This is one of many entries in the Change Diary: a true story of success and failure, written as it happened.

I did it. I never really thought it was possible, but I actually did it. I changed my organization.

I was hired as a peon: a "web programmer"-shaped gear to plug into a project that was behind schedule. Through persistence (lots of it), patience (as much as I could muster), and hard work (all the time), I took that peon job and turned it into exactly what I wanted: coach on a real agile project using all of the Extreme Programming (XP) practices.

I had successes and failures along the way. I was able to make little changes to process as I went. Many of them stuttered and fell back. Most of the bigger, important changes didn't even get off the ground... but along the way, I worked hard and built credibility and a reputation. Eventually, I got the opportunity to make all of the changes I wanted. Every single one.

Although I made plenty of mistakes--I should have been more inclusive, for one--those mistakes didn't hurt me in the long run. The one mistake that came back to haunt me had nothing to do the techniques I used to inspire change.

No, my biggest mistake was different. I was too sure of my solution. Ultimately, an agile approach was the wrong approach for this project.

The right approach was not to do the project at all: it couldn't be accomplished in the time available. The company should have told the customer that they couldn't help out in the requested timeframe but they could do X, Y, or Z instead.

Now, I don't think for a moment that the company would have turned away the business. They should have, but that wasn't their style. But by taking ownership of the project, I became responsible for the mistake. When the project failed--and it did--my change ideas went down with it.

I had a pretty good idea that the schedule was unachievable. People kept calling it "aggressive"--a clear danger sign. I was so eager to run an agile project that I ignored the signs and took on the project anyway. I should have declined.

Three Things to Remember

If you only remember three things from this diary, remember these three things:

  1. You can change your organization with hard work and persistence.

  2. Significant organizational change is not only difficult, it's heart-breaking.

  3. A good change at the wrong time is worse than no change at all.

Further Reading

  • Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas, by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising, consolidates dozens of experiences like this one into a sophisticated and in-depth list of change tactics.

  • Change Your Organization (For Peons), my 2003 experience report on this material, summarizes my personal tactics during that time. (Note: the free copy has been taken down, but the publisher is selling it for $19 as of June 2008. It's probably not worth buying.)

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