Change Factors and Enablers

In order to create change, I believe the following change factors must be present:

  • Leadership

  • A sense of urgency

  • Executive support

And the following change enablers enable the overall change effort:

  • Persistence

  • Training

  • Continual "wins"

  • Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors

  • Communication, vision, and strategy

Each of the above topics is covered in detail below.

In my experience, you're going to get acceptance or resistance in varying degrees that usually resembles a bell curve, as illustrated in Figure 8-1. The point is that it's very rare that you can convince everyone right away, but you can influence how the changes will be perceived and accepted by the majority of people. And most importantly, you can't manipulate people, but you can engage them.

Figure 8-1. The reaction people have to any change initiative is most likely going to take the form of a bell curve (or normal) distribution. Some people are going to be apathetic or be openly resistant, and others are going to be enthusiastic and want to get to it. Most reactions are going to fall somewhere in between, and the factors that are going to influence whether the bulk of the people are going to resist or enthusiastically support the changes are whether there is a sense of urgency that everyone can identify with, the degree of executive support, and the involvement of key leaders at every level in the organization.

Change Factors


Leadership, for some reason, is a term that many people shy away from. Perhaps this is because of the negative connotation: that leaders are the senior managers in the company and that leadership is hence top-down. Certainly, many management books are written that way, with the need for change coming from the CEO or senior management, and various techniques such as strategic goal setting and coaching are employed to get the organization on board and steer the right course. The other extreme is the bottom-up approach, where change is initiated at the very lowest level of the organization and then percolates up through the hierarchy. This is often how Extreme Programming gets started in an organization, with a software team trying it out and then the practices being adopted by other teams. The common thread in both these extremes is that no single person can make change happen.

In order for any change to succeed, there must be leadership at all levels. Change starts with individual leaders. These are people who realize that change has to start with what they can control: themselves. They start change by first occupying a new space themselves, then finding ways to get other people (their co-workers, their boss, their team, and their subordinates) to want to occupy that space with them, and then helping them to do so. By this definition, there are leaders at many levels in an organization, from the programmer who prods her co-workers and team leader into using automated tests, the team leader or coach who helps his team achieve its best work and ship a product, the product manager who works with users to ensure they understand the importance of their input, to the CEO who leverages the expertise of her teams to set the business goals for the organization. The trick in making change happen is finding as many leaders as possible and at as many levels of the organizations as possible, developing and empowering them, and getting them actively involved in the change process.

Sense of Urgency

Change won't happen unless people understand and agree with the need for change. One of the most important tasks before trying to initiate change is to develop a message that clearly and emphatically states the need for change. The new way can't just be better; it has to make a positive difference to everyone in the organization and its customers, and by extension to the company's bottom line.

Know Your Audience

One of the key aspects of developing a sense of urgency is having a message that can be tuned to the audience. Executives and senior managers need to have a completely different understanding of the need for change than developers or QA people, for example. Your ability to communicate to the various audiences will help determine how much importance will be placed on the change initiative.

Executive Support

Change can happen without executive support, but the more executive support there is, the easier the change effort will be. An executive is really anyone who controls the ability to spend money and helps steer company policythe higher in the organization, the better. Executives can help free up funds and people's time for training; they can also help with communication and rewarding desired behaviors. A word of warning: It may also be necessary to convince executives that they need to change, toofor example, if their style is overbearing or if they are unable to collaborate.

Change Enablers


With any change, there are going to be peaks and valleys in effort, performance, and results. You have to go in knowing that these are going to occur and that you will need continual effort over a long period of time. The peaks are going to be periods of time where it will be easy to relax and relish success too much, when what you really need is a new set of goals that push you on to even greater accomplishments. The valleys are by far the most trying periods, where it seems like everyone is ignoring the message or reverting to their old ways. It is completely natural for people to revert to the familiar during trying periods because the familiar ways are going to be more comfortable than new approaches. A common valley in a change initiative is at the beginning (remember the chemical manufacturing example in Chapter 1), where there is a dip in performance as the team deals with all the same problems using new approaches. These are the times where leaders must lead, to ensure that the organization doesn't get too comfortable when everything is going well and overreact when it's not.

Team Sports and Persistence

Competitive team sports are an example of the need for persistence. Great leaders in sport (coaches and players) are those who help their teams keep their composure during games so that they are always mentally in the game.

