Getting People to Embrace the Change Required for Agile: An Interview with Bob Galen


In this interview, Bob Galen, an agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach, explains why in order to become agile, people need to overcome their resistance to change. Bob details why agile works, how people's jobs will be safe, and why "change from the bottom up" can only get you so far.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with another interview. Bob, thanks for being here.

Bob Galen: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. I'm so glad to have you again. Agile's your middle name. If people don't know, it's Bob Agile Galen.

Bob Galen: I've been told that. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: It's really Lynn, so it's Lynn, but I've had it officially changed to Agile. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome.

Bob Galen: It cost me like 500 bucks, for God's sakes.

Jennifer Bonine: I know, that's like a steal.

Bob Galen: It is a steal when you're changing your name, from a marketing point of view. Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: 500 bucks.

Bob Galen: I know.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, you're Bob Agile.

Bob Galen: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: Here's one of the things that I heard recently. I was recently talking to a company. They would be a Fortune 500 company.

Bob Galen: Okay.

Jennifer Bonine: One of their folks said to me ... They said, "This agile thing will never take off." This was last week.

Bob Galen: Okay.

Jennifer Bonine: Not, like, years ago.

Bob Galen: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: They said, "I just don't believe this agile thing'll ever take off. No one's doing it."

Bob Galen: I mean, that doesn't surprise me.

Jennifer Bonine: Really?

Bob Galen: Well, I get pushback all the time.

Jennifer Bonine: You're kidding.

Bob Galen: I used to try to ... I mean, I've been doing this for a little while.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: I used to try to fight for it. I used to try to ... I'm still an evangelist, etc. At this point, I mean, if I encountered a client like that, I wouldn't even try. I would be like, I would give them some data. I might give them some examples.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: They can state, that's actually okay. My point of view is like, if you want to be entrenched here, if you want denial ... It's like the dinosaurs are still walking the earth, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: Nothing hard. Now with some places in the country, there's mastodons, so if you wanna believe that there's a mastodon, that's okay. Give people space. I do a lot of transformations. Another way of saying is, I used to go in, and if someone would pay me, I would forget their readiness and I would try to do an actual transformation.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: It wasn't greed, my heart was in the right place, but I would take on almost anything.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Nowadays, I'm looking for readiness and I'm looking for open-mindedness.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep. Good point.

Bob Galen: That's what that sounds like to me. That's actually okay for them.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Right, it's okay. Agile actually might not be for them at this point in time.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. I found it hard to believe. It was kind of one of those things, right, where you say, though, "Where have you been living? Where are you living that you haven't run into anyone?"

Bob Galen: Well, particularly nowadays ... I mean, agile's ... Most companies are doing something with it.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: Even what the government is doing something with, the military is doing. I always joke, you know when your government is at least adopting it or trying to adopt it.

Jennifer Bonine: I know.

Bob Galen: It's not a bleeding edge ...

Jennifer Bonine: No, we're no longer bleeding-edge at that point.

Bob Galen: At that point. It is. It's not just our people adopting it. There are people ... The other thing is folks look at it as this incredibly risky play.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: It’s been around for what, twenty-one, twenty-two years.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: And they're successes. It's not all failure. It's not all successes. There's been a sufficient number of successes in organizations that it's moved beyond this risk play.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Folks should at least be open-minded and engaging it as maybe a force differentiator for them.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, or research.

Bob Galen: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: He told me it'll never take off. This thing, it doesn't work. No one does it. I wanted to send him all these links to conferences and be like, "Do you know there are whole conferences?"

Bob Galen: You should sell him a mainframe computer and some Cobalt stuff, and just say, "I'm kidding."

Jennifer Bonine: I know right, but he did have Velcro shoes. I was like, maybe he didn't realize shoelaces existed either. Yeah, so it's like ...

Bob Galen: I shouldn't pick ... You know, it's ... Again, I think it's okay, in their defense. It's okay for folks. Folks have to move at their own pace, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Nope, they do.

Bob Galen: You know this.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, they're not ready.

Bob Galen: They're not ready, and that's okay.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that's okay.

Bob Galen: I was talking to someone at the conference, the one-on-one tables. They're in a ... They're pushing agile from the bottom up.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Leadership isn't ready. They were asking, you know, can you have an agile transformation just from the bottom up? I was saying it's really ... I've never actually seen that successfully work with no top-down alignment at all. I've seen them sustain for two or three years. Usually the teams get really disappointed and it gets sad. It doesn't stick.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: Normally, I said, maybe highlight the pain to your leaders and get them to look at ... What is the pain level? Look at your past. Celebrate your successes. Look at your real pain and then map agile and say, does agile attack our pain? Is it a threshold where you're gonna get the momentum to transform?

