Instigating change

In my last post I defined different approaches that people adopt for dealing with bad practices. Consider a bad practice to be anything which is damaging to a project or your sanity. This could be something that has an obvious negative impact such as excluding testers from early feature conversations, or maybe a more personal issue such as feeling you are unable to test effectively because you have too many interruptions during the working day.

Many people just accept that company culture is set in stone, either taking for granted that things are good, or suffering through the bad times. Maybe you spend your evenings and weekends complaining to your loved ones or suffer from the Sunday night ‘back to work dread’. I’m a huge believer in individuals recognising and driving improvements to process and projects. No matter what your level within the company be pro-active in identifying changes and do whatever you can to make things better.

How you go about actually making changes is somewhat down to your personal preference. At the highest level you need to know what the problem is, have some ideas on how it could be solved or improved, and then take steps to gain buy-in from the team.

I’m trying to convince my boyfriend that we need a dishwasher. In truth I’ve been trying to convince him for about 18 months now. We both commute so washing up is ignored until we run out of something, usually the tea spoons go first. With a mountain of dishes to get through we end up spending a whole evening cleaning up. We both agree that the problem is washing up takes up too much of our free time.

Initially when I proposed a dishwasher as a solution he was a total no-no. We would lose a cupboard in the kitchen, we would need more plumbing, environmentally it was a terrible idea, and have you seen what they do to the glasses?! I left it and then gradually drip-fed him reasons why this would be a great idea. I told him about the new dishwashers that actually use less water than washing up by hand, I emphasised how much free cupboard space we have these days, I sighed over another evening spent washing up. Basically, without him even realising it he was hearing the benefits of making the change on a regular basis. Finally the glasses, I can’t disagree with him that dishwashers really do scratch glasses so I offered a compromise, even if we wash glasses by hand it will be better than having to do everything. We have reached agreement that a dishwasher is the solution to the problem. Now we just need to work out the practical aspects of achieving the goal.

Workplace problems can be resolved with a similar approach.

Identify the problem:

Make sure you are focusing on the problem and not the solution. Your problem will never be that you aren’t following Continuous Delivery or that you don’t get invited to a particular meeting. You might find that you can identify several quite different problems. In this case choose the most problematic, or the most visibly problematic to solve first. Try to understand the reasons why the problem exists, was the situation introduced intentionally and if so, why?

Find potential solutions:

Spend some time researching how you could solve this problem. Try to identify as many possible solutions as you possibly can, you might be surprised at how a seeming crazy idea can turn out to be a brilliant solution to the problem. Aim to come away with one or two potential solutions that you can use to gain buy-in from the team. Be careful not to have a fully defined solution that could make people feel like you’re trying to dictate change.

Blog posts, videos of conference talks, meetups etc can all offer ideas for solving problems even if they don’t immediately seem to have much in common. Take care not to fixate on a particular approach just because it seems trendy right now.

Set an end goal that the whole team agrees with:

To be successful you need at least the majority of the team to buy-in to your solution. How you go about this will depend on your team as well as on your personal preference. You may prefer to present to the whole team at a regular team meeting, or you might prefer to meet with people on a one-to-one basis to recruit foes to your cause. I find it helpful to sound out my ideas on several honest, and smart people within the team before presenting to everyone. Hopefully they’ll point out any obvious flaws and help you to build a stronger case. Try to address the whole team as soon as you feel confident about your solution.

There will always be resistance but there will probably also be valid concerns about making a change, or towards your proposed solution. Engage these people in conversation and make sure you understand their reasons for resisting. Work with them to help them overcome the fear of change, particularity if the proposed change will affect the way they work.

Don’t worry about how ambitious your proposed solution may seem. If everyone has a clear idea of where you want to end up then tiny steps will lead you to the goal. Keeping moving forwards and one day you will arrive at your destination.

Persevere.

Change is difficult. Do it anyway.

The conditions you face day-to-day are one of the key components to your workplace happiness. Most people have some opportunity to improve the way they work so look critically, dream big, and be courageous in driving change.
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