Rejection, insight, and learning

Two questions:

  • When did you last reject an idea as a result of deliberate testing?
  • What did you learn in the process?

And a followup question:

  • How does your process encourage that kind of rejection and learning to happen?

If your process doesn’t keep asking the right questions, you can be pretty sure you’re over-investing either in stuff no-one needs, or in changes that won’t deliver the organisational benefits you expect. But if you program in the time to reflect on your rejected ideas (however sporadically they’re currently happening), the rest might just follow.

Here’s how at the end of the Changeban [1, 2] game we model that reflection and introduce two key concepts: the hypothesis and double-loop learning [2] (notice the two levels of learning identified by the red callouts):

changeban-retrospect-on-experiments-2018-12-03

In theory, if you have an organisational design that encourages double-loop learning, the rest of your process will soon catch up. In my experience however, it’s rare to see it outside of those organisations that haven’t already chosen to pursue a hypothesis-driven, outcome-oriented, ‘right-to-left’ kind of delivery process.

For example, heavily ‘projectised’ organisations typically learn painfully slowly. This is only partly explained by the fact that they do everything in large batches that take a very long time to process. There are deeper issues:

  • Once the scope of a project has been decided, the mere thought that there might be more needs to discover and respond to is often actively discouraged. If discovery happens at all, it is done by people outside the delivery team in preparation for future projects, greatly limiting the opportunity to integrate new learning into current work.
  • Similarly, when the ironically-named ‘lessons learned’ meeting finally arrives, it is already too late for the project in question to test any proposed process changes, and it’s unlikely that other projects will be ready to do much with the insights generated either.

Not that Agile has this stuff completely sorted either:

  • Backlog-driven Agile projects (four words that will never gladden my heart) remain susceptible to the scope problem, and typically they don’t make a habit of framing individual pieces of work in ways designed to invite challenge
  • Even where the delivery process is a good generator of insights, team-centric Agile tends to limit the organisational scope of any learning

In Right to Left [4] (due summer 2019) I will describe a style of delivery organisation that has i) managed to let go of that old left-to-right kind of thinking, and ii) explicitly created not just opportunities for organisational learning to happen but the clear expectation that it will will be happening all of the time, a natural part of the process, and ‘real work’.

Fortunately, there are enough real-world examples of right-to-left thinking out there that I know that it is no idealistic fantasy. Neither is it a doomed attempt to shoehorn diverse experiences into a single and over-complicated delivery framework or to extrapolate from the experiences of just a few. Rather, the right-to-left concept represents a concentrated essence of Lean, Agile, and Lean-Agile working at their best, a helpful metaphor, and a unifying theme, one that allows me to celebrate a wide range of models, tools, and examples. Each of those is unique and special, but a commitment to learning connects all of them.

In the meantime, don’t forget Agendashift [5, 6]! This is no stopgap, but rather an approach to change and transformation through which that same right-to-left philosophy runs very deep. If you’re in the business of change in what could broadly be described as the Lean-Agile space and are hungry for alternatives to 20th century change management, the book and the tools it describes could be just what you’re looking for.

[1] Changeban (www.agendashift.com)
[2] Changeban has reached version 1.0 (blog.agendashift,com)
[3] Double-loop learning (en.wikipedia.org)
[4] Right to Left (www.agendashift.com)
[5] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (www.agendashift.com)
[6] Agendashift (www.agendashift.com)


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Agendashift roundup, November 2018

In this edition: Changeban 1.0; Right to Left; Life in Agendashift land; Podcast interview; Top posts

Changeban 1.0

As per recent roundups, I’m in the process of updating some of Agendashift’s Creative Commons-licensed assets (and also considering releasing one or two more, but that’s another story). Of those, the fastest mover is Changeban, fast-moving in the sense both that it has been through some rapid evolution in recent weeks (one upside of a heavy travel schedule is the number of opportunities to test it) and that it has been a very popular download. Here’s the announcement on Changeban 1.0:

changeban-crazy-wip-2018-11-26

Right to Left

Monthly status check: 29,604 words and I have at last completed a draft of the potentially controversial (but to me common sense) chapter 4, Viable scaling, something I admit I had been putting off. There’s also a rough chapter 5, Outside in, leaving only chapter 6 unstarted. If the intro counts as quarter of a chapter, it’s 80% complete (apart from the remaining 99% of course) and I should be able to keep it to around 40,000 words.

Lifted verbatim from chapter 2:

Life in Agendashift land

Quite apart from the writing (no hardship at all), things have been pretty busy in recent weeks. A pre-Brexit tour took me to three different EU countries in three weeks, with a public 1-day workshop in Brescia, Italy, a 2-day workshop in Berlin, Germany, and a private workshop in Dublin, Ireland, a followup to one a few weeks previously.  Julia Wester has the last big public workshop of 2018 next week in Munich, Germany (details here).

