Tag Archive: change management

Just One More Level

TaeKwonDo Practitioners (© Aashish Vaidya)

As transition goes, shedding the old ways and adopting new ones are fraught with doubt and confusion.  This is true of any large organization transition effort as it is for scaling agile practices across the enterprise.  One of the challenges for enterprise transition community leading this change effort is figuring out how to move people with different understanding and different needs from novices to experts.

Many times, a model or a construct of learning helps us classify how to approach people with different levels of understanding and teach them new techniques.  Alistair Cockburn introduced the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri to software development.  Shu-Ha-Ri is borrowed from the martial art practice of Aikido.

Here is how Martin Fowler describes it:

Shu-Ha-Ri is a way of thinking about how you learn a technique. The name comes from Aikido, and Alistair Cockburn introduced it as a way of thinking about learning techniques and methodologies for software development.

The idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge:

  • Shu: In this beginning stage the student follows the teachings of one master precisely. He concentrates on how to do the task, without worrying too much about the underlying theory. If there are multiple variations on how to do the task, he concentrates on just the one way his master teaches him.
  • Ha: At this point the student begins to branch out. With the basic practices working he now starts to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. He also starts learning from other masters and integrates that learning into his practice.
  • Ri: Now the student isn’t learning from other people, but from his own practice. He creates his own approaches and adapts what he’s learned to his own particular circumstances.

One of the common refrain you hear from many people who have learned some basics about agile methodologies is to say, ” see we understand the agile practices, but how are we going to do this differently here?”  The questioners, here might presuppose that certain practices just won’t work in their environments and want to start tailoring things right out the gate.  Especially, when they have learned that agile is all about adaptability and change.  So there is this predisposition to jump to the Ri stage.  But, agile practices are supposed to be an experiential process.  You do things, reflect on what worked and what didn’t , in short you inspect and then you adapt.

But, many balk at directive practices in the Shu state as it run contrary to the agile manifesto, itself.  Here is Rachel Davies, co-author of Agile Coaching who takes on other agilists, in a post  called Shu-Ha-Ri Considered Harmful:

I’m uncomfortable with approaches that force students to follow agile practices without questioning. These approaches seem to violate the first value of the Agile Manifesto “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” I question whether introducing agile software development techniques to people is anything like martial arts training. Software development is knowledge work and our aim is to build a team of reflective practitioners. To do this we need to engage with how people think about their work. Are techniques from physical arts that build muscle-memory really applicable here?

For me, agile Boot Camps and Shock Therapy approaches lack basic respect for the team’s unique context and the experience of people on the team. Agile software development is a much looser discipline than a martial art like Aikido. Organizational culture and nature of the product being built are major factors in what agile techniques the team will benefit from most. If we establish a sensei-novice model, we’re not fostering the independent thinking and reflection that will take the team beyond the Shu level.

To some extend this is a valid argument.  You have to respect the individuality of the team members and allow them to question the practices they are supposed to be following.  And invariably boot camps and shock therapy approaches will only have an ephemeral effect like a motivational speech would.  You are pumped up for a while and get a boost of energy, but the sugar high wears off quickly.

But at another level, this is a very shallow read of martial arts and the sensei-novice model.  Even cursory look at history of martial arts would suggest that they are not merely about physical activity, but means to develop deeper connection to moral and spiritual dimensions.  Just as you wouldn’t confuse the practice of yoga to be only about physical well-being.  That is just an aspect called hatha yoga , but in larger context yoga has much more to do with “knowledge work” than building simple muscle memory.  Albeit, the knowledge is different, not software development variety.

The issue isn’t necessarily with the Shu-Ha-Ri construct, but how it might be used within the context, and it is more about its understanding and its implementation.  Further on in the post, Davies calls out the real peril:

Installing a basic set of agile practices by force can be done quickly so the organization starts getting benefits from new ways of working faster. Teams are superficially at the Shu level in the space of a few weeks. Often, the management team considers the agile rollout is now complete. It’s assumed that teams will continue to apply what they’ve learned. But without any experts around to enforce agile practice, pretty soon a team falls back to their old ways or sometimes worse carries on with agile practices that don’t make sense for their project.

I was pleased to see “cargo-cult agile” called out in the new book “Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development” by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde. They say “Avoid forcing–When coaching we encourage: volunteering; do not force any agile or lean approach onto people; people should be left the choice to think and experiment…with concentrated long-term, high quality support. The best, the most sticky adoptions we have seen had this approach.”

