Oliver writes:

I become frustrated at trying to introduce more innovative methods of software development at the large IT consulting firm I work for. Are there any methods to trying to get 1980’s waterfall lovers to even think of rapid development techniques as anything but “silly crap suitable for start-ups but with not place in Real Development Companies” (paraphrased), or should I just quit and find somebody more exciting to work for?

Most people fear change because they overestimate the risks and underestimate the gains. If you want to convince them to change, you have to address both issues.

In my experience, the only way to address the perception of risk is through first-hand experiences that Nothing Bad Will Happen. Anecdotal, or even hard, data rarely sways anyone unless they’re already in a desperate situation.

So pick something small in your organization. Internal systems are usually a good fit. The worst that could happen is usually that you’ve wasted a little time (and organizations running waterfalls should be intimately experienced with wasting time for much less noble causes). You don’t end up looking foolish to clients (a common fear).

Pitch this system as a test balloon for another way of doing things. To smooth things further, you could throw a boon to kick it off the ground, like “Peter and me will come in on Saturday to set everything up for this”, so that you reflect that you have some skin in the game too and that you care.

Odds are that people will like how things work on the test trial (i.e., they’ll start reevaluating the gains). They’ll appreciate that you’re working in iterations, how quickly you can adapt to changes, and how enthusiastic people on that project seem to be.

If all goes well, this will lead to “why can’t we work like this on project X?”. Maybe this call won’t come from top decision makers right away, but it’ll come from anyone else who’s been exposed, and it’ll hopefully start an internal debate based on first-hand experience.

Then again, maybe it won’t. But at least you’ve given it a shot, so you won’t feel bad at all when you hand in your resignation and move on to a place that provides a more rewarding work environment.