Continuous Delivery demands Continuous Discovery

This is the second of an informal series of posts suggested in the July roundup,  expanding on tweets that have sprung to mind while writing (or thinking about writing) my third book, working title Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. In case you missed first one: You can’t deliver a task.

Tweet #2:

Do you recognise this pattern?

  • We get somewhat good at building stuff
  • Later,  we get somewhat good at testing it
  • Later still, we get good at deployment, so good in fact that we can do it at will
  • As work starts to flow, deficiencies in development and testing become more apparent, and they get dealt with
  • All of a sudden, the real bottleneck turns out to be outside of development – a lack of high quality ideas in the pipeline and/or frustrating delays in getting decisions made
  • Now what???

There is something almost inevitable in this sequence – in fact anyone familiar with the Theory of Constraints (TOC) will expect it! If you’re unfamiliar with TOC, it’s the model behind Eli Goldratt’s classic business novel The Goal, and much more recently the DevOps novel The Phoenix Project; TOC teaches that once you’ve addressed enough of your internal constraints, your key constraint will be found outside.

Although there’s a lot to be celebrated in that progression, no team wants to get to the “Now what???” stage. Your choices:

  1. Hope that it never happens (or not care, because teams are there to be disbanded)
  2. Plan to deal with it when it does happen
  3. Make Discovery (or “upstream” or whatever else you call it) a first class activity in your process

Option 3 implies some proactivity, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be difficult. Instead of dismantling that capability as your latest initiative gets off the ground, keep it going, even if at a reduced level. Instead of accepting requirements at face value, make sure that someone is taking the time to understand their authentic situations of need. Instead of fire-and-forget delivery, validate that needs are being met, expecting to feed some new learning back into the process. Simple changes, but as documented in my first book, the effect can be profound, even humbling!

You can of course go further. One of the most important moves made by the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) was to insist that every new service had a credible plan to sustain user research and ongoing service evolution – not just at the beginning but indefinitely into the future. “Start with needs” wasn’t just a slogan, it was a strategy, and a successful one! If government could do this in times of austerity, what excuse does your organisation have?


Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)

Make yourself known the #agendashift-studio channel in Slack if interested in attending another cozy 1-day or 2-day workshop for 3-4 participants in my studio office in Chesterfield, Derbyshire (minutes away from the Peak District National Park).


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

Agendashift surveys are now multilingual

Another quick one, and also language-related…

A number of Agendashift surveys have been multinational, but not multilingual. Or at least, not easily: for the Agendashift global survey for example, I set up separate surveys for each supported language, and then linked to them individually from the landing page. Clunky to put it mildly, and not something I would want to do again.

Go there now and instead you’ll see this message:

The default language for this survey is English (EN). After signing in to your assessment, you can switch to French (FR), German (DE), Italian (IT), Dutch (NL), Russian (RU), Spanish (ES), Swedish (SV), or Hebrew (HE) if you prefer.

This new feature applies to all surveys. Not sure whether to distribute a survey in German or Russian (to take an actual example from a multinational team)? Just choose a default, and let the user switch as needed.

See also the following (all on www.agendashift.com):


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

FOTO in 15-minuti

Quick one: Massimo Sarti has kindly translated the 15-minute FOTO cue card into Italian. Thanks to Alex Pukinskis, we have it in German also. If you’d like either one of these, just go to the 15-minute FOTO page, request the materials as usual, and mention which one you’d like.

Massimo’s translation is particularly timely: since July’s roundup we now have a booking page up for the Core Agendashift workshop Facilitating Outcome-Oriented Change in Brescia, Italy on November 9th, ahead of Italian Agile Day 2018 on the 10th. We both hope to see you there!

Screenshot 2018-08-06 12.41.25

15-minute FOTO is our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, an essential and memorable component of every Agendashift workshop. We have released it under a Creative Commons with-attribution licence to enable its wider use and to encourage adaptations.

FOTO stands for “From Obstacles to Outcomes”, and you have 15 minutes to generate as many as you can, using only the questions on the cue card. An example of “generative over prescriptive” if you like.


Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)


Agendashift-cover-thumbBlog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

You can’t deliver a task

As suggested in the July roundup, this is the first of a few posts expanding on tweets that have sprung to mind while writing (or thinking about writing) my third book, working title Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile.

Years ago, in my past life as a manager (which I still re-enter from time to time as an interim), I learned that there was little value in me tracking tasks. What mattered to me was the deliverable. Interestingly, I noticed that when I visibly stopped taking an interest in tasks, most of my team members followed suit. I said “It’s completely fine by me to tasks on the board if that’s what works for you, but I’m not going to ask about them”, and soon the task stickies disappeared.

