Three facts about change that are often overlooked

Posted by Chris on February 19, 2011

You have this great idea for an improvement in your team/company/organization. “If only we would change from X to Y, then we would be so much better off.” You have seen the data for it, heard about it or even experienced it yourself. Of course everyone will follow you to a better future. Right?

Unfortunately, change is not that simple. Most people are hesitant to change, they create workarounds for problems they have and trying to make them change often fails. Resistance to change is not about politics or opposing views. Most of the attempts that try to change something and fails do so not because the change was bad, but because of the way the change process itself was managed. Here are three very important facts about change that are often overlooked, leading to almost certain failure in changing.

1. Your vision is not their vision

In the words of my friend Joakim Karlsson, change is a pull system. It may be obvious to you that if your team or organization would just do this change, you would all be much more effective. But do not expect your coworkers/manager/friends (or whoever you want to change (with)) to think so. If you try to push your change on them you are almost certain to fail.

This does not mean that you should just sit back and wait of course. Instead you need to convince them that they need the change. But it is not enough to say that things will get better, or that this new technology is proven to be better. You have to put it in context for each specific individual or group you are trying to convince. What problems are they having today, and how will the future created by this change affect them specifically? The more specific you can be about describing both the current status quo, the change and most importantly the improved future from their perspective the more likely you are to get people interested in the change. And then you will not need to push the change on them, they will be requesting it to happen.

2. It gets worse before it gets better

So you managed to convince your boss to try your idea. He will be back in a week to follow up and see the effects of it. Or maybe you did not even try convincing anyone. After all, when the change is implemented who could possibly have any objection to it when things are already much better?

The way we think about the effects of change (E=Effectivity, T=Time)

Wrong! No matter how great your idea truly is, no matter how much improvement it means to your effectiveness, changing what you have now always hurts your effectiveness in the short run. People are used to doing things one way and it does not matter if that is an ineffective way of doing them, if they are forced to change they will do things worse for some time until they learn the new way and settle in with it.

What really happens when things change

There is lots to say about this curve and how to help people through it, as well as how to work to shorten the time between the change and when you are back at the starting level. For now though we will just keep it at accepting and realizing the importance of this curve. Do not expect immediate gains from the change.

3. It takes time to see the benefits

Finally, you have managed to convince and get people interested in the change, and all of you have also understood that it will be a time of chaos before things get better. But the question is, when has it gotten better? Or more importantly, when can we start reaping the benefits of the change?

Benefits of change

It is very easy to think that as soon as the period P1 is over it will all be ok. But you have to remember that during P1 you lost effectiveness. Many change efforts fail because they expect net gains at this stage. But net gains are not achieved until you go through the period P2. Instead of getting surprised by this, set your goals for the end of P2 and keep working to support the change efforts all the way.


Keep these three facts in mind when you plan your change and improvement efforts and you will have a much better chance of succeeding with them.

Retrospective tip: Let activities build upon each other

Posted by Chris on February 15, 2011

When planning a retrospective you as the facilitator need to come up with a set of activities that help the group in discussing and learning about whatever goal you have for that particular retrospective. If you follow a basic framework for planning your retrospectives, such as the one proposed by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby (Set the Stage, Gather Data, Generate Insights, Decide What to Do & Close the Retrospective), this often turns into simply choosing an activity for each phase with no real connection between them.

For instance, you might choose to do a timeline to gather data, then a brainstorming activity to generate ideas for improvements and finally a dot-vote to decide what to do. While this can work just fine, I have found that when I am able to combine several activities so they build upon each other the result can be much better. Here is one example of how this can be achieved.

Satisfaction Histogram and FRIM leading into Force-Field Analysis

This week I facilitated a retrospective for the new development team that I have assembled at work. This was the first time that this team did a retrospective after working together for four weeks and I wanted them to start thinking about how satisfied they are with how things are working out. After getting started with an introduction to retrospectives and checking in we did a quick anonymous vote for how satisfied they were with work, in four dimensions. I chose two dimensions regarding the product increment they completed (Quality and Quantity of the increment) and two dimensions regarding how it was achieved (Teamwork and Support (-ing Environment)). Every one voted 1-5, I tallied the votes and then created a Satisfaction Histogram[1] on a flip chart.

After a quick discussion about the results I hung the histogram on the wall and we then moved on to a second activity for gathering data, Diana Larsen’s FRIM which is one of my favorites for this. At this stage we did not talk more about the dimensions of satisfaction, they just wrote down good and bad things that happened during the four weeks and posted them on a grid according to frequency and impact. We finished with a good discussion of patterns and themes on the grid.

While the group was busy with the FRIM activity I prepared four flip charts for the next activity, doing a Force Field Analysis[1]. For each one of the dimensions I had written the name at the top and then divided the chart into two sides. On the left (negative side) were forces that was restraining the group’s satisfaction in that dimension of work, and on the right (positive side) were forces that was reinforcing it. Now I asked the group to move the post-it notes from the FRIM grid to these flip charts. They also ranked them (using both frequency and impact plus a bit of intuitive “gut feeling”) to show which forces were larger than others.

This set of activities is an example of how you can move back and forth between gathering data and generating insights, to really get as complete a picture as you can and drill into it to really understand it. When the group was done they had a good idea of which forces were the most important to focus on and we could move into the phase of coming up with actions to do during the next iteration.

One interesting insight that one of the participants made was that it was interesting to see that there were only positive post-it notes for the dimension that the group initially voted the highest satisfaction for. Their initial instinctive feelings turned out to be very similar to the much more detailed picture they created through multiple rounds of thinking and analyzing, which was pretty cool.

Credits/references
[1] Agile Retrospectives: Making Teams Great, Diana Larsen and Esther Derby