Featureban 2.2 (and a special offer)

For the uninitiated, Featureban is our simple, fun, and highly customisable kanban simulation game, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

There were already some minor updates pending, but the biggest change was inspired by an exercise described in the first chapter of the new book Practical Kanban by my friend Klaus Leopold. With the board full of work-in-progress (WIP), how long will it take to clear it? Or in other words, roughly how long will the next piece of work take, assuming it’s of normal priority and doesn’t get to jump over everything else?

The price of Klaus’s book goes up with each completed chapter, but he has kindly given us a coupon that fixes the price at just $4 until the end of May. Grab yours here:


  • Hidden slides for the reference of the facilitator are now clearly marked as such
  • Clarified the wording of the pairing rule
  • New ‘Take Stock’ slides at the end of iterations 1 & 2, the review of WIP described above
  • ‘Cleaned up’ the debrief slides
    • What was that like?
    • Then what happens?
    • What just happened?
  • The ‘By the same author’ slide now includes the Agendashift book
  • Added a final slide with a link to Okaloa Flowlab, a fully productionised simulation game and workshop initially inspired by Featureban, by my friends Patrick Steyaert and Arlette Vercammen

See also


From the Department for Dodgy Mnemonics: DUL and POWT

From DfDM, the Department for Dodgy Mnemonics, two for the same day, April 18th, 2017.

Mnemonic 1: DUL

Don’t blame Schein for the awful nmemonic, but do thank him for the process:

  1. Discomfirmation: coming to the (perhaps difficult) realisation that past assumptions, values, or solutions either don’t hold, cause as many problems as they solve, or must make way for else
  2. Unlearning (or unfreezing): working through the implications of that realisation, and becoming open to alternatives
  3. Learning: working with a new set of assumptions, values, and solutions

Source: Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein. I can vouch for the audiobook also.

Mnemonic 2: POWT

I haven’t used the mnemonic in the new book, but there is a repeated pattern:

  1. Prompts (or prioritised goals): Prioritising assessment prompts (or similar descriptions of how we would like things to be) because we realise that they represent – in a positive way – something that isn’t working as it should. See also DUL.
  2. Obstacles: Things stopping those prompt from being realised as we would like. See also DUL.
  3. What would you like to have happen?: Identify outcomes hiding behind those obstacles.
  4. Then what happens?: More outcomes – the outcomes behind the outcomes.

Worst case, you get to discover what’s beyond your most immediate outcomes. Better (and quite likely) case: you agree on outcomes more interesting and achievable than the ones you started with.



I don’t mind admitting it: I was struggling a bit with chapter 5 (the last chapter of Part I and the main obstacle to initial publication). Then came London Lean Kanban Days 2017 and corridor conversations with Karl Scotland, Greg Brougham, Patrick Steyaert, and Ray Edgar that continued on Slack afterwards.

I was only too happy to scrap my first attempt and start again. What got the juices flowing again was this simple picture:

Screenshot 2017-04-06 05.34.27

It occurs to me that there’s a trap that Lean, Agile, and Lean-Agile folks fall into more often than they realise: believing that responsiveness (of delivery) implies adaptability, the ability to develop new capabilities and new levels of capability in the organisation. There’s a correlation certainly, but the trap is another way of describing the issues I raised a few weeks ago in Why Agile needs some 21st century Lean thinking. To what extent is responsiveness just a local optimisation, doing what we do increasingly quickly, but never breaking out of our comfort zone?

The rewritten chapter 5 takes the Agendashift Values-based delivery assessment and refocuses it on adaptability. The original version doesn’t completely ignore capability and adaptability but as its name implies, it is mostly about delivery. It turns out however that necessary modifications are very modest, an almost mechanical translation: yes there definitely is a relationship between responsiveness and adaptability, a kind of duality even.

These dualities aren’t new. Lean Startup demonstrates that tools for process improvement can be applied to product development, and vice versa. If your organisation can get to understand that change is work and value them both the same, much of the rest follows.


A sixth question for our cue cards

Registered users of our cue cards received an update a few days ago – we’ve added a sixth Clean Language question.

Screenshot 2017-04-03 18.09.15
The six clean questions of the v2 card

The new question is the one at the bottom of the card: Is there a relationship between X and Y?

As with all the Clean questions, the coach (or the player in the coaching role in our game 15-minute FOTO) replaces any placeholders (the X and Y here) with words or phrases previously spoken by the client (or player in that role). Both in the game and in Clean Language generally, the coach’s job isn’t to offer/impose advice, but to help the client explore some landscape and build up some kind of model of it.

