Good obstacle, bad obstacle

Some important diary updates since last month’s end-of-month roundup:

  • Free webinar: Good obstacle, bad obstacle (EMEA)
  • Agendashift Deep Dive workshop (EMEA)
  • 5 hours for the price of 4 at the next Leading with Outcomes workshop (Americas)

Free webinar: Good obstacle, bad obstacle

If, as the old saying goes, “what stands in the way becomes the way”, it pays to choose the right obstacles! And we’ve found it to be true: with agreement on outcomes as the most powerful basis for change that we know, it’s important to start with obstacles that are real, relevant, and that don’t constrain solutions unduly.

Book your place here:

It will be recorded, but if I sense enough demand to run this for other timezones I will add future dates in due course.

Agendashift Deep Dive workshop (EMEA)

By the power of Zoom we last held our Deep Dive workshop – our flagship – for the Americas; it returns to the EMEA timezone in November. Details here:

Although scheduled for EMEA it will be early enough in the day for some folks from APAC to attend. Ping me for discounts based on country, non-profit, educational, government, etc. Also bulk discounts – I’ve had enquiries already!

5 hours for the price of 4

As of the next Leading with Outcomes workshop, it’s now two sessions of 2½ hours each. It was already in the calendar as two sessions  of 2 hours each, so it’s now 5 hours for the price of 4! More here:

And a big thank you to the healthy quorum of participants already booked onto this workshop for kindly agreeing to the change.

Upcoming workshops

The full list, the next one as soon as next week:

workshop 2x1


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Agendashift roundup, August 2020

Here in the UK we have a bank holiday on Monday, so I’m getting this out before the weekend. Long or short, have a great one!

In this edition: What I really think about Scrum; Short workshops restart September 8th; Book-related updates; Upcoming workshops; Top posts

What I really think about Scrum

Within 24 hours of publication this was already my #1 post for the year. That means you’ve probably read it already, but in case you missed it:

This one set it up:

Short workshops restart September 8th

The title kinda says it all and they’re listed later in this post, but here I lay out options in terms of timezones and so on:

Also, and as per Slack, I’m looking at putting on the next 8-session Deep Dive in early November, ostensibly for Europe but early enough in the day for folks from much of APAC to join. Watch out for announcements and ping me if you want to influence my choice of dates!

Book-related updates

I’ve assembled a review team for the 2nd edition of Agendashift and I’m about to send out a first draft of chapter 1, Discovery. As I work on the book, I’m taking the opportunity to tighten up various bits of the materials. A couple of examples here:

It’s taking several weeks per chapter, so don’t hold your breath. Got to say though that I’m super happy with how it’s shaping up – developments such as the patterns, wholehearted, and its positioning as an engagement model and so on helping immensely.

Upcoming workshops

workshop 2x1

Top posts

Recent:

  1. What I really think about Scrum
  2. My inverse square law of framework scaling
  3. #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method (July)
  4. Short workshops restart September 8th
  5. True North, tweaked

Classic:

  1. What I really think about SAFe (October 2019)
  2. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)
  3. Engagement: more than a two-way street (September 2018)
  4. I’m really enjoying Challenge Mapping (June)
  5. What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation) (May 2019)

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Short workshops restart September 8th

Coming to a timezone near you, the short Agendashift workshops restart after the summer break in less than 3 weeks, and still at lockdown prices!

To help you make sense of what’s on the calendar (below):

  • Take whichever appeals to you in whichever order, but the most natural sequence goes as follows:
    • Leading with outcomes (aka the IdOO! workshop), 2 sessions
    • Strategic mapping with outcomes, 1 session
    • Probe! Stories, hypotheses, challenges, and experiments, 1 session
  • “By the book” that’s Discovery & Exploration (together), Mapping, and Elaboration. If you’re wondering what happened to Operation, there’s more in the longer Deep Dive and Wholehearted:OKR workshops (more on those in a moment) and an outside-in service delivery review workshop is available privately (ping me for details).
  • The APAC workshop begins 7am UK time, 8am CEST – afternoon/evening for most of APAC and open to folks from EMEA if you don’t mind an early start
  • Likewise, the Americas workshop begins at 16:00 UK time, which is 11:00 EDT
  • “EMEA” means daytime UK; start times vary
  • All sessions 2 hours with a short break around the 1-hour mark

In recent weeks we’ve done the Agendashift Deep Dive and and Wholehearted:OKR as solid 2-day workshops for Europe and Deep Dive as 8 sessions over 4 days for the Americas. Anyone interested in either of those workshops in the more online-friendly 8-session format for Europe or APAC please get in touch.

