inclusive • contextual • fulfilling • open

It started quite innocently yesterday on #random:


Martien wanted to know whether this was addressing Agendashift’s How, What or Why. Excellent question! Settling quickly on the Why and after multiple iterations over several frantic pages of chat with Martien,  Andrea, and Jussi we got to this:

  • Inclusive – because we’re more interested in what we can accomplish with others than in what we can achieve alone
  • Contextual – because every situation is unique, to be explored and developed in ways both tried-and-tested and novel
  • Fulfilling – because meeting people’s needs, goals, and wishes brings meaning, direction, and pleasure
  • Open – because we’re still uncovering better ways of working and new ways in which to combine them

We share this now as an invitation. If in any capacity you’re in the business of Lean-Agile transformation and these words resonate with you, read on.


Why inclusive? Because we’re more interested in what we can accomplish with others than in what we can achieve alone.

The Agendashift community embraces practitioners of a range of methods including Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, and ESP. And we get along just fine! What we have in common is a commitment to the crafts of coaching, facilitating, and leading. We also share a strong interest in developing contemporary approaches to transforming organisations so that they work radically better for those inside and outside of them. The tools we use are broadly neutral on the choice of delivery method (including the choice of no single one).

This deliberate inclusivity encourages diversity. The way Agendashift integrates ideas from bodies of knowledge as varied as Clean Language, Cynefin, Lean Startup, and Servant Leadership owes much to the range of specialisms and passions of the growing number of people I’m proud to identify as collaborators. To mention just a few, people like AndreaDraganJussiKarlMartienPatrick, Susanne, and Thorbjørn make Agendashift what it is today.

It is absolutely NOT our goal to define some kind of overarching method, the next SAFe, say. We love to see people take the likes of Scrum and Kanban in their purest forms and see just how far they can take them. Likewise, practitioners of LeSS, SAFe, and ESP can test larger scale patterns in the field, and there’s much we can learn from their experience, especially in terms of how to support this level of change. Inclusive is not “embrace and extend” – often a sign of a shallow understanding of what went before – but “celebrate diversity”.


Why contextual? Because every situation is unique, to be explored and developed in ways both tried-and-tested and novel

How are your standup meetings conducted? Physically or figuratively speaking, are they round the room with the three questions, or right-to-left, closest-to-completion first?

OK, bad question. Let’s approach it in a different way. Instead of binary, checkbox questions, consider this prompt – one of several from the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment that touch on how we organise and discuss our day-to-day work:

We share progress on our work frequently and are quick to collaborate as the need or opportunity arises

This isn’t just more inclusive. Yes, we allow ourselves a range of solutions drawn from multiple sources, inside or outside the mainstream. Also, we’re choosing not lead with a preferred practice to which there may be perfectly valid objections. We’re starting instead with outcomes, and if there’s agreement that those outcomes are desirable, we’re already halfway there.

But even that’s not the full story. Who gets to say that standup meetings should be the next item on the change agenda? Contextual isn’t just about choosing best-fit practices and bypassing resistance to change. It’s about discovering where the organisation is most amenable to the kind and degree of change that it needs. Contextual isn’t just problem-solving, it is strategic, ambitious, and purposeful. The alternative is irrelevance.


Why fulfilling? Because meeting people’s needs, goals, and wishes brings meaning, direction, and pleasure

This works at so many levels! It applies to us as agents of change: for all its frustrations, there’s joy in our work! It applies to all who bring an attitude of service to their customers and colleagues. It applies to every leader of companies, teams, or communities who recognises with respect and humility the degree of choice available to every employee, member, or participant.

There are technical, strategic, and even political issues here too. A striking example is the “Start with needs” strategy implemented by the UK government for its digital services, a model that is now being replicated in other countries. Out of that strategy followed new user-centric specialisms (new at least in the government context), concrete evidence that the days of sponsor-driven or supplier-driven design were coming to an end.

Our sincere wish is that for every piece of work we consider starting, we pause to identify the authentic situation of need that is waiting to be addressed by it. If we can find one, our work has purpose. If we can’t, it’s likely that we’re building mediocre solutions to the wrong problems. Nobody needs that.


Why Open? Because we’re still uncovering better ways of working and new ways in which to combine them

The Agile manifesto didn’t draw a line and say “job done” in 2001. We’ve seen an explosion since, and still the job isn’t done. Nor should we expect it to be.

However, 15 years is long enough for a new status quo to be established. In many organisations and communities, “that’s how we’ve always done it” can be said about Agile practices just as naturally as it can about the kind of practices that Agile sought to replace. And having established a new status quo it’s tempting to defend it.

That would be a mistake, however. In our business (in any business?), there are few “solved problems”, problems that will stay forever and optimally solved. If we’re complacent enough to let our competitors explore beyond boundaries we’ve set for ourselves, we get what we deserve. Unfortunately, that kind of complacency can incur severe collateral damage and it’s no wonder that these “sins of omission” have been described as being among the most serious that leaders can commit [1].

Open sits very well with inclusive, but we’re not going not pretend that between us we have all the answers. Open by design means that we’re encouraging innovation, we’re ready to borrow from surprising places, and we’re prepared to let go. Open is also vulnerable, and vulnerability is difficult. Fortunately, we do it in very good company.

Join us!

If this makes any kind of sense to you, hang out with us. Join our Slack community or LinkedIn group – you would be very welcome in either or both places. You can help by sharing knowledge, trying new things and sharing your experience, refining our message, getting it out there. Or just spend some time with us and discover what it’s all about.

For the most part, the tools live on, with a deck for workshop facilitators (partners), and an A3 template that like our Featureban game has been released under a Creative Commons license. There’s also a white paper that was last updated in July – feels like an age ago!

Consider participating in one of our Agendashift facilitator days – Leeds, UK on December 5th [] or London, UK on January 19th (details to be published by the end of next week; register interest here).

And beyond your individual participation, think about what Agendashift’s inclusive • contextual • fulfilling • open might mean for your community or organisation. What can we learn from each other? How can we support each other?

[1] Ackoff, Russell L. 1991. Ackoff’s Fables: Irreverent Reflections on Business and Bureaucracy. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

My thanks to Martien and Jussi for their invaluable feedback on earlier drafts.

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2 thoughts on “inclusive • contextual • fulfilling • open

  1. Excellent post folks – many thanks – I’ve opted out of many communities due to the ‘method wars’ inhibiting open discussion and progress.
    Note: London facilitators day is Jan 19th, not 12th as above.


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