Business Change

Holistic Software Development promotes psychology based Business Change practices to aid in making effective changes in structure and behavior within organizations.

Business Change involves modifications in behaviors, workflow and/or tools used to generate business value, either to optimise the workflow (process improvement) or generate new value (process change). Typical drivers for Business Change are:

  • Change in Strategic Direction
  • Introduction of new ways of working (e.g. HSD Adoption)
  • Introduction of new technology as part of new Enterprise Architecture
  • Introduction of new technology as part of a Product or Product Family adoption
  • Strategic Business Reorganization (including reshaping, acquisitions and mergers)
  • Continuous Improvement (often driven by Bubble Up issues)

Dysfunctional Business Change

Business change often involves change teams working to analyze a specific area of a business/department that is deemed to be “inefficient”. We have seen many examples of large scale protracted change initiatives which achieve little or nothing often even introducing waste and reducing Business Value. These teams often expend excessive time and resources creating “as-is” and “to-be” process maps, role definitions, responsibilities, artifact descriptions etc. This type of Business Change often has a bad reputation due to its frequent failure, dysfunctional stakeholder management, change imposition and slow nature which often seem to be at odds with in-team continuous improvement. Often this type of business change is initiated by the simple assertion that the change will result in improvements without any evidence or clarity of decision making.

In some large organizations we’ve seen the concept of Business Change slowly morph into just “communication”. Actual change, and impact measurement which are both difficult are ignored in favor of simply telling everyone what the change should be, and measuring the communication process.
On the other hand, we’ve also seen large organizations where Business Change teams were fighting an overwhelming tide of organizational dysfunction. In these cases, teams were communicating to simply try and hold the tide back by trying to inform their organizations of other ways of thinking, highlighting areas of success and provoking consideration of change and disruption.
Both of these examples, although well intentioned are dysfunctional. The former because it is simply ineffective and the latter because it is unsupported. For Business Leaders, the latter is a very expensive approach to Business Change and is often a symptom of either a lack of alignment with strategic priority, or simply a lack of directive support from Business Leaders.

A different approach

We recommend considering Business Change as part of holistic product development where the final level of “Done” means operational deployment and User Acceptance. This means that Business Change is an integral part of product planning and delivery, not an external independent function, in the same way that Operations planning and activity is part of the Holistic Software Development processes.

Business Changes that are not triggered as part of Product development are represented as Portfolio Requests and so undergo the same level of rigor that product development options do in terms of Portfolio Selection including cost/benefit analysis. This approach forces Business Changes to be evidence based and measurable rather than allowing change by assertion. As a result, Business Leader direction is implicit in the Portfolio Selection process providing a strong mandate for change.

We recommend that large organizations appoint a “court jester”, a provocateur whose job is to challenge the organization, attacking the status quo to provide an opposite voice to the Homomorphic Force we described in the Organizational Structure chapter. An official Disruptor:
  • Acts as a release valve for frustration in an organization, representing the views of those scared to raise their head above the parapet
  • Champions the resolution of systemic Bubble Up issues
  • Provides a safe way for organizations to consider a full spectrum of options
  • Acts as a mitigation to competitors out-competing by challenging the organization
  • Introduces disruptive changes from industry into an organization
Due to the potential for conflict an official Disruptor must be supported at Board level.

Approach to change

We recommend two approaches to change:

  1. Continuous Improvement: The identification of value streams and use of feedback loops to focus Business Change where it is needed. This continuous improvement approach implements many small changes incrementally to improve the delivery organization, successively building on each other the changes have a cumulative effect, resulting in slow but measurable evolutionary change. Improvements identified in one part of the business can be communicated and spread through the Bubble Up process. Continuous Improvement is normally the responsibility of each holistic team.
  2. Strategic Change: Typically triggered by a change in Strategic Direction or new Strategic Goals by Business Leaders, sometimes in response to systemic analysis or trends in Bubble Up issues, strategic change is elaborated and approved by a Portfolio Request that is selected for execution during Portfolio Selection. Often system change requires a new Business Change team to be formed to see through the change rather than allocation to an existing team.

Adopting a new product may fit into either category depending on the nature of the product and how much change in the business it requires. In either case we recommend focusing on the business change enabled by the tool adoption not the tool adoption facilitated by the business change. That is, we recommend measuring the resulting impact of adoption, not simply the number of people using a tool or feature.

