Right to Left: a transcript of my Lean Agile Brighton talk

Friday was Lean Agile Brighton, a chance to catch up with friends in the community after the 3-day Brighton workshop with Karl. Here, from memory, is a rough transcript of my talk, the last one of the day (giving me the opportunity to refer back to other speakers), and just 20 minutes long. I don’t often do talks this short, but it was fun! 

PS Over the weekend, I knocked up a cover for Right to Left (the book). It’s in the first slide below, also at agendashift.com/right-to-left, where you’ll find an overview.

Slide01

Like Sal [Freudenberg, @SalFreudenberg, the previous speaker] I’m getting all misty-eyed about coming back to Brighton. My wife’s a Brighton girl, and my first job out of uni was in Lancing, just just down the road from here. My wife’s first boss later became mine (though not at the same time), and he’s in the audience today. Hi Peter! Thirty years!

Another reason to be excited: so many collaborators and influencers here: Karl [Karl Scotland, @kjscotland, one of the conference organisers] Steven [Steven Mackenzie, @busywait], and Liz [Liz Keogh, @lunivore] to name just three.

And I get to meet Caitlin [Caitlin Walker, @caitlinwalkerTA, opening keynote speaker] face to face at last! Her book [From Contempt to Curiosity] was quite an influence on the Agendashift book.

As I talk with colleagues and as I write my third book [see agendashift.com/books and agendashift.com/right-to-left], I detect a convergence: things happening in the Agile world that have long frustrated us but were hard to pin down we now have names for. And that’s good – instead of just complaining, we can begin to find solutions! Look out for couple of those in my talk today.

Slide02

Who here is a Lego fan?

Wow, that’s a lot of hands!

Slide03

If you had to describe Lego, where would you start? On the left with truckloads of plastic granules arriving at the Lego factory, or with children playing with the finished product? Plastic feedstock, or children playing? From the left, or from the right?

From the right of course.

Slide04

Let’s try that with Agile. Where would you start? On the left with backlog items in Jira* (*other tracking tools are available), or on the right with people collaborating over working software that’s already beginning to meet needs? Backlog items in Jira, or people collaborating over working software. Left or right?

Yes, from the right again. You have to wonder though… How often do you hear Agile explained from the left, starting with backlogs, item sizing, and stuff? Rather too often. That’s a problem! It’s very easy to completely miss the point when you start from the wrong perspective.

Slide05

We can do this with Scrum too. On the left we have the two levels of backlog, planning events, and so on. On the right: shared objectives pursued goal by goal.

Here we have two very different descriptions of Scrum, yet both of them entirely compatible with the Scrum Guide. And there are two mindsets represented here. Which mindset is the one more likely to encourage self-organisation, engagement, and innovation? The one that thinks mainly from the left, or the one that thinks from the right?

Again right, no question. Why then do we mostly hear the “from the left” version? Why do goals seem to be treated as though they’re some kind of advanced concept?

Slide06

Now to SAFe, and it’s almost identical: n levels of backlog (where n is a parameter determined by the height of your SAFe poster), planning events and so on (very much like Scrum), or shared objectives pursued goal by goal (the wording here is identical to the previous slide, and it’s 100% compatible with SAFe).

I ask again: Which mindset is the one more likely to encourage self-organisation, engagement, and innovation? The one where progress against plan is closely tracked by the PMO, or the one where teams are encouraged to self-organise around goals?

You’re with me: the one on the right.

I’m not a SAFe user myself, but friends of mine in the SAFe community whose opinions I respect tell me that this tension is already beginning to be acknowledged and discussed in the SAFe community. Some implementations are more one way than the other; sometimes different people on the same project take a different view. Awkward!

