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Super-Story: Patterns at Work

Jim is like a lot of others who have been hearing about Agile development. Some intriguing articles had appeared in the magazines he typically read, but this was the first time he met the thought leaders face to face and talked to others who were doing Agile development. In the Open Space and hallway discussions and in the Q&A opportunities, he was able to ask questions from his own experience, and he liked what he was hearing.

As Jim headed home, he was trying to think what his first step would be for introducing Agile development into his organization. Maybe he could just get his team to think about following some of the Agile practices. Some Agile thinkers believe that it’s all or nothing, but Jim realized that going all the way would be a tough sell for his team.

Comments: Jim is starting to play the role of Evangelist. We believe that it’s essential for change agents to be passionate and dedicated to their cause. Because introducing a new idea is like selling, the first person you have to convince is yourself. Change is difficult and it will mean setbacks. To move forward in the face of disappointment, you need to believe that your idea is a good one and will help your team or organization.

Jim is wise enough to realize that you can’t immediately throw out the old ways and replace them with the new. The pattern Step-by-Step reminds us that you must have a vision (here, Jim wants his team or organization to adopt Agile development practices), but you make that happen with a series of small steps. The path might not be what you would lay out initially; rather, it will change along the way, as you build on your successes and learn from your setbacks. Our book Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas advises Evangelists to Test the Waters (try out one of the patterns); take Time for Reflection (think about what’s working and what isn’t, and learn from your experience); work Step-by-Step; and, finally, celebrate Small Successes. Because it’s easy to be overwhelmed by setbacks, take time to recognize your successes so that you’ll have the energy to move to the next step.

As Jim arrived at his desk Monday morning, he had a plan—or the beginning of a plan. He would gather some information from the conference and have an informal presentation for his team. He might even invite other people from his department, so it didn’t look like he was doing a "hard sell" to his teammates. He might bring in some cookies to make it special—that way, he could just talk informally about Agile stuff and it would be fun.

Comments: The patterns Jim is thinking about applying are Brown Bag and Do Food. Jim is right—an informal setting with food is a good way to encourage people to be open to your ideas. The participants will know that you’re not an expert and won’t expect you to have all the answers. You’re sharing your passion for the idea, and that will intrigue them. The idea of using food is an old one. We’re more open to new ideas when we’re eating our favorite foods!

After the Brown Bag event, several participants approached Jim with a genuine interest in doing something with Agile right away. Other, more cautious people also approached him. They were curious about the new idea but needed some answers before they could become supporters.

Comments: Jim has encountered two groups of people—Innovators and Early Adopters. The Innovators pattern suggests asking people who are easily turned on by new ideas to help jumpstart Agile by using some feature of it, such as pair programming, and then reporting on the results. Early Adopters can also help Jim. Their openness and interest in seeking more information gives them a reputation that allows them to serve as opinion leaders for the new idea. The Early Adopters pattern tells Jim that once he has won over this group, they’ll help him spread the word. They have more credibility than the Innovators, who are easily swept up by new ideas. Jim should make use of the fact that others will look to the Early Adopters as lending credibility for something new.

Some of the people who attended the Brown Bag were creating a buzz about Agile development. The Innovators had been experimenting with pair programming, and the Early Adopters had been learning about possibilities. It was time to get even more buzz going. Jim had been talking about Agile with anyone who would listen. He was getting some interest and a lot of questions. Jim realized that he needed to learn more, so he asked some of the people who seemed intrigued with Agile whether they were interested in forming a group to meet regularly to explore some of the Agile concepts. He had a book in mind that would help answer some of the questions he had been getting about planning and estimation.

Comments: Jim has been applying the Personal Touch pattern because he realizes that individuals take change personally. He listens to what’s going on with his coworkers and suggests how Agile might be able to address their problems. But, at this point, his words are only suggestions. Jim is also wise enough to realize that he can’t do this all alone. Many Evangelists, in their zeal to bring change to their organizations, tend to take ownership of the idea and not bring in other people. The pattern Ask for Help suggests that people who take some responsibility for the change effort become more enthusiastic. To have wide impact, you need to encourage other Evangelists. Jim also needs to learn more, so he forms a Study Group with a small number of individuals who will meet regularly to discuss a book about an Agile practice.

Now that the Study Group was meeting regularly and the Innovators had had some time to use pair programming, Jim advertised another information session to tell other people about the pair programming experiments. He encouraged the people from the Study Group to attend so that they can add their two cents. The experience stimulated a lot of brainstorming, so Jim led a discussion about projects that might be willing and able to make use of Agile and how the group might make it happen.

Comments: Jim’s second information session was a Hometown Story. This pattern gives individuals who have had some experience with a new idea the opportunity to share their knowledge in a highly interactive way. While the energy was moving in the room, Jim took the opportunity to plan the Next Steps, a pattern that allows everyone to leave a meeting with some plans rather than just a lot of good ideas.

The attendees at the Hometown Story thought that the Venture project seemed to be the most likely candidate for a project that could use Agile. So Jim approached Mike, the team lead. Mike was hesitant. "I know this Agile stuff sounds like it might help and we could sure use it. We’re behind schedule and the customer is not going to be happy when our next release is late. I just don’t know about switching to something new after we’re already underway."

Jim replied, "I understand completely, Mike. We’re just learning how to help our teams succeed with Agile. Since your release is coming up, maybe you could just try a few of the Agile practices for the next release. You don’t have to jump on the Agile bandwagon. We have some experience now with pair programming and daily stand-ups, and the guys in our study group have been reading about planning iterations and estimating team velocities. It would be a money-back trial!"

"Okay!" Mike laughed. "I can’t pass up an offer like that! But, hey, don’t leave me all alone with this. Can you and some of the others come to the release meeting and help us get going?"

"You bet!" Jim was excited. "We’ll be with you every step of the way, because we all want to learn how to make this work for us!"

Comments: Trial Run is a very effective pattern for overcoming resistance to a new idea. Most of us are afraid of change, but more open to an experiment. There is the sense that we can "get our money back" if we don’t like it. What happens during the trial run is that people become invested in the new approach and feel some responsibility for making it work. It’s a good way to make inroads and gain support, even among those who are skeptical.
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