The language of outcomes: 4. Organising outcomes

This is part 4 of a series looking at the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation in our organisations, how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes 
  4. Organising outcomes (this post)
  5. Between ends and means

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  • Scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe for yourself

4. Organising outcomes

The generative conversations described in the previous instalment produce lots of great output, and when you have lots of great output, you need ways to organise it! From the simple 3-column Plan on a Page to the string of Mapping exercises, the different visual languages all help participants to see the wood from the trees and decide what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s about agreement on outcomes (Agendashift principle #2 – if there’s a more legitimate basis for change than that, I’ve yet to see it). The shared experience of making the agenda for change visible (Agendashift principle #3) is a big part of that, and how that agenda is organised matters quite a bit. Done well, it supports our next leadership lesson:

Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives

…if, that is, you want collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, as per the introduction to every post in this series. And by way of a recap, if 1) those outcomes and their related obstacles are clearly related to meaningful needs, and 2) people are involved in their identification, articulation, organisation, so on, you get participation and engagement in the bargain! That’s our wholehearted mission [1], which describes both an end goal to aim for and something that you can experience right away.

When leaders support that “line of sight” maintenance process appropriately, it builds trust in people’s ability to make high leverage choices, preferring options that will deliver the most impact. And it scales very well! To put it another way, can you expect people or teams to give of their best in the absence either of shared objectives or that clear line of sight? Probably not, and it would be unreasonable in those circumstances to ask for it.

In our workshops, there are two sets of tools we use for organising outcomes:

  1. Template-based (or if you prefer, canvas-based)
  2. Sticky note based visual mapping exercises

They’re facilitated a little differently and I’ll describe them in turn.


Here are the Plan on a Page (PoaP) template and the Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template:

You can see that the second one is based in the first, adding some new columns to the left and introducing a new vertical axis. Both templates are Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) and available via our resources page [2]. Chapter 5 of Right to Left [3] mentions them both in the context of the Outside-in Strategy Review workshop, which is the platform on which our new Impact! [4] and Wholehearted:OKR [5] workshops are built. Plan on a Page is introduced in the opening chapter of Agendashift [6].

I usually facilitate these with people working in table groups of about 4 people each, with a whole-room debrief afterwards. For a long time I brought blank A3 paper for groups to work with; now I bring printed templates (A3 printers are ridiculously cheap now and I have my own).

To fill in these templates, it helps to identify the obviously short term and obviously long term outcomes first, with fewer of the latter than the former. With enough of those chosen, the interesting “signs that you’re winning” outcomes will be the bulk of the remainder. And working backwards (right to left) from the longer term outcomes works really well; from the way the outcomes were constructed, a natural structure emerges quickly. That “line of sight” is established!

Visual mapping exercises

A highlight of day 2 of the Advanced Agendashift workshop [7] is the ‘string’ of mapping exercises represented by the icons below. Moving to sticky notes, we can deal with much greater numbers of outcomes than would be practical with the paper-based tools.

Screenshot 2020-02-02 14.08.35

Option Approach Mapping is a pseudonym for the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise . It’s described in the Agendashift book (from start to finish, post-exercise debrief included) and also here:

We use the pseudonym because the exercise goes much better if the underlying model isn’t revealed until the end. No spoilers!

Option Relationship Mapping is quite new – originated by Karl Scotland and Liz Keogh only a year or so ago – and it took a while for us to settle on a name. We tried “Reverse Wardley Mapping” (for which I can only apologise), “Option Approach Mapping”, and “Option Orientation Mapping”, but none of these names quite stuck. You’ll see these now discarded names in the following blog posts:

Vindicating the new choice of name, of the three exercises it’s Option Relationship Mapping that does the most to “Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives”. As exploited in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, it visualises a key step of OKR / 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX), that of choosing key options that will have the most leverage.

However, if there’s time to do two or all three of the ‘string’ of exercises, I will! Option Approach Mapping (aka Cynefin Four Points) as well as creating some great talking points also sets up Option Relationship Mapping beautifully – this is described in the “Stringing it together” post I referenced above. Either/both of those exercises also ease the construction of the Transformation Map, a Story Map (kinda), with outcomes instead of user stories and a transformation “pathway” instead of a user journey for the map’s ‘spine’. The fun part is prioritising outcomes in their respective columns; the preceding exercises help to pre-sort the outcomes so that outcomes of similar levels of abstraction come together, making this part considerably easier.

Unlike the template-based exercises, I tend to facilitate these as whole-room exercises, combining each table group’s outcomes in the process. In Option Relationship Mapping this helps to build agreement on high level themes and objectives. Pathway Mapping does this too though a little less impactfully; also it identifies clearly where the work will start (prioritisation and then elaboration* being just-in-time activities).

*Elaboration (just in time): We often develop our chosen options for action in the form of a hypothesis that (among other things) describes its hoped-for impact as a list of outcomes. The techniques are well understood and I didn’t schedule a separate instalment in the series for this, but you can see that it’s outcomes all the way down!

Next: 4. Between ends and means (coming soon)

Notes & references

[1] Our mission: Wholehearted (, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift Resources (
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Impact! Strategic outcome orientation for products and services (
[5] Wholehearted:OKR – Bringing OKR to life with Agendashift (
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[7] Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation (


I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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