Get unstuck and get going: Starting small with 5% and 15% outcomes

In chapter 1 of Agendashift (2nd edition 2021) you’ll find a crucial but awkwardly-named exercise, Practice Outcomes. It’s there because the main event, the Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO, goes so much better if players have been primed to start small. If your first outcome is a small one, the chain of consequences that follows – “Then what happens? Then what happens?” – is so much more productive.

5% outcomes, getting unstuck

I’ve been working on making not just the exercise of Practice Outcomes but its outputs and its rationale easier to reference. Hence “5% outcomes”, the kind of teeny-tiny outcomes you get from the miracle question (source: Solutions-focused brief therapy, via the 2006 Jackson and McKergow book The Solutions Focus). The version of the miracle question we use in Practice Outcomes isn’t exactly canonical but it’s close enough:

  • If that obstacle disappeared overnight (it doesn’t matter how), what would be the first thing you would notice? (something positive)

The rationale? Make your outcomes small enough, and perhaps they’re there already if only you knew where to look. And if they’re there, so are what causes them – solutions! A great way to get unstuck.

If you find yourself not wanting to explain the miracle question, something simpler:

  • What first, tiniest signs of success might we see?
  • And before that, even tinier?

Context for those questions might be a some kind of obstacle, an outcome (a larger one, obviously), or even our overall objective. Here I’ve visualised it in terms of the IdOO (“I do”) pattern:

5-percent-outcomes

15% outcomes, getting going

If we get unstuck with 5% outcomes and their corresponding 5% solutions, then 15% outcomes and their corresponding 15% solutions are how we make faster progress. I’m riffing on the Liberating Structures pattern 15% Solutions, whose rationale speaks to the stuckness issue but invites us to think a little bigger. If our attitude is that “15% is always there for the taking”, then we’re primed to iterate towards our goals. Faced with an adaptive challenge, the sooner we embrace that kind of approach, the better. Here, 100% solution are worse than unlikely, they’re a route to failure.

15% is always there for the taking

15% Solutions: Discover and Focus on What Each Person Has the Freedom and Resources to Do Now (liberatingstructures.com)

The questions here:

  • “How will we know that we’ve made a small but significant step in the right direction?”
  • “And then what happens?”

Anticipating one of the three most important questions in 15-minute FOTO, the “And then what happens?” is already getting us to think more iteratively. Visualised:

15-percent-outcomes

5% and 15% outcomes, yes outcomes

You might be wondering why I start with Solutions Focus and 15% Solutions and invite participants to capture not solutions but outcomes. Is this some strange insult to my sources? Not a bit of it!

Think of Agendashift as a two-pronged approach to adaptive strategy:

  1. its formation through an ongoing process of meaningful participation
  2. integrated with innovation and learning processes

In the context of an adaptive challenge in a changing environment (one we’re actively changing, no less), if we take the attitude that solutions are always there for the taking – a core premise of both our sources –  the right time for solutions is just in time. To solutionise sooner is to invite solutions that may be beyond their shelf life by the time they’re really needed. Worse, having them designed only by the people who happen to be in the room at the time is another recipe for failure.

We are not merely counting on but institutionalising the emergence of solutions “from the people closest to the problem”, to quote my friend Karl Scotland. Keeping that innovation process well fed, appropriately oriented, and with room to breathe, strategy is developed in the language of outcomes.

Going as far as mostly as avoiding the term change management for fear of being associated with it, this is the very antithesis of 1990’s-style managed change. Great for upgrading your email server, but completely the wrong paradigm for anything transformational. Catch yourself thinking that a preconceived solution – worse, a borrowed one – should be your main response to your adaptive challenge? Tempting, but think again. You’d be making a category error, already a terrible place to start. Rolling it out, overcoming resistance to change and all that? Well that would be doubling down, compounding the mistake, and the consequences will be yours to own.

So solutions come well after outcomes, not before. But if you hear a solution prematurely – even a 5% or 15% solution – don’t worry. They’re easy to deal with:

  • Then what happens?

Get unstuck and get going with 5% and 15% outcomes. Small – tiny even – but powerful!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Agendashift roundup, September 2021

In this edition: Academy update; Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation; Celebration-5W version 6; Upcoming events; Top posts

Academy update

Time to come clean: our next public workshops (there are still private workshops taking place) won’t happen until the new year. Honestly, the desire was there, but with all the behind-the-scenes work we’re currently doing, it just got too complicated.

