My First Change Experiment: What Did We Learn?


This has been an interesting year for my personal health. I made some significant changes in my diet and started running more than I had since college. Wasn’t scolded into it by my doctor, just wanted to change things up. My health was okay, just not great. With me entering the last year of my 30s, I felt now was the time.

For my birthday, I received a Fitbit Charge HR. My new health regiment had been underway for several months, at this point. It was a thoughtful gift, but the pounds were already dropping at this point. I didn’t see it what it would add to my already improving fitness.

It wasn’t until I started looking at my stats more closely that I realized that I had so much to learn after the run was finished.

Stopping to learn adds clarity to what you think you already know. Sometimes, a new truth is uncovered when you retrospect, but it’s not necessary for the exercise to be worth while. Validating what you think happened with the help of data and others around you is what makes real change stick.

When we last left the story of my first change experiment, the survey revealed some glaring issues around quality and happiness that prompted us to dig deeper. We found some issues around context switching and too many tasks were in progress at once. A minor pivot led to some improvements, and hosannas rained.

So, what exactly did this experiment teach us?

Numbers matter more than I thought.

Initially I had discounted the numbers in the survey. They were a means to an end; a vehicle to get the real data I wanted. What I didn’t realize was that sometimes metrics can tell your story best, even if they appear to lean towards vanity. Leadership certainly paid more attention to them, and it gave me instant credibility.

If you haven’t considered using numbers to tell your story, you might miss an easy opportunity to build consensus. Numbers matter.

What numbers you choose to use depends on the experiment and company. As I learned from Amanda Stockwell at Agile2016, any metric can be vanity or actionable depending on the context. It’s up to you to provide and set the table for the story to tell itself. Measuring team happiness seems like it should be able to extend across all verticals and industries, but many execs still find that unhelpful.

Would we have been successful without the survey? No doubt, because results tell the story for you. However, my would have been harder to prove with just anecdotal stories of change. Hard facts, regardless of their subjective context, are an amazing weapon for change agents.

Try letting numbers tell the story for you.

You don’t have to change much to make a big impact.

Also, while short iterations allowed us to make many small tweaks along the way, the teams didn’t make that many wholesale changes. Clearing up which work to take in during planning through definition of ready and alignment of QA team members were it. Keep that in mind when you are trying to propose a large change initiative.

You don’t have to move mountains to make life better for teams. Often, a few tweaks will be enough.

To my knowledge, teams are still staffing with an appropriate amount of testers for releases. They also created a pre-release checklist for clients as a result of adding a definition of ready. This let’s clients know all the things implementation teams need before they can get started. While not every item is delivered before work is started, it gets the conversation going about what’s needed for success.

The survey also started being used company wide. It became a tool that leadership can use to as a heartbeat for the company. If teams are truly happy and productive, the survey proves it.

Slow down and pay attention.

Dave Snowden, the creator of Cynefin, once told a story about the Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England. It’s a gigantic roundabout with five smaller roundabouts surrounding it. The image seems frightening, and many drivers would agree. However, there is data that proves its safe. Traffic flows smoothly and safely because people slow down and take their time.

Turns out, building software works the same way.

“Creating systems where people slow down and pay attention,” Snowden said, “from a cognitive perspective, turns out to be absolutely critical.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself Dave.

Speed was being placed too high on the level of importance with these teams. In the desire to be ultra-responsive, nobody was paying attention to the impact it was having on teams. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn’t a whole lot that we changed along the way. However, the requests for team members to transfer out of the department started going down.

This speaks to healthy boundaries, working at a more sustainable pace, and providing the technical excellence everyone is capable of.

What about me, personally?

One of my early mistakes in agile coaching was not asking more questions when I was asked to help teams move faster. While not called out specifically called out in the twelve principles, there is an inherent feeling of using the methodology to help teams move faster.

I should have asked “why” more.

Fortunately, I was in an amazing environment where nobody was paying attention to how I was coaching. Just that I was getting results. As I moved forward in future engagements and clients, I started learning how to be more curious about the conflict teams face (and am still learning that every day).

The point of this story was not to show you how awesome I was in my first attempt. There were many hard days and sessions with team members and clients. I feel like I talked too much and focused too much on teaching as the solution. I should have gotten out of the way more and let change happen.

You are capable of being an agent for change.

Get out there and start learning in the field. Change agents are born in the middle of leading these efforts, with a circle of trusted advisors helping along the way. If you ever want someone to talk to about this, please let me know. We can teach each other a thing or two.

Best thing to do is get started.


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