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3 years ago

A Primer for Smart Change Agents

Have you ever tried to act as a change agent in your company, and bumped into obstacles that seemed to be blocking the change? There's no such software development organization in the world that allows no space for some sort of adjustment. Whether you hit a dead end as a change catalyst, or succeed will mostly depend on the following:

If the change you have in mind is trending — agile adoption can be a good example — then you're lucky. One will have to apply little effort, because agile has gone mainstream, and there's lots of information out there as to why and how agile is supposed to be good for a company. In this case, your intrinsic motivation as a change agent syncs with the extrinsic sweeping wave. Not only your organization, but many others will find it easy to jump on the same bandwagon. The change will then happen smoothly as in a domino effect, started by one easy move of a finger. With each new organization adopting agile, the chain extends to embrace more and more companies.

The second scenario for driving change is quite the opposite one. It might be related to a not that obvious trend, but you somehow feel that the way stakeholders treat this thing is in need of a major overhaul. This scenario involves repeating it over and over again that the product that your company develops needs to have a more intuitive user interface. You'd run into inertia as the stakeholders would probably say that all is fine with the user interface, because customers seem to be content with what they have, and revamping "the face" of the software involves some heavy changes in the code, etc. Unless you have some compelling proof that current customers and prospective clients find the user interface confusing, or even walk away, the effort required to boost the change in the attitude by pushing it down the pipe would be akin to that of a weightlifter doing 3 consecutive clean&jerk attempts.

The third scenario for driving change is not as easy, as scenario 1, and not as super-taxing, as scenario 2. It's more related to an innovative change. Say, you're still defending a difficult case, such as  improving user experience in enterprise software. There's no domino effect, and no "join the others" feel in the air. What can one do to trigger this change? How to convince the executives that the time will come when the current clients will not be happy with the bulky UI? The incentive for change in this case should be supported by good old research and analysis methods. Instead of tearing your muscles as with weightlifting (or, rather, breaking your tongue), one has to turn on the head and do a research, taking advantage of  the big data that is, hopefully, available in any company, to make the need for a change appear compelling. If a hollow call to action is rendered into the language of pragmatism, the actual "raw muscle" effort of arguing wouldn't take more than that of this little girl who uses the power of her opponent to win.

the aikido girl


Related articles:

Back to the Future of Agile Software Development

The Origins of Big Data Trend

  • Dragan Jojic

    Hi Olga, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Having read your blog, I must admit that I am confused as to the purpose of it, the target audience and the value it should provide. As a change agent myself (agile coach for the last 10 years), I cannot find either of these scenarios resonating with me.

    In your first scenario, you imply that the organisational and/or stakeholders’ awareness of a particular end state (e.g. agile) equals to their desire to change, and knowledge and the ability to do so successfully. If as in your example, you understand agile adoption as introducing few standars agile practices (e.g. standups, retrospectives), that indeed is easy. We do it and presto, we are agile! Such an ‘achievement’ doesn’t really need a change agent, let alone a smart one.

    If however you are talking about the whole organisation transforming into a more agile one, then that’s a hell of a change that will be extremelly challenging and will happen over a significant period of time regardless of how ‘trendy’ the end-state is.

    Your second ‘untrendy’ scenario doesn’t resonate as your change agent seems to be pursuing a personal agenda, completely detached from the organisational situation and likely benefits. The third scenario is a collection of general and largely obvious points: if you want to ‘drive change’, then collect relevant data to create an awareness of the need to change and the desire to change. Well of course.

    So to reiterate: I cannot see what value your blog provides to me or anybody else. There is so much quality material on leading (rather than ‘driving’) change starting from John Kotter and I am comfortable that smart change agents will be just fine.

    Obviously, this is my personal view and I have no desire to start a debate.

    With regards, Dragan

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