Friday, April 11, 2008

How do I handle negative responses to process improvement or the CMMI?

Some people will always object. There is a saying, “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”, which is so apropos to negative reactions to any process improvement initiative. What you have to keep in mind is that people generally fall into one of five populations when it comes to making changes: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. Innovators, Early Adopters, and the Early Majority are usually those people who are open minded, see the value of models and standards, and are willing to make a change. The Late Majority and Laggards resist change and do not see the value of any model or standard process. I have heard of these type of people referred to as CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything). You may want to look at my presentation on Managing Cultural Change in the Slideshow sidebar on the right of this blog.

I ran into this problem years ago when I was the ISO 9000 Management Representative in a small software company. It was a constant struggle to get people to document and follow their procedures. I even had one developer who said “I just want to be left alone in my office with the door shut so I can write code.” I just had to maintain a positive attitude and continue working towards the end goal despite all the negativity and stupid comments like “OK, what is the documented procedure for making coffee now?”

I had another experience a few years back trying to teach the Software CMM class at a client site. Most of the students didn’t want to be in the class, but were forced to by management. In fact, there was one particular student who just sat in class, did not participate, and had a smug smile on his face the whole time. Half way through the second day the client decided, based on feedback from the students after hours on Day 1, to cancel the remainder of the class because they felt they didn’t need the training, it didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know, and therefore it was of no value to them.

There isn’t a whole lot you can do with this attitude. You basically are a lone voice crying in the wilderness. They won’t listen to you no matter what you tell them. I characterize these types of people and organizations as being in the first step of the Twelve Step Process, they are in denial. They are a disaster waiting to happen and nothing is going to budge them to look at things differently until after something bad happens. About all you can do is “plant the seed” about the CMMI and process improvement and walk away. When things take a turn for the worse, they may remember what you told them and they may come back to you for help.

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