Satir/Weinberg Change Curve or "That model is wrong?"


This post relates to a post written by a friend George Dinwiddie related to the Satir Change Model. In the post he refers to a tweet I made related to the Satir Change Model. I'd like to add some clarification and argue that it is not "just a model" :)

Over the last year, I've started to get a little annoyed with the Satir Change Curve. You can find this in nearly every Agile development book. An example of the curve can be found here. I've used the change curve myself in the past, so why my annoyance?

The diagram expresses an assumption that all change will improve the performance, which we all know, is untrue. If we all know this assumption is untrue, then why would it matter? It matters in the way the change curve is used.

Imagine I'm a consultant promoting reverse-typing-driven-development. It's a wonderful idea where we switch out editor to type from right to left and we start each line of code with the end. As a consultant, I collected all this evidence in brain research showing that right-to-left typing and reverse thinking enables more brain connections and thus making developers more creative, smarter and better. It will improve the performance! So, I go to a team and train them in RTDD. They start off, but it feels a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. I grab out the Satir Change Curve and tell them that that's normal. The earlier way of typing was their status-quo and this change is a foreign element, so their performance will decrease and you will be in chaos! The team accepts my wisdom on change, after all, Satir was a family therapist. Eventually they get used to it, they stop complaining and keep typing in reverse. I declare victory and use them as an example of a successful adoption of RTDD.

The above is exaggerated, but there are a couple of interesting lessons in it. First, the actual measure of performance was missing. This is common and probably a reality of the industry we work in. In product development, especially in software development, there are so much variables that nearly every measure of performance fails. The change in the example was made for productivity and especially productivity in software development is not measurable.

But, I think the most important lesson of the story is that the change model caused the team and the consultant to stop challenging and thinking about the idea. Especially the consultant, he assumed the RTDD working style will improve performance (independently from context) and with that assumption he closed his mind for learning further. This is a very common problem which happens to me also a lot--I know the solution, so no need to think about that anymore, I just need to figure out how to get through the resistance of the people. Very dangerous.

Is the Satir change curve useless? No, probably not, there is definitively some truth in it. This is where the discussion a couple weeks ago became very interesting. I grabbed my Virginia Satir book to look for the curve and... it wasn't there! Now, I'm not a Satir expert, but I couldn't find a direct reference on the Internet either. (If I'm wrong, please, anyone, correct me!). The main reference on the Satir Change Curve seems to come from Gerald Weinberg. So, the curve actually should be called the Weinberg Change Curve and should be separated from the Satir Change Model. Most of this post relates to the Weinberg Change Curve and not the Satir Change Model. Is the Weinberg Change Curve useless? No, neither, but it can be easily misused. (Note: I don't have all of Satir's work and if anyone discovers that this paragraph is nonsense, then please let me know! I'd love to learn more about how the curve and the model relate)

One last thing. George's post was called "It's just a model" and we need to keep that in mind. I agree and yet also disagree with that. I agree it is "just a model" and a simplification. However, models contain assumptions and when models promote wrong/dangerous assumptions, then the model itself becomes dangerous. If that is the case (I'm not saying it is related to the Weinberg Change Curve), then instead of saying "Oh, it's just a model," we ought to say "that model is wrong!"


Since our entire perceptions of the world are driven by models, and thus all of our decisions are based on models, handwaving something away as being "just a model" is a bit disingenuous. If a model is reasonable under some circumstances, and only seems reasonable under others, finding out what the differences between circumstances is far more useful than just throwing out the model when it stops fitting a situation conveniently.

I think I have a Virginia Satir book with that diagram in it. Unfortunately that book is in California and I'm in China right now.

We do make the assumption that "new status quo" is better than "old status quo".

We also (because programmers and managers tend to not want to deal with emotions) tend to label the vertical axis "productivity" instead of an abstract representation of a person's feeling of self-worth that I believe Satir used in one of her books.

This site has a fairly comprehensive summary of her family therapy writings:

Thanks for sharing this article. I attribute the Satir model as a form for understanding our transition concerning change management via stages from a "current status quo" to a "new status quo", as also described in the link to Steven M. Smith’s illustration. The model illustrates the relationship between resistance to change and "seeing the light" via the transforming idea, thus also explaining that to overcome "resistance" to change, change managers/agents need to assist in identifying the transforming idea. I would go as far as to say that, this model is not about performance. It's about ensuring the adoption of change. It's a change model.

i dont think its wrong but i am not sure if its a correct n gauge too. i think it has already changed.

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This page contains a single entry by Bas Vodde published on May 9, 2011 12:29 PM.

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