Slide07

We’ve done Scrum and SAFe but I’m not quite finished with this pattern yet. Let’s try it with Agile adoption. What’s your kind:

  • Here on the left: Prescribe a solution (or have it sold to you), justify it (manufacturing an inauthentic sense of urgency), roll it out regardless of what people think, and deal with the consequences: the resentment, the cynicism, the disengagement (which is very hard to undo once it’s there), not to mention the realisation that much time has passed, the world has since moved on, and we’ve got to do it all over again! Maybe that sounds a bit like a caricature, but from the nods I’m seeing around the room, I know that this hits pretty close to home for some of you.
  • And here on the right: Agree on some outcomes (a process we’re well practiced now in facilitating), generate some options (based perhaps on expert advice, but perhaps you’re already capable of more than you initially realise), and start to test some assumptions. Who here has worked with Lean Startup? [A few hands go up]. At least somewhat familiar with it? [Several more]. You’ll know that the way we make progress is by relentlessly testing assumptions, and trying to do it in such a way that we often realise some business value in the process. It’s the main engine of progress in Lean Startup, and also a great model for change. Do that for a while and change becomes part of the day job, real work done by real people, not spare-time work, hobby work, or something to outsource.

So which is it? Left or right? I hardly need ask.

The brokenness of that left-to-right model is a serious issue. Here for example is Martin Fowler [@martinfowler], a signatory of the Agile Manifesto:

Slide08

[See agendashift.com/engagement-model]

That’s quite recent, in a 2018 State of Agile Software keynote. But he’s been consistent about this over the years: teams must have choice in their process.

Slide11

[Again: agendashift.com/engagement-model]

Let me highlight this term, Engagement Model. When Daniel Mezick used it in the foreword to my book, I knew right away it was an important term, one that I might perhaps have run with in the book if we weren’t just about to go to print! It’s something I also recognised in Caitlin’s work – in fact the way she deliberately went about discovering and iterating on her engagement model is one of her book’s main threads, even if the phrase itself isn’t there. Of course whether they’re explicit about it or not, every Agile supplier has some kind of engagement model; the question is whether their model does what Daniel’s definition seeks: promoting staff engagement rather than destroying it (creating the kind of disengagement we heard about earlier).

There is a third level to this engagement model thing, and it’s the focus of some of the excited conversations I’ve had with Liz and other collaborators like those I mentioned at the start. As I said, I think we’re converging on something. It’s about teams, as they transform, engaging constructively with their surrounding organisations, not saying “don’t bother us, we’re busy being Agile”. We want both sides to thrive! Hunkering down might make sense for a short while as teams are trying out radically new ways of doing things, but to normalise this attitude is a disaster! How is that going to encourage the organisation as a whole to develop? What we need – and it’s something that Liz said in her talk too – are collaborations and feedback loops that deliberately span organisational boundaries, and we have some great patterns for that. The opportunity is enormous – think just of the opportunities created by cross-boundary participation in strategy, for example.

We have only a few minutes left but I want to give you a taste of what an overtly right-to-left and outcome-oriented approach to change can look like. And based on what we’ve experienced over the course of the day, it’s going to feel surprisingly familiar.

We’ll start with this True North statement:

Slide12

[See agendashift.com/true-north]

Let’s pause for a few moments pause to take that in.

You might remember “Working at your best” from Caitlin’s talk; in my book I give full credit to Caitlin for the inspiration.

Now, to get the conversation started, a question for your neighbour.

Slide13

In pairs: What obstacles do you see in the way?

You’ll recognise question 2 – it was one of the Clean Language Language questions we heard in Caitlin’s keynote:

Slide14

With your neighbour, and with respect to the obstacles you identified: What would you like to have happen?

We’re starting a process Caitlin described as “modelling a landscape”; here we’re modelling a particular kind of landscape, a landscape of obstacles and outcomes. We could dig into the obstacles, but instead we’re going to go deeper into outcome space – it turns out this is a much better use of our time (quick book plug: Solutions Focus):

Slide15

In your pairs: Then what happens?

People sometimes say to me “Oh, this is the 5 Whys!”. In a way it is, but here we’re going forwards into outcome space, not backwards into obstacle space. But now that we’re on the subject, I have to tell the 5 Whys joke:

Q: Why are the 5 Whys called the 5 Whys
A: Because with the 6th Why you get a punch in the face

We could break a relentless line of questioning with a different choice of question, perhaps one of the questions Caitlin introduced to us this morning. But let’s risk it:

Slide16

In your pairs: Then what happens?

Slide17

[See agendashift.com/15-minute-foto]

What we’ve done here is a super-quick, stripped-down version of our Clean Language coaching game, 15-minute FOTO. We’ve open sourced it, so you can download everything you need to play the full version. We do it in table groups of around 4 people, and in just 15 minutes, each group can easily generate 15 or more outcomes. Across a few table groups it can generate loads – it’s really effective.

