Monday, August 31, 2015

Change Happens, Damn it!

Change is never easy.
This week I experienced tremendous change in my agile team.  A technical profession was made an offer they could not refuse and they left my development team.  It was bound to happen sooner or later but I was not expecting it so soon.  It made me think about many things and put into perspective the last part of the agile manifesto which is responding to change over following a plan.  This week I want to talk about change and learning work within it.

I have mentioned the philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man can step into the same river twice.”  This pre-Socratic philosopher could be considered the intellectual god-father of Agile because a central portion of his philosophy is concentrated on change.  Other philosophers have discussed change, but Heraclitus was the first so he has a special place in my heart.

The initial founders of the agile movement when they created the manifesto were also concerned with change.  The world of technology changes too quickly to use old methods of software development.  When President Obama took office there were 150 million Facebook users.  Today, that figure is at over 1.1 billion.   The only way that Facebook could accommodate that kind of growth was revise how it did things from publishing code to managing its servers.  It takes an army of very smart people but Facebook has been able to do it because they have been able to embrace change.  This is why the web site can accommodate the blind and have over 50 different designations for gender.

Human beings evolved intelligence in order to better adapt to change however since we are evolved creatures we still have some more primitive traits in our behavior which makes it hard for us to accept change.  This is why Spencer Johnson made so much money with his book “Who Moved My Cheese?”  In the book he creates a modern fable about two mice named “Sniff” and “Scurry” and how they respond to the cheese in the maze they work in being moved.  Once he is done with the fable, Johnson sets about some concrete examples on how to deal with change in an organization.  The book was an instant smash and inspired a parody called “Who Stole My Cheese.”  I like both books.  I enjoy the original because it has some practical guidance about change and I enjoy the parody because it is a necessary to point out that change management never works in corrupt or greedy organizations.

As an agile professional, you are going to have to deal with cheese being moved and being the person moving it for you agile teams.  For instance, I was in a meeting and an executive was issuing orders on how we were to name things in the backlog.  Everyone in the room smiled and nodded like sycophants while I was openly frustrated.

“What’s wrong, Ed?” the executive asked with the empathy of a hangman.

“My cheese is being moved,” I replied throwing my pen down on my note pad, “I have been trained to name these things a certain way for six years and you expect me to change overnight by fiat,”

It was hard but now I have embraced the change and now I find myself correcting other people in the office when they do not name things in the same manner as that executive.

Change is not easy but admitting you have a problem with a type of change or the pace of that change is a step closer to embracing it.  You can then rationally step back and learn to work with that change in your situation.  Sometimes that means changing your behavior and other times it means changing how you do something.  In a world of constant change, you either adapt to those changes or you will be left behind.

Until next time.