Upcoming workshops

workshop 2x1


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Deeper (but not too deep) into obstacles

[Update 2020-08-28: This exercise and the section of the 2nd edition that describes it is now called Obstacles: Keeping it real and relevant. I’ve kept the former title below – consider it an initial draft, which is what it is]

From the 2nd edition of Agendashift – no dates on that yet, I’m still on chapter 1! – a followup to a post from January, The language of outcomes: 2. Framing obstacles.

One topic for last week’s Lean Coffee-style #community Zoom (see the channel of that name in Slack) was how to deal with “Lack of quality”, an obstacle that never sat well with me. Which of our checks for poor framing are failed by this obstacle? Potentially several of them! Based on our very helpful discussion, I’ll be updating the workshop exercise Deeper (but not too deep) into obstacles and below is the relevant extract from the 2nd edition.

For context, We’ve done the Ideal and Obstacles parts of the True North exercise (see last week’s post) and will soon move into Outcomes, completing the IdOO pattern (or one realisation of it):idoo-2020-03-25

And for your opportunity to experience all of this, check out the two Leading with outcomes (aka IdOO!) workshops listed at the end of this post, both taking place in September.

Deeper (but not too deep) into obstacles

Not every obstacle represents a problem that needs to be solved. Assuming that its root cause is even identifiable, when it’s something like human nature or the market economy, you don’t need me to tell you that you won’t be finding a fix there anytime soon.

Even so, it’s worth reviewing obstacles carefully. This isn’t the time for deep and likely speculative analysis, but the opportunity to avoid some unproductive framing. Here are some common traps to watch out for:

  • Scarcity language – obstacles that identify a “lack of” this or that:
    • Language that suggests a particular kind of solution or relies on a particular theory, thereby excluding others
    • Language that could be perceived as judgemental
    • Language that identifies only one side of an imbalance
  • Tribal shorthand:
    • Jargon
    • Finger-pointing
    • Language that identifies in-groups and out-groups

Often, these are easy to recognise. For example:

  • “Lack of a knowledge management system”, which very obviously identifies a solution, not the obstacle it is supposed to overcome
  • “Lack of the X mindset” (for some X) – over-generalising a potential multitude of real obstacles, too theoretical to be universally received, and prone to failing the tests for judgemental and in-group/out-group language
  • “Lack of people/money/time”, which fails to acknowledge the demand/workload management side of the equation, often the easier side of the imbalance to address
  • “Management” (or some other group) – hardly a good place to start when their cooperation will likely be needed to address whatever the real obstacle is

Sometimes it’s more subtle. Consider another common obstacle, “Lack of quality”. Which of our traps apply? Is it judgemental? Finger pointing? Quite possibly! If it might be received that way, try looking at the issue as an imbalance. With the obstacle reworded as “Quality expectations exceeding our ability to deliver”, it’s now a problem with at least two sides – consumers, producers, and potentially other stakeholders. More concretely, and taking here the producer’s perspective:

  • Where do those quality expectations come from?
  • What stops us achieving the levels of quality to which we aspire?

Note that neither of these questions prejudge what a reasonable or optimal level might be. Approach it from both sides and you’re much more likely to find it!

If the imbalance trick doesn’t work, perhaps the obstacle in question is beyond help. Take “Wrong culture” (or if you like, “Lack of the right culture”). Depending on who’s listening, this either stating the obvious, an affront, or a restatement of the adaptive challenge in terms so bland that it’s completely valueless. I tend to the last of those, though all three can apply at the same time. Honestly, it’s best deleted.

