... what does that say about me

· February 14, 2016

I more and more realize that what I’m doing is about change management. It’s involved in more or less every gig I get and I feel that I know just a fraction about what I need to handle it.

However I have three thoughts that have helped me immensely in how to approach change. They calm me down around the nervosity I’ve felt about “changing people”, since both have to do with changing perspective, putting me on the other side.

In this post I wanted to share these ideas, that are not mine mind you, and maybe you will feel a bit calmer too.

I’ve blogged many times about Switch which is the best book I’ve read on the topic.

Change! or Change?

There’s a sentence in the beginning of the book that I really think is important to approach change in a more humble, gentle and (hopefully) hence more productive way:

People doesn't oppose change. People opposed being changed

(HA! Already quoted exactly that when I was changed, forgot about that horrible feeling).

Basically trying to force change upon someone is not fruitful. I might be able to do it using authority and force but it will most likely not last long, or it will only be done as I would have done it. The huge potential improvements from others will be lost.

If I instead create understanding about the current situation and leave the end goal open I’ve noticed that people can do big changes, complete turn-arounds, without really knowing it. It’s now them that are doing the change - not me. That’s a big difference.

My goal as a change agent is something completely different. I don’t need (nor want) to change people but rather create an atmosphere where they discover the changes they need to make and do it themselves.

I didn’t say that it was easier, but it’s at least less confrontational and invites more innovations from the people around me. I take that any day of the week.

If he is right…

Last year I happen to stumble on an amazing documentary series about anger. It’s beautiful and well worth watching the entire series.

However that is beyond the scope of this post. In this series, part 4 (see it above), the author says something profound that stayed with me ever since:

If he is right... what does that say about me?

Just stopping and thinking this about the people that I get frustrated with because they don’t “get it”, or (sorry) are “stupid or something” have helped me immensely.

Because I’ve felt their fear. For example: let’s say that I come as a coach to a new company, introducing agile in a very non-agile environment. I might talk about limiting WIP, working together as team, focusing on flow of value rather than cost, cutting backlog items that no one talked about for years and other stuff that I take for granted as good things™.

Sometimes I get strong rebukes about things like these. People can get very upset about details (like the template used for JIRA for example) or I can even see the fear in their eyes (what will become of me? I’m an old school tester - is there room for me).

I then stop and go back to the Angry Jack-videos above, although it doesn’t have to be any anger involved:

  • If that strange guy, with no business training, tells us that we should limit the number of things we do at the same time - what does that say about me? I’ve been urging people on to do as much as possible for 10 years.

  • If he is right and working together as a team is better overall - what does that leave me; i hate to collaborate.

  • If he is right on cutting the backlog in half - what does that say about the way we have made a big deal of prioritizing 160 stories in the correct order1. All that work. Now he says it’s for no good?

Quite simple: taking in that something new, that might question the reason of what I am doing here might be wrong (or at least less important) is too hard for most people. I don’t blame them. I’m one of them that would find it horrifying.

How can I approach the change so that fear like that goes away?

What needs to be true…

The last thought comes from sensei Dan North and is related to the above:

What needs to be true, for that to make sense?

If someone says something that I feel is extremely strange and off - what needs to be true in their world in order for that to make sense. Here’s a quick example:

The other week I just thought about the way most agile / lean people would like to create software: “small, autonomous teams, deploying often and moving fast, experimenting with thoughts and ideas, A/B testing, continuous delivery etc”

as opposed to how most big organizations is organized: “departments with functions, ordering deployments in other countries, decisions far far away from the team, outsourced functions like testing”.

I’ve now been doing the first so long that found myself thinking: I don’t know what is true in their world in order for the opposite to make sense. Thinking this true (see below) helped me to see that what I’m proposing is very scary and a huge change in mindset. One that took me about 8 years to do fully. Still learning.

I could use some humbleness in how I approach this change.

No really, what is true in their world?

I can’t leave you hanging without going through my reasoning that I used to understand the “other” view. I have no idea if this is their actual reasoning but it at least gave me a way to explain it for me.

I think that by focus on quality and moving small things fast from idea to production, the costs of doing so will justify the outcome we will see.

“Sure - mob programming is not efficient but the effectiveness is awesome; it’s worth it.”

The opposite would be to start in costs; by making each individual function as cost efficient as possible the quality and speed can probably be enough to keep us competitive.

“Sure - having our testers in India and Ukraine is not optimal for cooperation but the cost is so low that it will have to do. It’s worth it.”


My best change management tip is to put yourself on the other side for awhile. These three statements helps me to remember that on a daily basis:

People doesn't oppose change. People opposed being changed
If he is right... what does that say about me?


What needs to be true, for that to make sense?

I hope you found this useful too.

  1. Sadly true. Prio 158 was actually a little less important than prio 157 - although both of them was created 2006. They were proud to have kept track of them though. 

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