Think of a village next to a river. Early in the morning, someone is hear drowning in the river. A person runs in to save that drowning person. Later, another two people are coming down the river, drowning, and two people run in to save the drowning people. A little leter, five people come down the river, drowning. This time, our hero gets dressed and starts running upstream. As the village elders yell and ask what he is doing, he responds “I’m going upstream to see who or what is throwing people into the river”.
This is a cute and yet good reminder that, at times, we need to stop dealing with the immediate crisis to see where the root problems lie. Another common joke is “when you are up to you rear in alligators, we often forget the job is to drain the swamp.”
John Ruberto points out that, sadly, most change efforts fail. The primary reasons are that we often fail to build a good case as to why the change is needed. There’s a model called “the change curve” where we start with denial, put up resistance, then embark on exploration, and finally we commit to the change.
Making change needs two important things. First, it needs to have an initial leader, but just as important is a first follower. When a first follower steps in and participates, and most important, the leader embraces and accepts them, that encourages others to do so as well. Over time, those not participating will start to because their non-participation will be very visible, and now not following is the strange course. In other words, the most important leadership role is not the actual leader, but being the first follower.
First and foremost, we need to build the case for change. What’s the need? Where can we get supporting data for the need for change? What would happen if we didn’t implement it? What is the urgency? Pro tip: the higher the urgency, the more notice and attention it will get. However, often the most important changes needed don’t rise to the level of most urgent. However, if left untreated, something important can certainly rise to most urgent (especially if the time left untreated results in a catastrophic bug getting out in the wild).
Next, we need to communicate in the language of our intended audience (as well as those who might not be in our immediate audience, since they may have influence on direction). Ideas need to map to a vision. Features need to communicate benefits. We do pretty well on the former, but we could use some help with the latter. In short, don’t communicate the what and not communicate the WHY!
We can communicate the needs, we can speak to the value, but we need to validate the hypothesis as well. That means “Scientific Method” and experiments to confirm or dispute our hypothesis. It’s important to remember that the Scientific Method is not a one and done, it’s a continuous cycle, especially when we hope to make changes that will work and, more important, stick. Don’t give up just because your first hypothesis doesn’t hold up. Does it mean your whole premise is wrong, or does it mean you may need to refine your hypothesis? We won’t know until we try, and we won’t know for sure if we don’t genuinely experiment, perhaps multiple times.
Next, we have to rollout our change, and observe. And be ready to adapt and adjust. John used a cool image from Sweden in 1967 when the switch from driving on the left side of the road to the right went into law. Even with all the testing and experimentation, there was still some chaos in the initial implementation, and it took some time to adjust and resolve the issues that resulted. For us, we need to be open to feedback and ask, consistently “how can we improve this?”
We of course need to show progress. If everything has gone according to plan thus far has worked, but we are not showing progress, we may need to be patient to ensure we have adopted the change, but at some point, we need to objectively evaluate if our efforts and changes are really valid. it’s of course possible that we could hit all cylinders and adopt a change that doesn’t really achieve what we hoped. Does that mean the change was irrelevant? Possibly, but it may also mean that, again, we need to adjust our hypothesis. Typically though, sticky changes have to show progress worthy of the change.
In short, remember to be in love with the problem, and try to address the problem. Don’t be too married to any solution that doesn’t really accomplish the goal of solving the problem. Good goal to shoot for :).