Agendashift as Good Strategy

[This is the third and last of a three-part series. Start from the beginning: Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process]

This post has been a while in coming. If you’ve been waiting, apologies! I’m going to cheat a little: what follows is lifted directly from the end of the just-written third chapter (Mapping) of the forthcoming book. Latest working title Agendashift: Leading change with less prescription, better conversations, and lasting outcomes). Preceding chapters: 1. Discovery, and 2. Exploration. After 3. Mapping: 4. Elaboration, and 5. Operation.

Is it Good Strategy?

To finish this chapter, the promised third reconciliation. This time a very quick reconciliation of your transformation map with Rumelt’s strategy kernel. This model comes from another brilliant book:

Three questions (Rumelt’s model, my words):

  1. Diagnosis: Is your strategy rooted in an understanding of the challenges you face and the opportunities available?
  2. Guiding policy: What gives shape to your strategy?
  3. Coherent actions: Are your planned actions coherent with each other, your guiding policy, and your diagnosis?

You should be able to give positive answers to questions 1 and 2 simply by virtue of your transformation map’s construction. You can give a positive but partial answer to question 3:

  1. Diagnosis? Witness the obstacles and their respective outcomes from Discovery, Exploration, and Mapping (chapters 1-3) together with the survey analysis that informed Exploration (chapter 2).
  2. Guiding policy? Your strategy was given shape first by the values and prompts of the assessment (chapter 2), and then by the transformation journey steps of this chapter.
  3. Coherent actions? You have identified detailed outcomes that you have reconciled with your broader goals. Moreover, most (if not all) those outcomes align with one or more of the values of the survey, and those values are themselves coherent.

We could add to point 3 that our overall approach to the transformation process is highly coherent with our Lean-Agile sensibilities. Hardly a minor point!

So we’re good then? Not so fast. A solid basis for a good strategy certainly, but a further level of detail is still required. We’ve said what we want to have happen, not the concrete steps we will take and what impact we think they will make. Cue chapter 4, Elaboration.

This was the third of three related posts:

  1. Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process
  2. Agendashift as coaching framework
  3. Agendashift as good strategy

See also Karl Scotland’s post Good Agile/Bad Agile: The difference and why it matters.

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Agendashift roundup, January 2017

In this edition: Agendashift facilitator days; Clean Language cue cards; Progress on the new book; Upcoming events; Top posts

Agendashift facilitator days

We held the second of these practitioner workshops this month, it was sold out well in advance, and I’m very happy with the new structure (described here: Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process). Some great feedback too! This one – about the very first of these workshops – made my day:

Looking back to the Agendashift day in Leeds a few weeks ago, it has been incredibly helpful to me in my professional development
– EB, Scrum Master & coach

See the upcoming events section below for dates of workshops in HamburgManchester, Edinburgh, Oslo, and Bristol. Don’t see one near you ? Want one in-house? Get in touch.

The Hamburg event (next week) is a 2-day combined Flowlab & Agendashift workshop. There is only one ticket left, so grab your place while you still can! Most of the later workshops have early bird pricing available too so there’s every reason to book early.

Clean Language cue cards

Clean Language has been a huge influence on Agendashift, helping us deliver on our promise of transformation based not on the imposition of practices but on the genuine search for agreement on goals, opportunities, and outcomes.

Here’s a group (one of several) at the Agile Derby meetup this month using our Clean Language cue cards:


These cards have proved themselves very helpful to everyone playing the ‘coach’ role in our outcomes game. I had a hundred of these printed on A5 card just a couple of weeks ago and I’m nearly out already! You can print your own – just drop me a line and I will gladly send you the PDF.

These cards show only a small subset of what Clean Language has to offer. In the hope that that they pique your interest, let me recommend these books (in the order I read them):

  • The Five Minute Coach: Improve Performance Rapidly
    Lynne Cooper & Mariette Castellino (2012)
  • Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
    Wendy Sullivan & Judy Rees (2008)
  • From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling
    Caitlin Walker (2014)

Progress on the new book

I’m currently working on chapter 3 (Mapping) of a 5-chapter Part 1. I’m hopeful that Chapter 1 (Discovery) can be released as a free preview in the next few weeks. All being well, I’ll be able to release part 1 electronically by the summer before full publication with a 6-chapter part 2 later in the year.