In 15-minute FOTO (the FOTO standing for “From Obstacles To Outcomes”), that landscape consists initially of goals and obstacles to those goals. Then comes the chance to discover outcomes hiding behind those obstacles, more outcomes behind those outcomes, outcomes that are more abstract or more specific, intermediate outcomes (stepping stones), and so on.

Technically, these outcomes are the raw material from which maps (plans), options, and then actions are generated. In this regard they’re a great unit of currency, as they don’t force us to choose (or prescribe) solutions too early. It’s worth spelling out also that they describe things that we want; instead of worrying about buy-in for change, we start with it!

If you’ve read the preview chapter you’ll remember a description of the game but not this new question. This isn’t an oversight. It is saved for chapter 2, Exploration, where it provides the opportunity for connections to be explored between the outcomes generated after debriefing the Agendashift survey and the goals and other high level outcomes captured during Discovery (chapter 1, the preview chapter).

Health warning

  • Is there a relationship between X and Y?

One reason for delaying this question’s introduction is that it might be asked judgmentally, breaking the flow of the game (or worse). It is better introduced second time around, when players already have a good feel for how the questions work.

Get yours

Both of these free resources (and more) are available via  www.agendshift.com/resources:

  • A PDF of the cue cards (I get mine printed on satin card, A5 size)
  • The preview chapter of the book (PDF also); this includes a description of the 15-minute FOTO game

Questions? Comments? Discuss this post right here, in our LinkedIn group, or in the #cleanlanguage channel in our Slack community. Or just drop me a line.

Agendashift roundup, March 2017

In this edition: A little spring cleaning; Continuous transformation and 21st century thinking; An update to our Clean Language cue cards; Returning to India! ; Upcoming events; Top posts

A little spring cleaning

Spring is in the air here in beautiful Derbyshire! It’s also six months since launch, and it seems a good time for some spring cleaning. First order of the day: renaming the Agendashift facilitator day to the Agendashift practitioner’s workshop. Not a dramatic change, but it does more clearly reflect 1) the typical audience, and 2) the fact that it’s a hands-on workshop and not some other kind of event. We have two public workshops coming up in late April – Oslo (24th) and Bristol (27th)  – and we’ve updated both their titles and their descriptions. Check them out!

I’m also leading some private workshops in the next few weeks, two of them abroad. These come in two flavours: the practitioner’s workshop (essentially the same as the public workshop but with the advantage of some shared context), and the Agendashift transformation mapping workshop, aimed at client organisations. The former is mainly for coaches, consultants, and managers; at the latter we’ve had everyone from C-suite execs down to new joiners (diverse is good, by the way).

We may in due course rename the partner programme also. I’ve been soliciting the input of existing partners; overall we think the name describes the relationship well but there is the nagging concern that it may suggest a level of difficulty or cost that may cause some to be deterred quite unnecessarily.

Continuous transformation and 21st century thinking

The blog and by extension the LinkedIn group have been particularly active in recent weeks – helping ideas to crystallise before they find their way into the book – so do please make a point of reviewing this month’s highlights towards the end of this roundup. I’m very encouraged by the response so far. Long story short: 20th century prescriptions have had their day, and even the Lean and Agile communities need to take notice.

An update to our Clean Language cue cards

I’ve reached out to everyone who has requested the PDF for the Clean Language cue cards we use in our 15-minute FOTO game (FOTO standing for From Obstacles to Outcomes) and as described in my new book’s preview chapter. Soon there’ll be a blog post describing both the recent update and the role Clean Language fulfills in Agendashift; meanwhile to obtain either or both of these free resources just drop me a line.

Returning to India!

I’m thrilled to be invited back to India this autumn. If you’d be interested in attending an Agendashift practitioner’s workshop in Bangalore in September (immediately before or after Lean Kanban India), do please let me know. Let’s make this happen!

Upcoming events featuring Agendashift partners

Top posts

[Discuss in our LinkedIn group][Join our Slack community]
[Previous roundup: February 2017][Next roundup: April 2017]

Reflections on the Manchester facilitator day

March 23rd saw another public Agendashift facilitator day, the practitioner-focused version of the Transformation mapping workshop. Each time we knock off a rough corner or two, remove some unnecessary words, and make the overall process clearer. Observations in session order:

0. Intro

1. Discovery

  • Participant and former colleague Imran Younis noticed an interesting parallel with this session – focused on strategic goals, obstacles and outcomes – and the game Hero’s Journey [www.funretrospectives.com]. This game is new to me; Imran has used it to good effect in product discovery workshops.