This process of review and refinement has two important benefits. The first is that it encourages you to be specific. Specific obstacles are both easier to overcome than over-generalised ones and harder to dismiss. The second is that you increase both your range of possible solutions and their sources, removing unnecessary constraints and unhelpful barriers to agreement. In a nutshell:

  • Identify real and relevant obstacles, avoiding language that needlessly excludes people or possibility

For participants, that’s a memorable lesson in the language of outcomes. For the host organisation, it’s a lesson in authentic engagement. Expert practitioners must take special care also; with their particular ways of looking at things, they can be especially prone to falling into the traps!


Upcoming workshops

See also: Short workshops restart September 8th


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True North, tweaked

Just a single-word change, the insertion of the word “ideal”:

true-north-2020-08-12

Why? Not to change the meaning of anything, but simply to resonate with the IdOO pattern – Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes. See below the Leading with Outcomes (aka IdOO!) workshops in September and October for your opportunity to have a play, two sessions of 2 hours each.

Related:


Upcoming workshops


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What I really think about Scrum

[Comments on this post on LinkedIn]

Let’s look at Scrum through the lens of last week’s inverse square law of framework scaling, its power as a framework being the product of:

  1. The incisiveness of its point of view – its core paradigms, principles, values, and so on
  2. The ease with which its key patterns combine – both with each other and with those from outside the framework

Being small, Scrum should do well on both counts; I’ll take them in reverse before returning to how it scales.

The ease with which its key patterns combine

Scrum scores really well here.

Look at Scrum merely as composition of smaller patterns (dangerous, but bear with me just for a moment) and you have to give it significant credit for normalising the practices of daily standup meetings, small-scale planning meetings, retrospectives and so on. Not for everyone an unalloyed good (“too many meetings” is an easy complaint to make if for whatever reason it’s not working), but certainly a mark of Scrum’s success.

And it gets better: Scrum as a whole is small enough that it combines easily with other things. Scrum+XP has been a thing for a long time. I’ve worked with Scrum and Lean Startup in combination (in the government sector, no less). Scrum+Kanban (Scrumban) isn’t just one thing, but several; in Right to Left I describe four common combinations and elsewhere I have counted more (it’s not hard: just consider the different ways in which their respective scopes might or might not overlap).

The incisiveness of its point of view

Here’s where it gets awkward. Scrum isn’t one thing, but two:

  1. Left-to-Right Scrum: the team working its way through a backlog that is determined for it, mostly in advance
  2. Right-to-Left Scrum: the team iterating goal by goal in the direction of its overall objectives

Left-to-Right Scrum is a process that’s mediocre (or worse) to experience, and doomed to deliver mediocre results at best. And it’s easy to see how it happens:

  • Little room in the project for learning about the customer’s real needs or for exploring different ways of meeting them
  • Thinking that the job of Sprint planning is to fill the Sprint to the maximum, a misconception amplified by story points and velocity (the problem not being that they’re nonsense metrics that cause otherwise intelligent people to bestow mystical properties on Fibonacci numbers, but that they reinforce a dysfunction)
  • Reviews not of what’s being learned about the team’s customers, its product, and the team itself, but of progress against the plan
  • Retrospectives that lack the authority to address strategic issues, and that fail to follow through even on the issues over which it does have influence

I’m convinced that Scrum would be considerably less prone to these failure modes if only it would maintain a clearer point of view. Scrum’s tragedy is that it’s presented as a backlog-driven process so often that its core paradigm as an iterative, outcome-oriented process gets lost in the noise. And from that failure, disengagement. All that hating on Agile? You don’t need to look far for causes.

Scaling it up

For the most part, disappointingly predictable and predictably disappointing:

  • Take Scrum and layer on hierarchies of organisation structure &/or work breakdown structure
  • Plug it into a project/programme structure that almost inevitably works in left-to-right terms and is given no reason to think otherwise
  • Compounding it all, the rollout project – failure after failure, but still we do it!