Slide18

[See agendashift.com/overview]

In our workshops or as part of a longer engagement we actually use it twice: once as part of Discovery, to help explore our ambitions and aspirations, and for a second time in Exploration when we’re looking for the opportunities to take forward.

Slide19

[See agendashift.com/done]

I’m done, at least in the sense that my 20 minutes are up. I hope that someone’s need was met. Thank you very much.


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Italy, Germany):


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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…

5 reasons to come to an Agendashift workshop

The day before the main conference Italian Agile Days 2018 (Brescia, November) I’m doing a Pre-conference workshop: Facilitating Outcome-Oriented Change. To help publicise the workshop I did a quick Q&A with organisers Stefano and Fabio and it seemed a waste not to reuse it, so here it is!

1. Why do I have to participate?

The Agile community is waking up to the fact that Agile by imposition is not only wrong, it doesn’t work. “An absolute travesty” is how Agile manifesto signatory Martin Fowler described it recently. Of course, if all you were going to do about it was to complain, that would just be whining and you’re better than that – you want practical alternatives.

2. What problems will help me deal with?

One reason that mediocre systems get built is that people fixate on solutions and their so-called requirements long before needs have been explored and meaningful outcomes articulated. If they are to work at their best, it’s important that Agile teams have meaningful goals to self-organise around; often these are lacking too.

3. What do I take home from the workshop?

You will learn some practical tools for exploring and organising shared ambitions, obstacles, and outcomes. You will then learn how to generate options, frame hypotheses, and develop your ideas. You’ll be exposed to ideas from Lean, Agile, Clean Language, Cynefin, Story Mapping, Lean Startup, and A3 – integrated into one coherent engagement model, a framework you can use in your coaching or change management role.

4. What do I lose if I do not participate?

You’ll be missing out on the chance to participate in the first public workshop of its kind in Italy! (Each of the workshops listed below is unique in its own special way)

5. What will we do in the workshop?

Expect a day packed with hands-on exercises, all of them business-relevant, many of them producing useful artefacts. You don’t need to be an expert, just willing to participate!

Screenshot 2018-09-17 09.15.08


Public Agendashift workshops this autumn:


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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, September 2018

In this edition: On disengagement and Engagement Models; Resource updates; Workshops; Right to Left; Top posts

On disengagement and Engagement Models

The 2-year anniversary post Engagement: more than a two-way street very quickly became a top 5 post for the year, and I’m very glad that it did – it makes some key statements of intent and I’m sure that it’s one we’ll keep referring back to.

Very short version:

  • Disengagement is a real problem, and one cause of it is inept change management, of which Agile by imposition is an inexcusable example.
  • Engagement Models – a very helpful term coined by Daniel Mezick and used in his foreword to my Agendashift book – are approaches designed to involve people meaningfully in organisational change, so that they are engaged in the process rather than disengaged. Agendashift is of course an engagement model, and I list some others (which I regard as complementary, not competitors).
  • Another kind of engagement is also essential to the viability of any organisational unit as it transforms: it must continue to participate in the wider organisation, and in such a way that both sides of any organisational divide will thrive. If you have studied viability, you will recognise that there are huge opportunities for organisational design and leadership development there. Inward-looking framework adoptions only exacerbate the problem meanwhile.

Read the whole thing, and expect to see it developed further in our product offerings and in Chapter 4 ‘Viable Scaling’ of the Right to Left, the 2019 book.

Resource updates

The simulation game Changeban is now quite well tested, and I released version 0.4 this month. Only two things keep it from reaching 1.0:

  1. A page of instructions
  2. An alternative deck that uses playing cards rather than coins as the source of variation

I won’t say that it’s better than Featureban (which has served me wonderfully – not bad for a sleepless night’s work) but Changeban is a better fit for my current needs. I still would recommend Featureban if your main goal is to teach the mechanics, basic practices, and metrics of kanban systems, but use Changeban if you’re focusing on product or organisation-related experimentation. Changeban is also a fun way to tee up our A3 template for hypothesis-based change.

Questions? #changeban and #featureban on Slack.

You may also have caught a sneak preview of a new overview picture:

Screenshot 2018-09-17 09.15.08

After some minor tweaks and reformatting for printing, I’ll add this to the poster deck. If you subscribed to that, expect to receive an update in October sometime.