If you’re not already on the Agendashift mailing list and would like to receive updates, let me know.

Upcoming events featuring Agendashift partners

Top posts

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[Previous roundup: December 2016, 2016’s best bits][Next roundup: February 2017]

Agendashift as coaching framework

[This is the second of a three-part series. Start from the beginning: Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process]

What last week’s London workshop (sold out!) and work on the new book I’ve got a bit behind my usual blogging schedule. Sorry about that! Every cloud though – here’s Agendashift partner Andrea Chiou debriefing (in Slack) her appearance this week at the Agile NOVA meetup in Washington, DC:

I said, using this style of interview, you can get managers in a room learning about each other’s vision for their most pressing problems, and in doing so you can then see where there is energy, as well as where there are solutions already inherently existing within the org


This differs from almost every other Agile transformation approach I know, except one (I mentioned Open Space Agility). And the reason it works is because it is values-based, and based on mutual exploration and dialogue with managers/sponsors.

I might add here that Agendashift is also about exploration and agreement with participants (not just managers and sponsors), but Andrea does a great job of explaining how Agendashift helps facilitate those early conversations.

Especially in the guise of the Agendashift facilitator day, you can view the Agendashift workshop as a demonstration of three things:

  1. The power of a values-based and outcome-centric approach
  2. How the different techniques we use integrate so pleasingly
  3. An end-to-end transformation process that mirrors (and even exemplifies) a Lean-Agile delivery process.

Part 1 in this series expanded on point 3. Today, we’ll again review the five sections of the workshop, this time as a possible structure for a coaching engagement:

  1. Discovery: Identifying the strategic goals and needs that any coaching must support, setting the right tone in terms of ambition without losing sight of where the real challenges and opportunities lie
  2. Exploration: With or without the aid of the Agendashift assessment, exploring key areas of opportunity in more detail, identifying obstacles, and from those generating a set of outcomes that represent the scope, objectives, and priorities of the engagement
  3. Mapping: Understanding the challenge in enough breadth to be sure of not missing anything important, and keeping the coaching process fed with fresh and important challenges to investigate
  4. Elaboration: Generating, framing, and develop actions
  5. Operation: Ensuring follow-through, maintaining appropriate transparency, accountability, and feedback in the relationship

Just as we discussed in the previous post, this isn’t a completely linear process, in fact much of this needs to happen on a frequent or ongoing basis. There are however some key conversations that do need to be had, and the earlier in the process, the better. A coaching engagement that stands on a platform of agreed needs, scope, and level of ambition is surely healthier than one based on the offer of technical help or of facilitating a process whose goals no-one is able to articulate.

The tools we use and demonstrate through workshops will be used more informally and naturalistically in a coaching context, but they’re still valuable. All the more so, some of them! What coach wouldn’t want to be able to ‘flip’ obstacles into outcomes, identify the drivers behind pet solutions (and thereby open up the possibility of alternative solutions), or turn the vague into something actionable? These are very teachable skills. So too are the highly reusable skills of framing hypotheses and developing actions. Many coaches will find what Agendashift says about organisational design interesting too.

Coming up in the next few weeks are opportunities to experience this for yourself, with events in Hamburg (Feb 9th & 10th), Manchester (March 23rd), Edinburgh (April 6th), and Oslo (April 21st). Don’t see one near you? Get in touch and we’ll see what we can arrange together.

This was the second of three related posts (posts 3 coming soon):

  1. Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process
  2. Agendashift as coaching framework
  3. Agendashift as Good Strategy

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Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process

[Update: Section/chapter 2 previously named Analysis is now Exploration. Thanks to Mike Leber for the suggestion made at last week’s Agendashift facilitator day in London. 1. Discovery, 2. Exploration, 3. Mapping – that’s a nice progression! Some edits made to reflect this change.]

Did I mention that I’m writing another book? Writing begins in earnest next week, and the wait is killing me! Nearly three years after Kanban from the Inside, I again feel the compulsion. I have to do this!