Again, the tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of layering on so much process that you disconnect teams from strategy and organisation development, invite them in! Instead of losing faith with self-organisation, invest in it! Instead of solution-driven imposition, outcome-oriented engagement! Honestly, it’s not that hard.

We’re in the business of building wholehearted organisations. Need help reorienting your Scrum implementation so that it can work as it’s meant to? Want to put authentic engagement at the heart of your transformation? Get in touch – we’d love to help!

Further reading:

cover right to left audiobook.001

My thanks to Teddy Zetterlund and Steve Williams for feedback on this post, and to Agendashift’s Friday #community Zoom group (details in Slack) for the conversations that preceded it.


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My inverse square law of framework scaling

A framework’s power is the product of:

  1. The incisiveness of its point of view – its core paradigms, principles, values, and so on
  2. The ease with which its key patterns combine – both with each other and with those from outside the framework

Both tend to decline with scale.

Corollary 1: As a framework’s scale increases, confidence that your context’s particular challenges will be addressed speedily and proportionately relative to the cost and pain of implementation declines

Corollary 2 (the human impact of corollary 1): In the absence of a coherent strategy to mitigate and reverse it, the risk of significant staff disengagement increases with scale.

If you enjoyed that, check these out:

cover right to left audiobook.001

My thanks to the Friday #community Zoom group (details in Slack) for feedback on the initial draft of this post.


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Agendashift roundup, July 2020

In this edition: 2MBM; Campaign mode; Deep Dive done; Upcoming; Top posts for July; Friday community Zoom

2MBM

July wasn’t really a month for the blog (more on that in a moment) but a couple of posts early in the month did do well.

In the followups to the last Wholehearted:OKR workshop we identified a new pattern, 2MBM:

agendashift-framework-overview-16x10-2020-07-07-2mbm

2MBM gets a new page in the patterns section of the Agendashift site, and two blog posts:

Campaign mode

For most of the month, instead of blogging I have been experimenting with using LinkedIn to establish/promote some key terms, and it seems to be working well. Check these out:

Further to the second of those and prompted by a conversation on social media, the revival of a classic:

Deep Dive done

By the power of Zoom I’ve been in Canada this week, leading an 8-session Deep Dive. I’m very happy with how it went – not that I won’t still want to improve it of course! Tons of positive feedback, but let pick out a few comments which relate to recent developments:

  • IdOO is the killer app of purpose and alignment
  • Learning the pattern language in Agendashift
  • Feels less prescriptive than the book
  • Multiple options to choose from for a workshop

Prescription is and always was an anti-goal, and introducing Agendashift in terms of patterns really works! This augurs well for the 2nd edition of the book I’m sure, and on that, a first rough draft of a completely rewritten intro is available in the #agendashift-book channel in the Agendashift Slack.

Upcoming

All with me, except for the first one which is led by Julia Wester:

Top posts for July

Recent:

  1. #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method
  2. I’m really enjoying Challenge Mapping (June)
  3. Outcomes all the way down (June, video)
  4. #2MBM: After strategy and ideation, operation
  5. Yes IdOO! Leading with Outcomes

Classic:

  1. Engagement: more than a two-way street (September 2018)
  2. There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR (September 2019)
  3. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  4. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation(October 2019)
  5. Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley (February 2019)

Friday #community Zoom

Finally, a reminder that as of the past few weeks our Lean Coffee-style Friday Zoom calls are now at 14:00 BST, 15:00 CEST, 9am EDT. Details in the #community channel in Slack or ping me for them.


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Yes IdOO! Leading with Outcomes

Leading with Outcomes – aka the IdOO! workshop – is the new name for the short (2-session) training workshop Learning the Language of Outcomes.

Why Leading with Outcomes? It can be understood two ways, and both apply here:

  1. Putting outcomes before solutions, being outcome-oriented
  2. The language of outcomes as an essential leadership discipline

Any why IdOO!? That’s a reference to the IdOO pattern, so good we use it twice!

idoo-2020-03-25

Whatever your role, if you’re in the business of encouraging innovation, change, and transformation – helping people engage meaningfully in change-related work – then this workshop is for you.  Among its sources and inspirations are Clean Language, Solutions Focus, Challenge Mapping, Lean, and Agile. The Agendashift delivery assessment is included in the second session.

