How to Convince Your Team to Experiment with New Ways of Working

We like to say that Disciplined Agile is about helping organizations get better at getting better. We do that by offering an extensive catalogue of tried-and-true traditional, agile and hybrid practices in our Disciplined Agile tool kit. But what if your team is set in its ways and unwilling to try new things? In this post, Scott Ambler offers advice on how to encourage your teams to experiment with new ways of working.

Written by Scott Ambler • 6 April 2022


Image by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

Neophobia is the fear of anything new. It’s a natural human response to change. We all have it to a greater or lesser extent.

But how do you overcome neophobia in your team if you’ve run into a speed bump on a project—or if the team isn’t performing to its full potential? It may be clear to you that something needs to change. But how do you get your team on board?

Encouraging a team to experiment with new ways of working is both an art and a science. It requires a knowledge of what needs to change and of likely alternative approaches. But it also calls for an understanding of how to foster and manage the change process—what we call lean change management.

Disciplined Agile® (DA) offers support in both areas. Quite simply, we help organizations get better at getting better. We do that by offering the most extensive compendium of ways of working in the world. And then we provide guidance on lean change management—how to negotiate with your team about new ways of working.

And “negotiate” is the correct term. The team, after all, is self-organizing. It owns its way of working. So, you need to assess the team’s resistance to change and offer viable options for them to pursue.

One way to do that is through process experiments. The idea is to put forward an alternate way of working and propose an experiment to your team: try the new way of working for a certain period of time. If things don’t improve, then the team will return to its former way of working.

This approach tends to be less threatening because it offers an “out”—a return to what’s familiar. It also places the onus on you as the team leader or coach to prove that the proposed way of working addresses the original problem.

And there’s a good chance that it will—because DA doesn’t just catalog different ways of working. It teaches you what they are, explains which ones are likely to work best in different situations and offers guidance on how to implement them. In fact, many of the alternative ways of working in the DA tool kit are presented as ordered lists—with the strategies that are generally more effective at the top. This makes it easier for you to decide where to start.

For example, in a recent post, I discussed alternative approaches for accessing project funds—a task that usually involves negotiating with the finance team. Say your Finance folks are asking for a fixed price/cost approach complete with a business case, project costs and detailed estimates. You know, of course, that all this planning will require diverting your team from previously planned work—perhaps for several weeks.

The DA tool kit, however, has an ordered list with two preferred options to consider: a time and materials approach or a stage gate approach. The tool kit lays out the pros and cons of each. That gives you lots of useful resources for negotiating a more effective way of working with the finance team.

The goal here is to always work better and smarter, making incremental improvements wherever you can—not by “failing fast” but by learning fast and succeeding sooner through a process of Guided Continuous Improvement (GCI).

The GCI process can be even more effective if it’s led by an agile coach—someone experienced in all ways of working (agile, waterfall and hybrid) who can support the team as it experiments with new strategies. Indeed, Gartner® in a recent report states organizations can “maximize the benefits of using agile coaches by building an in-house coaching capability” and “clarify the agile coach role by working with HR to create clear job descriptions and a career path.” Gartner also recommends organizations “bootstrap their in-house agile coaching by engaging and synergizing with experienced external agile coaches.” In fact, the report also states that “through 2024, 80% of enterprises combining external and in-house agile coaching will be more successful at agile transformation than their peers.”A knowledgeable coach armed with the DA tool kit can be particularly effective when negotiating new ways of working beyond the immediate project management team—if, for example, you need to engage with functional teams such as HR or Finance, as noted earlier, or if you need to negotiate improvements with value streams across the entire enterprise—say, on an organization-wide transformation.

DA provides support at each level:

As daunting as change can be, it needn’t be overwhelming. You can take heart in knowing that just about all the improvement strategies you’ll need on a particular project have been tried and tested many times before. The key is simply knowing your options, understanding the trade-offs of each and mastering the art of lean change management.

DA offers support in each area. It can accelerate your journey, helping you gain competency in different ways of working regardless of your field of expertise or level of knowledge. With DA, neophobia need not be such a significant challenge for you or your teams.

Disclaimer: Gartner, How to Build an Agile Coaching Team That Drives Your Agile Transformation, 20 September 2021, Bill Blosen, Akis Sklavounakis

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Scott Ambler headshot

Scott Ambler
Vice President & Chief Scientist | Disciplined Agile, PMI

Related Posts


Building an Agile Work Culture: Creating Inclusivity and Collaboration

Scott Ambler shares more on the advantages of building an agile culture and how to get started. Read more here.


How to Cultivate an Agile Mindset

Joshua Barnes explores the elements of an agile mindset and what you can do to cultivate it in yourself and in your team. Learn more here.


What’s Next for Agile?

The future of agile is reshaping entire enterprises and the value they deliver. Learn more about how agile is changing here.