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In a company that wants to become more agile in the way they work, they brought in an agile coach. The coach is exploring what changes need to be made, makes suggestions and helps coach the company's employees.

However there is a senior manager out of the two in the company's vertical, who is resisting to anything that he doesn't think will benefit from, or his department (product). He has been in the company for more than 10 years.

For example, the coach may suggest to co-locate with the delivery guys, and he will say that he doesn't think this is crucial. Another example is he is resisting to extra training, stating that the product owners already had some general agile training and they should just be able to do their job. A third example is that he disagrees on running value stream mapping exercises with the whole team, because he doesn't think that spending his team time is worth just for the sake of doing an exercise.

Most of the people around him deem that he is not supporting the change, yet he is the one, along with the senior manager of delivery, to have called for an agile coach to help.

What suggestions would you make to support the rest of the department by engaging this senior manager more to buy into the change?

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There are two views that may be helpful here. The first is that it is much easier to create change in a place where it is wanted than to try to force it. When I coach I rarely try to coach a team who isn't ready for it.

Now, let's say you don't have a choice. There are a number of models for resistance to change you can look at. I personally like Dannemiller's formula because it is simple.

D x V x F > R

Basically, the dissatisfaction with the status quo, vision for the future, and concrete first steps together must be greater than a person's resistance in order for change to happen. In the manager's case, you can ask "Is he dissatisfied with the current situation? Has someone conveyed an enticing vision for what his team can become? Are there clear first steps to reach that vision?". One of the things I like in that formula is that it is multiplication. Anything times zero is zero, so if one of those is missing, the left side will never overcome even basic resistance to change and the change won't happen. If you do have all three, then it is a question of magnitude on each side of the equation.

  • I really like the formula, it's simple enough and it makes sense! – dqm Jun 10 at 12:32
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The formation of communities of practice can help.

When communities of developers, testers, etc. speak with one voice in favour of agile change it can influence the opinions of managers.

It would also be worth investigating what the motivation is for the resistant manager's behaviour. If you can determine that then it may make it easier to mitigate.

  • I like the CoP or CoE (centers of excellence) approach, however I think that bottom up change approaches are rarely -if ever- successful, as employees have skin in the game: their salaries and personal goals, which are defined by their manager. I think it turns into a "biting the hand that feeds" situation, although deep inside for a good cause. – dqm Jun 10 at 12:41
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The most effective way may be by waiting for other managers' teams to go through the process, and then show him - through example - the benefits, rather than try and persuade him upfront. If it can be shown that other teams are now performing better, this will be a good persuader.

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