For a taste of things to come, Coaching with Outcomes will return in the format of four 2-hour online sessions over four weeks. Although (like the current one) you will be able to take it standalone, it will also:

  1. bring together cohorts of students taking Leading with Outcomes, and
  2. form part of a modular replacement for what was the Deep Dive workshop (actually we’re up to something more ambitious than that, but more than that I can’t say at this stage)

Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes (originally planned to be out by now) and the advanced modules based on the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (more on that below) are similarly postponed. We’re confident though that the delay will be well worth it.

Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

This month’s big event was the webinar Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation. Read about it and watch the video!

Meanwhile, the Deliberately Adaptive assessment pilots are going strong – three have their debrief workshops scheduled for October.deliberately-adaptive-image

Celebration-5W version 6

Also this month, an update to our context-creating workshop kickoff exercise Celebration-5W. Read about that here:

I am also testing some changes to 15-minute FOTO, our Clean Language-inspired coaching game. More on that next month I hope, and in the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack meanwhile.

Upcoming events

Top posts

Predictably perhaps:

  1. Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation
  2. Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough”
  3. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  4. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  5. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)

What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

As mentioned in last week’s roundup, I was the guest speaker last night at a #bacommunity webinar hosted by Adrian Reed of Blackmetric Business Solutions. I am blown away by the response (still ongoing), and Adrian has kindly made the recording available already. You can watch it here (below, ad free), on YouTube, or on Adrian’s webinar page (blackmetric.com).

A modern take on a 70’s classic, we take some of the tools of modern product and organisation development and plug them into Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model, a model that (still) describes organisations of all sizes that have the drive to survive in a changing environment. The result of this exercise will feel remarkably familiar to Lean-Agile eyes, and yet it helps to reveal some of the serious dysfunctions too often experienced with current frameworks, both team-level and larger.

Mike Burrows

About the Speaker
Agendashift founder Mike Burrows is the author of Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition March 2021), Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020), and the Lean-Agile classic Kanban from the Inside (2104). Mike is recognised for his pioneering work in Lean, Agile, and Kanban and for his advocacy for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Prior to his consulting career, he was global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, CTO for an energy risk management startup, and interim delivery manager for two of the UK government’s digital ‘exemplar’ projects.

Links shared in the talk:

  • deliberately-adaptive.org
  • agendashift.com/changeban
  • agendashift.com/assessments
  • agendashift.com/a3-template
  • agendashift.com/book (the 2021 2nd edition of Agendashift) and its recommended reading page, looking out in particular for these authors:
    • Stafford Beer (VSM originator)
    • my friend Patrick Hoverstadt – for The Fractal Organisation, the second of two of his books I reference
    • Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey – here for An Everyone Culture.  Despite my oft-expressed aversion – alluded to in my talk – to staged development models, maturity models and the like, they impress hugely. The name ‘Deliberately Adaptive Organisation’ is totally inspired by their ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisation’, referenced towards the end of my talk. To integrate strategy, delivery, and development to the depth envisioned in Agendashift’s wholehearted mission, you need this stuff. Their Immunity to Change resonates too.
  • agendashift.com/subscribe – per the last slide, a ton of stuff still brewing and you don’t want to miss out 🙂

Enjoy!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough”

Agendashift is founded on one simple but radical idea: authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes as the basis for change. If there’s a stronger foundation for the kind of change where engagement, collaboration, and innovation are key – any interesting kind of change, in other words – I have yet to find it.

Accepting that authentic agreement is unlikely without some kind of conversation, where do those conversations start? One tried-and-tested place is Celebration-5W, our context-capturing workshop kickoff exercise. It’s not the only available starting point, but it is certainly a reliable one. It’s a time travel exercise with a simple premise: we use the journalistic Five Ws – Who, What, Where, When, and Why – to report on a celebration that will take place some time from now. The exercise is usually done in small groups, with outputs compared in a debrief afterwards.

In version 6 I’ve made a couple of small changes to align the materials with how I already introduce and facilitate it:

  1. Under What, “your next big breakthrough”. This is a deliberate nudge away from the thinking that we must wait for the end of a project. For a while in my patter I would say things like “your next big piece of learning” but that’s too abstract for this early stage in proceedings and not nearly as engaging.
  2. Under When, I inserted “business-relevant” to make a “significant and business-relevant challenge”.  An obvious enough tweak, but I have always stressed that it’s not good enough to celebrate something specific to (say) Agile practitioners without making its business relevance very clear. Better indeed to start with something recognisably business-related and work backwards from there. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to do an Agendashift workshop without mentioning the A word at all and I make no apologies for that.

