The “obvious” question

First things first: the rename mooted in last week’s post has already been implemented. What was the “Agendashift debrief/action workshop” is now the Agendashift transformation mapping workshop. The same content in a more digestible order, with some additional and already-implemented improvements to be announced in the new year.


Remember this picture? It’s an example of the output from a Cynefin four points contextualisation exercise, taken from a training day earlier this year:


There’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek question I like to ask when debriefing this exercise:

What’s the obvious question to ask about the items in the the Obvious corner?

The answer I’m looking for:

Why haven’t they been done already?

After the teasing comes a serious point that has become a recurring theme for my workshops: Too many organisations are full of smart people who can tell you what’s wrong and can give you a long list of sure-fire fixes, but nothing changes.

You might say that these organisations are uninterested in improvement, but I believe that in many cases it would be more constructive to say that they are incapable of following through. There is little to no visibility or accountability around anything change-related; the feedback loops (whether formal or informal) that do exist are likely to be overwhelmed with urgent delivery-related issues, with no provision for understanding and tracking improvements the systems that allow those issues to arise in the first place.

If that’s true for the Obvious corner, how will they fare in the Complex corner? If they can’t track obvious changes, how will they manage the kind of change that involves experiments – even experiments-within-experiments (pilot experiments) – and all the uncertainty that goes with that? Not well.

Conclusion? If change isn’t happening, don’t blame your staff. Instead:

  • Make sure that improvement work is treated as ‘real work’, prioritised, tracked, and rewarded as such
  • Keep it visible to any managers and other stakeholders whose commitment will be required in order for the more difficult changes to be realised
  • Provide safety, treating success and failure as near equals. Better to keep learning than never to dare anything difficult

Let me leave you with the relevant prompt from the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment:

We ensure that opportunities for improvement are recognised and systematically followed through

How well does that describe your organisation?

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