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Bob Galen: Some organizations, they're just not ready.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Well, most of them have the pain, but they don't have the recognition. They're sort of in denial. That's okay. Let the pain rise.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Pain could be anything. It could be competitive landscape. It could be quality. Usually it's quality.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Yeah.

Bob Galen: One pain indicator for agile is poor quality, poor time to market, etc. Everyone has to agree that our pain to get over that hump of adoption.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Well, and it's interesting too, I was thinking about this. With some of things that are happening now ... I mean, companies have less time to identify that they're in trouble or pain. It will happen to them faster than they think. I mean, I'm looking at, just the retail space right now. Right? Big-box retailers. Look at how many of them are shutting stores down.

Bob Galen: Correct.

Jennifer Bonine: They're struggling.

Bob Galen: Correct.

Jennifer Bonine: The irony in that ... I was talking to one of them where their biggest competitor is Amazon, yet they have AWS as their code service provider. I thought, "Oh, goodness. You're paying money to the beast that's taking you out."

Bob Galen: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: I think there's a denial. There's sort of evaluating it. There's a lot of denial. Coming back to agile transformations ... It takes me time. I'm going to a client in Canada in a couple weeks to do a leadership session.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: The leader there, we're planning on surfacing pain. It's not just for them, it's for their entire leadership team to actually acknowledge that they have sufficient ... They're pushing back internally on him that agile isn't for them. He's like, "We are totally broken." No one in his team is really recognizing that.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. How broken.

Bob Galen: So there's this ... Actually, it's not broken, if you listen to them. I mean, they're spending nights and weekends and testing and have no automation. The pain is there, but the minute you're encountering what we have to change, then you forget all of that. It's like it goes away.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: We're gonna surface that again. It's sort of that denial or that ... It's reaction to the change. Change is so ... I mean, agile, forget it being technological, I think it's a big change play.

Jennifer Bonine: It is.

Bob Galen: Change is hard.

Jennifer Bonine: Change is hard. I mean, people struggle with it, right? Even people, I've noticed, right, you'll talk about change, and you'll sit with people, and you'll say, "Hey, you know what? Do you like change?" And they'll go, "Yeah. I'm a big proponent of change. I'm all about change." I'll tell 'em, "Okay, guess what? You're changing your seat in this room." All of a sudden they're angry.

Bob Galen: Do you ever do simulation? You do a simple simulation like that.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, simple simulation.

Bob Galen: And it's like, "Oh, my God."

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Everyone gets religious. I said, "You just got that chair thirty minutes ago. Now imagine you've been doing something for twenty years."

Bob Galen: I know. I know. I make folks ... I do workshops, like multiday leadership workshops.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: I encourage/force them to change tables.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Exactly.

Bob Galen: Right? Folks are like, "Oh my god."

Jennifer Bonine: "No."

Bob Galen: "This is my table. These are my tablemates."

Jennifer Bonine: Right, and "I got here early, so I could have this table, and these tablemates, and this spot."

Bob Galen: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: They're like, "But I love change. I'm totally all about it. Change everything."

Bob Galen: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. That's the hard part, I think. You know, are you seeing too, with how quickly technology now is changing, right? Someone was telling me today, they said, "You know, you used to come to conferences once every couple of years, and it would be a little bit different, but pretty much the same."

Bob Galen: Yep.

Jennifer Bonine: Now you can come every year and there's something different that someone's talking about, or exploring, or developing, or a new topic. It's changing faster.

Bob Galen: It's changing faster, but there's also this ... I did a half-day agile automation workshop on Monday. There are still people, where you're debating whether to do automation, where it's a debate that it has value or something. I mean, this isn't at a leadership support level. I mean, it's probably starting in the corporate culture.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: I mean, what year is it? 2017.

Jennifer Bonine: I know, right?

Bob Galen: For gosh sakes, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: I'm not talking about the tools. I'm not talking about how. I'm not talking down, bottom-up pyramids.

Jennifer Bonine: None of it.

Bob Galen: Rectangles. All I'm saying is, save your life, for God's sakes.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You need some of this.

Bob Galen: Strategically, automation is not ... it goes back to agile. Automation is a safe play nowadays. You're still ... Folks are really ... You'll get those questions.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: To your point. The change curve is happening out there. It's accelerating away from those folks.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Yeah. It's not the right model. I mean, one of our jobs, I think, is not just to introduce those topics. I think we're talking about it. Introduce that change curve and look at the gap. Also help people close the gap. I know that's your ... You focus on that. How do we help, you know, sort of encourage folks to really start closing it down.