As a team, we made rare exceptions for features that failed our “2 day rule”, which is to say features that at a very rough guess would require more than a couple of days worth of development. Experience taught us that these were disproportionately risky, so it seemed justified to insist on some kind of plan. Of course what actually happened was that most of these big features got sliced into smaller features, and then everyone’s happy to go back to feature-level tracking.

Stop tracking tasks, and no longer does the tracking system drive the developer to work in a way that doesn’t seem natural. A bit over here, a bit over there, then back to the first bit… if the tests say it’s fine, it’s fine! Two people with different skills working together on the same feature? Go for it! And at a stroke it eliminates the anti-pattern of “tasks for quality” – ie separate tasks for unit tests, refactoring, and the like (in the global department I ran more than a decade ago, these tasks disappeared when I asked why these things weren’t happening as the code was being written; I guess my predecessor didn’t see things in quite the same way).

And then there’s the whole question of when a task can be said to be “done”. How do you that some low-level piece of work is really done if the feature as a whole isn’t yet working? Somehow I think that this may have come up before….

Screenshot 2018-05-05 06.23.15Our handy, referenceable, Definition of Done

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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

Agendashift roundup, July 2018

In this edition: Strategy workshop and Agendashift Studio; Right to Left; Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE); Top posts

Strategy workshop and Agendashift Studio

On consecutive days early this month (before things began to slow down for the summer) I led a private strategy workshop done Agendashift-style and then a small “Agendashift Studio” workshop held in my studio office in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, just outside the Peak District National Park.

For obvious reasons I can’t go into a lot of detail about the private workshop but it did result in a blog post:

There’ll be at least a chapter’s worth of this in the new book (more on that in a moment), covering the use of this kind of outside-in structure for strategy and operations reviews in the kind of depth that wasn’t possible in the Agendashift book.

The Agendashift Studio workshop was a lot of fun. Here’s some great feedback:

We’ve started a new #agendashift-studio channel in the Agendashift Slack for coordinating future Studio workshops. It’s an exercise in self-organisation – if 3 or 4 participants can agree a date that also works for me, then we have a workshop; likely we’ll have another one in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as August. They’re very affordable, there are generous discounts for government/education/nonprofit etc, and we generally hold them on a Friday or Saturday so that participants can spend some weekend time in the Peak District if they wish.

Right to Left

Monthly status check: 11,258 words, and well into chapter 3. Also, a new landing page:

In addition to the one already mentioned, this month’s blog posts are very much related to the new book:

The first of those is already a top 3 post for the year, which is very encouraging! I happen to know that at least one forthcoming article from a member of the SAFe community has been inspired by it, and I’m hopeful of some constructive engagement with other scaling communities too. If you’re part of one, please get in touch!

Some tweetable thoughts that might become future blog posts:

Right to Left will be my least technical book (it’s aimed at managers first, practitioners second), but still I maintain my usual respect for my sources. I’ve been exploring the Viable System Model as “deep background”, and several of us have been discussing this and other things from the world of Systems Thinking, Complexity, and the Learning Organisation, which you may recognise as a chapter title from my first book Kanban from the Inside. To join us in that particular conversation, find the #systhink-complexity channel in the Agendashift Slack.

Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)

Note: Early bird pricing for the Brighton workshop ends on Tuesday.

We’re also looking at doing one in northeast England, perhaps in Newcastle. If that would be of interest, please get in touch.

Top posts


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

#RightToLeft is #Agendashift (outcome-orientation) for delivery

Going by chapter counts, Agendashift [1] is 80% outcome-oriented change and 20% continuous transformation. It describes an approach to Lean-Agile transformation that  rejects imposition, replacing it with meaningful agreement on outcomes, bringing together organisational ambitions and the needs of everyone who will help bring those ambitions to reality.

Can we do for delivery what Agendashift does for change? Of course we can, The only surprise it that it’s so necessary!

It has always been well understood in Lean circles that to make proper sense of a delivery process, you must start with how the thing that is being delivered creates value in the eyes of the customer, and work backwards from there. Somehow, that lesson gets forgotten in Agile circles; either Agile is all about teams (a view I can find some respect for, even if I don’t fully buy it), or we’re fed the ironically process-centric lie that teams start with backlogs and create value from there.

