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The smell of change management

Code smell: In software development, any symptom of a greater sin within the product.

Penthatlon’s leaders meeting

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the board and shareholders, I am glad to welcome you to this year’s leaders meeting.

For those of you who do not know me, the name is Thomas Doe, co-creator of Pentathlon and head of the IT department.

I hope that everyone made a fine trip and that you all enjoyed the petits fours. It is now time to kick-start this meeting with the less enjoyable news. Yes, I am talking about the migration to our new set of applications.

Meeting by Luis Quintero

Last year at this very meeting I announced you that our company’s biggest pain was about to be cured. That all of our collaborators will finally be able to stop using our legacy catch-all solution.

Not only did we miss the milestone, but we also have seen our expenses exploded and our satisfaction reports are lower than ever. I am here today to explain the hows and whys and introduce our next steps to bounce of this failure.

But first, let me do a quick recap of the whole situation. Since the beginning of Pentathlon, our collaborators working in stores can take of their businesses via the All4Sales application.

This application includes the stocks management, actions surrounding the prices, customer relationship, etc…

Feature after feature, the monolith became unmanageable. We never took the time to look at the big picture and realize that all we did was add to the already enormous technical debt.

It was already too late when we came to the conclusion : If we want to be competitive, we cannot continue down this way.


We gather every member of the IT department to find a solid and sustainable solution. At the time, every tech radar and every blog posts praised microservices and the whole ecosystem behind them. It also seems to correspond to our needs at the time, to split the monolith !

A year and a half ago, we rushed heads down in that idyllic direction, the one that I introduced to you in the last leaders meeting.

I am not going to explain the technical difficulties we encountered. Just know that we really struggled to deliver in due time. The new solution was finally there, ready to be used by our collaborators. A shinny new set of applications available in our custom store, Apps4Stores. However, the hype was not quite there… just the opposite.

By Pixabay

Based on anonymous reports, 89% of our users found the new set of applications to be counter intuitive. 80% of them are not ready to stop using the legacy application. The stores where the usage of Apps4Stores was made mandatory have seen their “happiness at work” surveys’ results dropped by up to 50 points in two months. One could call that a catastrophic launch.

But what went wrong? How could the users not see that everything they need is right there, under their nose?

We could not - or wanted not to - answer these questions at the time. All that mattered was to migrate every user and to decommission the legacy application.

What we did, however, is to start a massive change management plan. We brought every region managers for a three days training. Everything they needed to know about how to use the applications and how to train people themselves was explained to them. After that, we published a series of video tutorials and let two months to the managers to train the collaborators in their region.

Let us just say that it may not have been our smartest nor our most appreciated move.

By Gratisography

With no precise directive and no shared values, nearly all of the managers failed to make everyone walk in the same direction.

Some stores finally dropped the legacy app, under the pressure of the deadline. Most of them, however, did not was the value of changing and just postponed.

When the date was finally there, only 8% of the stores completely dropped All4Sales. We just could not shut it down without losing billions dollars a day. One could call that a catastrophic migration.

Where could we go from there? We could choose to keep going with the same approach or to rethink the whole problem from the ground up, from an empty page. We started both of these solution and decided to see which one offers the greatest results after a few months.

Cover of _Habit Forming Products_, by Nir Eyal

We kept going with our change management and tried to create Habit Forming Products. We put a tremendous effort on adding socialization and gamification elements in our products. One could earn experience by using the set of applications on a daily basis, share his thoughts with other collaborators and fulfill diverse achievements.

It connected at first with our youngest users, but most of them disliked being addressed to as children in their workplace, according to anonymous surveys. One could call that a failed last stand from a stillborn project.


In the meantime, another team was put together to try out a completely opposite approach : learn from the previous mistakes and put the collaborator in the center of the debate.

The team was made of a consulting evangAgilist, a product owner and three software engineers. They had carte-blanche to do whatever they needed to provide a well-received and promising solution. We expected them to deliver a small Proof of Concept, a little side project with a workflow we could follow for out next products. They blew this expectation away and may have changed the while mindset of Pentathlon’s IT department.


The first action they took may seem quite simple : they put their offices next to an actual store. They are the first IT team to localize themselves out of the department, and to go closer to their clients. This way, they were able to find allies in the store’s collaborators. A lot of informal discussions were made for the team to really understand their users.

When the time was there to start brainstorming , they invited a representative of the domain and two sellers. They all tried to pinpoint the actual domains behind the users’ work.

These workshops took a certain amount of time to get right, and they needed to iterate a lot on their discoveries, but it really makes the team understands their domains.

While continuing to iterate on the discovery work, they started implementing the more matured domain, the stock management.

Knowing every events occurring in this domain and every associated actors, they could relatively quickly provide an answer tailored to the users’ needs.

The first store to try this solution out was the one next to the team. They loved the product and the approach so much that the word swiftly spread out. Tutorials and formations was not needed since the user experience was so well mapped on their behaviors.

A few other stores already uses the new solution and it will be available to everyone in the very near future. One could call that a complete success!

We have already planned to follow the same schema for the other domains. There is still a lot of work to do, but we believe that this mindset is the right one to build the best solutions for our users. Solutions that are helping our collaborators, not constrain them.

I would like to thank you all for coming, do not hesitate if you have any questions or if you want to meet the team!

This article is a satire, it does not represent any actual individuals or companies. It was initially made to be presented in Agile and IT conferences.

The main goal is to initiate debates and you can do so in the comments section.