Jennifer Bonine: Well, and I say to people, a lot of times you have to look at motivating them. When they need to change, a lot of times it's fear, right? It's fear of the unknown.

Bob Galen: Yep.

Jennifer Bonine: How do you educate them to not be afraid and that it's okay to ask questions? You know, a lot of times, I think, in this profession, people are feeling like, "I'm becoming irrelevant. Automation will take my job away. Agile means there's no dedicated tests, where everyone can test." You know, all these things terrify them, that they're going away.

Bob Galen: You're looking parochially, but when I try ... This is where agile's good. I try to get them to look at the pipeline.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Yes. Your job may be strongly influenced. Probably not go away, but really transform.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: What are you doing to become a relevant part of the delivery pipeline? If you're doing that, you're actually reassuring your future, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely.

Bob Galen: If you're adapting to change, you're reassuring your future. Now, your job is inevitably gonna change.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: That's not the point. They don't see that. They look at stasis as being safe.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not.

Bob Galen: It's not safe at all.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not safe. The longer you stay that way, the more irrelevant you become, quicker.

Bob Galen: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: That's the problem.

Bob Galen: Exactly. And again, this is where we can help, is that self-awareness. That sort of, are you listening, sort of "knock on the head" mode.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Bob Galen: Those folks really don't ... I don't know how they don't see it, but they don't see it. They're really not self-aware to see that. They're really losing themselves. They feel safe, but they're not safe.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. They're not. The gap gets bigger. It gets bigger, faster.

Bob Galen: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: You know, if you don't wake up and see that, it becomes more of a problem. It's funny. One of the things I also have heard lately is, "Oh, I'm gonna retire before AI gets there, because that'll for sure take my job. Right? Then you don't need me at all, because robots will do everything. The bots will do it all." People, again, it's just a lack of awareness, and what I would say is, get educated, right? Get educated.

Bob Galen: What I see in agile ... I mean, AI is relevant. AI is gonna be there, but it's the power of the person. The power of our brain.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh yeah.

Bob Galen: As long as we're changing, as long as we're learning, as long as we're sort of technology aware ... I think it's the open-minded. We will have to morph.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: The power ... I see this in agile. The power of an agile team, where you're not micromanaging them. You're setting a box for them to be successful. They're creative, and they're innovative, and they're change-friendly. They learn, and they kick butt. They deliver great things.

Jennifer Bonine: No, it's awesome.

Bob Galen: The power of people. People lose that. They think that ... They just don't sort of connect to the power that they have, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yup.

Bob Galen: People are relevant.

Jennifer Bonine: Very relevant.

Bob Galen: Like testers.

Jennifer Bonine: Yup.

Bob Galen: I had this ... Well, it was a debate this week. In my world, even manual testers, folks are like, "Manual testers are irrelevant." I'm like, if I'm paying for a startup today, I'm going to hire a manual tester.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Now, I'm gonna hire the best darn manual tester: Open-minded. They're gonna be relevant. They're gonna have customer awareness. They're gonna be shifting left. I'm not gonna just put them in a box and say, "You have value if you're doing automation, or you don't have value if you're not doing automation." I'm not joking. That's paying money out of my pocket. I want a balanced team.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely.

Bob Galen: With skill sets, mindsets, etc.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Bob Galen: Now, that didn't go over. I mean, I didn't get a lot of resistance. I don't think folks are really understanding how serious I was about it. There were, "Oh, it's just lip service."

Jennifer Bonine: No.

Bob Galen: No. No not at all.

Jennifer Bonine: Uh uh. No. We're already out of time. If you want to get in touch with Bob ...

Bob Galen: You can send to [email protected]. You can send me email. Go to, or you can reach out on LinkedIn. I'm pretty well connected. Go to my blog. I write way too much about this stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bob Galen: Thank you so much for having me.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks.

Bob Galen: This went so fast.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. It's already done.

Bob Galen: I know.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, guys. Stay tuned for our next interview.

Bob GalenAn agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach, Bob Galen helps guide leaders and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift toward Scrum and other agile methods. Bob is often called “a Coach of Coaches” because of his deep and broad experience in the agile arena. He is director, agile practices at Zenergy Technologies; president of RGCG, LLC; and a frequent speaker at international conferences and professional groups on topics of agile software development. Bob authored Three Pillars of Agile Quality and Testing, Scrum Product Ownership, and Agile Reflections. A prolific writer, blogger, and podcaster, Bob can be reached at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

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