Celebration-5W-slide-2021-08-v6

As per the tip highlighted middle right on the above slide, the two affected W’s together represent a good place to start the exercise. The trick is to iterate between the What (top right in Mike Haber’s nice template) and the When (bottom right) until you have a scope that seems to work. We recommend a timeframe measured in months, long enough for there to be some real challenge remaining but not so long that it risks becoming just an aspiration or someone else’s problem.

Your next big breakthrough

What if workshop exercises aren’t your thing or if now’s not the time? Fair enough! A little mental/paper exercise for you:

  • What is the next big (multi-month, significant, and business-relevant) breakthrough that you would like to be celebrating?
  • Where do you think that breakthrough will come from?
  • Were you to ask those questions of your colleagues, how do you think they would answer?
  • How would their Five Ws compare to each other’s and to yours?

Be honest now! Answers aren’t going to be identical, but you do want them to be coherent. If they are not, you have a problem, perhaps even the seeds of real crisis (I do not exaggerate – we’ve seen it firsthand). Of course it’s not normally as bad as that, but incoherence, misalignment, or complacency are hardly trivial issues either. One way or another, it’s time to get together and start creating some shared context.

Celebration-5W is one of the first exercises in our self-paced online training Leading with Outcomes. It represents just one of multiple opportunities for you to engage with questions of transformational leadership and with a range of tools specifically designed for productive conversations in the language of outcomes. Whether you’re a manager or a practitioner, we’re confident that it will help you be a better leader. Could it be where your next personal breakthrough comes from?

Related resources


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Agendashift roundup, August 2021

By design a quiet month blog-wise, but still plenty happening! In this edition: Another non-update on the big reveal; Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation; Another virtual trip to New Zealand; Agile Uprising Podcast; Top posts, recent and classic

Another non-update on the big reveal

Unusually, there are no public Agendashift workshops in the calendar right now – in fact we cancelled some. With some changes, they will resume shortly. Yes, we’re up to something! More here (but not much):

Still foundational to what’s coming, this self-paced training:

Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

One item under active development that I don’t mind talking about is the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (deliberately-adaptive.org). In the coming months there’ll be new training modules (both self-paced and interactive) that depend on it. Meanwhile, I have multiple pilot projects at home and abroad getting underway with the new assessment tool, and the early results are very encouraging, suggesting a good fit with the now quite mature trust-building and agreement-based approach to assessment already pioneered and formalised in Agendashift.

For a taste of what’s to come in this area, don’t miss this webinar on September 9th kindly hosted by Adrian Reed of Blackmetric Business Solutions:

Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation – business agility at every scale with Mike Burrows

I’ve done a lot of work on this since my slightly rushed presentation at Lean Agile Global and I’m looking forward to this very much!

Another virtual trip to New Zealand

Talking of presentations, I’ve been doing ‘Leading with and Transforming with Outcomes’ at meetups for a while now. They’re interactive enough that no two are ever alike! Returning in June to the New Zealand Limited WIP Society this fantastic comment came in the debrief on the breakouts (around 51:25 in the recording, which only recently hit YouTube):

You’ve taken us into a space where, for me anyway, I’ve not quite been in that space before

To understand how we got there, watch it here:

And a followup blog post:

Agile Uprising Podcast

I was delighted to be invited back to the Agile Uprising Podcast, interviewed jointly this time by Claudia Orozco-Gomez and Jay Hrcsko. It’s about the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book and is done with the benefit both of a few months’ perspective and the fact that my interviewers have both participated in Agendashift workshops. Hear it here:

In this week’s episode Claudia Orozco-Gomez and Jay Hrcsko sit down with the creator of Agendashift (and repeat podcast guest 🙂 Mike Burrows to discuss the second edition of his book.  We’ve covered some of the Agendashift classes before as well as Mike’s most-recent book (Right to Left) and we were quite excited to discuss Agendashift, what led to the newest edition, what learnings Mike and his team have gained to lead to a second edition, and we get to thank him in person for beautifully explaining how to use Cynefin.  Enjoy!

