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This chapter is from the book

Addressing Some Concerns

Treat Resistance as a Resource

If you’re reading this book, you’re likely to be an advocate for BDD on your team, which means you’re likely to run into resistance from other people who aren’t as excited about the change.

You might see that resistance as something you need to fight against to successfully adopt BDD on your team. Or you might write it off as just “resistance to change.” We’d like to suggest an alternative: Gratefully accept that resistance as a useful resource.5

For the most part, people don’t actually resist change per se. People make changes all the time—and that person you think of as “resistant to change” would eagerly change many things in their life if they were to win the lottery. But people do resist particular changes, changes where they don’t, for whatever reason, see a likely net positive outcome. This means that when you encounter resistance, you have an opportunity to learn something that might improve your proposed change. When someone resists your proposed change, ask yourself, “What do they know that I don’t know?”

To answer that question, we’ve found it useful to think in terms of different layers of resistance, or layers of buy-in, based on a model from Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. There are several different formulations of this, with different numbers of layers, but we like Dr. K. J. Youngman’s:

  1. We don’t agree about the extent or nature of the problem.

  2. We don’t agree about the direction or completeness of the solution.

  3. We can see additional negative outcomes.

  4. We can see real obstacles.

  5. We doubt the collaboration of others.6

Start at the beginning of the list and look for where the resistance begins. Maybe the person agrees there’s a problem to solve but they’re not convinced your proposal actually solves it. Find out what they know about the solution; perhaps they’ve seen something similar in the past that didn’t work. You might be able to learn something from that failure. Or, you might be able to persuade them that this solution is different.

Maybe they agree the solution will work but they also see potential side effects. Again, what do they know that you don’t? Perhaps you need to add something to your proposed change to mitigate the side effects.

In the previous conversation, Jonah engaged Sam to explore Sam’s resistance. Sam had three main objections, all at level 3:

  • BDD will cause us to spend too much time in meetings.

  • Feature files will have to change too often.

  • My role will be marginalized or unappreciated in this new approach.

Notice that Sam wasn’t objecting that things were fine and there was no need to change (level 1) or that BDD wouldn’t solve their problems (level 2). He was saying that, even if it worked, BDD would cause negative side effects. So, Jonah engaged Sam in conversation about those potential side effects and how to prevent or mitigate them. Had Jonah focused on the problem and how BDD would solve it, he wouldn’t have won Sam’s willingness to participate in the experiment. Sam might even have worked against the experiment. But because Jonah heard and engaged Sam’s concerns, Sam’s on board and his feedback can help make the experiment stronger.

One pleasant surprise with this approach to resistance is how often the person putting up the biggest resistance becomes the biggest supporter of the change once you listen to them and incorporate what they know.

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