In a large organization, there is rare chance that you will encounter people who do not fall into all three categories of learning: the complete novice, who just wants to be told what should he do next; the intermediate, who knows agile practices well enough to start digging into deeper underlying theory and principles; and experts, who are adept at reading the context and tailoring their own practices to continually achieve business goals.  For enterprise transition community leading adoption of agile in their enterprise, the goal is obviously to encourage people to think critically, experiment and continuously learn, and deftly deal with people at all 3 levels.  Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist, who developed the popular “ten thousand hours” theory of mastery has a second prerequisite for expertise – “the notion of deliberate practice, which describes the constant sense of self-evaluation and a consistent focus on one’s weaknesses rather than playing on one’s strengths (ref Maria Popova’s blog post).  This notion is something the enterprise transition community and agile coaches need to be aware of, and one which our software brethren who design video games understand real well:

[The “zone of proximal development” is] the idea that learning works best when the student tackles something that is just beyond his or her current reach, neither too hard nor too easy. In classroom situations, for example, one team of researchers estimated that its’ best to arrange things so that children succeed roughly 80 percent of the time; more than that, and kids tend to get bored; less, and they tend to get frustrated. The same is surely true of adults, too, which is why video game manufacturers have been known to invest millions in play testing to make sure that the level of challenge always lies in that sweet spot of neither too easy nor too hard.”

The challenge, then is to figure out a mix of practices that you know the teams will be able to take on, and add that 20% “stretch” practices, which allow the teams to flex and get to another “level”.  And hopefully soon, they will internalize what gamers who are hooked – they beg for that 5 extra minute to complete one more level!

Rachel Davies continues:

Learning new ways of working takes time.  As Ron Jeffries once said “They’re called practices for a reason.  You have to have done them. Practice makes perfect.” If you base an agile adoption on Shu-Ha-Ri model, the trick is to remember the goal is beyond the first-level. Your teams need more than training. Allow plenty of time and on-going coaching support for teams to get them into the Ha phase and beyond.

The constant care and feeding of agile teams will be needed at least till the organization moves through the Ha stage.  After all, you come across many agile teams, who have practiced agile for years, but are stunted in their growth.  These teams are upper bound to their organization’s proficiency in new techniques and inextricably linked to its culture, its inertia and change aversion, which doesn’t allow continuous improvements to take place.  So then the Shu-Ha-Ri model can still be useful model, provided that the community understands that you have to look beyond the rollout of initial agile training and project kickoffs.

PS: A parting note, though this was much before my time, if you want to see Ri practitioners in action, then watch the video of these two cats, who delivered a 90% improvised piece, but still based on an underlying musical framework.  They are still grounded in the principles and theory of their craft, but their uniquely tailored performance fits the context, and with their virtuosity, they transcend the rules to create a masterpiece – in essence, they make their own rules.


Nick Crocker gave a TEDx presentation on Change titled “Floss the Teeth You Want to Keep”.  This talk makes a good companion piece to the 3 of the previous posts:

Willpower to Change is an Exhaustible Resource; Resistance is Futile…; and, Shape the Path to Make Change Stick.

Nick notes 10 things that make change easier:

1. It is easier to add a new behavior than stop an old one

2. Single changes, for a fixed time (Don’t overload your change muscle).  A habit needs 21 days to form (give it 42 days)

3. Baby steps.  Turn goals into activities

4.  Chains of change

5. Create  triggers

6. Measure the change (external)

7. Never change alone

8. Don’t forget the sticks

9. Change your environment

10. Change takes patience

Here is the talk:

Shape The Path

We embrace change all the time

Humans are not averse to change.  Some changes we embark on gleefully, but with some changes – we struggle mightily.  This is true whether the change is at personal, organizational, or at community level, or whether it is big or small.  We don’t shy away from big changes, as a matter of fact, those types of changes happen all the time.  For example, a decade ago, I decided to change jobs, change states, while expecting our first son.  We decided to take on three huge changes simultaneously.   And yet, small change like getting to the gym 3-4 times a week, confounds me.  This is despite learning from books like Brain Rules which shows that exercise is the closest thing we have to fountain of paradise.  Exercise not only keeps us physically fit, but it reduces diseases, increases life expectancy, and keeps us mentally sharp.

