Agendashift in 5 principles

Screenshot 2017-07-25 16.31.36

If you see from me a list of five things, chances are that it maps forwards or backwards* to Discovery, Exploration, Mapping, Elaboration, Operation, the five sessions of an Agendashift workshop and the five chapters of part I of the new book.

Here then is Agendashift in 5 principles:

  1. Start with needs
  2. Agree on outcomes
  3. Keep the agenda for change visible
  4. Manage options, testing assumptions
  5. Organise for clarity, speed, and mutual accountability

You can read these as 5 principles of 21st century change leadership or 5 principles for organisational adaptability.

1. Start with needs

If you don’t know what the user needs are, you won’t build the right thing []

It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of the UK Government Digital Services’ focus on needs. At GDS, “Start with needs – user needs not government needs” isn’t just spin, but a statement of strategic intent. I can tell you from firsthand experience that if your UK government digital service fails to demonstrate a serious ongoing commitment to exploring and meeting needs, you can expect trouble!

Whether it’s change to products and services or to organisation and process, if your idea of driving change consists of handing down requirements from your ivory tower, you don’t get the needs thing at all. Face it though: you can satisfy a long list of requirements and still not meet needs. (See also: Better user stories start with authentic situations of need).

Neither do you get it if you think it’s ok for your improvement efforts are mostly inward-looking, attending mainly to your team’s efficiency and comfort. If you don’t take time to understand the needs of people outside your four walls, how do you know that you are improving in any meaningful sense?

2. Agree on outcomes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that 20th century change management was all about overcoming resistance to change: trying to convince people, and when all attempts at persuasion have failed, going ahead anyway.

Whether or not that’s fair (certainly there’s truth in it), I believe that 21st century change management is different. Just as we put needs ahead of requirements, we put outcomes ahead of solutions. Agreement on outcomes is gold; once you have that, it’s just a question of how those outcomes will be achieved, the kind of problem that motivates people (not everyone perhaps, but enough people if the outcome is sufficiently meaningful).

3. Keep the agenda for change visible

Agreeing on outcomes and then forgetting them would be quite a waste of effort! To quote the last chapter of my first book (published in 2014):

Shaping the agenda … with the explicit aim of producing a compelling set of agreed upon priorities, goals, and actions

Little did I know it at the time, but chapter 23 of Kanban from the Inside would be the springboard for Agendashift – you can even see where the name came from! Ever since, I have been motivated to help organisations produce their own compelling agendas for change, agendas that whilst remaining true to the Start with what you do now principle still manage to convey a sense of challenge and ambition. You see that sense of challenge and ambition in my proposal A True North for Lean-Agile?, my distillation of what we strive towards.

4. Manage options, testing assumptions

Representing a real alternative to prescription, Agendashift is generative twice over (generative squared?). It contains repeatable and transferable tools first to generate outcomes, and then to generate options for their realisation.

We’ve adopted Lean Startup language for framing options as hypotheses, we take an initial look at assumptions when deciding on which options to select, reject, or hold, and we use an A3-based tool to develop this thinking further. At all three levels of detail we’re bringing assumptions to the surface and devising experiments by which they can be tested. Relentless validation becomes the engine of change; we learn and adapt quickly because we have both the courage and the humility to be wrong.

5. Organise for clarity, speed, and mutual accountability

… it reads like a list on how to align to purpose

Exactly! That was Damian Crawford commenting in the Agendashift Slack on alternative wordings to #5, endorsing this one.

We’re talking transparency, leadership, autonomy, alignment mechanisms, knowledge discovery processes, feedback loops, and so on. Right conversations, right people, best possible moment (an Agile-influenced element of our True North proposal). Pushing authority to the information (David Marquet, author of the fantastic Turn the Ship Around!). For leaders, it means more than just clarity of intent, it means a genuine commitment to the people who will carry it out. And it’s not just about personal style, it has significant implications for organisation design.


Here again is Agendashift in 5 principles:

  1. Start with needs
  2. Agree on outcomes
  3. Keep the agenda for change visible
  4. Manage options, testing assumptions
  5. Organise for clarity, speed, and mutual accountability

Whether for 21st century change management or organisational adaptability, what principles would you choose? How do they align to these?

*See Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process for a backwards example.

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