Creating Change

on a recent e-mail thread, a friend asked for advice when introducing agile. here’s a cleaned up version of my response to him.

Solve THEIR problems, don’t push your own agenda

if you go to people and tell them agile is the key, they won’t listen to you. instead, go to people and listen to their problems. propose and implement solutions to their biggest and worst one or two. check back with them and make sure they are happy (or at least happier) rinse and repeat. if something in the “agile” toolset doesn’t scratch an itch they have, then you shouldn’t be using it. be flexible in everything except your values. be compromising. if they see you give in to what they suggest, they will be more willing to give in to what you suggest.

obviously a retrospective is a great vehicle for this. if you can get the team as a group to admit to problems that they NOT YOU are worried about, then the solutions you come to will also be owned by the team.

Start with individuals, not the “team”

as an outsider, which we are as consultants, it’s very, very hard to convert an entire team to our way of thinking. it’s hard to know what they all think, and the more you push, the more it becomes YOU vs THEM. not good. it’s much better if you can identify the change agents in the team, find the connectors, the mavens, and the salespeople (see The Tipping Point ) and talk to them. it’s much easier to convince one person, one on one that you have some good ideas, and that you might be able to solve some of their problems. do this first, and instead of 1 vs 10 it becomes 2 vs 9 or even 3 vs 7, MUCH better odds. if you can do this with the most influential people, then convincing the rest of the team almost takes care of itself.

this of course works the other way around, too. the most influential people on the team can easily turn the entire team against you, so you have to make sure that you are listening to them. addressing their problems and concerns, and making them feel heard. this is of course good advice for the whole team, but it’s so much easier when it’s one person at a time, you might as well start there.

Ask for help, and dish out the credit

it’s a funny thing, but when you ask someone for help, you usually get it. and believe me, if you’re trying to introduce agile, you’ll need all the help you can get. the easiest help to get is advice that is asked for one on one. ask your boss what the social makeup of the team is. ask those teammates for advice on what the team needs. ask someone to give a part of a presentation to management.

from their perspective, it’s a great thing to be asked for help. it means the person asking respects your opinion about something. it also means that they now owe you something and you’re less likely to hesitate if you need help from them. it means that you take ownership of the thing that you helped create.

if you can manage to make people look good in exchange for your efforts, not only will you spread out the work, but you’ll win yourself friends.

Read the Secrets of Consulting

‘Nuff said.

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