The new book’s first five chapters mirror the five main sections of the Agendashift transformation mapping workshop:

  1. Discovery: Identifying strategic objectives, obstacles, outcomes, and change strategies
  2. Exploration: Debriefing your Agendashift values-based delivery assessment, prioritising opportunities, and agreeing scope
  3. Mapping: Building a transformation plan
  4. Elaboration: Generating, framing, and developing actions
  5. Operation: Organising for continuous transformation

If you’re anything like me, you might thinking “Plenty of plausible-sounding words there, but what makes the process Lean, Agile, or Lean-Agile?” It’s a fair question – there are enough linear, top down, cookie-cutter, imposed, consultant-knows-best, and resistance-trumping models out there and we surely don’t need another one! Can we instead demonstrate collaboration, iteration, flow, pull, feedback and the rest?

There’s an old Lean trick that I’ll be employing in chapter 5: review the process backwards, from finish to start, from life at the operational sharp end and back to the fuzzy front end. Here’s a preview, and it describes a process for organisational transformation that with just a few substitutions could easily describe a Lean-Agile process in the product or service space.

5. Operation

We meet frequently to review progress on the changes we have in progress and to share what insights we’ve gathered along the way. We’re validating the impact of our most advanced experiments to help us decide whether or not to adopt them formally. Some of our other experiments haven’t reached that stage yet – we’re still testing changes for their usability (there’s no point in endorsing changes that won’t stick). Still further upstream we keep a small backlog of prioritised and well-understood changes to work on as soon as capacity permits.

4. Elaboration

We’re careful not specify changes until we’re close to needing that level of detail – this isn’t big design up front (BDUF) but a just-in-time (JIT) process. Leaving it until the last responsible moment gives us the opportunity to incorporate feedback from previous experiments (successful changes or otherwise) and to take into account recent environmental changes outside our sphere of control.

Where appropriate (which is much of the time) we use the language of Lean Startup and A3 to frame and develop our actions. We take the outcomes that are the main units of currency of the transformation map and from them form hypotheses, identify who should to be involved in the change (to a significant extent we’re our own customers here, but therein lies a trap), design pilot experiments to test our assumptions, and so on.

3. Mapping

There’s much still be achieved, and it’s important to keep our ideas organised. Call it a planning tool if you like, we use a transformation map, highly analogous to a story map, except that the elements being organised aren’t features, user stories or job stories, but the outcomes we’d like to achieve through our transformation.

[Aside: The analogy is strong – the ‘so that…‘ elements of user stories and job stories are outcomes too of course.]

The categories under which outcomes are organised may describe the stages in a transformation journey or simply identify high level themes; sometimes one evolves into the other. This organisation comes under periodic review as we step back from the day-to-day and reflect on our overall progress.

We prioritise within categories before looking across categories and deciding on what we will work on next. In setting priorities overall, we may choose to give special emphasis to a particular category for a while, or decide instead that it’s better to choose a minimal set of complementary changes from across the board.

2. Exploration

Exploration keeps the transformation map both based in reality and connected with the vision, the output from Discovery. What do we know? What can we find out? What seems to be important? Who should we talk to? Where are the most promising opportunities? What’s our scope?

With Agendashift, exploration is a generative process. Informed by the results from the assessment tool, we collaborate on identifying opportunities and their respective obstacles, then ‘flipping’ those obstacles into the outcomes that will become either the work items or the organising themes on our transformation map.

We do enough of this up front to prime the pump and to get a good sense of what it is we’re really dealing with. We revisit it periodically; as our transformation progresses, so too does our understanding of what’s urgent, what’s possible, and where we think we’re headed.

1. Discovery

What would it be like if everyone were able to work at their best, individually, within teams, and across teams? What if we could have the right conversations between the right people always happening at just the right time? What if everyone always got what what we needed at just the right time too?

Why don’t we have that now? What obstacles lie in the way of achieving that? Can we go from all of that to a set of goals? What kinds of delivery approaches will be appropriate for the kinds of outcomes we seek? Who do we need to engage in the process?

This was the first of three related posts (post 3 coming soon):

  1. Lean-Agile transformation as Lean-Agile process
  2. Agendashift as coaching framework
  3. Agendashift as Good Strategy

If you’re a Lean-Agile practitioner and can see yourself using these tools, check out our partner programme. If you’re a sponsor of change and think this might work for you, check out our partner directory. In either case, check out our events calendar for a public workshop near you. If you don’t see one or you’d like one internally, get in touch.

