Boundaries of Change

Mar 15, 2024 2:21 pm

Happy Friday,

Why is change so hard?

One reason is that it takes time for folks to adjust to a new condition, and that time of adaptation is often unpleasant.

Another reason, and the one I want to talk about today, is that we don't often pay attention to the boundaries of that change.

Let me give an example that I deal with quite a lot—agile transformations.

In every one of these transformations, there will be some activity around changing the processes that development teams operate with. They may start using sprints, backlogs, etc. There might be some role changes as coaches, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and other such folks emerge and are asked to handle certain responsibilities.

So now teams will use story points and talk in sprints and priorities. This might be fine for the team since this is how they're supposed to work now, but there's a situation and place where story points no longer translate or work within the larger business.

This is the boundary or transition.

For story points and sprints, that transition spot is with Product Owners working with their peers and engineering leadership working with theirs. They don't care about story points, but they were never given tools to bridge between them and something their peers expect.

These boundary spots in processes or in roles are crucial for long-lasting transformations or change, yet unsurprisingly, people leave them unattended, just hoping folks figure it out.

How do you find boundaries? One tell-tale sign you've found is you look for folks' reactions or friction in a process. When people react with an "I need you to help this make sense" type statement or a process that is typically straightforward suddenly experiences stress and more back-and-forth, there is likely a boundary that is struggling.

When I find these things, I take inventory of the decisions that folks need to make and the inputs and outputs of those decisions. From here, I'd say it's surprisingly easy to build the bridges folks didn't have.

Know what isn't a bridge? Saying, "We're agile now," as a justification to force the use of story points or velocity or any such thing.

A bridge could very easily involve equipping the various leaders and groups with simple tools and calculations to help them provide the right inputs and continue to participate with their peers, even if they have to do some translation.

There's my trick for this week, if you want to help change succeed and last, look at the boundaries of that change and smooth those out by bridging the old and new.

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PS: I'm taking on new clients. If you want to see a dramatic improvement in your engineering team's performance and the products they build, we should talk.