Screenshot 2018-05-05 06.23.15
Our handy, referenceable, Definition of Done

#RightToLeft is about recovering a focus on customer outcomes for Lean-Agile delivery [2], and maintaining that perspective as we work backwards through the delivery process, understanding it better, managing it better, and finding ways to do it better.

It’s a simple but surprisingly radical change of perspective. With it, it’s surprisingly easy to see that there are two Scrums [3], the mechanistic, backlog-first left-to-right version and the ‘iterated goal-seeking’ right-to-left version. It turns out that there are two versions of SAFe too; expect to see more on that soon (and not just from me). I haven’t yet established whether there are left-to-right and right-to-left versions of the other leading scaling frameworks; it would be nice to identify some that are predominantly right-to-left, but we’ll see (if you can help or just want to stay in touch with this work, join us in the #right-to-left channel in the Agendashift Slack [4]).

The Right to Left book [5] will come out next summer. Meanwhile, Agendashift has plenty to offer. For example, how do you explain survey results [6] like these?

Screenshot 2018-07-20 10.59.11

When I see results like these (which I do a lot), it’s all I can do to resist sarcastic lines like “Great to see all that leadership put to such good use!”. There’s some good(ish) news –transparency, balance, and collaboration are doing somewhat ok, relatively speaking (even if the numbers aren’t great in absolute terms and they’re not having the impact on flow that we would hope for), but just look at customer focus! Fortunately, I see a great appetite for doing something about this, paying more attention to needs, embracing validation, and so on.

I’ve said a few times now that I would be happy to see the rest of my career (I’m 53) being devoted to outcomes. When I first started saying it, I didn’t have #RightToLeft in mind, but that’s 100% ok. Perhaps one day we’ll be describing #Agendashift as #RightToLeft for change!

[1] Agendashift (www.agendashift.com)
[2] Understanding Lean-Agile, right to left (blog.agendashift.com)
[3] #RightToLeft works for Scrum too (blog.agendashift.com)
[4] Agendashift on Slack (www.agendashift.com)
[5] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean-Agile (www.agendashift.com)
[6] Agendashift™ Assessments, also chapter 2 of the book (www.agendashift.com)


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

An outside-in strategy review, Agendashift style

I’ve just about finished an initial draft of the second chapter of Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean-Agile (which now has a landing page). Its three-part structure is firming up nicely as follows:

  1. Right to left (four chapters): Lean; Agile; Fundamental Lean-Agile patterns and how they combine; Scaling frameworks
  2. Outside in (one to three chapters): Strategy reviews (and related tools); Capability reviews; Feedback loops and other organisational patterns
  3. Upside down (one  to two chapters): Designing for leadership and change: Servant leadership, Leader-Leader, the inverted pyramid, engagement models (of which Agendashift is an example) and so on

The shape works, and I’m thrilled with how the well the right-to-left thing is working out – see for example last week’s post #RightToLeft works for Scrum too which is already a top 5 post for the year and is helping me find collaborators interested in giving the scaling frameworks a similar treatment.

I’ve not just been writing. Let me share four questions I posed (one at a time) at a outside-in strategy review (a private workshop):

  1. Customer: What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs? (‘Strategic needs’ being the customer needs that best define our mission)
  2. Organisation: When we’re meeting those strategic needs, what kind of organisation are we?
  3. Product: Through what products and services are we meeting those strategic needs?
  4. Platform: When we’re that kind of organisation, meeting those strategic needs, delivering those products and services, what are the defining/critical capabilities that make it all possible?

(Admission: I got two of these the wrong way round in my prep last week, which changes the wording slightly. This exercise still worked great though!)

If you’re familiar with the model, you may be wondering what happened to the fifth and innermost layer, Team. This we covered not by a question, but via the Agendashift True North, focussing not on the work that teams are doing but on ways of working.

As we considered each layer, we captured some vision, then obstacles. After exploring the five layers individually, 15-minute FOTO to turn obstacles into outcomes.

15-minute-foto-cue-card-2018-01-29 The 15-minute FOTO cue card

Precede all of that with some forward-looking context-setting and segue into hypothesis driven change and A3 (all of which are standard features of our transformation strategy workshops) and you have an outcome-oriented strategy review, done Agendashift style.

Want to explore these and other complementary strategy-related tools with us? Join myself and Karl Scotland at our Agendashift + X-Matrix Masterclass9th-11th October, Brighton, UK. Or drop us a line about private workshops. You might even facilitate one yourself – the tools and materials aren’t expensive!


Agendashift-cover-thumbBlog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…