Friday, March 4, 2011

Good Change Is Not Bad

When we change things, we change them for ourselves, but we also change them for everyone around us. When an engineering team, for example, decides to change from a waterfall methodology to an agile ship-every-two-weeks-and-ask-the-customers-to-participate-frequently methodology, that is a huge change for the engineering team. How that engineering team builds software, thinks about requirements, performs testing: all of these things change.

Turns out that "engineering development methodology" change doesn't just affect engineering. It affects many other people:
  • The support team now has to figure out how to insert escalations into the backlog and set expectations with customers around fix times differently.
  • The requirements team now has to create small requirements frequently for the backlog instead of large requirements documents infrequently.
  • The customer now has to figure out how often to upgrade and how to handle the additional workload of providing feedback and answering questions.
None of these changes is inherently bad, but they are all changes. Frankly, at least some groups will probably like the new way better. However, these groups didn't initiate the change. Rather, the

The problem with a change like this is that most of the affected people didn't initiate the change. Rather, they had change thrust upon them. That's scary.

A change cannot be good until we believe that the change is not bad.

Before the affected group can see the benefits of the change, they have to see that the change doesn't hurt them. Benefits here are benefits for the receiver, not benefits for the initiator. After all, the initiating group wouldn't have made a change if they didn't think it would help them!

The lesson here is that preaching the benefits of change will fall on deaf ears. First, overcome the fear - show that the change doesn't cause harm. Do this explicitly. Don't say, "This is awesome for you because.....!" Instead, provide comfort first without discussing the benefits: "You'll still get your X that's important to you through Y means." That way the receiver doesn't feel like the initiator is trying to hide something scary behind so-called benefits. Instead, the initiator is addressing the change and the fear directly.

Address fear of change. Then address benefit of change. In the end, you really can have both!

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