. At the end of the book, they outlined twelve common problems that people encounter when fighting for change along with advice about how to overcome the problems. What struck me as interesting after reading the obstacles is how easily they could be applied to anything in your life that requires a change.

As an Agile Consultant constantly working with others to educate and coach them on the benefits of the Agile/Scrum methodology, I decided to see how the twelve common problems could be adapted to the adoption of a new methodology like Scrum.

  1. People don’t see the need to change
    Projects have a set flow to themselves that people find comfortable. People overlook the painful aspects of the project like having others make commitments on their behalf that are not attainable or the long hours put in to meet a delivery date just because it was communicated on a project plan. To show the need for change, you need to show a success, even if it is a small one. You need to communicate the impact of not changing and create an environment where changing is accepted and possible.
  2. People resist the idea because they say “We’ve never done it like that before”
    Building software is not an easy job and relying on process, checklists and habit help a team accomplish what otherwise seemed too complex. To change the behavior of people that are accustomed to a certain process, you need to “focus on the bright spots” as the Heath brothers say. Show an example of a project or process that is different from the norm and the success it has had and clone it.

  3. We should be doing something, but we’re getting bogged down in analysis
    The initial reaction I often see when talking about the Agile/Scrum methodology is people’s request for documentation to see how the Scrum process is different from today’s non-Agile process. People tend to spend a lot of time analyzing the methodology, deliverable’s and roles and responsibilities. To get past this analysis paralysis, you need to paint a picture of where we want to go and what it will feel like when we get there. People need to feel what it would be like if their employees were happier at work, more productive, delivered higher quality software faster to market and in turn created more satisfied customers. Once they feel what it would be like, you need to then create a path for them to achieve this feeling.

  4. The environment has shifted, and we need to overcome our old patterns of behavior
    People like habits. They make things easy even if the habit prevents you from achieving great success. To truly change a habit takes time, and without a path it can not be achieved. You need to constantly communicate where you are going and what it will feel like once we are there to instill change. Something as simple as putting the team together in a new location, away from the old environment can be instrumental in making change happen. Another concept I have found helpful is to play a game that allows people to learn the Agile methodology without the tie to their actual work relieving the stress of having to deliver something.

  5. People simply aren’t motivated to change
    To help motivate people, there are several small pieces of the Scrum methodology that can be easily implemented. Simple things as incorporating the Daily Stand Up meeting, monthly demos of working functionality, breaking existing Business Requirements into User Stories and reducing the size of your iterations (or creating iterations for that matter). Again, people need to know what it will feel like when they get to a new place and sometimes, lowering the bar can help you attain quick wins. Another method to help coach people to change is by using social pressure and show what others in the field or industry are doing.

  6. I’ll change tomorrow
    After the presentations are over and people have been trained on what it means to use the Agile/Scrum methodology, I often see strong reluctance to start using the methodology on a project. Whether it is the fear of change or the fear of failure, taking the first step is quite difficult. To help with the transition, the Health brothers recommendations could not be more true. They advocate that you need to 1. “shrink the change so you can start today”, 2. if not today, set an action trigger for tomorrow or 3. try making yourself accountable to someone and let their peer pressure be on you to make the change.

  7. People keep saying, “It will never work.”
    “What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon” according to Denis Waitley in his book, The Psychology of Winning. How many times can you find where you already told yourself it wasn’t work and of course, it didn’t work. You need to find the bright spot that can show it can work. A team needs to see small victories and leverage the people who believe in the change as catalysts to the others.
  8. I know what I should be doing, but I’m not doing it
    To help contain the magnitude of changes that the Agile process brings to an organization, you need to start small. You need to get the team to think of small things that they can easily implement now and create an environment so that people have to change. Another way recommended by the Heath brothers that I have seen work extremely well is to get someone else involved in the change so that you can reinforce the initiative with each other and the behavior becomes contagious.
  9. You don’t know my people. They absolutely hate change
    People react differently to change. If you have a team that is very set in their ways, it is critical that they understand why the change must happen. You can also point out things that have happened that introduced change and how they have embraced those changes. How many of you have parents on Facebook?

  10. People were excited at first, but then we hit some rough patches and lost momentum
    Once people begin to see success with the new process, momentum builds and more people want to be a part of the “new way” but invariably, the excitement wears off. One way to keep this excitement is by building habits that reinforce the new behavior, reminding everyone of past successes and letting everyone know that rough patches are part of the process. I have seen the Daily Stand up meeting alone help to establish and reinforce the Agile methodology as well as communicating and celebrating the teams success. All of these things help to build that feeling of what it is like now that we have made a change and why you should stay in this state.

  11. It’s just too much
    Once again, you need to shrink the change into small successes that will, over time, lead to the larger change you are trying to adopt. Teams need to continue following the Agile methodology and constantly find ways to fit it into the culture of the organization until the process becomes the only way to get things done. People need to know that failure is a part of the change process and that they need to embrace the failure and learn from it for future actions.

  12. Everyone seems to agree that we need to change, but nothing’s happening
    Continue to educate and coach people on the process to ensure there are no questions and if there are, there is a place to go to get answers. Don’t allow anyone to have the excuse that they didn’t understand how things worked. Remind and reinforce the feeling of success and if possible, use past successes as examples to show that it can happen.

Even when faced with the benefits that adopting Scrum provides like Higher Productivity and Lower Costs, Increased Employee Job Satisfaction, Faster Time to Market, Higher Quality, Improved Customer Satisfaction and the removal of the “always done it this way” habits, people are still reluctant to change their old ways and habits. Hard work, education and examples will help people get to that new feeling and they will never look back once they get there.