Overcoming Resistance to Change in Agile Teams

Change

For agile software developers, acknowledging that change is inevitable is a core principle in how we work. Yet we often resist change, for a variety of reasons. By giving some thought to why change is hard, we can do a better job at implementing the appropriate changes at the right times.

When it comes to new tools and technologies, resistance to change may just be part of being human. Harvard professor Calestous Juma says that historically, “society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity.” As a result, approaches and systems that make established processes more complicated still often will be more accepted if they help people connect, communicate, or collaborate.

An article in the Harvard Business Review has a similar point of view. “Unless managers define new terms and persuade employees to accept them, it is unrealistic for managers to expect employees fully to buy into changes that alter the status quo,” it says. Connecting employees to the larger process, helping them understand the reasoning behind the change, and getting them to buy into the change process establishes communal ownership. By making the mutual commitment clear, employees have a better sense of how the change process will work and will both accept it more readily and want to help it be successful.

Even though understanding how to overcome resistance to change is useful, it’s important to keep in mind that change is not always good—or necessary. The challenge is identifying what areas can benefit from change. And once you’ve established a good candidate for change, it’s useful to have approaches that make sure you keep an open yet critical mind. Gerald Weinberg’s Rule of Three, which suggests that you come up with three interpretations for every solution you’re considering, is a useful check.

Change is important and healthy, but it’s still something many of us have an innate resistance to. It’s important to find balance. Change for the sake of change isn’t helpful, as it adds complexity to people’s work, but continuing to work as you do simply because it’s the way you’ve always done it can lead to lost opportunities.

Stay open to new ideas and develop norms and frameworks for evaluating them. By understanding human nature and being systematic about how you evaluate decisions, you can give yourself a way of identifying changes that add value.

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