If the team is winning, it must not let up or its opponent will come back. If the team is losing, it needs to never give up and not get so desperate to make a play that players commit mental mistakes. Likewise, if a player commits an error, he or she can't afford to sulk or lay blame; instead that player needs to admit the mistake, learn from it, and be ready for the next opportunity. And celebration of success is important, but not if it leads to a false sense of security.

The most physically gifted team does not always win. Too many teams build a lead then relax. Or they celebrate a victory prematurely. Or they let one or two losses in a row erode their confidence. Or they commit stupid penalties at crucial times. Great teams win because they're persistent, and they don't let the peaks or the valleys affect them through being disciplined.


Training is often vital to help people learn new skills and understand new methods. It can be done by bringing consultants in (external training) or using your own people (internal training). Each type of training has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the key factor is that whoever leads the training has to have credibility with the audience. External consultants should be carefully selected to ensure that your organization is maximizing its investment by having the best experts with the deepest expertise (and credibility) possible.

Internal training may seem like a luxury because it requires that people have time to prepare the course material. However, in my experience, it can be powerful and effective, especially when one of the organization's respected leaders puts together appropriate material where he or she can pass on important experiences or dive into a topic that is relevant to the organization.

Training topics should be carefully chosen. To introduce sustainable development into an organization, I recommend a minimum of training on agile project management, hands-on technical training for technical staff, plus some kind of executive training to give an overview of the methods being introduced and the business rationale behind them.

The Value of External Consultants

External consultants are often invaluable to assist with training and establishing a sense of urgency. They bring experiences from other companies, and these experiences help them communicate successful strategies employed.

Also, sometimes what an external consultant says will hold more weight than an internal employee. Often, having an external and neutral voice ask a hard question that has been asked a million times before by employees is enough to shake people out of their sense of complacency. Hence, especially for larger organizations, I highly recommend that you identify and hire an experienced consultant who will have credibility in your organization.

Continual "Wins"

The most important thing to aim for is to produce continual "wins." These can be in the form of new tests, new tools, changes in defect trends, successful projects, or whatever is meaningful to your company. They are particularly vital in the early days of change and should be targeted as soon as possible, mostly to ensure that people see that change is possible and that it is recognized (via communication). You cannot expect change to happen quickly, and so you must use the continual wins to reinforce success and keep everyone aware of the fact that progress is being made.

Positive Reinforcement of Desired Behaviors

Change requires new behaviors that must replace existing behaviors. For example, here are some of the common behavior changes required when introducing sustainable development to an organization:

  • Project leaders must be able to create an environment where everyone participates in iteration planning. In many organizations the role of the project leader is to identify the tasks that must be completed, collect estimates from the developers, create a schedule, and then track progress against the schedule.

  • Refactoring and rewriting must be fully supported by everyone in the organization.

  • People must learn to resist the pressure to get features done. If the product is not in a working state, what's the point in completing the feature and adding to the problem?

  • In many organizations, executives or product managers have the most contact with customers and teams are insulated from the "demands" of customers. It's almost always best to set up direct and frequent collaboration with customers.

  • Developers must write tests and work at defect prevention. If developers are still rewarded for the number of hours they work and features they churn out, regardless of quality, they will not embrace their role in defect prevention, and no culture change will result because they will still look to a testing or QA organization or customers to find problems.

  • People must collaborate. If heroes are rewarded for saving projects and acting as prima donnas, then collaboration will be less important than being a hero.


Lots of positive and well-timed communication is a critical change enabler. At every company I have worked at, communication has been identified by employees as one of the principal shortcomings of the organization or management team. I think this is a reflection of the fact that you can never communicate enough.

The purpose of communication during change is to keep people excited and in tune with the importance of the changes. It is possible to communicate too much, which is why it is very important to think about the timing of your communication. Definitely talk about the continual wins the team has achieved and recognize that over time things will begin to look drier and less exciting. Those are the points where you may need to set a new set of goals or get some new people involved or find some new ways to get the message out.

Sustainable Software Development. An Agile Perspective
Sustainable Software Development: An Agile Perspective
ISBN: 0321286081
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 125
Authors: Kevin Tate © 2008-2017.
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