Already in the calendar for January are two workshops and two conferences in India, details here. We’re pencilling a 2-day workshop in Utrecht, Netherlands for early April (watch this space) and I intend to announce both 1-day and 2-day workshops in London. There’s a decent pipeline of private workshops developing too.

Lastly, at the time of writing there is one place free at the Agendashift Studio on Friday December 7th. By definition, this is at my studio office in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with lunch at a local farm shop. You might like to stay in the area and visit the Peak District national park over the weekend (I feel very lucky to have it on my doorstep). £195, with 40% off for government/education sector employees. There’s no booking page, just drop me an email or ping me on Slack, the sooner the better.

Top posts

  1. Changeban has reached version 1.0
  2. Agendashift is not a maturity model
  3. My kind of Agile
  4. Right to Left: a transcript of my Lean Agile Brighton talk (October)
  5. Agendashift’s many extension points
  6. Engagement: more than a two-way street (September)
  7. How the Leader-Leader model turns Commander’s Intent upside down (June)
  8. Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July)

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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…

Changeban has reached version 1.0

After several iterations (including runs at multiple workshops just this month) I’m delighted to announce that our Lean Startup-flavoured Kanban simulation game Changeban has reached version 1.0. As with its older sibling Featureban, it is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

changeban-crazy-wip-2018-11-26
Some crazy, off-the-board WIP happening there…

In recent weeks we have:

  • Removed all mention of coins (the source of variation in Changeban’s older sibling, Featureban), coming down firmly on the side of using playing cards.
  • Clarified instructions, with fewer slides and fewer words
  • Amplified certain concepts, most notably rejection (the positive, celebration-worthy decision to deem an experiment as failed), pull, and double-loop learning

I created Featureban in 2014 and it has been very good to me. In that time it has seen multiple adaptations and translations (thank you!) and has been used the world over. This year, I’ve played Changeban enough times to know that it’s a worthy successor, and it’s my preferred choice unless I have a particular need for Featureban’s metrics coverage (enough justification to use both with some clients, on separate visits). Changeban doesn’t just teach mechanics, it teaches a learning process, and because it feels less tied to a development process it removes a potential obstacle for some non-techies. In short: if you like Featureban, I think you’ll love Changeban.

Attendees of my 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop in Gurugram (below) will definitely get to play it, and attendees of 1-day Core workshops (Julia’s in Munich or mine in Mumbai) might also. In Core workshops it would be at the expense of other things, but that’s a trade that participants are often happy to make.

Want to know more? Head over to the Changeban page – it’s all there!

Registered users will be emailed download instructions in the next few hours. Agendashift partners will find it under the Commons folder in the partner Dropbox.


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Germany, India * 2):


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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…

 

My kind of Agile

I’ve alluded to my kind of Agile in previous posts, but let me spell it out. I’ve hinted at it for quite a while, most recently in my popular post Right to Left: a transcript of my Lean Agile Brighton talk, which helps to explain the necessity and urgency of a Right-to-Left treatment of Agile.

I’m in the process of reworking the second chapter of my 2019 book Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. Verbatim, here’s a key passage from chapter 2, Right to left in the digital space:

In chapter 1, we saw some of the quite different ways in which Lean is understood. Before we get to Lean-Agile, let me describe my kind of Agile, a kind of Agile that should already sound familiar:

  • People collaborating over the rapid evolution of working software that is already beginning to meet needs, their teams placing high value on collaboration, continuous delivery, and adaptation

That’s my highly condensed and “from-the-right” summarisation of the Agile Manifesto (agilemanifesto.org), describing a sweet spot for digital, and widely applicable elsewhere[1].

If you want to know what Agile is, the manifesto is where you need to start. Agile isn’t a defined process, method, or framework; Agile means embracing manifesto values. To embrace them you must understand them, and to understand them you must catch something of how they reveal themselves in environments that have allowed them to flourish.

Clearly, the manifesto values resonate with many. Meaningful conversations, the opportunity to build things that actually work for people, and the ability to keep improving the working environment to the mutual benefit of developers, customers, and the organisation – who wouldn’t want that? In other words, these things are valued for their own sake (which is why we recognise them as values).

For a values system to be more than just wishful thinking, there must be a clear relationship between the values, the kinds of behaviours expected, and the assumptions that underpin these behaviours. In the case of Agile, these assumptions are well documented – not least by the manifesto itself – and they go a long way to describe the behaviours:

  • Assumption 1: Direct, ongoing collaboration with customers is necessary to develop and maintain a mutual understanding of needs and potential solutions
  • Assumption 2: Collaboration across the entire process is what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts – not just multiple perspectives brought to bear on complex problems, but new ideas created in the interactions between people
  • Assumption 3: The most effective way to build anything complex is to start with something that works[2], and ensure that it still works as it evolves. This is true not just for products, but for the working environment in terms of its technical infrastructure, processes, practices, organisation, and culture (not to mention all the complex interactions between those all of those internal elements, the product, and the outside world).
  • Agile’s breakthrough comes from bringing these assumptions together to everyone’s attention in the form of a compelling values statement. The underlying message is clear: wherever those assumptions are likely to hold, you would be wise to behave accordingly!

