Convincing through Understanding

People resist change out of fear. Winning people over to change requires identifying, discussing, and collaborating to resolve their fears.

I had the opportunity last week to talk with a small software company about what's exciting about scrum. My battle scars all come from years in a BDUF (Big Design Up Front) shop, so I was non-plussed to find that this small, smart, co-located group was looking to scrum because they craved more structure. It's an important reminder: Agile methodologies are processes. They're just processes for adapting to change, instead of anticipating and squelching change.

Not everyone in the audience was a fan of scrum. Some were skeptical, or intrigued but full of questions, while others were adamantly opposed. A totally different company from the one I work for, yet the objections were eerily similar:
  • Maybe that works for a [big/small] company, but it won't work in our [small/big] company.
  • More meetings?!
  • We don't have enough resources for [testing/support/pair programming/a Scrum Master who isn't a developer].
  • Constant feedback? That's so disruptive. They keep changing their minds. I'll never get anything done if I talk to them every day.
  • If you build the architecture as you go, what if you get it wrong?
  • When do you create documentation?
  • Who prioritizes the requirements? How do you prioritize? How do I get infrastructure and foundation pieces onto the list?
  • How do you know if you're on time?
  • I prefer my private cubicle. I don't like talking with people all the time. I'd rather be efficient than social.

You can hear the fears behind these objections if you listen openly:

  • I know how to do what we do, and you're talking about changing how we do what we do. That's going to make me look less competent.
  • I'm stressed about deadlines and my workload, and it sounds like you're increasing my workload.
  • I'm constantly harrangued about dates and deadlines, and you're proposing a deadline every [1 to 4] weeks. That sounds like incessant stress.
  • My past conversations with my [customer/user/business partner/product owner] have been abusive and dysfunctional. Every time they tell me what they really want, I have to disappoint them because of resource constraints. They have no faith in our estimates of effort or duration. I can't convince them to invest time in supportability, maintainability, or scalability requirements. There's no love here.
  • Face it, I'm an introvert. Why do you want to force me to be extroverted?

Once you're hearing what people are really telling you, then you can discuss the underlying concerns. Together, you and your audience can collaborate to clear up those concerns. What was initially a roadblock—a rigid resistance to change—becomes a challenge to be solved together.

I feel like a big cheese monkey for quoting The Seven Habits, but it's elegant and succinct on this point: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

A little light reading

John Long's Climbing Anchors, a technical guide to setting protection equipment into rock, could be subtitled "50 ways to leave your lover."

Life-saving, perhaps, but not relaxing. Sheesh.