5

I have recently changed roles ( 4+ years ) as a product manager within an organization with previous years spent as a business analyst within a mid-sized agile software development firm and I have gone back to my development roots and have taken a job as a software developer.

Observations of the company in which I am currently employed:

  • Has only recently deemed the development staff and application they build and support are an investment as the product produced is a competitive advantage and not a "cost"
  • Develops software with "cowboy coding" ways and not as a team
  • Legacy code ("in terms of not tested"), no CI, no project or development process, no automated deployment...etc..you get the idea

I took this job as I wanted to see if I had what it takes to bring change to the way they do things. I want to bring change and am slowly building a list of suggestions and things to try.

I haven't broken any of this to my manager yet. This actually I think will be my largest hurdle and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on how to broach this subject?

  • Do you point out current failings in the way things are done?
  • Do you start by highlighting things to try?
  • Do you show the value of how current practices and methodologies would not only help the team but the entire organization?

Thanks all.

8

How you come about introducing (the idea of) change depends a lot on your relationship with your manager (and peers) as well as the organisation culture. Here are some suggestions to go about it:

  • Start with an informal discussion: when you say you have to "break things" to your manager it just sounds like you're going to give him/her bad news, and no-one likes to hear them... Have lunch or coffee with them and ask their thoughts on how things are done, what painpoints they have, where they need help, etc. Show that you are interested in the organisation/team and in what (s)he thinks too. This will help you gauge his/her level of responsiveness to the idea of change.

  • Make the discussion constructive and engaging: Don't focus on the negatives only: share what you think is great about the way things are done. Make it a real two-way discussion rather than a unilateral "I have thought about this on my own and here's a list of everything that is wrong". This will help in getting things looked at in a positive, contructive manner, particularly if your manager is currently change-averse.

  • Leverage the fact that you are new to the role: This grants you a certain legitimacy in suggesting change; your previous role as a BA gives you a different perspective. You also had some personal objectives in taking up the role; hopefully your manager is aware of them and if so (s)he will appreciate what drives you to suggest change.

  • Pick one "easy" change idea/initiative: you mention you have a list of things. In organisations/teams that are reluctant to change, going big-bang with new ways of doing things can quickly back-fire (plus it takes a lot of effort that may not be readily available). Identify a specific change you are comfortable in driving forward and propose to your manager a way to go about it (covering the why/what/how/who) and how you would verify the results once the change is implemented.

  • Involve others: try to get other team members engaged in this process as soon as possible: have informal discussions, facilitate an internal workshop, or use a slot in your regular team meetings to discuss the subject. Having others involved upfront and supporting your ideas will put you in a much better position to drive change successfully.

  • Focus on the value of change and make it tangible. Relate changes to concrete benefits that are meaningful to the organization. For example, you mention the organization has acknowledged the value of its software as a competitive advantage, so a tangible benefit of having automated deployment would allow your organization to release products more quickly and efficiently and increase that advantage.

3

I would say it all depends on people. Personally I would adjust the way I act in general with specific focus on bring all these problems out to the specific decision maker I would be talking to.

  • If your manager is a guy who is willing to improve but for whatever reason failed to do so up to this point bring it all to the table: current failings, areas worth improving, proposed priorities of actions (you can't do everything at the same time), practices other companies are using, etc. Then discuss all that content openly with the manager. You probably don't know many things they do, as you aren't around for a longer time so use their knowledge when preparing a plan. Anyway in this case you should probably quickly come out with a few good ideas to implement, maybe a couple of quick wins which would help you to convince the rest of organization as well.

  • If your manager generally doesn't give a damn about the improvements you can try similar approach although I'd limit a range of discussed issues just to a few biggest pains at the moment. It will help you to decide whether you're free to act and whether you can count on any support from the manager. If you can work on improvements try to start with a quick win so you can buy other people within the organization as well. Odds are the manager would like to join success and you'd get some (additional) support. On the other hand you can learn that manager's indifference is just the attitude which covers unwillingness to change. In this case we're moving to the next case.

  • If your manager is against any changes as they like status quo and feel unsafe with changing it you definitely don't want to bring all the problem openly to them. What you need to do is to prove the situation can be better for them somehow. In this case the best strategy is bringing only a single thing to the table at once, possibly the one which isn't very painful, e.g. doesn't require significant changes, and brings significant and visible value for the organization. In this scenario you don't want to choose the most important changes at first but those which will bring results pretty fast and would stick. One of examples of such changes is introducing standups. Then you move to the next low-hanging fruit and then another and so on.

  • If you don't know what kind of person you deal with try rather more conservative approach. It's pretty easy to become more radical in applying changes when environment supports you while it's hard to change others' opinion once you're labeled "radical."

3
  • Start small so you can demonstrate success. Look for the biggest pain point and see what you can do to address it. The more success you have, the more momentum you'll build behind your campaign and the less you'll look like a cowboy yourself.
  • Ask Questions rather than making statements. "What if we were to try this?" "Why don't we do it this way for a month and then compare results?" etc.
  • Watch your attitude - I'm concerned that you're thinking of yourself as the smartest guy in the room. The entrenched methodologies might have problems, but they've also contributed to the success of the organization and gotten it where it is now. Be respectful as you suggest making changes to improve things.
  • I really appreciated the watch your attitude comment. That type of attitude is prevalent in our industry at times it seems and is actually the primary reason I am at a different company :) – Jesse Aug 14 '11 at 3:56

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