The book, Switch, provides a simple framework, which can make change stick.  Of these, I looked at 2 ideas  – one to direct the Rider, the rational side of our brains (see blog post: Resistance is Futile) .  The other is to motivate the Elephant, the emotional side of our brains (see blog post: Willpower to Change is an Exhaustive Resource).  To this, the Heath brothers add a third idea – Shape the Path.

Wretched is, as Wretched does

The brothers recount a study in their book, done by Brian Wansink, who runs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.  Moviegoers are handed a free bucket of popcorn and a drink in exchange for answering some questions after the movie.  What the unsuspecting moviegoers didn’t know was this:

There was something unusual about the popcorn they received.  It was wretched.  In fact, it had been carefully engineered to be wretched.  In fact, it had been popped five days earlier and was so stale that it squeaked when you ate it.  One moviegoer later compared it to Styrofoam packing peanuts, and two others, forgetting that they’d received the popcorn for free, demanded their money back.

(Did researchers actually had to produce wretched popcorn, isn’t theatre popcorn generally wretched to begin with?).

The moviegoers got either of two size buckets – the so called medium or large.  But these sizes were so huge that there was seemingly inexhaustible supply of popcorn.  Everyone got their own bucket so they did not have to share.  The question the research was trying to answer was “would somebody with a larger inexhaustible supply of popcorn eat more than someone with a smaller inexhaustible supply?”

As part of research protocol, the researchers had weighed the before and after weight of the bucket.  So what were the results? Surprise, surprise:

People with the large buckets ate 53% more popcorn than people with the medium size.  That’s equivalent of 173 more calories and approximately 21 extra hand-dips into the bucket.

Brian Wansink changed other details, like cities, or the kind of movie they were watching, but that didn’t change the outcome.  People were eating stale popcorn, whether they were hungry or not.  And they were eating more popcorn, if they had a bigger bucket.

The Heath brothers conclude that if you want the moviegoers to eat less popcorn, you can go the hard change route, which is to worry “about their knowledge or their attitudes”.  That is to say, you direct the Rider or motivate the Elephant.  Or you can make it an easy change by simply “shrinking people’s buckets”.  That is – shape the Path.

Shape the Path in software development

The Poppendiecks in their book, Lean Software Development state the importance of situation or environment, they paraphrase quality gurus Joseph Juran and Edward Deming:

It was once thought that factory workers personally caused quality defects, and if they would only be more careful, there would be fewer defects.  Then, we learned from the quality movement in the 1980s that less than 20 percent of all quality defects are under the worker’s control; the rest are rooted in the prevailing systems and procedures, which are under management control, not worker control.

In software development the same probably holds true.  The root cause for the defects in our software has less to do with individuals and more to do with our processes and procedures.  What we tend to think of a people problem is usually an environment or situation problem.  As part of agile process, then  the emphasis is placed on removing impediments.  And that is why, one of the three questions in daily Scrum is “what is getting in my way”.  This is an attempt to constantly shape and reshape the Path, so it bypasses having to constantly worry about the knowledge and the attitudes of the team members.  ScrumMasters know very well, that to make people more productive, impediments have to be constantly identified and removed.

The Heath brothers say, ” when you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant.”

Change is possible, but, you have to approach it from 3 angles: “direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path“.  And if all 3 elements are present at one time than “dramatic change can happen even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.”

Resistance is Futile…

The Rider Spins his Wheel (photo credit rykerstribe on flickr)

In my last post: Willpower to Change is Exhaustive Resource, I explored some ideas about change management. This topic is relevant for me and my team members, as we are going through major changes at work: reorganization, wider adoption of the agile practices, scaling the methodology outside of IT and in much larger context the market-place that we operate in. It helps to have some mental models to provide us with a framework to understand and adapt to these major changes.

Change Models

The model developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and adopted to change management show that when change is introduced, we go through distinct reactions to it: shock, denial, frustration, depression, experiments, decisions and finally integration. It is important to know where we, and our team mates, are along this change curve.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book Switch which uses the analogy of the Rider- the rational side of our brain, and the Elephant – the emotional side, as a short-hand to understand the dynamics of change efforts.  Behavioral economists Richard Thaler and H. M. Shefrin use a similar analogy – the farsighted Planner and the myopic Doer.

The Heath brothers explain that when we are looking to change, we are going up against “behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision”, by our rational side. And depending on the size of the change we are making, the rational side simply gets overwhelmed and exhausts its willpower.

