How to Increase Your Chances for Positive Change in a Project
Each of us at least once in his life has faced the imperfection of a certain process in a project, but still tried to move forward, gradually making changes. However, it is not always possible to implement everything as planned and still get a good result.
How can you increase the chances of positive change in a project, and what tools and approaches will help to cope with it?
The Change Agent—Who is This Hero on your Team?
There are many definitions of this concept in tech literature. Some write that it is a specialist who helps the team implement and adapt SCRUM. Others believe that it is a specialist who helps to transform the organization for its improvement, efficiency, and development. There is also the idea that a change agent is the person who drives change and accelerates new beginnings.
If it is the change agent in the context of project practice, then this is the person who is the catalyst for change. The work of a project manager is not only related to SCRUM —sometimes it is necessary to involve this role in improving processes or replacing team members.
Usually in projects there are people who are trying to change the product and approaches to its development for the better. This is not always a single, distinct role—anyone on your team can be a change agent. The idea is that it is first and foremost a leader. Your task is to see such a person among your colleagues and help this person to grow in this direction and develop leadership qualities.
A Plan for Successful Change
In order for the changes not to seem like a spiral into the abyss of hell, but, on the contrary, to take off into a cloudless blue sky, the advice is to turn to the 8-step model of implementing change according to John Cotter. A world-renowned expert in leadership and change, he has been researching this issue in various forms for 40 years, has written approximately 20 books, and has scientific evidence for his approach.
Based on Cotter’s experience, here is a presentation of the key steps to successful change within a team.
- Create the urgency of change
Change is always preceded by a certain status quo. Someone on the team doesn’t know where to start or how to change a situation. Others are satisfied with the current state of affairs and do not see the need for change. If you want to change the status quo, you need to create a sense of urgency. This way you will be able to interest people and form a reliable coalition that will drive these changes. To create urgency, you need to describe the future that will come if changes are not implemented. Focus on lost opportunities and gains that you will not be able to reach due to current problems, and use data and presentations to confirm your words.
- Build a coalition that will drive change
Imagine you get your colleagues interested. They understand the urgency of change and that it is time to act. Can you make changes yourself? No. You need a reliable team that has common goals. For example, it may be a thirst for perfection. This team will direct the changes. The coalition must have both managers and leaders. The first is responsible for the process and the budget, the second is responsible for promoting the changes. A coalition only with managers will have a plan, but not a vision. Eventually, efforts to change will fail.
It is worth choosing the right members for such a team. There should be enough powerful people among them, from among the key players. They should also be experienced and reliable so that other team members can respect them and listen to their advice.
- Formulate a vision of the future
This will allow you to change the status quo and create a complete picture of the future with an explanation of why people should want it. The existing plan will outline the general direction of change, help motivate everyone to act in the right direction, and coordinate the actions of a large number of people.
A good vision of change has the following characteristics:
- It is easy to imagine
- You can explain it in 5 minutes
- It is desirable for colleagues, clients, stakeholders
- It is realistic, not fantastic
- It is flexible—general enough that you can adapt your actions depending on the situation
- Spread your vision
A clear vision is only part of the job. Next, it is important to distribute it correctly.
Effective communication here is determined by the following criteria:
- Simple language without jargon and technical terms
- Metaphors, analogies and examples will facilitate the perception of information
- Different ways of spreading your vision—short and long meetings, letters, and informal communication about future changes
- Repetition—new ideas penetrate deep into people’s heads if they are heard many times
- Regular exchange of views, because two-way communication is always better than one-way
- Act step-by-step
It should be understood that change does not happen without the help of others. The fact that you have successfully completed the previous four steps is already quite inspiring. However, it is important to remember that when people start acting, they may face various barriers. Try to notice such problems as soon as possible and help solve them. Do everything step by step so that innovations are not a big stress for the team.
- Achieve quick victories
In the process of implementing change, you must have quick victories. They will allow the coalition to test the viability of their ideas, celebrate the first achievements, and make sure that their efforts and time pay off. Quick victories change the status quo and increase the number of supporters of change. At some point you may feel that you have achieved the desired result. This situation is very misleading, as quick victories may give the impression that the work of implementing change is complete. However, the result must be consolidated at the level of corporate culture.
