Making room for change

There are many people on software development teams that are trying to change the way that their team works, whether it’s a new process, a new technique, or new way of development software. Yet so many of them never see lasting change come about.

You can try to drive change or encourage people to change, but the people on your team have to feel like they have some room in order to try and make the change. If they feel that there is a risk of failure because changing the way they work will lead to poor results, then they won’t take the chance.

Stop the fire fighting

I’ve seen many teams that feel like they’re in endless fire drill mode. When you’re in these situations, you have very short term thinking because you feel like you’re always solving short term problems. Sometimes there are fires, but ultimately what we want is more long term thinking. But in order to get that long term thinking, you have to give people some stability and peace in their day to consciously think about doing things the right way instead of doing whatever it takes in order to fix the problem at hand.

This is easier said than done. It takes someone awhile to switch from short term fire fighting mode to a long term mindset. For me, someone may say that the fire fighting is over, but until I can go a week or so with some stability, I’m not really going to believe that I’m going to have space in order to think differently.

This requires you to rethink how you plan your capacity. It probably means that you need to either do less work and get more people to help get the work done. Either way, you need to stop lying to yourself and saying that you can do as much as you’re doing with the team that you have.

This is where making the workload visible is important. Put everything, and I mean everything, up on a board. People should see what you’re working on now, what’s next, and what’s in the backlog. Put technical debt and refactoring tickets on the board too. When someone asks why those are there, explain how doing those tasks will allow you to provide more value and be more productive. If someone asks why you’re not getting as much done as they would like, you can show them exactly why.

It may take discipline, but if you slow down just a little bit to think about what you’re doing and how you can best do it, you can turn things around.