Many of us, have experienced this first hand. With good intentions, we embark on writing effective user stories, story tests, acceptance criteria, stories that fit a single sprint, have periodic retrospectives, write automated tests, demonstrate working software to our users, and so on. But under stress and schedule pressures, we abandon these good practices. We revert to writing technical user stories, coding only stories and testing only stories.  Sometimes, we resort to having an architecture-only sprint, data modeling sprint, analysis sprint, and then lots of coding sprints and in the end stabilization or “defects fixes” only sprints. We keep committing to stories, even though, we know we will barely finish coding, and then split stories across sprints. Automated unit tests or UI functional tests end up on the cutting floor. We cancel our demos and retrospectives, because we really need to use those 2 hours to do some more work on the stories we didn’t finish during the sprint. Sometimes, it gets so reductive, like this one candidate I was interviewing, who told me that on his agile team, the only practice they performed consistently was the daily scrum. The Heath brothers say, “anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.”  The Elephant will always seek out path of least resistance.

The Rider spins his wheels

If the elephant is hard to motivate and overwhelms the Rider, then the Rider has his own problems, too. In IT, we frequently succumb to analysis paralysis, or as one of my colleague calls it, “excessive navel-gazing”.

Jonah Lehrer, a journalist, was inspired to write a book How We Decide, precisely to understand why the Rider spins his wheels. Here is what he said during an interview on Amazon.com:

Q:Why did you want to write a book about decision-making?

A: It all began with Cheerios. I’m an incredibly indecisive person. There I was, aimlessly wandering the cereal aisle of the supermarket, trying to choose between the apple-cinnamon and honey-nut varieties. It was an embarrassing waste of time and yet it happened to me all the time. Eventually, I decided that enough was enough: I needed to understand what was happening inside my brain as I contemplated my breakfast options. I soon realized, of course, that this new science of decision-making had implications far grander than Cheerios.

Here are some examples of our own Rider. Which agile methodology should we use – Scrum, Lean, Kanban, DSDM, XP, FDD?  What agile techniques should we try first TDD, BDD, ATDD, CI, Pair Programming, Pair Testing.  What should we spend our energies automating – at the unit, component, integration, system level? What should we emphasis first, writing effective story cards, doing better demos, running honest and open retrospectives, fix bad team dynamics, and on and on.

The Heath brothers recount a story of two professors at West Virginia University. They are health researchers who were “contemplating ways to persuade people to eat a healthier diet?”  For something like that, where do you even began?

Which foods should people stop (or start) eating? Should they change their eating behavior at breakfast, lunch or dinner? At home or in restaurants? The number of ways to “eat healthier” is limitless, especially given the starting place of the average American diet. This is exactly the kind of situation in which the Rider will spin his wheels, analyzing and agonizing and never moving forward.

After much brainstorming, the two researchers arrived at this insight:

Most Americans drink milk, and we all know that milk is a great source of calcium. But milk is also the single largest source of saturated fat in the typical American’s diet. In fact, calculations showed something remarkable: If Americans switched from whole milk to skim or 1% milk, the average diet would immediately attain the USA recommended levels of saturated fat.

But, the next question was, how do you get people to drink low-fat milk and how do you get them to stock it in their refrigerators? After all, people will drink whatever’s available in the house (path of least resistance, no one’s going to run out to the store to buy whole milk – the Elephant is lazy).  Researchers figured out, “you don’t need to change drinking behavior. You need to change purchasing behavior.”

After an effective ad campaign, the two researchers were able to increase the market share of low-fat milk from 18% to 41% and it held steady after six months at 35%.  What we learn from this is:

If you want people to change, you don’t ask them to “act healthier.” You say, “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, reach for a jug of 1% milk instead of whole milk.”

Many times, our reaction to change efforts is similar, for example, we might think, why can’t everyone just fall in line and just follow agile practices.  But contrary to what the trekkie-referenced title suggest it is isn’t even a question of resistance, because “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”

Oh and what happened to Mr Lehrer and his cheerios? Well, here is what he said in the same interview:

Q: What do you do in the cereal aisle now?

A: I was about halfway through writing the book when I got some great advice from a scientist. I was telling him about my Cheerios dilemma when he abruptly interrupted me: “The secret to happiness,” he said,”is not wasting time on irrelevant decisions.” Of course, this sage advice didn’t help me figure out what kind of cereal I actually wanted to eat for breakfast. So I did the only logical thing: I bought my three favorite Cheerios varieties and combined them all in my cereal bowl. Problem solved.