[1] I would stand by this definition outside of the digital space too and would argue that it is far more achievable than some would admit. But that’s outside the scope of this book.

[2] See Gall’s law, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gall_(author)#Gall’s_law, and John Gall’s rather wonderful book Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail (Pocket Books, 1978).

How does this resonate with you? Is there anything there that you would challenge?

The book is due early next summer; if you’d like to stay on top of developments and perhaps even get involved:

  • Subscribe to updates via the book’s landing page here
  • Join the Agendashift Slack community and its #right-to-left channel, the place for book-related conversations
  • On Twitter, follow @Right2LeftGuide &/or hashtag #Right2LeftGuide
    (Note: I’ve only just stopped using the more generic hashtag #RightToLeft, so don’t expect to find much at the new one just yet. I’ve renamed the account accordingly.)

Screenshot 2018-11-16 10.40.57


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Germany * 2, India * 2):


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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…

Coming in January: a 2-city, 2-conference, and 2-workshop visit to India

I’m thrilled (as always) to be returning to India, this time for a 2-city conference/workshop tour, by invitation of my good friends at Innovation Roots. There’ll be one Advanced and one Core workshop (in that order), and at the conferences I’ll give my  keynote “Left to Right” and also a Changeban session. The keynote will be a the full-length version of the one transcribed here, with more insight into my next bookSuper busy!

First, Gurugram (New Delhi area):

And then Mumbai:

I hope to see you there!


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…

21-22 November, Berlin, my last public workshop of the year

Quick one…

Today, I’m on my way to Brescia, Italy for a 1-day workshop tomorrow and then Italian Agile Days 2018. Then, in exactly two weeks, my last public workshop of the year:

I would love to see you there!

Just a little under a month away and also in Germany, Agendashift partner Julia Wester is holding a 1-day workshop in Munich:

Private workshops and an Agendashift Studio aside (these aren’t shown on the calendar), that’s it until we publish some 2019 dates. We have some cool locations in the pipeline and will be announcing the first of those soon.


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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 is not a maturity model

Agendashift – an engagement model – is sometimes mistaken for a maturity model. I can imagine how this happens, but let me explain.

At no point did we specify a number of stages or steps and further corroborate with characteristics (what Wikipedia describes as a top-down approach). Neither did we determine distinct characteristics or assessment items and cluster into steps (the bottom-up approach).

Yes, we do have an assessment tool, and after many iterations of community refinement (much of it in #asssessments in the Agendashift Slack) we think that it’s one to be proud of. No, it doesn’t tell you where you fit on a journey described by someone else’s narrative (one that often says more about the vendor than the client). And the more we look at how our data clusters (we’ve tried), the more sure we are that a linear model would at best a gross oversimplification. We try to avoid those – people spot them a mile away.

What our tool does do is help teams and organisation find opportunities, whether that’s to build on strengths, address weaknesses, or to bridge gaps. The subsequent process is far from prescriptive (a material risk if the job of the aforementioned assessment items is to identify specific practices that you’re not doing by the vendor’s book); instead it’s generative:

  1. Decide what prompts (our assessment items) are important. When I’m facilitating, my opinion is not important, and not shared unless I’m asked directly – I value authentic agreement too much to risk undermining it.
  2. Identify what obstacles are in the way and prioritise them
  3. Identify the outcomes that lie unrealised behind those obstacles, the outcomes behind those outcomes, and so on (visit 15-minute FOTO to see how this is done)

You have by now plenty of raw material from which a plan – an agenda for change (see principle #3 in the graphic below) – can be organised. As for realising those outcomes, the approach to take very much depends on what kind of outcome it is:

  • Where there’s already widespread agreement on what needs to be done and what the impact will be: It’s done already (well almost)
  • Things that need a bit more analysis and planning: Delegate someone who will circle back later with a plan
  • The outcomes that you’ll never achieve in one go: Frame a big hypothesis and some smaller/cheaper/safer experiments that will test its assumptions and get you moving in the right direction

I’ve just described Exploration, Mapping, and Elaboration, the middle three chapters of the book and most of the top row in the graphic below. Typically, it’s preceded by Discovery (chapter 1), a way to build broad agreement on what the destination might look like (a broad brush picture, not a design or a detailed plan). At the bottom of the graphic is Operation, which is about the feedback loops and behaviours that sustain change (the fifth and final chapter in the Agendashift book and to be expanded upon in Right to Left).

Screenshot 2018-11-05 14.40.43

(Yes, I’m still tweaking the graphic. The new circular arrows? The moment you learn something, you might decide to revisit your earlier work. You’ll want to do so periodically anyway.)


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Italy, Germany * 2):


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…