The Path Towards Change

I have worked in a few organisations that have expressed desires to move towards different working practices. An example of this might be agile delivery. But how does a company changes itself in such a dramatic fashion to take on board all of the benefits of this new culture and way to deliver?

Where does the desire come from?

One thing I find interesting is why people express this desire. I think it is because of a few different triggers:

  1. Fashion / trends. If all the industry is talking about agile then everyone who is not doing this will want to start doing it. This will be the case even if no-one knows what these new buzz words actually mean.
  2. Same old pain. If people have been through change programmes and projects multiple times then they start to look at ways to do things differently because they see inefficiencies anywhere. Mostly these inefficiencies relate specifically to the area that they work in. This only happens to certain types of people as some people like the comfort of what they have done before even if it is drastically inefficient.
  3. Previous experience. If someone has worked within a previous project, programme or company that did things better, then they will want to bring those experiences to their current situation. I see this one a lot.
  4. Grass is Greener. This is similar to (2) above but slightly different. The difference is that this one relates not to how bad things are, but to how good things can be. This is therefore a positive outlook but it often does not take into account the constraints of the particular environment that the person is in. It is similar to point (3) in that respect.

Constraints to Change

So why is it so hard for companies to take on board these changes. The way to answer this is to look at what actually makes up a “company”.

A company is a mixture of all of the below:

  1. People – First and foremost we must not forge that people are what makes a company. People have lots of hidden desires and these are almost never all directed towards a common goal
  2. Processes – Companies have ways of working and these are not always documented, but they are certainly always followed in operational roles
  3. Values – A company has values that are not always published but can be seen in the behaviours of the senior executives. Values written down are of no value if they are not lived and breathed by the senior executives of that company
  4. Cultures – All companies employ a wide range of people from different cultural backgrounds. Each of these cultures have different ways of doing things and different ways of reacting to change
  5. Profiteering – Let us not forget that companies are about making money. Typically, those people in the front line are the ones that drive revenue growth and these are the people that have the power. Of course this does not apply to non-profits and charities

So why are these constraints?

These are constraints because of the human “comfort zone”. We like to do what we know and what we have done before. It is that simple. That covers points (1) to (4) above. Point (5) comes in as a constraint due to the fact that people want to keep their bonuses and don’t want to take the risk that, even though things are likely to get better, there is a slight chance that things will get worse.

How do we get around them?

We get around them by recognising them and attacking them head on. Firstly, make sure you can easily explain the benefits of working in a new way. Then build a group of people that can “champion” the cause. Without this group of people that can talk about this new way of working you will never get anywhere. This is not something you can do alone like I can type now on this keyboard in my front room. It needs a groundswell of support. Then you need to bring in experts who know how these things work. This will cost money but is required due to the fact that they drastically reduce the time to change but they also ensure that once change happens, it actually makes things better rather than “confused”. Then you need to bring the new values into everything that is going on. Everyone must collaborate, everyone must follow the new “management” and “technical” practices.

Good luck!

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