Sometimes, as our CIO says, it is better to “Ready, Fire, Aim”, instead of getting ready and deliberating endlessly on where to aim.  And then never getting around to firing.

So far, we have looked at 2 concepts from the Switch framework – direct the Rider and motivate the Elephant. In the next post, I will at look at the third concept – shape the Path.

Recently, at work, we have gone through some major organizational changes.  We have moved away from an IT organization that was a collection of functional silos – Architecture, Design and Analysis, Application Delivery, Release and QA, and so on –  to more integrated groups aligned with our business units.  As we move towards more cross-functional, self-organizing agile teams, colleagues have noticed that many of us feel a bit disoriented.  Many don’t know what to do, many have a negative reaction to the changes and then there are some who have already accepted the changes, and are impatient that there team mates are too slow to change.

Reactions to Change

As we experience change, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined and categorized our psychological reactions to it:

We find  that people react to change differently and they might be anywhere along this change spectrum, including in the “pit of despair”.  And each need different type of support.  For those in shock and denial need information and communication.  Those who have self-doubt and inching towards acceptance, need emotional support.  And those who are exploring and understanding, need direction and guidance.

The Rider and The Elephant

The Elephant and the Rider (credit aashish vaidya)

Another framework to understand and initiate change is developed by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Switch.  They note that our brains have two independent systems at work:

First, there’s what we called the emotional side.  It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.  Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system.  It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.

The Heath brothers adopt the terminology of the Elephant (the emotional side) and the Rider (the rational side) introduced by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis.  This isn’t necessarily a new concept, as you find variations articulated by Plato, Freud and many others.

When we are in midst of change, like moving our software development from waterfall to agile methods, or getting better at adopting and refining agile methodology; or for that matter any other type of change effort, we need to understand both these aspects of our brains – The Rider and The Elephant.  This is how the Heath brothers define it:

The Rider provides the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy.  So if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation.  If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction.  In both cases, the flaws can be paralyzing.  A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure that nothing changes.  But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.

It is possible to get our rational side to exert control over our emotional side, but that can prove exhausting for the Rider.  To illustrate this point, Dan Heath in this FastCompany video and article, and also in the book, recount a study about radishes and cookies.

Will to Change is Finite

College students (the usual guinea pigs in these types of studies) were asked to fast for 3 hours and report to a study about food taste perception.  They were then led to a lab that smelled amazing from freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  In the middle of the room were 2 bowls – one filled with cookies and another with radishes.  Half the participants were asked to sample the cookies but not radishes and another half to eat radishes only.  Then the researchers left the room.  The cookie eaters probably had no issues resisting the urge to eat the radishes!  However, despite the temptation, the radish-eaters showed amazing willpower and did not eat any of the cookies.  Here is where another set of wily researchers came in and declared that the taste perception study was over.  But, they were doing another study about problem solving.  At that point, they asked the participants to solve a puzzle.  Unbeknownst to the participants, the puzzle had no real solution.

What the researchers were trying to find out was whether there was difference in a way the cookie-eaters and the radish – eaters approached the puzzle?  Well, it turns out there was.  The cookie-eaters made 34 attempts at the puzzle and persisted for 19 minutes.  The radish-eaters made only 19 attempts and gave up in half the time.  Why is this?  Well, study shows that the radish-eaters who were tempted to eat cookies but did not, simply ran out of self-control.  So when another challenging task – solving an impossible puzzle was giving to them – they were simply exhausted.  Of course, your takeaway from study shouldn’t be , eat more cookies and not radishes.  But, it should be that the will to change is indeed finite.  The Heath brothers say, “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”

IT organizations, when they decide to change from traditional waterfall software development, or initiate any other major changes, find many team members, managers and business partners show reluctance to these change efforts.  In many instances, it is because their Elephants are genuinely spooked at the spectre of losing the clout they have built in an organization or potentially losing their jobs, or myriad of other real and imagined fears.  Change induces a fight or flight response.

Many times, we share information about changes, appealing to the rational brain, but we don’t really address “what is in it for me” part of the equation.  That is, we don’t engage the emotional side.  And so the changes simply don’t stick.  Our rational side tries hard, but in the end, the willpower dissipates. This is due to skittishness of  our emotional side, which is “often looking for the quick payoff”, at the expense of long-term gains.  Change management saps our willpower, if we don’t find a way to motivate our emotional sides.

In my next post, I will continue to explore more on the change management theme.

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