Selling change

Software development is an industry of change. The tools, processes and roles are in constant flux. It’s hard for insiders to keep up. For those on the outside, it’s near impossible.

If you’ve ever tried to change something in an organisation, you’ve experienced a management cliché that’s as old as the office itself: people resist change.

“My manager doesn’t want to do Kanban.”
“My team doesn’t like mob programming.”
“Our developers don’t care about testing.”
“The Business refuses to do BDD.”

Like most clichés, it’s not that simple. In my experience, people welcome change. They long for it. But not every new idea is a good one from the start.

Change is often framed as Us vs Them. There’s those who have seen the light and those who want to keep the status quo. If only the others would “get” it.

It’s almost never like that. Life is never Good vs Evil.

Change is not simple. It’s never easy and straightforward.

“If we do X, then Y will be the benefit”.
“People who don’t agree with me, oppose Y.”
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

What a narrow view of human behaviour! As if the entire world is made up of just X and Y. People who advocate for change in a linear fashion, usually fail to recognize the rest of the alphabet. They ignore that an organisation is an ecosystem of behaviours and habits. We didn’t “always do it this way”. The status quo grew organically for a reason. Or better: for a million reasons.

Pretending those don’t matter anymore, is naive.

Change is never equally distributed. Some people benefit more from it than others. Moving to Scrum might make it easier to track tickets for managers while making it harder for designers to deliver something consistent.

No change has only benefits. If you can’t find any downsides to your new idea, you didn’t think it through. There is always a cost and others will be negatively impacted. Change is a force and forces are subject to Newton’s Third Law. Resistance is feedback, we should welcome that.

If you have an idea that you feel might improve the ecosystem, it’s up to you to sell it. You can’t expect your colleagues to drop everything just because you believe it’s worth it. You’ll have to negotiate. Explain what’s in it for them. Explain why it would be beneficial for the company. Listen to their counterarguments and adapt your idea to reach a consensus.

Change means negotiation and compromise.

It’s adapting your solution until it fits. It means working together instead of vilifying “the others”. Sure, that’s less sexy than the simplistic radical overhaul that looks great in Powerpoint.

It’s also much less likely to be dismissed out of hand.