Change is Messy

We’re doing it this way because I said so!” said Peter. I left out the expletive Peter used right after “we’re” and just before “doing“.  Use your imagination!

No Peter, this isn’t a good change, this is a big problem!” replied Mary through the speaker phone. This time replace “big problem” with “cluster” and append the four letter expletive of your choice provided it starts with the letter “F“.

I sat there in Peter’s cube stunned. This was my first Agile coaching assignment many years ago, and here I was, stuck in the middle of a senseless argument that had nothing to do with solving the problem, and everything to do with winning the conversation. How un-Agile I thought!

This organization wanted to implement Agile. Mary was taking the bad cop approach to convincing Peter that he was implementing a process that was against our precious Agile values and principles. Peter wanted to implement “signoff” functionality in the enterprise Agile project management tool we were using. In order for the requirement to be called “done”, a representative from each department had to go into the tool and click a checkbox stating they “signed off” on it.

Mary and I were the admins for the tool, so he had to ask us to do it.  Given what we knew about this organization, we jumped to the conclusion that Peter’s request was to figure out who to blame when something went wrong in production. If UI signed off and there was a pixel out of place, the hammer would come down!

Oddly enough, Peter’s request to implement this “signoff” functionality came shortly after something did blow up in production. As the senior manager of development who do you think took the blame?

After the meeting ended, I had a chat with Peter.

I said; “Listen Peter, it’s obvious you feel strong about this. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to work but if you feel that strongly about it, I’ll set it up on the staging site and you can check it out.

I don’t remember how Peter reacted to my empathy. At the time, I had no idea what empathy was. All I knew was that we were there to help, Peter was pissed and I wanted to get the hell out of that situation.

I created the “signoff” checkboxes and emailed Peter and Mary.

That was the last I heard about this problem.

Peter was never a strong supporter of Agile. Neither was his boss. In fact, out of the 15 or so managers and directors I worked with only a couple of them were onboard with implementing Agile. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more capable of navigating that mess.

When “Agile” change fails, the Agile cites the inability to change the organization’s culture as a primary reason for failure.  When change projects fail, the change management world cites the lack of a structured process and the unpredictable nature of people as the primary reasons for failure.  General resistance to change is a common reason.

Lean Change Management
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That said, both communities have extensive tools, ideas and models for how better to manage change.  However, that’s not enough. There are no processes and tools in the Agile or change management toolkit that teach change agents the art of managing the situation I was in with Peter.

For that, change agents need to look to the neuroscience and psychology worlds.

I decided to help solve this problem by writing Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change.  Lean Change Management takes its inspiration from Jurgen Appelo’s Mojito Method: taking ideas from many communities and combining them is more effective than the individual ideas themselves.

My goal is not to create yet another process-focused method.  My goal is to help people fundamentally change how they think about organizational change.  In order to do that, today’s change agents need a toolkit containing tools from Agile, change management, organizational development, psychology and neuroscience.

My book will show you many tools from each of these communities.  It’ll also show you how to combine these ideas into a delicious cocktail that, when sipped, will help you navigate the murky waters of change.  A sample chapter is available now only by signing up to my mailing list.

After you’ve signed up and confirmed your email address, you’ll receive an email with a link to download the sample chapter.

I hope you enjoy it!

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