In our experience the most effective form of deep ways of working change and product adoption are a mix of:

  • Visible Business, Cultural and Behavioral leadership
  • Group awareness sessions
  • Social media popularization and discussion
  • Short one-to-one mentoring sessions
  • Deep team based mentoring/coaching
  • Classroom, e-learning or self-learning
  • Evidence based change, feeding back the results of change to the organization

The mix of these mechanisms, and other communication channels, will be based on the organizational culture.

Continuous Improvement

As mentioned previously, Continuous Improvement is part of the normal day job for mature delivery teams. Because it is continuous, and normally measured, it can largely manage itself as it is already resourced and will self-correct. However, we recommend that continuous improvement is lightly monitored at a governance level to ensure that local optimizations do not have unintended negative systemic effects.
Focusing on Business Value, Establishing pull and monitoring workflow metrics at product and product family level, aggregated to the  Executive Dashboard provide simple non-invasive Continuous Improvement governance. However, as mentioned in the Metrics & Reporting view, metrication is no substitute for simply going to talk to people and see what’s going on.
Adoption of the Bubble Up practice allows for teams to escalate from Continuous Improvement to strategic leadership.

Strategic Change

Strategic Change involves making a significant change to the business, as defined by a Portfolio Request. Strategic Business Change is often difficult to measure as there often isn’t a baseline measurement for the behavior being changed, especially when new behavior or business capabilities are being introduced. We recommend maintaining a focus on delivering Business Value, in this way we can measure Business Change in terms of changes to existing Business Value or addition of new Business Value streams.

Business change involves changing structure and behavior amongst people and so is largely a communication exercise. If supporting tools are involved, then User and Operations stakeholders will need to be involved and a technical implementation strand may be added to the project – run using normal technical delivery mechanisms. We recommend that Business Change is never tool led, change ways of working first or alongside tooling changes. Forcing behavior changes with tools adoption causes resentment and frequently misses the point of intended change.

We recommend enabling business change by understanding and clearly communicating the “Change Dynamic” (the forces that are causing the change) and explaining to everyone why the change is good for individuals, teams and the organization (these three reasons may be different). If the change is not good for all 3 levels, then achieving change will be difficult – we recommend this is honestly and openly addressed.

Changing Behaviors

Business change is, at its core, about changing people’s behaviors. To understand how to change a business we therefore need to understand how people change. There are three main mechanisms for behavioral change: pain, push and pull. We recommend a balanced and positive approach to change.


Often characterized as “the stick”. Pain based change involves people feeling some form of discomfort and acknowledging the situation. Obviously people can be in a state of denial regarding a painful situation, managing people to accept a truth about their situation of which they are in denial is a complex skill to which a number of psychology based approaches can apply. We recommend approaching the root cause of denial, in business change this is often an agenda against perceived negative consequences for the individual such as fear of exposure.

There are a number of dimensions for pain in a business change context. Organizational pain refers to a problem felt by an organization. Organizational pain is a poor motivator for individuals unless they are exceptionally engaged which is why many change programmes triggered by Business Leaders in response to a perceived organizational pain can fail to get buy in from teams and individuals.

Team pain refers to difficulty faced by a team collectively when trying to function. Often team pain will be manifested by multiple team members raising the same problems in retrospectives or repeated Bubble Up issues. Teams will often innovate in process or tooling locally to overcome team pain and apply peer pressure to individuals in the team who don’t personally share the pain. Team pain can and should be harnessed to drive changing behaviors. If it isn’t managed it will have an effect anyway but it’s unlikely to be the intended effect without guidance, especially across many teams. If an individual is well aligned to the team then team pain will also be individual pain.

Individual pain is a discomfort faced by an individual which can lead to poor morale, resistance to team or organizational actions and ultimately people leaving the organization. Although individual pain can be an effective pressure for changing behavior we believe it is unethical to deliberately cause pain in business change activities. Intentionally causing an individual pain, in any context, is a violent behavior that will encourage violent behaviors in response collectively damaging trust, morale and productivity.

Often individual pain is caused when the team and the individual want to pursue different practices. As a result, if the individual is not-aligned to the rest of the team there will be both individual pain and team pain. The team is likely to exert pressure on the individual to align to the team, this can be positive but also very negative if the team aren’t careful in their approach. When someone is in pain, adding more pain to their situation is not an effective way to drive them to change.

Ethical mentoring and change practices will highlight and resolve conflicts, establishing common understanding and changed collective behaviors, rather than using individual discomfort as a driver for individual behavioral change.