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Three ways to get 2017 off to a flying start

1. An Agendashift-based coaching conversation: 60-120 minutes exploring the scope and goals of your Lean-Agile transformation, identifying key organisational objectives, obstacles, and outcomes. Take a mini or full-sized Agendashift assessment on your own as prework or as the focus for conversation.

2. A Transformation Mapping workshop: If you’re an internal sponsor, let us help you engage your colleagues in the transformation process, agreeing scope together, debriefing your survey, generating an outline plan, beginning to dig into the detail, getting yourselves organised for success. If you’re a practitioner, check out our partner programme – you could soon be using the all Agendashift tools and workshop materials yourself!

3. A longer engagement: Get regular support on site or remotely from an experienced practitioner who has been on journeys like this before, structured to give you the right combination of strategic advice, training, and hands-on coaching.

You can see these as a progression: each step a low-risk way to see what a bigger commitment might look like. The modes of delivery can differ, but the underlying models remain the same – always humane (respectful of where people are today), participatory (engaging people in the process from the outset), and refreshingly non-prescriptive.

Could Agendashift be just what you need? If you think it might, get in touch with us directly or find a partner near you.

Here’s to an exciting 2017

In case you missed it: 2016’s best bits. Not that we’re resting on our Christmas laurels!

Next week, work begins in earnest on a new book (my second), working title “Agendashift: Lean-Agile transformation for everyone”. I can’t wait to get started! Meanwhile, keep an eye out for a new series of blog posts:

  1. Agendashift as Agile process
  2. Agendashift as coaching framework
  3. Agendashift as good strategy

Our events calendar now shows Agendashift facilitator days happening every month well into 2017. These 1-day workshops are a great way for practitioners and potential sponsors to experience the Transformation Mapping workshop in a learning environment.

The calendar is somewhat UK-centric at present but we are busy fixing that. Listed already are events planned in Hamburg in February (a 2-day event in which Agendashift combines with Okaloa’s Flowlab) and Oslo on April; thank you Susanne and Thorbjørn for hosting these. There are more like this in the pipeline, and get in touch if you’d like to host an event in your city.

Happy New Year!

Agendashift December roundup, 2016’s best bits

It’s the last Agendashift roundup of the 2016, and what a year! For this one I’ve simply organised our most popular posts into some semblance of (reverse) order.


I’ve written and spoken quite a bit on leadership this year. Agendashift is all about Lean-Agile transformation, and you’re not going to see significant change without leadership. I’ve also revisited Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership model, noting that it’s something much more powerful than just “serve the team”. If only he were read more widely, including in Agile circles…


If you’re ok with mediocrity, keep on delivering “requirements”. If you want to do better than that, get into “needs”. And no, just because job stories illustrate this point very well, don’t take this as a gratuitous attack on user stories!


This popular post helps to explain why purely team-centric approaches can get you only so far.


I hope it didn’t escape your notice that Agendashift is now live, with an integrated online/offline product and an impressive array of signed-up partners (awesome folks all)!

While we’re here, I must mention our Slack community. It’s up there with the product launch, one of the most gratifying things I’ve had the privilege to be involved in. Request your invite here if you’re not a member already. As described only today (and not by me):

The Agendashift Slack is developing to be one of best sources of high quality discussion and learning now

And last week, about the programme as whole:

I’m so glad to be part of this!

Our LinkedIn group recently passed 500 members also. It’s not hard to keep going when you receive this kind of encouragement 🙂

Hypothesis-driven change

In my workshops and training I like to observe that Lean Startup – a decidedly 21st century approach to product development – borrows heavily from 20th century process improvement. And the favour is easily returned: if you’re working on improvement, why not use Lean Startup’s 21st century language? With a sprinkling of complexity-awareness thrown in (more on that later) and A3 (Toyota), it works great.

Note that the A3 template described here has a Creative Commons license; adapt and use as you see fit.


My Featureban simulation game (Creative Commons again) is still going strong! One major revision this year (2.0) and a few minor tweaks along the way.

Clean Language and Cynefin

Perhaps (or perhaps not?) the surprise of the year: our most popular post is one in which I quite cautiously announce our integration of Clean Language and the Cynefin four points exercise into our workshops. Their integration is now well tested and we love them both separately and together! January will kick off with a short series of posts digging into this in a bit more detail.

Here’s to a similarly exciting and productive 2017! Will you join us?

Mike Burrows
Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, December 2016

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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