I’m giving this workshop twice in September:

But you don’t have to wait that long!  Julia Wester does it in August (whether that’s with the old branding or the new is to be confirmed):

The single-session Mapping and Probe! workshops complement the IdOO! workshop and each other:


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#2MBM: After strategy and ideation, operation

Excellent response to last week’s #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method! Before the main business of this post, a couple of updates:

  1. In the interests of referenceability (if that’s a word) I’ve since given it a url: agendashift.com/2mbm (as shown in the image below) redirects to agendashift.com/frameworks/patterns/2mbm
  2. In the patterns pages, I’ve incorporated 2MBM into the definition of Right to Left:

    Right to Left: Ends before means, outcomes before solutions, and the two MBMs – meaning before metric and measure before method (2MBM)

agendashift-framework-overview-16x10-2020-07-07-2mbm

Last week’s post was about keeping metrics in their proper place with respect to strategy and ideation. This one is about the use of metrics as the strategy swings into action, the ideas continue to flow, and so on.

I’ve hinted already that you probably want a multiplicity of metrics. Chapter 5 of Right to Left gives some suggestions, and they’re organised by the layers of the outside-in strategy review, or OI-SR (as practiced in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop and as supported by the free OI-SR template):

  1. Customer: Customer satisfaction; helpdesk calls and hours spent on them; customer complaints, endorsements, and reviews; user growth and retention
  2. Organisation: Financial metrics, progress against relevant organisational objectives, and so on
  3. Product: Usage analytics; funnel metrics; market comparisons
  4. Platform: System performance and capacity metrics (along with plans to keep capacity ahead of anticipated demand – another good reason for the outside-in review); new capabilities and capabilities under development
  5. Team: Lead time distribution, throughput, and work in progress; quality metrics (defects escaped to production, for example); data on blockers and their impact; staffing levels; skill distribution and development

That’s quite a long list, beyond the capacity of most people to maintain on their own, and to be clear, they’re only suggestions. Both to make it practical and to help avoid the oppressive imposition of metrics:

  • Each layer is represented by one or two people (two being preferable, creating mentoring opportunities and making it easier to broaden the range of seniorities involved in the meeting overall), each closely identified with their respective layer(s)
  • The choice of which metrics will be presented is theirs (and by extension, their respective team’s¹); the meeting’s facilitator can coordinate across layers to help ensure good coverage

In the outside-in service delivery review (OI-SDR), those layers define the top-level agenda. The sequence helps to expose any misalignment between what we’re trying to achieve and the work we’re actually doing – not just within each layer but with respect to what’s been heard already. Within each layer, we go right to left:

  • A narrative update that includes an affirmation of we’re trying to achieve
  • What this layer’s metrics seem to be telling us
  • What has been learned from our experiments completed since last time
  • What experiments we currently have up and running and what we hope to learn
  • What’s in the pipeline

I was asked in a meetup last night what I would do if I could implement only one thing. Five years ago, I might have answered with “Validation”; today, my answer is the OI-SDR. It’s a piece of deliberate organisation design, building in the strong organisational expectation that learning will be happening – learning about our customers and learning about ourselves. An opportunity for double loop learning. And to do it justice, you’ll soon be practicing validation anyway!

Find out more

The OI-SR and OI-SDR are described in chapter 5 of Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. Available in the usual places and (since May) as an audiobook.

Check out the workshops pages also – not just for Wholehearted:OKR and other strategy workshops but also for Implementing your OI-SDR among the short training workshops.

¹ ‘Circle‘ might be a better word than ‘team’ here. I’m alluding to Sociocracy, and that’s  covered in Right to Left chapter 6.

Related posts:


Upcoming public workshops

July:

August, Julia Wester stepping in:

Autumn:

The Agendashift events calendar always has the latest public workshops – watch this space for another (and updated) Wholehearted:OKR – and visit the workshops page if you’re considering doing something privately – chances are we have something of interest.


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