Changing Your Organization (for Peons)

James Shore's nineteen-week change diary is fascinating reading:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

That’s a good read. Thanks for posting it, Jeff.

Over the past few years I’ve came to a lot of the same conclusions as James Shore. I’ve tried to get things done by trying to convince higher decision-makers that they should launch some new initiative, and uniformly had very poor success at that. And then I’ve tried to introduce new ideas to my immediate team and (evenutally) neighboring teams, and the results have been orders of magnitude more successful. Because I like naming laws after myself, I call it Aly`s Law of Organizational Change: organizations don’t change.

Or at the very least, they don’t change rapidly. And if they do change rapidly, it’s usually for the worst. If new ideas have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving, they need to smart small and grow outward.

As much as we dream of single-handedly turning around the companies we work for, it doesn’t happen. If it were possible for one loudmouth to revolutionize the workplace, imagine the chaos unleashed by multiple loudmouths, all barking contradictory directions. The fact is that good ideas need time to grow, and they need to be proven on a smaller scale before others will consider to adopt them.

James Shore’s tack wasn’t perfect. I’d be willing to guess that all the carefully “we ought to be doing XYZ” papers for his higher-ups were completely wasted effort. And his language does reflect the mindset of a “movement XPer” rather than a more independent, less dogmatic evaluator of good software ideas, regardless of the source. XPers really do sound like religious zealots to the uninitiated, with their own language and their own insular orthodoxies – and that does put people off.

But he did pull off some major accomplishments, and if you look closely, it’s due to four major causes working in concert:

  • His ideas were, on the whole, pretty good.
  • He worked mostly bottom-up rather than top-down.
  • He worked to gain the trust of others first by dogfooding his own recommendations before pushing them on others.
  • He was patient and waited for the wheels to turn.

Oh my God, that’s exactly describing my daily grind. I’d love to go contracting, but I have a mortgage, and much as it sounds attractive, I just can’t take the plunge. If I could change the organisation I work for, I’d be much happier. But then, after all I’m only a developer…

And why couldn’t I put my blog address in as the URL? Is this a case of a minority spoiling it for everyone else?

FYI, Jim’s site is back up.

and its down yet again…sucks I really wanted to read that story…sounded interesting.

Site’s back up. Sorry for the hassle, guys–you quintupled my traffic and passed some magic saturation point in Blosxom. Pow–overloaded server. I replaced the dynamic rendering with a static one and everything seems fine.


Having not yet read Shore’s article, I can confirm that one man can make a difference in an organization.

About five years ago I started contracting for a media company to build their web site and ended up building them an intranet. Long story short, my (unpowered) one-man efforts created dozens of online applications and services that changed how they have done business – and they haven’t looked back since.

The move to web-based applications to manage their data increased their productivity and streamlined their processes all because I just watched them and decided they needed help. No real power, but they knew I was helping them.

While not as detailed as Shore’s account of stuff, I did write a few parts about the “history” of this adventure, albeit a brief 5-parter:

…and it turns out Blogger links are a no-no, so I invite you to stop by the Morning Toast and click the “Intranet Platform” link under “Payroll” in the right sidebar…

(Ideally I plan on writing more at that blog about intranets and such, but you know how that goes…)

You killed his server man. What do we call that? Atwoodized? Sounds like a cleaning product. Nah, that server has been Horrorfied!

There is a very simple reason for this, mid to upper level managers in companies like that are afraid. Afraid of change and afraid of failure.

I’ve been told at places like Aetna and G.E. that you can always spot the pioneers, they are the ones with the arrows in their backs.

The arrows are from the ones that are not only afraid of failure, but also afraid of being shown up. If it’s someone else’s idea that revolutionizes the way the team/department/company works, then that’s a lost opportunity for their own advancement.

I have the lesser misfortune of working on a good team that needs to cooperate regularly with another team headed by one of these people. It’s infuriating how often our progress is roadblocked by his information-hoarding and CYA tactics. The worst part is that our team has to do damage control against them, which drags us into the CYA game as well.

That’s weird-- what the heck happened to his server? Hopefully it’ll come back soon.


The link does not work! I wanted to read it!! :frowning:

A world full of techies… oh the sorrow…

Oh this stupid thing won’t let me post the list so I have to break it up into different chunks



And of course, click the “cached” link for each page.

what’s up with your visitors today? they are way up…

Hi Jeff,

I agree, when you are dealing with trying to change institutional behavior you will very likely wind up (at least career wise in that company) like Jack Nicolson in ‘One flew over the Cookoo’s Nest’, technologically lobotomized.

There is a very simple reason for this, mid to upper level managers in companies like that are afraid. Afraid of change and afraid of failure.

I’ve been told at places like Aetna and G.E. that you can always spot the pioneers, they are the ones with the arrows in their backs.