Saturday 10 May 2014

Washing the blanket

I use Microsoft Paint to save screenshots while I'm testing. When I see something worth keeping, I hit SHIFT+PrntScrn, then paste it into Paint. I can crop out what I want, annotate it, and save it to my computer. This is how I've saved screenshots for over a decade; a comfortable, familiar practice.

I know that there are other ways to do this task. No, not just other ways, better ways. My colleague uses Greenshot. I've seen her capture and save screenshots without breaking her testing rhythm; seamless. It looks so much quicker and easier than how I go about things, yet I am still doing it my way.

I like to think that everyone has some irrational practice that they can't quite shake. The professional equivalent of the ratty security blanket that a child constantly carries with them. Though I know that it doesn't make sense, though I know that there are better ways, I find that I am incredibly stubborn; I don't want to change how I take screenshots. It's a nonsensical resistance, much the same as the tantrum thrown by that same child who doesn't want to see their blanket put through the washing machine.

It is exceptionally frustrating to see people reject a better way of working. As someone who is often advocating for change, I've encountered many people who are determined to continue in their ways. What I recently realised is that these people are just like me. They may already know that what I'm suggesting may be worthwhile. They understand that a different way might be a better way. They just don't want to give up the familiarity of their practices.

When advocating for change, I tend to structure my reasons around advantages and benefits. I like to offer others the opportunity to identify problems then illustrate how they might be solved by adopting a new approach. I try to appeal to the logical mind; my tactics are focused on critical reasoning and common sense.

These attributes are often absent when trying to separate a child and their blanket. A child knows when their blanket is dirty. They know that putting it through the washing machine will make it clean. They don't care! It's uncomfortable to be without their blanket, and they will not hear reason.

If a parent wants to succeed in separating child and blanket, they have to adopt different methods of persuasion. We can use similar tactics in software development teams to create change where reasoning alone does not work.

First, what not to do. Never tease people about their attachment to a beloved practice, and don't insist that they give it up. [1] Instead try to:

  • Agree a set of conditions for when a practice is appropriate, and when it is not. Mandate a different way of working for specific situations only.
  • Schedule time for a new practice. Get people used to working in a different way by having them try it on a regular basis for a set period of time. Only encourage adoption once it is known.
  • Keep the comfort; don't try and change everything at once. Retain plenty of familiar and comfortable practices alongside adoption of new ones.
  • Enlist their help. Make people feel responsible for some aspect of the change, to give them shared ownership of its success.
  • Keep people busy, so that they have less time to wistfully ponder the way things used to be.

I'm going to try and remember that change is rarely received rationally. My persuasive tactics need to go beyond critical reasoning and draw on techniques that allow people time to gradually adjust their emotional response to change. Next time I encounter resistance that I see as irrational, I'll remember that we were all children once.


  1. Well said and I agree...

    As a parent however, there will be a time when the blanket becomes unhygienic and MUST be washed; or run the heightened risk of a sick child.

    The same can be said for software development. ;)

  2. Great post. As somebody who just switched from MS Paint to Green shot, I'm not looking back. ;-)

  3. I read somewhere today that change at micro level is easier to couch as exciting and non-threatening, but it's a whole different story at macro level. I've just come from four years at a site where I saw immense macro-level change take place over - indeed, there was a lot of parenting-type energy required to keep everyone calm and bought-in, as opposed to the dictatorial approach that was in place when we arrived. Everyone likes to feel they have some control.

  4. I totally understand and agreed with this post. In 1964 Joseph Juran highlighted that resistance to change was the root cause of quality issues. It is funny how software development suffers from the same issue almost 50 years later...