From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation

It seems that my 2014 post Reinvigorating an existing Kanban implementation with STATIK is now gone. It is very likely the first mention of Reverse STATIK, and fortunately has saved it here, but 5 years on let me take the opportunity to revisit it.

We start with STATIK, the catchy acronym I coined for David J. Anderson’s Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban, which is quite a mouthful. STATIK looks like this (or at least it did in 2014):

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction
  2. Analyze demand and capability
  3. Model the knowledge discovery process
  4. Discover classes of service
  5. Design kanban systems
  6. Roll out

You may recognise those steps as the chapters of Part III of my first book Kanban from the Inside (hereafter referred to as KFTI); otherwise it was day 2 of the standard 2-day Kanban training. I don’t do much Kanban training these days (I don’t advertise it and for reasons of strategy rather than any falling out I’m no longer affiliated with the certification body), but when I do, I don’t use STATIK.

My main issues with STATIK aren’t the individual steps (there’s value in them all), but these:

  1. Even avoiding the middlebrow dismissal of “It’s too linear” (often thrown around rather unfairly), it’s much more likely to be understood and used as a discrete intervention (albeit a participatory one if it’s done the right way), not as a model for a continuous process.
  2. Even if I grant that you could in theory bail out of the process at any stage, it does rather assume that Kanban is the answer, so if we are to avoid the accusation of being solution-driven, something else has to come before it.

Aside (further to that second point, a bit of detail that doesn’t invalidate it): KFTI describes a step 0, ‘Understand the purpose of the system’, a phrase I borrowed (with full credit) from Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). That has morphed into ‘Understand fitness for purpose’ (for the service you are applying STATIK to). This is OK as far as it goes, but the faster it turns (as seems to be its intent) into a conversation about metrics, the less time anyone spends actually exploring purpose. If I’m honest, this part leaves me a little cold, though in the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that Kanban still does far more than any other framework I know to encourage its introduction in ways consistent with its principles. If only the others were as careful; if they were, perhaps Agendashift would never have been so necessary!

My original idea with Reverse STATIK was to retrace one’s steps, working backwards through the STATIK process looking for improvement opportunities. Today, I see it as more than that, and find it useful in two ways, both of which may seem surprising:

  1. Reverse STATIK turns out to be a great way to introduce/teach Kanban too. You can start with the simplest to-do/doing/done kanban board design (not yet a WIP-limited kanban system) and at each step introduce multiple options for improving not just its detailed design, but much of the surrounding organisation design that makes it work. No longer a one-shot intervention, but a rich model for improvement
  2. You can strip out all the kanban-specific techniques, replace them with their corresponding outcomes (outcomes that might be achieved in myriad other ways), and revise for breadth of coverage. A few iterations later (much of it done in collaboration with Dragan Jojic) we arrived at the genuinely framework-agnostic assessment that in the early days was Agendashift’s most important tool (it’s still important today but there are newer parts that are more exciting).

Aside: I glossed over one important detail there: In most people’s first experience of the assessment tool, its ‘prompts’ are organised under headings of Transparency, Balance, Leadership, Customer Focus, Flow, and Leadership. These 6 values are the titles of KFTI’s first 6 chapters; moreover Leadership incorporates Understanding, Agreement, and Respect, the so-called ‘leadership disciplines’ of chapters 7, 8, and 9.  I make no apologies for retaining these; most people would recognise these values as having relevance in any Lean-Agile context.

Fast forward to 2019, Reverse STATIK (mostly under the framework-neutral name of ‘Pathway’) looks like this:

  1. Refine existing systems
  2. Improve the service experience
  3. Manage the knowledge discovery process
  4. Balance demand and capability
  5. Address sources of dissatisfaction and other motivations for change
  6. Pursue fitness for purpose

These headings appear in my aforementioned teaching materials, as an option in the assessment tool, and the spine of the ‘Pathway map’, a visualisation inspired by User Story Mapping (see chapter 3 of the Agendashift book, which also introduces the Reverse STATIK model).

Instead of (and I say this tongue-in-cheek) doing a bunch of analysis exercises before (tada!) a kanban system is designed, an improvement process that identifies opportunities at a wide range of challenge and sophistication, with kanban or without. The spine starts small, grows in sophistication, and ends on high with purpose, leadership behaviours, and other similarly challenging, bigger-picture issues of organisation design; what detail gets prioritised under whatever heading at any given time is a matter for participatory decision making.

Relentless commitments to 1) participation and 2) agreement on outcomes as the basis for change are what took me from Reverse STATIK to Agendashift. The former wasn’t quite the 21st century engagement model I was striving for but a decent first attempt, and it lives on, even if quite well hidden.


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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