2. Exploration

  • I mentioned a planned update to the 15-minute FOTO cue cards (pictured below). We’ll be adding add a sixth question “Is there a relationship between X and Y?”, encouraging exploration of the relationships between the outcomes of Exploration and the goals of Discovery. Is the one a milestone to the other, just a distraction, or is the relationships not yet understood? Watch this space for an announcement about the new cards.


3. Mapping

  • Faster mapping, thanks in part to the recent New feature: cross-referencing prompts across templates, also to the advice to prioritise “ruthlessly”
  • A very nice transformation map produced (below). Notice the generated “thematic outcomes” above the original, predefined headings. If preferred, the former could replace the latter.

Transformation map


  • Notice the group making reference not just to the transformation map but also the output from the Cynefin Four Points exercise (from Exploration). We’ve made the step of generating options much more explicit, thank you Karl Scotland. Trying that for the first time it makes sense to choose outcomes most amenable to exploratory approaches. “The right tool for the job” and all that…


5. Operation

  • Visual management with Kanban – Lean Startup style. See how the Venn diagram on the left explains the board design on the right? Almost certainly not an original thought (in fact I’m pretty sure it’s by design), but it’s nice when you spot a connection like that.

Screenshot 2017-03-24 19.00.06

Next up:

Why Agile needs some 21st century Lean thinking

At least as far as the textbooks go, 21st century Lean is quite a different beast to its 20th century forebear. The best of the more modern Lean literature is now explicit in its recognition that you can’t just take the Lean tools out of one context, drop them into another, and expect the same results. Just because it works for Toyota, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Just because it works in a car factory… I hardly need to complete that sentence!

Not unmodified, that’s for sure. The kind of Kanban I described in Kanban from the Inside that works so well for people engaged in creative knowledge work is almost unrecognisable from the canonical kanban systems of the automotive factory. Many of the underlying principles are the same – for example visual management, controls on work-in-progress, the quest for flow – but their physical or electronic realisations are very different. In one, cards move left to right (downstream) on a kanban board to reflect the progress of work; in the other, cards are sent upstream when some downstream activity wishes to signal a need for some just-in-time replenishment.

But that’s just technical detail. The best of the 21st century Lean authors have been humble enough to make an even more important admission: even within the manufacturing domain you can’t (as the 20th century writers tried to suggest) transplant the tools whilst ignoring the management systems that guide, support, and sustain them, and still expect good results. An important case in point is continuous improvement (or kaizen, if you prefer). Don’t get me wrong: continuous improvement will always be a good idea. Unfortunately though, it is rarely sustained for long through goodwill alone. Asking your workforce for continuous improvement as a low-commitment way to achieve real transformation will almost certainly result in disappointment, even harm.

We in the Agile community know all this of course – how often do we see retrospectives fall into a state of neglect once the easy changes have been made? Unfortunately, we make it harder for ourselves, and by design! As an end-of-century reaction to 20th century top-down and plan-driven management styles wholly unsuited to the challenges of rapid product development in uncertain environments, Agile rightly sought to wrest control back to the teams doing the work. The unfortunate side-effect: blindness to the power of the kind of internal structures that create regular opportunities for mutual reflection, support, and accountability well beyond the team. How is the Agile team supposed to help the organisation become more Agile when it is determined to live inside its own protected bubble? This is how inspect-and-adapt (Agile’s continuous improvement) runs out of steam. Even at team level it’s hard enough to sustain; expecting it to drive broader change without support is, well, optimistic.

I’m not looking to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not suggesting any backsliding on Agile values. I’m not making the case for 20th century top-down management (in fact quite the opposite). I’m asking that we look beyond the delivery-centric processes and tool (most especially beyond the determinedly team-centric ones) and start to think about what that cross-boundary support and accountability could look like.

In particular:

  • What will drive Agile teams and their host organisations to help each other to serve their customers’ and each other’s needs more effectively?
  • Where are the joint forums for reflection?
  • What mechanisms will provide support and ensure follow-through, even when the necessary changes become more challenging on both sides?
  • Where are the opportunities for people to engage seriously in the development and pursuit of organisational goals?
  • What skills will be  needed to make these things happen?

Outside the Agile mainstream, Kanban and Lean Startup have opinions (if not explicit guidance) on many of these questions. Helping people pay attention to concerns such as these is one Agendashift’s main motivations. Much of Agile however still seems to ignore them, sometimes recognising the need for end-to-end thinking but still wary of “at every level” thinking.

The good news is that these concerns are largely orthogonal to delivery. Agile delivery frameworks probably don’t need to be any bigger than they are today (let’s hope so). Some awareness of organisational context and its journey will be necessary though, and it may mean leaving aside the rhetoric of past battles. Welcome to the 21st century!

Opportunities to learn more: