Resistance as a Learning Opportunity by wuyunyi


									              Open Forum

                                Resistance as a Learning Opportunity
                                                                                                                                          David P. Quinn
                                                                                                                             MOSAIC Technologies Group, Inc.
               Many people treat resistance to change as something to overcome. They prepare for battle and arm senior executives with the tools
               to “beat people into submission.” Perhaps what is really happening is that the people introducing the change are not open to it—
               and are the real source of resistance. This article discusses why resistance exists, its benefits, and how to use it for improvement.

I  magine a small group within your orga-
   nization coming to you and saying they
have the solution to your problem. You
                                                             effort and cost to develop a standard set
                                                             of processes. They form process action
                                                             teams to define the processes. The EPG
                                                                                                               first reaction is to find some way to over-
                                                                                                               come it. They address the resistance
                                                                                                               through a series of intervention sessions.
don’t think that there’s a problem, so you                   provides training on the processes and            They try to coerce the resisters by talking
are both insulted and highly resistant to                    conducts pilot projects to ensure their           about their assumed problems. They
the actions you are told to take. The group                  usability. Managers and technicians change        quote CMMI, invoke the words of senior
may try an intervention activity to con-                     their normal operating procedures to              management, and threaten to impact the
vince you of the problem. To get rid of                      adapt. They justify all of this expense by        resisters’ performance review.
them, you just go through the motions of                     citing the anticipated improvements in the            The EPG members often turn to coer-
their suggestions and change—but return                      product and productivity.                         cion, but these attempts are more likely to
to old habits as soon as the group stops                         However, some professionals resist            toughen a resister’s stance. The resisters
looking.                                                     these improvements in favor of business as        stand firm in their beliefs and may even
    The process improvement equivalent                       usual. Organizations take precautions to          flaunt their resistance. In order to satisfy
to this situation usually occurs when an                     avoid these instances of resistance through       the EPG, resisters may go through the
engineering process group (EPG)                              change management principles and                  motions of the process but are unlikely to
approaches software and systems engi-                        enforcement practices. Despite these pre-         retain any change in behavior without
neering professionals with a set of defined                  cautions, there will be resistance to changes     constant attention.
processes that solve their development,                      in engineering and management processes.
maintenance, and management problems.                        The organization’s reaction to this resis-        Linking Resistance to Problems
The professionals don’t believe they have                    tance indicates how successful it will be         An EPG must suppress its own natural
problems, so they resist the EPG’s efforts.                  with long-term process improvement.               reaction to beat back resistance. They must
The EPG tries, in many ways, to coerce                                                                         consider the resisters’ perspective, who
the professionals into compliance. The                       Causes and Levels of                              likely feel under attack. Maybe they feel
professionals may decide to go through                       Resistance                                        like the resisters in Star Trek: The Next
the motions in order to get rid of the                       Resistance to changes in engineering and          Generation, who heard the Borg say:
EPG, but return to their old ways once the                   management processes is a natural reac-           “Resistance is futile ... you will be assimi-
EPG stops looking.                                           tion because changes challenge a profes-          lated.” The EPG should look for the root
    Another situation is when your EPG                       sional’s ego. Just suggesting a change            cause of the resistance; usually when it is
does not appear to face resistance.                          insinuates that their current practices are       found, the EPG stops appearing to attack
Perhaps you didn’t recognize the resis-                      wrong. Since professionals seldom feel            and starts resolving problems.
tance in your organization because it was                    that their current practices are wrong, they           One likely cause of resistance could be
disguised in feigned compliance.                             are unlikely to see a need for change. No         that the resisters actually do not suffer the
    Whatever situation you are in, the                       matter how positive the change or com-            ills the defined process addresses. It makes
resistance is natural, understandable, and,                  pelling the argument, the threat to the pro-      no sense to provide professionals a soft-
surprisingly, desirable. We should not view                  fessional’s ego will cause resistance.            ware configuration management (SCM)
resistance as something to overcome, but                         However, the level of resistance differs      process when they are doing a good job of
as an opportunity to improve the organi-                     among professionals:                              SCM. The resisters are not in denial; they
zation.                                                      • Those who are open to improvements              truly do not have a problem.
                                                                 drop their resistance quickly and adopt            Similarly, the resisters may be experi-
Developing Standard                                              the change.                                   encing the problem the process resolves,
Processes                                                    • Cautious professionals drop their               but it is not their biggest problem. This
Many organizations have great success                            resistance and adopt the change when          may be best described as the Pareto
working process improvement in accor-                            they see that it is an improvement.           Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) in
dance with the SEI’s CMMI. Central to                        • One set of professionals will maintain          reverse. The EPG provides a solution to
the CMMI is the principle that the organi-                       their resistance no matter how much           the 80 percent of the work that causes 20
zation should have a standard set of                             evidence is given that the change is          percent of the problems. For instance, the
defined processes that their engineering                         positive. These resisters make process        EPG may provide a defined peer review
and management professionals use to                              improvement the enjoyable challenge           process that would help the resisters, but
build products and provide services. Using                       that it is.                                   does not provide as much help as a
these standard processes makes teams                                                                           requirements elicitation process.
more productive in a shorter time, and                       Addressing Resistance                                  It is also possible that the defined
improves the predictability of results.                      Through Coercion                                  process addresses the right problem but is
    Organizations expend a great deal of                     When an EPG encounters resistance, their          the wrong solution. For example, I once