- Support the result
People work in interdependent systems (teams, companies, etc.). The larger the system, the more dependencies are in it. Your task is to find all these dependencies and change them to implement your vision. Sometimes one small change may require you to change several interdependent things in order to finally have the desired result.
- Consolidate changes in corporate culture
This is important because it reflects behaviors and common values for a certain group of people. Culture changes only after new behaviors bring some benefit to the group over a period of time and after people see a connection between new actions and improved productivity. It is a long and difficult path that requires patience and a clear system—but everything is possible, as practice shows.
This is the system and the above-mentioned algorithm of actions that will increase your chances of success and allow you to learn from each unsuccessful attempt until you achieve the desired result.
How to Implement Changes in Practice: The Real Case
Once during a retrospective, the QA specialists said that he could do his job faster. This time he had to find out the requirements for the product during testing, which significantly slowed down the process. In addition, the tasks were formulated in too technical of a language, making it difficult for him to understand the business idea. Obviously, the only chance to correct the situation was to make changes to the scope-management process, meaning the process of determining the content of the product.
At the time of the retrospective (stage of analysis and evaluation of the work done), the team did not have a business analyst. This affected the formulation of the tasks.
The team agreed that they would need to invite such a specialist into the team, but it is difficult to implement such a change quickly, because it will cost more for the client to add a new specialist. You can’t just tell a customer, “We had a retrospective discussion and we decided we want to add a business analyst role.” The more painful the change is for the client, the more carefully you have to prepare to present your idea—and in this case, their success was possible due to the above advice of John Cotter.
First they formed a coalition. There were also developers and QAs from the client’s side. They talked to QAs and created a general structure of what an ideal user story could look like—a description of the requirements for the project, written from the point of view of the end user. It was their vision of how the whole team will become more effective and how they will make working on the project more comfortable not only for their IT specialists, but also for the client.
Having created a vision, they began to act. The client understood that at this stage all team’s actions cost him nothing, so he did not prevent their implementation. An analyst entered the team and started creating a trial user story. They added the story to the sprint (the time interval for which the team does a certain amount of work) and considered how to test the user story. As a result, they got a quick victory—in this sprint we did more thanks to a timely planned structure. Already at this stage, the team showed the client the benefits of change. When a client considers its material benefits for his business, he will understand that the appearance of a business analyst in the team is not about additional costs, but about increasing team productivity and product quality. Over time, you can agree that all the user stories will be created according to one template.
The next case is devoted to project meetings. The problem arises when these meetings do not have a proper structure. You do not understand why you were invited and what contribution you are expected to make to the project. It gets even worse when each discussion has no time limit. It would seem that a good facilitator could improve the situation. In this case, the point was that the role of the facilitator was not recognized in the client’s organization.
How did they solve this problem? First, the Lead Scrum Master had the courage to highlight the problem of not recognizing the role of facilitator. He was supported by other colleagues who reported feedback from the teams on the quality of meetings. The client’s Development Manager also joined.
So they formed a coalition that created a simple vision—the role of the facilitator is recognized in the organization, the meetings are well facilitated, and the team members have the skills of facilitation at the basic level. Then the team began to move toward its vision. The Lead Scrum Master recommended to the Development Manager a book on facilitation, in which he became interested. One of the Scrum Masters showed how meetings can be facilitated, and over time their effectiveness has increased significantly. She also conducted a workshop for developers on basic facilitation skills.
As a result, the team gained the client’s interest in facilitating and improving this process in the organization. At the meetings, the question, “What tasks, actions or agreements do we have after this discussion?” started to arise more often. For them, this was a sign of new behavior taking shape in their corporate culture.
Implementing change is a complex, multi-level task. However, remember: you are not alone on this path, as long as there are leaders in your team. Help them grow and they will help you make the changes you want. Remember to use different approaches and tools to find the most appropriate ones for your case. Be systematic and persistent.