We recommend that individuals are able to anonymously raise Bubble Up issues, seek professional mentoring and ethical support in healthy organizations.


Push motivation is the least effective form of motivation in terms of making lasting change in behaviors. Push motivation, also characterized as “the stick”, is simply telling people what to do and is often the direct cause of pain in organizations, team and for individuals. This can have an immediate effect but it’s often only paying lip-service to the change and will quickly regress when the push directive is removed. A continuous push directive that isn’t aligned to solving individual pain will increase individual pain and make people leave.

Sometimes managers, especially from a non-knowledge work background, may be tempted to think this is the best approach and that people should be able to “deal with it” and “Just Do It”. This is a dysfunctional and ineffective method of achieving lasting change in people’s behaviors. The result is often short periods of “lip service” on a foundation of current behaviors with eventual total regression to current behaviors.

A “softer” form of Push motivation is simple communication from Business Leaders that a change is desired by the business and why. This allows people who are engaged with the organization to validate their alignment with the decision and choose to go with it, those that aren’t have an opportunity to change their position. Letting people know that a change is endorsed by executive management is sometimes important in gaining credibility for a change, especially in hierarchical organizations. This method is closer to a “pull” motivation.

A disruptive change in environment or external factors can also create an unavoidable, sometimes negative, push motivation. In the face of a negative external push organizations can rally together to face the challenge, crowd sourcing potential response and implementing change with a strong mandate from the entire organization in response, improving engagement and morale.


Pull is the most effective single method of long term behavior change. This method involves creating a positive motivation for change towards the desired end goal, often categorized as “the carrot” however it’s just as much a minefield as the other motivators. Creating pull motivations is very difficult to get right and done badly can actually just cause pain, or feel like a push to people.

Pull motivation works best when aligned to human behavior and needs such as:

  • Biological Imperatives – such as food, sex, going to the toilet etc. Typically, unlikely to be harnessed in (most) business changes but common in marketing and sales.
  • Lifecycle progression – such as growing up, finding a life partner, peer recognition, individual mastery. Providing mechanisms for career and mastery development aligned to organizational and business change goals provides a pull motivation.
  • Inspiration – this can take many forms but in the context of business change we can look at purpose, one of the key ingredients of motivation along with mastery. Clear communication of the purpose of an organization, its goals and why they’re a good thing can provide inspiration to people. This is where the softer “push” motivation flips to a “pull” motivation.

Pull motivations normally need to be targeted at team and individual level, they often can’t be created at organizational level unless everyone is deeply engaged in the organization since teams, especially in supporting services may feel far removed from the cause and effect of business activity.

Teachers, coaches, preachers, salespeople, consultants etc. try to motivate people by inspiring them. These change agents spend countless hours crafting messages that will get into their targets minds and inspire them into change their behaviors. In this sense we can characterize Business Change as Organizational Psychotherapy. Holistic Communication is focused on understanding the complexities of language that help us form these messages properly and effectively.

Aligning messages with an individual’s current direction will reinforce their belief systems and can be seen as inspirational, similarly aligning with their life-cycle progression may be considered inspirational. Mismatching either will come across as condescending however. Establishing rapport as part of stakeholder management and being congruent can help us be inspirational and broaden the opportunity to communicate effectively.

Stakeholder management refers to establishing an understanding of stakeholders, relationships, expectations and objectives. Stakeholders are people or organizations who are affected by the outcome of an project, programme or other business activity.

A balanced approach to behavioral change

Behavioral change is complex, even if we disregard resistance to change and overcoming such resistance. To manage change effectively in an organization means understanding change motivators and creating a balance between them so that the environment is fertile for individuals to choose to change in the intended direction. Our recommendation is to create an environment where there is:

  • A tiny bit of team pain that makes it just harder for people to stay where they are than change to something else. This team pain should naturally increase slowly over the long term as more of the wider community move from the old state to the new state increasing peer pressure and negative peer perceptions of those who haven’t changed. This slow increase can be accelerated by adding bureaucracy to old ways of working.
  • A soft organizational push – just enough to let people know that the organization is giving them permission to change and wants them to, but is not imposing a directive to change. An articulation of the value to the business and why that is important for teams and individuals is an excellent way of communicating this. Backed up with visible change from Leadership helps inspire people.
  • A lot of pull
    • Alignment of business change to career development so that as people adopt the target behaviors they are improving/progressing their life – gaining seniority and acknowledged value from peers and the organization
    • Inspiration to draw people towards the target behaviors, the ultimate goal being to make adopting the change so attractive that people will choose to do it and tell all of their peers about doing so creating a viral change
The rewards and organization gives people, both financially and non-financially must be aligned to the positive change. While rewards are focused on negative or old ways of doing things there is a pressure against change.
Achieving this recipe for change is difficult, but when done correctly it results in widespread change that feels natural to the organizational community in turn enhancing engagement.