It’s less linear than the original, and from the very positive feedback I’ve received, it’s both easier to understand and more representative of how Agendashift gets used in the wild. It allows for a lot more “circling round” through Operation (for example between Discovery and Exploration as need and outcomes get better understood through initial baby steps of change), or around Elaboration as assumptions get tested.

Workshops

We did another Agendashift Studio this month, a cozy workshop for up to 4 participants in my studio office, with lunch at a Peak District farm shop. I was thrilled that two of the four participants were attendees of past workshops back for a second helping, one of whom also brought a colleague! If you’d like to attend a future Studio, announce your interest in the #agendashift-studio channel in the Agendashift Slack – from there it’s basically an exercise in self-organisation.

Then a busy autumn schedule:

Brighton (myself and Karl Scotland) is only 11 days away! There are still places available, and if you’d like a discount code, feel free to use (and share) SHARE15 for 15% off, or get in touch if you believe a bigger discount might be appropriate. Discount-wise, we give preference to employees of public sector and non-profit organisations, but clients, colleagues, and friends of the community will be seen right too 🙂

Right to Left

Monthly status check: 18,824 words, and I’m part way into the abovementioned Chapter 4, ‘Viable Scaling’, in many ways the pivotal chapter. That’s less than 2,000 words added this month but there have been some fantastic book-related conversations that I’ve found very helpful. You know who you are – thank you!

Top posts

  1. Engagement: more than a two-way street
  2. A small departure from the book
  3. “Core or better”
  4. A small revision to Changeban
  5. How the Leader-Leader model turns Commander’s Intent upside down (June)

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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…

“Core or better”

“Core or better, right?“, Daniel Mezick kept saying, implying that “core or better” should be a familiar phrase. It wasn’t, and I had to ask; turns out it comes from the Core Protocols (Jim & Michele McCarthy). Now that I know that context, it comes across as even more delightfully humble and punny than I had already assumed:

I will use the Core Protocols (or better) when applicable

In that same spirit, let me list a draft set of exercises for the upcoming 3-day Agendashift + X-Matrix Masterclass that Karl Scotland and I are leading on the 9th-11th of October, just ahead of the inaugural Lean Agile Brighton conference:

  • Impromptu Networking
  • Celebration/5W
  • The Future Backwards*
  • True North/FOTO/Aspirations
  • TRIZ
  • Wardley Doctrine
  • Assessment/FOTO
  • Schein Pyramid
  • Even-Over Strategies
  • ODIM Evidence
  • Four Points
  • Story Map
  • X-Matrix* – Delphi Style
  • Wardley Map
  • Impact Mapping*
  • Changeban
  • Catchball
  • Improv
  • Backbriefing A3
  • Outside-In Review*
  • 15% Solutions
  • Experiment A3
  • Full circle

Items in bold are core in the sense that they’re well covered in the Agendashift book and feature in any Core Agendashift workshop. Here, “Core or better” translates to “alongside the ones we’ve documented, there’s a ton of great stuff out there that can be used as tools for outcome-oriented change, continuous transformation, and strategy deployment; here are some you might want to try”.  Some of these non-core but still great tools are already recommended in the book (the starred items above).

What makes a tool appropriate? For us, it’s easy: we’ll consider any tool that engages people in the real work of bringing about change in their own organisations, so long as its use is supportive of the core idea that agreement on outcomes beats prescription as the basis for change. Our five principles and basic workshop structure (both of which feature in the picture below) help us decide where and how a tool is likely to integrate effectively for maximum impact.

Screenshot 2018-09-17 09.15.08

Just so we’re clear about our goals, here’s just one possible expression of those, a conversation-starting true north statement:

true-north-2018-02-13

A reminder again of some upcoming opportunities to try some of these tools for yourself:


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…

A small revision to Changeban

Friday was quite a big day! Agendashift’s second birthday, plenty of attention for the article Engagement: more than a two-way street, and an Agendashift Studio*, a small-scale workshop held in my studio office.

After lunch at our local farm shop we played Changeban. Changeban is based on our popular Featureban game, with slightly different mechanics, a Lean Startup-inspired board design (below), and an introduction to hypothesis-based techniques.

