A change is as good as a rest as the saying goes.  Change can certainly be refreshing and invigorating.  It can also be unsettling and cause anxiety – even fear.

Change happens throughout our lives, and we often talk about it as just being part of life – particularly life in an agile environment.  It got me thinking about 2 really interesting types of change.

Untitled design (3) Using a ‘Crisis’ to make big changes.

So what got me thinking about this is that we at NewVoiceMedia are currently just putting in the finishing touches after our epic office move.  I say epic because time frames were tight, lead times weren’t long enough (they never are) and building work is still underway at the new site!  It feels like we have achieved some kind of quest 🙂

We’ve made it.  We are in now.  Mostly, we are all still friends too 😉

A few months ago I read Charles Duhigg’s book on The Power Of Habits (read my review here).  In it he talks about the opportunity that arises when a big change happens.  We will never have a better time to make big and rapid changes than on the back of a ‘crisis’.  (Crisis in this post is used to refer to a big change over which we perceive we have little control.)  At such times we should look to see where we can influence to change people’s habits.

A big ‘thing’ happens to a group of people, maybe a team, maybe an entire company like this.  An interesting thing happens to people’s willingness to change their behaviour at such times.  The important thing about this sort of change is that it needs to be very disruptive to normal working patterns.  If it is, it could be your free pass to some amazing changes.

2 key things are at work here.

The first is that people naturally recognise ‘things are going to change’.  This is important as the inevitability of the change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to a certain degree.  On its own however, this is not enough – after all, people will be subconsciously be trying to return to the comfort of the familiar as soon as they can.

The second is to do with the way we human beings build and then practice our habits.

In essence, a habit (whether considered good or bad) is made up of 3 things:

  1. a trigger,
  2. the activity considered to be the habit,
  3. the reward the person gets from doing that particular habit.

So by introducing the big change of the kind that Duhigg refers to it as a ‘crisis’, we interrupt the flow of this subconscious activity.

How to use this idea

After a big change, a large number of your old triggers will have been changed or even removed.  In the case of our office move for example, its clear to see how regular events such as coffee breaks might be interrupted.  If your original trigger was seeing others taking their breaks in the kitchen area, but your new space in your new office no longer overlooks the kitchen area, you have removed that trigger.

Here’s the critical bit though.  You can choose to let those habits re-evolve organically with new triggers, just as before.  After a relatively short amount of time, everything goes back to the way it was before, more or less.  People naturally set about creating familiarity as soon as possible.

Alternatively, you can develop new triggers for new habits, or perhaps change the frequency of a habit.  What is coolest of all I think is that even existing triggers for existing habits can become highly malleable.  At these times, you can re-build much of your world in a new way, with much less effort than at normal times.  Of course, that’s only if you want to do so, because ‘less effort’ is not the same as ‘no effort’ after all!

Interestingly, you can actively choose to make a change – to engineer a ‘crisis’.  You can then use your ‘crisis’ to help you either introduce new habits, or to break (replace) old ones.  Psychologically, this is like supercharging your rate of change.  When this happens, it gives everyone a golden opportunity to re-write some of those habits we are ready to move away from but haven’t been able to do so.

Contrast these last thoughts on change with these next ones.

Untitled design (4)Change because our current path is a bit too hard.

One of the very few things that even non-agilists know about agile working practices is that they involve a lot of change.

Agilists will laud change as the flexibility to adapt quickly as customer requirements change, or as we learn more.

Those with less agile working experience see these opportunities to change as the direct result of  insufficient planning, which manifests as chaos.

Of course there are all the shades in between.  Even as a confirmed evangelist for agile working practices myself, I recognise not all change is good.

Agility can be used as a smokescreen for some people.  Maybe a product owner or a C-level has a tendency to change their mind as often as they change their socks.  They can hide it behind the agility badge, yet outcomes for things they are involved with is often poorer than that of their colleagues.

Often, we find that their teams & projects can’t deliver meaningful business value.  This, despite the fact that these teams & projects are both properly staffed and regularly shipping software.   It’s just not useful enough.  Its not complete enough.

This can happen because the legend of agility is being used to perpetuate a myth.  For the purposes of this, let’s say that an “agile legend” is a team that is well known in the company for delivering just enough, as fast as possible.  We recognise this as delivering minimum viable product (MVP). The same team still make sure to leave some slack time for themselves to improve processes and explore new ideas.

This legend drifts slowly to become myth when the team behaves in this way, yet never quite deliver meaningful software to live.  It’s lays ‘nearly done, we just need to do the last bit’ across the backlog or worse, in people’s heads.

This may have come about for many reasons.

Perhaps the team is being directed away from finishing the value.  Instead they are being encouraged to ‘do the minimum’ to get them on to the next shiny thing.  For those who need me to emphasise this:  This is most definitely NOT the same as minimum viable product!

Another reason might be that the stories have been broken down small enough to be delivered quickly, and might even deliver some benefit.  The test is if a disproportionate about of the overall benefit is weighted in the final story of the set.  In other words not enough benefit will be delivered until the end of the epic or theme or collection of those stories.

Or perhaps the team may just drift away from doing the hard stuff. Or the PO is avoiding difficult decisions.  Every case will be slightly different.

So What is My Point?

Good question.

I guess I am trying to explain why not all change is good change.  And why even all good change is not equal – some change can illicit much greater results than others.