DevOps and Agile transformations, or any cultural shift for that matter, almost certainly needs a champion to help evangelize for change and to clear the inevitable road blocks. You can’t do it that way because we’ve always done it another way? Call the Champion to get us permission to try something different this time. There’s a rule against it? Let the Champion get the rule changed or excused for now. Some one thinks you are overstepping your bounds? Have the Champion fight that battle.

I was part of a c9d9 panel discussion last year, and one of the questions asked was “Do you have a continuous delivery champion?” The answer by the panel was an overwhelming yes. Rick Porter from Revelation Software Concepts said that the Champion might be a team of Champions, but that he finds that “the success of achieving the goal [of change] is directly proportional to the commitment of that team and the amount that team is empowered to bring that change across.” It is clearly valuable to know someone has your back.

But what happens when you are the Champion? When you are the one that people are counting on to clear the hurdles and get the change through? How do you convince the Powers-That-Be that the change should be allowed? That rules should be bent or broken and processes changed so that the process can get better? Someone asked me this very question at my session at Agile2016 and it took me a while to think out my answer.

I think that your first approach should be evangelism. Explain why the change is needed and what the benefits are to the organization. Wherever possible, point out to your audience what is in it for them. Everyone is a little bit selfish at times, and it might be easier for me to support “the greater good” when it is accompanied by immediate benefit to me.

But that won’t work for everyone. Some people will need more than just an explanation of the benefits. They will need some proof. So give it to them. Show them some wins. You’ll still be evangelizing, but you’ll have results to point to. In another session at Agile2016 discussing change, Dominica DeGrandis said “Small change meets with less resistance.” Enough incremental changes will begin to show a pattern of success and tangible value that some of the remaining skeptics will be willing to start granting the team some freedom to make changes.

There will still be hold outs. No matter how much evidence, some people will still resist change. Either they are naturally change adverse, or they can’t be bothered to change, or they are actively fighting change because they feel the team is overstepping their territory. Whatever the case, you have to (diplomatically, politically, delicately) go around them. Convince their boss, or peers, or even someone in their organization. Find a Champion of your own. There is bound to be someone that the Preventers-of-Progress will listen to, whether because they respect their opinion or because they have no choice. If the Champion can find a Champion, you will be much more likely to clear the way.

Throughout the transformation, though, be sure to take the opposing viewpoints into consideration. Remember that they may have a valid point, as unlikely as it might seem at the time. They might be speaking from experience when they tell you a change won’t work. Or maybe they just have enough domain knowledge to see something you can’t. Consider talking to them and finding out if they just like saying “no”, or if they have some alternative way of achieving the same goal. And if you can’t agree on the “how”, maybe you can get aligned on “why” you are trying to make changes (another theme from Dominica’s talk). At least then you aren’t far from agreeing that there has to be a change. And then together maybe you can figure out “how” in a way that works for everyone.

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