Screenshot 2018-09-18 11.42.20

It went down a treat, generating these interesting comments:

Featureban’s great but I think I will start using Changeban with my clients instead. By not simulating a software development process, people who work outside of technology will relate to it much more easily.
– Steve

Absolutely agree. Not once during playing the game did we reference or talk about anything tech-related.
– Karen

Always keen to make language as accessible as possible (something the Agendashift delivery assessment is appreciated for), I’ve done another pass on the Changeban deck and removed all references to “features”. Instead of “feature ideas”, we have “product ideas”; “feature experiments” becomes “product experiments”, and so on. Small changes, but every little helps!

These new references to “product” also help to reinforce an observation made in the Agendashift book: tools designed for the product development space often have applicability in the organisational/process improvement space, and vice versa. Lean Startup is the perfect example of that!

If you’re a registered Changeban user, you’ll receive an update by email from me sometime in the next few hours. If you aren’t registered and would like to be, sign up here. We’re now up to revision 0.4; it seems stable enough to go to 1.0 once I get round to preparing a page of facilitation instructions (there’s a #changeban channel in the Agendashift Slack meanwhile).

*There is no calendar for these Agendashift Studio events – they’re self-organised via the #agendashift‑studio channel in Slack. If 3‑4 participants can agree on a date that works for me too, then we’re on! We’re based in Chesterfield, UK, close to the Peak District National Park.


Upcoming Agendashift workshops (UK, IT, DE)


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…

Engagement: more than a two-way street

September 14th, 2018 is the second anniversary of Agendashift’s public launch. I’m marking the occasion with a post that describes a key motivation and gives some clues about where we’re headed. And while we’re here, if you haven’t recently checked our programme of upcoming workshops, there are four listed at the bottom. Enjoy!

We all know what employee disengagement looks like, how it saps energy and creativity, and not just in the unengaged. I won’t go into all the causes and symptoms here, but briefly, if you take away people’s agency – their perceived ability to make choices for themselves – a stress response is provoked, and not the kind of stress that you would want to find in an organisation that hopes to see people working at their best [1].

Just as anywhere else, disengagement is a very bad sign in the context of [Lean-]Agile transformation. It’s a sign that the change agents (managers, consultants, coaches, etc) don’t know what they’re doing! If people are disengaging because there’s the perception that they have no say in how things are going to work inside their teams, it strongly suggests that they have been denied the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the transformation process. This represents an inexcusable failure to engage on the part of the change agents responsible. It would seem that engagement is a two-way street (actually it’s more four-way intersection than two-way street, but we’ll come to that).

In short, 20th century-style rollout projects and managed change programmes run the risk of destroying engagement. Not only do the ends not justify the means, the means don’t work if the goal is an engaged and creative workforce. That it keeps happening is “an absolute travesty”, as Martin Fowler (an Agile Manifesto signatory) recently put it [2].

So ‘Big Agile’ bad, ‘Small Agile’ good? Not so fast. Agilists lamenting a lack of Agility in the organisation is not engagement. Tweeting false dichotomies about management vs leadership is not likely to engage many managers. Praying for viral adoption is not much of a growth strategy. And don’t get me started on the passive aggression (“We’re so Agile, we only let our stakeholders talk to us in the Sprint review” [3]).

A plague on both their houses then? No! The arguments between the two sides keep missing the crucial point that success depends on engagement. It’s a phony war, fought on the wrong battleground, few shots landed. The apparently less exciting good news: the more that they do engage, the less obviously top-down or bottom-up they become and the more that they have in common. Funny that.

It should now be clear why engagement models [4] such as Agendashift [5], OpenSpace Agility (OSA) [6], Systemic Modelling [7], BOSSA nova [8], and TASTE [9] are so necessary. Non-prescriptive by design, they work happily with frameworks big or small, branded or home-brewed, and with each other. In their various and complementary ways, they bring people together from multiple levels of the organisation, help the organisation collectively to reveal to itself what needs to change, and come to agreement on what needs to change.

But we can go further. In a transformation of any reasonable size, it is inevitable that different parts of the organisation will move forward at different speeds, and this will keep on throwing up new challenges. If we want the ‘new’ to survive and then thrive, then its surrounding organisation must too. If the new is to grow, then the old must adapt. Both have needs, those needs will evolve over time, and attending to them is key to the viability [10] of not just the transformation, but the organisation itself.

