Do You Need Annoyance to Change?

As we proceed in this long winter, it’s clear that Boston has significant infrastructure technical debt. The subway/bus system, known as the “T” has to shut down to clear the tracks. That’s due to several problems:

  • The system is a combination above-ground and underground system
  • The system is not resilient. Many of the cars are old and still run on DC current.
  • The system has been underfunded for many years. The state has not funded basic preventive maintenance.

Right now, we have about 80 inches of snow on the ground. Normally, in the Boston area, we have thaws, so the snow doesn’t stick around. Not this year. We have been in a deep freeze. None of the snow has gone anywhere.

The streets are narrow. So are the sidewalks. People want to take the T, and can’t.  The lines for buses are crazy-long. The subway cars are full. And, the T shuts down to deal with the snow. It’s nuts.

People are calling for change. We will see if the T gets the funds it needs. Politics abound. Who knows?

I bet you see problems at work just like the T. Maybe you have products with significant technical debt. Maybe you aren’t organized in any way that makes sense for the work you need to do. Maybe your managers are spread too thin to be effective. Those are some of the problems I see. You may have others.

How much annoyance do you have? Is it enough to change?

In politics, we often see the need for high annoyance to provoke change. Maybe this winter is the turning point for the T.

Ir organizations, there is often some precipitating circumstance that helps people see that change is necessary. If you use the Satir change model, that circumstance is a foreign element. Sometimes, people need to see something that jerks them out of their comfortable existence to start to change.

If you need some sort of annoyance to change, you are not alone.

The question behind the need-annoyance question is this: How is this working for you?

If you are happy with this situation, no problem. But, sometimes you might want to choose how you change.

If you don’t want to wait for an emergency, or a huge problem, you may have to learn to recognize annoyances when they are small.

I have a client who thought they were “doing agile.” They never quite got to done on their stories. They did not have releasable software at the end of each iteration. They had a growing backlog of test automation they needed to do “in the future.”

I suggested that they use their retrospectives to discover why they never quite finished stories. I suspected they had a number of interrelated causes. They postponed that internal assessment.

One day, a Big Manager came to the project manager and the product owner and said, “We need to ship next week.” The PM and the PO said, “We’re not ready. We have too many defects. We can’t ship next week.”

Big Manager said, “You have a week to release. I don’t want to hear any complaints.” Big Manager was a very large annoyance to the team, in addition to their product problems.

The project team had been working around those annoyances of not quite finishing. Now, those annoyances were gigantic obstacles. What could they do?

They did have a retrospective. They discovered several root causes. They started to swarm over each feature (no more tasks), and they made tremendous progress in one week. They also learned they could change much faster than they expected.

Little annoyances are the first sign you might have a change coming, or that you need to change. You don’t want those annoyances to grow into obstacles.

The question this week is: Do you need annoyance to change? (That provokes me to ask: Is that a risk you can live with?)

2 thoughts on “Do You Need Annoyance to Change?”

  1. High annoyance often provoke change, I agree with you. But a rushed reaction to a high annoyance might also lead to bad decision. This decision might be a response to that particular annoyance but not address the roots of the issue. Happy to see that sometimes responding to an emergency can improve projects! Thanks for your article Johanna.

    1. Cecile, you are right! Rushing to a decision, without understanding your possibilities is not a good idea. Hmm, you’ve given me another idea for next week’s question. Thanks!

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