AoAD2 Chapter: Invest in Change

This is an excerpt from The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition. Visit the Second Edition home page for additional excerpts and more!

This excerpt is copyright 2007, 2021 by James Shore and Shane Warden. Although you are welcome to share this link, do not distribute or republish the content without James Shore’s express written permission.

Invest in Change

You’ve decided that Agile will make your teams more successful. You know which zones have the best cost/benefit tradeoffs. You’ve figured out which investments your company needs to make. Now, how do you make it happen?

Understanding Change

Change is disruptive, and introducing Agile is no exception.

Change is disruptive, and introducing Agile is no exception. Exactly how disruptive it is depends on how many teams are affected and how well you manage the change. If you have one team that’s eager to try Agile with your organization’s full support, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you’re trying to change 50 teams in an organization that’s unfamiliar with Agile ideas...well, now it’s a very big deal.

One way to understand how people respond to change is Virginia Satir’s Change Model, shown in the “Satir Change Model” figure.1 As the figure shows, there are five stages to a change. Here’s how they apply to Agile:

1Steven Smith has a good article on the Satir Change Model that includes tips for helping team members through each stage.

  1. Late Status Quo. This is the pre-Agile way of working. It’s comfortable and familiar. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and how to do their job. Some people aren’t completely happy, though, and they think Agile will help. They push for change.

  2. Resistance. The people who want change start getting traction, and some sort of Agile change becomes likely. This is called a foreign element. People start responding to the possibility of change. Many oppose it. They say Agile is unnecessary, unlikely to succeed, or a waste of time. Some are angry. The more people affected, the more resistance you see.

  3. Chaos. The Agile change is approved and teams start using Agile practices. Old ways of working and familiar expectations no longer apply. People feel lost and confused, and moods are volatile. Some days are good; some are bad. People occasionally revert to childish behavior. Performance and morale decline.

  4. Integration. With practice, people start to become familiar with their new ways of working. They discover an aspect of Agile—called a transforming idea—that is particularly compelling to them. (This is different for each person.) They embrace the possibilities Agile brings and start putting real effort into making Agile work. Feelings of chaos decrease, morale improves, and performance climbs.

  5. New Status Quo. People have made their way through the change and come out the other side. Their new Agile ways of working are comfortable and familiar, and they’re confident enough to continue to make small changes. Performance has stabilized at a higher level than before the change and continues to increase gradually as people experiment with further small changes.

A chart with two axes. The horizontal axis is labelled “Time,” with an arrow pointing to the right. The vertical axis is labelled “Performance,” with an arrow pointing up. Within the chart, a line travels from left to right. The line starts in the middle of the performance axis with a section labelled “late status quo.” It is mostly horizontal, with small vertical pertubations and a slight upward trend. Next, there’s a star labelled “foreign element.” The line continues as before through a short section labelled “resistance,” before plunging down (indicating lowered performance) with dramatic up-and-down spikes (indicating highly-varying performance). This section is labelled “chaos.” None of the spikes exceed the midline performance of the late status quo. About halfway along the horizontal axis, one of the spikes is labelled with another star and the title “transforming idea.” The spikes gradually climb, indicating increased performance, and the size of the swings decrease. This section is labelled “integration.” Finally, the spikes flatten out, at a higher level of performance than the beginning, with small vertical pertubations and a slight upward trend. This final section is labelled “new status quo.”

Figure 1. The Satir Change Model

Trying to rush change just makes things worse.

This reaction to change is unavoidable. Trying to rush it just makes things worse. That’s why organizations need to set aside time for learning Agile (see the “Make Time for Learning” section). Note the parallel between the Satir Change Model shown in the “Satir Change Model” figure and the J-curve shown in the “Agile Performance Over Time” figure.

Everybody goes through these stages at their own pace. The length of the change, and the depth of the chaos, depends on how much their day-to-day life is affected. Someone who’s only peripherally involved will respond less than a person who’s part of a newly Agile team. Individual personalities matter, too; some people love trying new things, whereas others want stability and predictability.

You can decrease (but not eliminate!) the chaos by using a technique I learned from Diana Larsen: Support, Information, and Structure (SIS).2

2Thanks to Diana Larsen for assisting with this list.

  • Support. Help people understand how to do their job in the changed environment. Provide training, coaching, and other ways for people to get help without feeling judged. Make the investments described in the “Invest in Agility” chapter. Make sure everyone has someone they can talk to, either at work or in their personal life, when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Information. Be transparent about what’s happening, what’s known, and what’s yet to be determined. Address people’s career concerns. If you can do so honestly, make an explicit promise that no one’s getting fired as a result of the change. Communicate more than you think should be needed.3

  • Structure. People need ground to stand on, so provide a roadmap for the change. If you’re using this book as the basis for your change, provide copies, and tell people which parts you’re using. When things are uncertain, describe what you need to do to make them certain, and when you expect that to happen. If there’s an interim step, such as temporary teams, be clear that it’s temporary, and describe what’s going to happen next.

3Diana says, “Communciate until you want to throw up. And then more.” continue reading, buy the book!

In this Section

  1. Invest in Change
    1. Understanding Change
    2. Large-Scale Change
    3. Making Changes
    4. Get Management Buy-In
      1. 1. Start with a Conversation
      2. 2. Get the Economic Buyer’s Approval
      3. 3. Make a Formal Proposal
        1. Sidebar: Reaching the Economic Buyer
      4. If this sounds like too much work...
      5. If management thinks they’re already Agile...
      6. If management isn’t supportive...
        1. Sidebar: Change Your Organization
    5. Get Team Buy-In
      1. If team members are skeptical...
      2. If a few team members refuse...
      3. If the majority of the team refuses...
      4. If people lie about their acceptance...
    6. Get Stakeholder Buy-In
      1. If concrete commitments are required...
      2. If stakeholders don’t buy in...
    7. Further Reading

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