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Extreme Programming: Taming the Resistance

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If you think your own fear and ignorance are the only obstacles you'll face when starting XP, think again. That is just the beginning.

Whatever course you decide upon, there is always some-one to tell you you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage which a soldier needs.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

XP forces people out of their comfort zones. They will resist. This resistance comes from fear and pride. Overcome this by focusing on using XP as a strategy to increase their chances of winning.

If you think your own fear and ignorance are the only obstacles you'll face when starting XP, think again. That is just the beginning.

Other people will resist. They can't afford not to. They have a good bit of time, effort, and ego invested in the way things have always been done. Change might be risky, painful, or both. It also might cast doubt on their past judgment. You are pushing them out of their comfort zone, and they won't like it.

You'll get resistance from two primary sources: from managers and developers. If you are a manager, you might face resistance from the developers you manage, from your management peers, or from a manager above you. If you're a developer, you might face resistance from your manager or from the developers you work with. You probably won't be shot—beyond that, all bets are off. We've seen everything from reasonable and open debate to screaming matches and sabotage. It can get ugly.

The most likely form of resistance will be simple objections that XP is wrong, stupid, or inferior for one reason or another. These objections are supposed to be based on principle, but most of the time they aren't.

Where Resistance Comes From

Managers and developers are people. We human beings are wired to fear the unknown and to think we are worth more than we are. If you don't believe this, you haven't been paying attention. Unfortunately, both of these natural behaviors can cause problems.

When we are afraid, we gravitate toward ways of thinking and acting that make us feel safe, even if they are unhealthy or unproductive. New ways of doing things can be scary, so people tend to slip back into old ways of doing things. This inertia is natural.

New approaches can be challenging in two ways. First, they force us to admit that there was at least one thing we didn't know (the new technique). Second, they force us to admit that our current approach might be wrong. Our pride makes it difficult to do either one.

Nobody likes to be ignorant or wrong, because that wounds our pride. Rather than risk that, we often resist new ways of doing things. That lets us stay comfortable. Unfortunately, admitting ignorance and mistakes is the only way to learn new approaches. It's rare to be an expert at a new technique when you start—mastery requires practice. It's also rare to find that there is no better way of doing things—there is always room for improvement.

Managers and developers alike often fall victim to pride. Both are frequently afraid of change and unwilling to admit that they have something to learn. This is at the core of a lot of the resistance you'll face from these groups. Not all the resistance you run into will be this simple, and it might not surface entirely in the beginning. You have to be ready to handle it at any time. Fortunately there is a simple strategy that seems to work most of the time: Focus on results.

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