What’s needed then is another kind of engagement: not person-to-person but system-to-system. It raises questions like these:

  • How does strategy work going forward? How will ‘old’ and ‘new’ participate in the processes of strategy development and deployment?
  • On the day-to-day stuff of delivery, how will old and new coordinate with each other effectively?
  • How might this play out over time, and what implications will that have for the easily-forgotten, slower-changing, but still critical parts of the organisation? (For example, what role do HR and Finance play in the staffing, skilling, and funding of a very different-looking organisation?)
  • How will we know that it’s working? How will we know to intervene when it is not?
  • How will we know that we’re winning? Then what?

These questions could easily be re-framed so that Agendashift-style tools can be used to explore this evolving landscape. For example:

  • What obstacles will prevent ‘old’ and ‘new’ participating in the processes of strategy development and deployment as we move forward?

(Then from obstacles to outcomes (FOTO) [11] – you know the drill)

Whether we’re talking about Agile process frameworks or engagement models, I don’t honestly think it’s sensible to expect off-the-shelf products to have answers to these questions. What’s important is that they’re asked and answered, then re-asked and re-answered as the transformation progresses. Instead of glossing over them, how about embracing them? Does this not invite management from both sides of any old/new divide to become more engaged, to take more responsibility for the process, and for new kinds of leadership to develop as a result?

Screenshot 2018-09-14 05.50.14
No shortage of opportunities for both kinds of engagement [12]
I believe this represents a massive opportunity for the engagement models. It’s not that we didn’t already kinda know this, but we’re going to make it more explicit, both because it’s important in its own right and because it further exposes the bankruptcy of approaches based on imposition and other negligent forms of non-engagement. A concerted effort is gathering a head of steam here in Agendashift-land [13], and we collaborate with our friends in our peer communities too. No lack of choice there!

Notes & references

[1] I credit the phrase “working at your best” to Caitlin Walker’s From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling, Caitlin Walker (2014, Clean Publishing). You can see its influence in the Agendashift True North (agendashift.com/true-north).

[2] The State of Agile Software in 2018 (martinfowler.com). Key quote:

The Agile Industrial Complex imposing methods on people is an absolute travesty

[3] A sensible enough short-term policy designed to protect the newly-forming team becomes dogma, to the long-term detriment of all.

[4] Engagement model: For Daniel Mezick’s quick introduction to the concept, see Engagement (openspaceagility.com). Key quotes:

Engagement Model (noun) : Any pattern, or set of patterns, reducible to practice, which results in more employee engagement, during the implementation of an organizational-change initiative.

If you cannot name your Engagement Model, you don’t have one.

[5] Agendashift™: agendashift.com, and of course the book, with communities on Slack and LinkedIn. Twitter: @agendashift

[6] OpenSpace Agility™: openspaceagility.com, with communities on Facebook and LinkedIn.

[7] Systemic Modelling™: See Clean For Teams: An Introduction to Systemic Modelling (cleanlearning.co.uk) and Caitlin Walker’s book above [1].

[8] BOSSA nova: See the website and the book by Jutta Eckstein and John Buck. Twitter: @AgileBossaNova

[9] TASTE: Karl Scotland’s take on Lean strategy deployment, with the X-Matrix as a key artefact. See the blog posts TASTE Impacts, Outcomes and Outputs and TASTE Success with an X-Matrix Template. Karl is also a leading collaborator on Agendashift; the upcoming Brighton workshop (see Upcoming Agendashift workshops below) includes both.

[10] My choice of the word ‘viability’ is deliberate. Its conventional meaning works fine, but I’m also alluding to Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM). Rather than the somewhat impenetrable Wikipedia page I would wholeheartedly recommend Patrick Hoverstadt’s excellent book The Fractal Organisation.

[11] 15-minute FOTO (agendashift.com/15-minute-foto), our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, Creative Commons licensed, available now in several translations.

[12] Figure based on Agendashift chapter 5 and my keynote Inverting the pyramid.

