Facilitating change

We’ve all worked with people who are adverse to change. Getting people to change and helping them to change is very difficult. The challenge is to convincing people of the need to change without tearing them down.

People always have a reason for doing things the way that they do them. I personally love ASP.NET MVC and I think that it makes software development much easier and must faster. Other people are scared of MVC because they are very comfortable with WebForms. I write tests all the time, but other people have no desire to write tests. But we all have a reason (whether good or bad) that we do things the way that we do them. The challenge is finding a way to give people a reason to change.

The fact of the matter is that many people are adverse to change. This could be for several reasons.

1. They don’t know change is an option. Every year I look back at how I wrote software a year ago and there is always something that I can’t believe that I did a year ago. A year ago I thought I was a good developer. Was I a good developer a year ago? I think I was, but there is always something that you aren’t aware of that can help you. Everyone is at different stages, and not everyone is at the same place as you. This does not necessarily mean that they are stupid or ignorant or that they don’t care, maybe they just haven’t come across something yet.

2. They don’t know why they should choose change. If you’ve been doing WebForms for the last 5 years, you probably feel that you’re pretty good at it. So why should you adopt ASP.NET MVC? I mean, is ASP.NET MVC really beneficial or just another technology that you have to learn? That is a completely legitimate question to ask, and many people are asking it these days.

If you’re trying to get someone to adopt ASP.NET MVC (or any other technology that is new to someone), you need to become a salesman. You need to sell that person on why said technology or way of doing things is going to help them. “This is the right way to do it” is not going to work. That doesn’t tell them how it’s going to help them. You need to convince them that the new way will make their life easier and then show them how to do it.

3. They don’t know how to go about changing. The best example of this is teaching people how to write unit tests. First you have to write your code so that it is testable, which means that you need to understand dependency injection and some DI container like StructureMap. Then you have to learn how to use a mocking framework like Rhino Mocks. You have to learn the difference between a unit test and an integration test, and ideally you will also learn how to write tests first. Yikes, that’s a lot of stuff to learn! The only way that I learned it all was by working with other people that knew how to do it and taught me how. So your colleagues may be willing to change, but they might just need some guidance (or a lot of guidance). They also have deadlines and don’t want to risk being late because they were trying to learn something new. This is where you need to convince them that writing tests will same them time and make their life easier because they will write less bugs and it will be easier to make changes to their code.

4. They don’t want to change. Many people are adverse to change and that’s just their personality. Other people are stubborn and don’t like people telling them that they’re wrong. These people are the difficult ones to deal with. Sometimes all of your efforts with these kinds of people will not succeed, but at least you can make an effort. I think it goes back to showing people why they should change — that there is another way to do things that will make their lives better. But getting them to this point will take a lot of patience and encouragement along the way.

Most people don’t change overnight. Even if someone wants to adopt all kinds of new technologies and practices, it may take them a long time. So give them something small to change. Instead of trying to totally rewrite their entire codebase, show them how to take a feature and write tests for it. Show them how their tests give them peace of mind because they know their code is working. Now hopefully you’ve won some more trust and can move on to bigger problems.

If you’re one of the people who is nervous about change, realize that in this industry things are constantly changing. No one can keep up with it all and know everything, so we need to rely on the expertise of others and learn whatever we can from whomever we can. It may require checking your ego at the door and realizing that you may not know the best way of doing something.

Changing might be hard work. It’s much more comfortable to do something that you know well. But nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without hard work. I promise you, you will be much better off in the end and you’ll be glad that you changed.