32 CrossTalk The Journal of   Defense Software Engineering                                                                                             July/August 2009
                                                                                                                        Resistance as a Learning Opportunity

was having SCM problems on a project           Conclusion
and needed help. Management mandated           When encountering resistance while
the use of a particular tool to help resolve   deploying a defined process, the EPG
everyone’s SCM problems. Unfortunately,        should not complain or prepare for battle;
it was a UNIX tool on a network system         they should instead work to determine the                          Get Your Free Subscription
while my project was an RSX-11, stand-         root cause of resistance. By addressing the
alone system. My resistance to the man-        root cause, the EPG can learn about                                  Fill out and send us this form.
dated solution was strong and justified.       another acceptable process, problems in
The solution caused as many problems for       its defined process, or where future                                    517 sMXs/MXDEa
me as it was supposed to solve.                improvement efforts need to be focused.                                    6022 Fir ave
    Obviously, there will be times when        The resisters can be used to baseline the                                   Bldg 1238
the resisters are simply in total denial of    defined process’ level of improvement.                               Hill aFB, UT 84056-5820
engineering and management problems.           There is even the potential that the                              Fax: (801) 777-8069 DsN: 777-8069
Instead of viewing this as something to        resisters will become users.                                     Phone: (801) 775-5555 DsN: 775-5555
overcome, use these resisters for compar-          The EPG should rejoice when it
isons and possible solutions.                  encounters resistance. It has discovered a                      Or request online at
                                               learning opportunity.N
Learning From Resistance                                                                                            ____________________________________
The EPG can transform both the root            Note
causes of resistance and total denial into     1. When you look at shaving three sec-
learning opportunities. When the resisters        onds off a 300-second activity, there is                                __________________________
do not have a problem and the solution is         not sufficient change to consider it an
not a solution for them, resisters provide        improvement. A 1 percent change usu-                                        _________________________
the EPG with another addition to the              ally does not fall within what an orga-
organization’s set of standard processes.         nization considers to be an improve-                                      __________________________
    When the process addresses the wrong          ment as specified in the Organizational
problem, the resistance helps the EPG to          Innovation and Deployment process
prioritize which processes to define and                                                                               ________________________________
                                                  area. Organizations will usually set
improve next. Resistance due to the wrong         their improvement thresholds around
solution allows the EPG to adjust its             10 percent before deeming a change to                                  ________________________________
defined process to address a new problem          be an improvement and deploying it.
area.                                                                                                                    ______________________________
    Resisters in denial can also provide a               About the Author
learning opportunity. By using resisters as
                                                                                                                     _____________     _________________
reviewers, the EPG can learn that certain                      David P. Quinn is the
steps in the process do not add value. The                     managing director for
EPG should approach these resisters with                                                                                    ___________________________
                                                               process services at
questions such as: “How do you handle
                                                               MOSAIC Technologies
this situation?” or “What would help you                                                                                  ______________________________
in this situation?” The answers allow the                      Group, Inc. He has more
EPG to adjust and improve the defined                          than 25 years of software
                                                and systems development, maintenance,                                 _________________________________
process, and possibly gain buy-in from the
resisters.                                      and management experience. Quinn also                         CHECk BoX(Es) To rEqUEsT BaCk issUEs:
    Resisters in denial provide the EPG         has more than 15 years of experience as
with a performance baseline for compari-                                                                      DEC2007    J    soFTwarE sUsTaiNMENT
                                                a process improvement consultant. He is
son when determining whether a defined                                                                        FEB2008 J       sMall ProjECTs, BiG issUEs
                                                a certified SCAMPISM lead appraiser for
process is an improvement. If the defined       CMMI for Development as well as a cer-                        Mar2008 J       THE BEGiNNiNG
process is an improvement (and this is not                                                                    aPr2008 J       ProjECT TraCkiNG
always a safe assumption), the resisters        tified Introduction to the CMMI for
should realize they do have a problem and       Development instructor. He was also a                         May2008 J       lEaN PriNCiPlEs
look to adopt the defined process.              member of the SW-CMM Advisory                                 sEPT2008 J      aPPliCaTioN sECUriTy
    Additionally, this baseline comparison      Board for two years.                                          oCT2008 J       FaUlT-TolEraNT sysTEMs
allows the organization to determine if
the improvement is significant enough to                                                                      Nov2008 J       iNTEroPEraBiliTy
                                                      MOSAIC Technologies Group, Inc.
warrant extended use. I’ll always remem-              8161 Maple Lawn BLVD                                    DEC2008 J       DaTa aND DaTa MGMT.
ber the time I changed a sort program                 STE 430                                                 jaN2009 J       ENG. For ProDUCTioN
that shaved three seconds from a five-                Fulton, MD 20759                                        FEB2009 J       sw aND sys iNTEGraTioN
minute program. It was by definition an               Phone: (717) 451-2149
improvement, but it did not warrant the                                                                       Mar/aPr09 J     rEiN. GooD PraCTiCEs
                                                      E-mail: dquinn@
effort to develop or implement the                                                                            May/jUNE09 J    raPiD & rEliaBlE DEv.
change1. A baseline comparison lets the
organization perform a quantitative cost-                                                                     To request back issues on topics not
benefit analysis for its decision-making                                                                      listed above, please contact <stsc.
                                                    SCAMPI is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University.> .

July/August 2009                                                                                                                33

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