Top posts, recent and classic

Recent:

  1. All Agendashift assessments now available in Korean (August)
  2. Not quite ready for the big reveal (August)
  3. Pilots wanted (July)
  4. Optimising for Significance (July)
  5. Inside-out or outside-in? A strategy warmup (June)

Classic:

  1. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  2. How the Leader-Leader model turns Commander’s Intent upside down (June 2018)
  3. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  4. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)
  5. What do I mean by ‘generative pattern’? (May)

What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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https://www.agendashift.com/books/agendashift-2nd-edition

Not quite ready for the big reveal

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the blog, but we’ve been busy over the summer months. We’re not quite ready for the big reveal but I can say that it will bring some changes to our programme of public workshops. Unfortunately, it necessitates the rescheduling or withdrawal of events previously in the calendar, and in the interests of simplicity, we’ve done a complete clear-out. If you were about to make a booking, our apologies.

Some things don’t change: our self-paced online training Leading with Outcomes is still available. It will help you in the following areas:

  • Building shared understanding of context
  • Framing obstacles for maximum engagement
  • Holding meaningful conversations about outcomes
  • Approaching outcomes strategically

For leaders of all kinds – managers, business architects, coaches, consultants, facilitators, etc – there are some valuable skills there. And as the foundation for everything else the Agendashift Academy will offer its role remains secure, so don’t hesitate! Book here:


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation

All Agendashift assessments now available in Korean

With thanks to Seungbin Cho, all of the Agendashift assessments are now available in Korean. That includes:

The Delivery Assessment and its several variants have been translated into 12 languages but this is a first for the Right to Left and Deliberately Adaptive Organisation templates. Thank you Seungbin for breaking some new ground 🙂

Try the mini version of the Delivery assessment in any of the supported languages for free:

The full version of the Delivery assessment features in these training modules:

For the full set of templates (and more):


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation

Agendashift roundup, July 2021

It’s summer here – schools out since last week – and I’m going to make this a short one. Here’s the latest:

  1. At the top of our media page you’ll find some new additions, in particular interviews with Radek Orszewski (don’t be put off by the Polish introduction – it’s in English from 05:40 onwards) and Jean Shin (released in two parts, so scroll down for part 1 first). Fingers crossed the recording of my evening at the Agility Leadership Network meetup will be up soon also – great hosts and a highly enjoyable session.
  2. I’m now recording the fourth and final session of the next self-paced training module Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes. Expect an early September launch and likely some pre-launch activity in August. Some great feedback on Leading with Outcomes meanwhile; if you’re partway through it or thinking about doing it and would like a quick Zoom about it, do drop me a line.
  3. I got an amazing response to my call for pilots for the new assessment tool, excited not just by the volume of replies but by the diversity of the organisations involved. If you’re interested but didn’t respond right away, I do still have capacity and the offer is still open. Not for long though!

Upcoming

And always at your convenience and pace:

Top posts

Recent:

  1. Pilots wanted
  2. Optimising for Significance
  3. Inside-out or outside-in? A strategy warmup (June)

Classic:

  1. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  2. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  3. Agendashift, meet Reverse STATIK (October 2015)

Not a mention a quite ridiculous number of views for the pre-Agendashift Introducing Kanban through its values (January 2013). Still going strong!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Optimising for Significance

It has been a couple of years since I first read John Doerr’s OKR classic Measure what Matters. You may remember my blog post at the time: There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR. What I might not have mentioned then was that I very nearly didn’t read the book – I found the title quite off-putting!

My discomfort with Doerr’s title – misplaced as it turns out – is explained by a catchphrase I later coined: Meaning Before Method, one of two MBM’s which as a pair actually map very well to OKR.  In recent weeks I’ve read (or rather listened to) the book once more and enjoyed it. As for the title, more accurate but less catchy would be Measure things predictive of success in your clear and audacious objectives, taking care to preserve meaning. No issue with that!

I took the trouble this time to follow up on one of Doerr’s few references, in particular Dov Seidman’s How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything (another being former Intel chief Andy Grove’s High Output Management, which I am still to read). This early quote grabbed me, emphasis mine:

Think of it as a shift from valuing size to valuing significance. Conversations about “how much” constantly echo throughout business, politics, and our personal lives: How much revenue can we squeeze into this quarter? How much debt can we tolerate? How much growth can we generate? How big should government be? But “How much?” and “How big?” aren’t the right questions. Instead we should be asking how we can create organizations and societies that mirror our deepest values.

