Sunday, April 15, 2012

How do you make change happen?

As a manager, part of my responsibility is to be an instigator for process change.  That's not to say I believe in change for change's sake.  Far from it actually.  I'm a firm believer in "don't fix what's not broken".  But at the same time I also believe there's always room for improvement, and if you're not going for it, you're stagnating.  If fact, you are even likely to regress and fall back into bad habits.

In this post I'll talk about change ideas that come from you, the manager.  In the next, I'll talk about ideas that come from those on your team.

Changes I Want to Make

Suppose I have a great idea for a process improvement.  As the manager, all I have to do is tell my team to do it, and its done, right?  Heck no!

The last thing I want is to be seen as a dictator who makes decisions unilaterally and imposes more work on people.  "More work" is exactly the negative connotation your idea will receive if it's pushed on people without their buy-in.

A better approach I like to use to socialize the idea over time.  First, the light bulb turns on in your head.  Then, spend a while thinking about it on your own.  Then, start looking for opportunities to sell it.  If your team does scrum, it might be in a sprint retrospective, where people are noting a problem that your idea solves.  Another great time is during one-on-one conversations, or over lunch, etc.  Over lunch is a particularly good time to share, because your listener is likely more relaxed and willing to hear you out.  They're not feeling rushed to move on through their work day.

As you do this, you'll get feedback to help you improve and develop the idea.  Perhaps that feedback will come from naysayers.  All the better.  You can use this feedback to improve it, and come back later to sell it again with their input taken into account.  Socializing your idea before mandating it can only help your cause.

The (in my view, acceptable) down side of this technique is that it requires patience.  It might take weeks, months, or even years!  Your idea might be some really big change that meets a lot of resistance, and there's no way you're going to make it happen overnight.

Let's say, for example, that you want to create a culture of Test Driven Development in a team that is accustomed to black box testing.   Your developers feel that TDD takes too much time, and your QA team feels threatened by it, or doesn't believe it produces a better result.  If you simply say "From now on we're doing 100% TDD" you'll surely be met with revolt.

Think baby steps.  Maybe start just by e-mailing online articles about your idea, so folks can see that it works elsewhere.  Come up with a smaller idea that's easier to sell and heads you in the right direction.  Make it happen, and then celebrate the results.  You could even start "doing it yourself" to set an example that others will follow.

Another technique is to build a base of allies gradually.  If you have one person on your side, try to get that person selling the idea for you.  If the naysayers hear it from more than one source, they're more likely to warm up to the idea.

And lastly, I hate to say it, but if you work through all these techniques with diligence and you're still not able to make your change happen, then maybe it shouldn't happen.  Simply put, if others don't buy in after patient and persistent encouragement, then maybe there's a flaw in the idea.  Putting your foot down and insisting on it will only make you unpopular, and them unhappy.

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