[13] Channels #right-to-left and #systhink-complexity in the Agendashift Slack. Note the title of the pivotal fourth chapter of Right to Left (due 2019). Twitter: @RightToLeft3

Acknowledgements: I’m grateful to Allan Kelly, Daniel Mezick, Philippe Guenet*, Karl Scotland*, Mike Haber, Thorbjørn Sigberg*, Andrea Chiou*, and Jutta Eckstein for their feedback on earlier drafts of this post. Asterisks indicate Agendashift partners.


Upcoming Agendashift workshops (UK, IT, DE)


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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…

A small departure from the book

Slightly technical, but if you’re interested in what we know to be a remarkably effective combination of Clean Language, Cynefin, and Story Mapping as practiced in most Agendashift workshops, read on…

One of the notable highlights of an Agendashift workshop comes when we take the list of outcomes generated by the 15-minute FOTO game [1], transcribe them onto stickies, and organise them 4-points style [2]:

cynefin-finished-2017-12-16

Through the experience of the ‘4 points contextualisation exercise’ (to give it almost its full name), participants are slowly introduced to the Cynefin framework [3], the facilitator trying all the while to avoid naming the model or using Cynefin terminology such as ‘obvious’, ‘complicated’, ‘complex’, or ‘chaos’ (trust me, it’s hard!). For participants familiar with the model, it’s always a funny moment when the penny finally drops and the realisation dawns that Cynefin can be so much more than just a conceptual model, especially when there’s a good supply of ‘narrative fragments’ – outcomes, in our case – to play with. For those that haven’t come across it before, it’s a great opportunity to explore why different kinds of outcomes need different kinds of approaches, a lesson that’s much more meaningful when it’s learned through interacting with your own data (‘sensemaking’) than it would be as a lecture.

Up to now – and as described in the book [4] – the translation from the Cynefin representation to one based on a story map has been a 2-stage process. First, a few minutes of organised chaos as stickies are moved to under their respective headings:

Second, as much time as we want to spend – anything from a few moments to an hour or more – prioritising stickies within columns, and through that process making sure that there is a shared understanding of what each of them means and their possible dependencies on other stickies. Anyone who has done story mapping before will recognise that this can provide an important opportunity for some valuable conversations; we’ve found this to be the case even in public workshops, with ‘teachable moments’ aplenty.

A refinement

Instead of the ‘organised chaos’ followed by prioritisation, work clockwise from bottom right, prioritising as we go:

  • Starting with the ‘obviously obvious’: Sticky by sticky, check that they really are obvious (ie we can all quickly agree what needs to be done and can be pretty sure of the likely outcome), put them in their correct columns, and prioritise. Prioritisation will be easy, as there’ll be at most a few per column, a mixture of quick wins and less important items.
  • The ‘borderline complicated’: For the items on the border between obvious and complicated, explore why they were placed there, and discuss what should be done about their non-obvious aspects (perhaps there’s some important detail that someone will need to get to grips with). Prioritise them relative to the already-prioritised ‘obviously obvious’ items in their respective columns (again, this should be easy)
  • The complicated, one sticky at a time: who might be delegated to run with this item? Should we get some external help? In its appropriate column, how does it prioritise relative to the items already there?

I could at this point say “and so on through the complex and chaos” but the facilitator will flag up here that anything in or bordering on complex is likely to be a good candidate for hypothesis-based change (a session later in the day, see also [5]), and so it’s a good idea to mark each item in some way so that they can be identified easily later. And for the borderline cases:

  • ‘Borderline complex’: Are the complicated and complex parts easily separable? How will we organise this, mainly linear with some room for refinement along the way, or mainly through iteration with some expert input or planned work at the appropriate time?
  • ‘Borderline chaos’: Is it urgent to address symptoms or or attempt some diagnosis now, or can we afford to wait until we see what’s thrown up in the course of other work?

I’ll be honest: it’s still early days for this change and there’s no slideware [6] for it yet – if any is needed we’ll learn that through practice and by partner demand. That’s usually the best way!

[1] 15-minute FOTO, our Clean Language-inspired coaching game
[2] Cynefin Review Part 7 – Finding Your Place on the Framework (adventureswithagile.com)
[3] The Cynefin framework (wikipedia.org)
[4] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Press, 2018), chapters 2 and 3 in particular
[5] The Agendashift A3 template (and chapter 4)
[6] The Agendashift partner programme

Finally, some opportunities to experience it for yourself:


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…