Jeff Foster
Jul 25 · 3 min read

“No matter what the problem is, it’s always a people problem”

(Gerald M. Weinberg)

Making a change is never easy. It’s hard enough to change yourself (see self-help industry), let alone changing the behaviours of a team, organization or even industry.

7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change

In “7 Rules for Positive, Productive ChangeEsther Derby presents some hard-learned rules for how change can occur. I’ve learnt that the value in business books isn’t so much in the rules, it’s the stories that accompany them. I found the stories illustrated the rules well, and were easily relatable to scenarios I’ve found myself in.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book because I agreed to review it (but there was no pressure to write a good review or anything like that!).

Here’s my key takeaways from reading this book.

Strive for Congruence

It’s all about alignment. Form congruence between yourself (who wants the change), others (who are affected by the change) and the environment.

Honour the past, present and people

Change is as much an emotional process as a logical one. Remember no-one is wrong, no-one is resisting — understanding people’s point of view is key.

These two rules really reminded me of the Switch book which argues that the key to successful change is to marry logic, emotion and the environment. Highly recommended reading!

Switch — highly recommended reading!

Assess what is

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”

(W. Edwards Deming — maybe…)

The quote above is quite deep (or at least it feels that way to me!). For example, if your software is of poor quality then it’s because your system is designed to produce poor products. You’ve got to change the system to change the results.

This implies you’ve got to have a deep understanding of the system in order to change it. Understanding the system is more important than the vision of the future.

Attend to networks

Within every organization, there’s the org-chart and there’s informal networks. The informal network represents the company behind the chart. Information flows more rapidly through the informal network than the formal hierarchy.

This (again) reinforced for me the importance of understanding the current situation.

Experiment

Always look for opportunities to experiment before committing to large change. This seems obvious (it’s agile right? A small misstep is better than a large misstep!) but it’s easily overlooked.

Guide, and allow for variation

This was probably the rule that spoke to me most.

Like most technical people, I have strong opinions (you should use Emacs, avoid implementation inheritance and use strong types). This is dangerous because it’s easy to become prescriptive and set authoritarian standards to do the right thing.

Instead, Esther argues you should articulate the outcomes and rationale, sprinkle some constraints and let change emerge.

The key quote for me was people affected by a change “aren’t victims, but co-creators”.

Use yourself

Use empathy, curiosity, patience and observation to find the next move.

These are all learnable skills that you should invest in if you’re going to be leading change in an organization.


I’d recommend reading this book. I don’t think there’s anything in here that’s genuinely revolutionary but for me the value was in tying together aspects of change management into coherent stories.

I’ll go back to the original quote at the beginning of this post.

“No matter what the problem is, it’s always a people problem”

Accepting this and the uniqueness of people means you’ll always need a big bunch of tools at your disposal for managing change and this book is one of those tools.

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.

Jeff Foster

Written by

Head of Product Engineering at Redgate.

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.

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