The expanded edition did feel a little long but I was rewarded for holding on until the end (emphasis his this time):

Before we part company, I want to leave you with one more paradox, the paradox of success, and it’s a corollary to the paradox of happiness. You cannot do success; you cannot achieve it by pursuing it directly. Success is something you get when you pursue something greater than yourself, and the word I use to describe that something is significance. All measures of success share one commonality: They signify the value of your passage through life. You can go on a journey of significance—a journey to do, make, extend, create, and support value in the world; and I believe, in the spirit of the Johnson & Johnson Credo, it is this journey that should bring you success, however you measure it.

Pursuing significance, in the end, is the ultimate how.

I talk quite a bit about meaning in work and I am resolved now to do the same with significance. Noting that close colleagues can vary hugely on the meaning they draw from their work (for some the craft, for some the challenge, for others the meeting of needs, for example), I should say that I don’t believe that anyone has the right to dictate how others draw meaning from their work. Helping them find it though, that’s another matter – it’s one bullet of my three-bullet summary definition of Servant Leadership (see the last chapter of my book Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile). Moreover, if leaders aren’t articulating credibly the significance of the work and encouraging others to explore and even challenge it – well that’s definitely a problem.

If optimising for value is a dead end (I can’t be alone in finding much of what is said in Agile circles about value delivery to be empty or even dysfunctional), perhaps we should be optimising instead for significance, expecting meaning (and other good things) to follow. I have a hunch that it’s going to be fun finding out what that really means.


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Pilots wanted

As of the past week or so, Agendashift partners now have access to a new assessment template, a spin-off from the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book. It’s an Agendashift-style (non-prescriptive, non-judgemental, outcome-oriented, trust-building, etc) assessment tool for the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (deliberately-adaptive.org) and a significant development.

It’s a key part of the roadmap for 2021, both in its own right and as a stepping stone to Transforming with Outcomes, the third of three self-paced training modules (the first, Leading with Outcomes, is already up and running and the second, Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes, launches soon). The assessment is highly accessible and requires no special knowledge on the part of participants; nevertheless, the underlying model is super interesting.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation integrates Agendashift and the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (see Bob Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s 2016 book An Everyone Culture) into the Viable System Model. VSM is Stafford Beer’s classic at-every-scale (fractal) model of systems that “have the desire to meet the demands of a changing environment”, and it’s a model of extraordinary diagnostic power. Combining it with Agendashift creates the opportunity to use it in a dialogic way – not diagnosing and prescribing, but helping the organisation have the conversations it needs to have with itself.

The assessment comprises 35 prompts across 5 categories:

  1. Intentful Knowledge Discovery
  2. Mutual Trust Building
  3. Adaptive Strategy
  4. Between and Across Levels
  5. Self-governance, Self-development, and Self-organisation

I’m looking for potential pilots to test the assessment, complete with its accompanying Agendashift-style debrief and followup exercises.

Further to the fourth of the above categories, Between and Across Levels, I’m particularly interested in contexts where there’s the potential for strategy to develop at and across multiple levels of organisation – in teams of teams for example.

To set some expectations:

  • There are no set limits to the number of survey respondents – typically most will respond online in their own time but scheduled one-to-ones for a selected few can work well too
  • The debrief workshop requires 6-25 participants, ideally representing at least 3 levels of seniority

The debrief workshop identifies the raw materials for an Agenda for Change, a shared organisational strategy:

  • Survey results sliced & diced in various ways
  • Survey prompts prioritised in breakout groups of 3-5 people
  • In those groups, consideration of what those most important prompts could mean for you in context, when they’re working at their “ideal best” for you
  • Obstacles and outcomes, in each breakout group’s own words

The IdOO (“I do”) pattern and very much as recommended in the book (the Exploration chapter specifically), with room also to explore the models behind the new tool. The process for moving forward from there is well practiced; I can get you started in a few hours if you’d appreciate help with organising outcomes strategically, designing some initial experiments etc.

All in all, it comes to a few hours to at most a few days work at heavily discounted rates – I am not in the market for longer engagements. Think of this as sponsored research for mutual benefit. I’m looking to do a few of these between now and late autumn – mainly to test the assessment, to compare results within and across diverse organisations (so there’s no right kind of organisation if you were wondering about that), and later in the year perhaps to pilot the training (interactive &/or self-paced).

Interested? Contact me here!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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