Software Process Improvement

We’ve spent much of our careers in software process improvement either at team, programme or enterprise level. Software process improvement is essentially Business Change in the software domain. Due to the need for a deep understanding of technology, complexity, workflow and various schools of thought such as architecture, testing, requirements etc. software process improvement is not a field well suited to traditional Business Change.

On the other hand, we’ve found that taking technically talented individuals and tasking them with improvement is often undermined due to their lack of Business Change experience and knowledge. To that end we value psychology based, technically grounded Business Change experts. Our accreditation programme reflects that, in that our partners cannot buy certification. They can’t go on a course and do an exam, we certify using behavioral interviewing over, focusing on experience and practicality.

Having been involved in the adoption of various processes and process improvement efforts we’ve observed a common negative pattern in software process change which we call the “process façade pattern”.

The process façade occurs when individuals, teams or organizations attempt to change their processes but the end result is that people use the new words for the old ways of working. In the days of RUP this pattern was called RINO (RUP in name only). Deeply dysfunctional Scrum adoptions are sometimes called “Scrumfall” as they use some of the language, and ceremony of Scrum, in waterfall processes.

We’ve seen many organizations who claim to be “doing agile” and yet actually act in the opposite spirit of the agile manifesto. In fact, this is so common it’s led to the publication of the “Half-Arsed Agile Manifesto”:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

and we have mandatory processes and tools to control how those
individuals (we prefer the term ‘resources’) interact

Working software over comprehensive documentation

as long as that software is comprehensively documented

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

within the boundaries of strict contracts, of course, and subject to rigorous change control

Responding to change over following a plan

provided a detailed plan is in place to respond to the change, and it is followed precisely

That is, while the items on the left sound nice
in theory, we’re an enterprise company, and there’s
no way we’re letting go of the items on the right.

Although there’s humor in these descriptions they represent a very real problem. That the philosophy and real meaning of software process change often doesn’t overcome the Homomorphic Force. Even if some of the language and ceremony is adopted at team level it is undermined by organizational inertia or resistance.

One of our clients claimed to have adopted agile methods (Scrum based) while still having a separate architecture practice exclusively following a waterfall V-model and a traditional waterfall Project Management function. This is just organizational denial, not change.

To overcome these problems, we believe a holistic (whole organization) approach to change and improvement is needed. Improving software process without considering portfolio, project management and governance doesn’t work. We need to ensure that the governance pressures reinforce the software changes, we also need to make sure that software changes do not damage the wider health of an organization.

We recommend that software process improvement is context specific, doesn’t try to force uniformity or synchronization and is based in evidence of improvement. A change should make a team healthier, cheaper, faster or happier – otherwise it should be reversed.

By implementing working feedback cycles, that don’t just report change but respond to changes at all levels of the business teams are empowered to experiment with improvements as the feedback mechanisms will correct them if something goes wrong.

Software Process Improvement is best served by accelerating Mastery in the people:

 Individual Mastery refers to the continuous growth of a person’s skills as well as the mechanisms useful in increasing and rewarding mastery.

As we learn more in a field of knowledge such as Software Development, Business Management or any of the various specialisms that those terms overlap with, we are on a journey from novice to mastery. As we learn more, we need to learn new things to keep our skills fresh. We need to learn from a variety of sources, some outside of our specialist field that inform our understanding at a deeper level.

Mastery = (knowledge + talent + practice) * experience

We can provide knowledge through training, reading material, discussion, workshops etc. We can’t change the talent people have but it is possible to supplement a workforce with extra talent, especially independent contractors with the required knowledge and skills to transfer to an in-house workforce. Only time offers experience although we can sometimes accelerate this with good coaching and mentoring.

Holistic Communication

Communication is the transfer of messages from one person to another person. Holism refers to treating the whole of a system not just its constituent parts. Therefore holistic communication is applying systems thinking to inter-personal communication. Since communication is so critical to team working, which is the foundation of Software Engineering businesses, we consider communication techniques in some detail.

Using psychology and linguistic based communication techniques and change practices we improve decision making, intra- and inter-team communication, conflict prevention (and resolution) and Business Change.