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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Agendashift roundup, July 2020

In this edition: 2MBM; Campaign mode; Deep Dive done; Upcoming; Top posts for July; Friday community Zoom


July wasn’t really a month for the blog (more on that in a moment) but a couple of posts early in the month did do well.

In the followups to the last Wholehearted:OKR workshop we identified a new pattern, 2MBM:


2MBM gets a new page in the patterns section of the Agendashift site, and two blog posts:

Campaign mode

For most of the month, instead of blogging I have been experimenting with using LinkedIn to establish/promote some key terms, and it seems to be working well. Check these out:

Further to the second of those and prompted by a conversation on social media, the revival of a classic:

Deep Dive done

By the power of Zoom I’ve been in Canada this week, leading an 8-session Deep Dive. I’m very happy with how it went – not that I won’t still want to improve it of course! Tons of positive feedback, but let pick out a few comments which relate to recent developments:

  • IdOO is the killer app of purpose and alignment
  • Learning the pattern language in Agendashift
  • Feels less prescriptive than the book
  • Multiple options to choose from for a workshop

Prescription is and always was an anti-goal, and introducing Agendashift in terms of patterns really works! This augurs well for the 2nd edition of the book I’m sure, and on that, a first rough draft of a completely rewritten intro is available in the #agendashift-book channel in the Agendashift Slack.


All with me, except for the first one which is led by Julia Wester:

Top posts for July


  1. #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method
  2. I’m really enjoying Challenge Mapping (June)
  3. Outcomes all the way down (June, video)
  4. #2MBM: After strategy and ideation, operation
  5. Yes IdOO! Leading with Outcomes


  1. Engagement: more than a two-way street (September 2018)
  2. There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR (September 2019)
  3. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  4. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation(October 2019)
  5. Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley (February 2019)

Friday #community Zoom

Finally, a reminder that as of the past few weeks our Lean Coffee-style Friday Zoom calls are now at 14:00 BST, 15:00 CEST, 9am EDT. Details in the #community channel in Slack or ping me for them.

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#2MBM: After strategy and ideation, operation

Excellent response to last week’s #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method! Before the main business of this post, a couple of updates:

  1. In the interests of referenceability (if that’s a word) I’ve since given it a url: agendashift.com/2mbm (as shown in the image below) redirects to agendashift.com/frameworks/patterns/2mbm
  2. In the patterns pages, I’ve incorporated 2MBM into the definition of Right to Left:

    Right to Left: Ends before means, outcomes before solutions, and the two MBMs – meaning before metric and measure before method (2MBM)


Last week’s post was about keeping metrics in their proper place with respect to strategy and ideation. This one is about the use of metrics as the strategy swings into action, the ideas continue to flow, and so on.

I’ve hinted already that you probably want a multiplicity of metrics. Chapter 5 of Right to Left gives some suggestions, and they’re organised by the layers of the outside-in strategy review, or OI-SR (as practiced in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop and as supported by the free OI-SR template):

  1. Customer: Customer satisfaction; helpdesk calls and hours spent on them; customer complaints, endorsements, and reviews; user growth and retention
  2. Organisation: Financial metrics, progress against relevant organisational objectives, and so on
  3. Product: Usage analytics; funnel metrics; market comparisons
  4. Platform: System performance and capacity metrics (along with plans to keep capacity ahead of anticipated demand – another good reason for the outside-in review); new capabilities and capabilities under development
  5. Team: Lead time distribution, throughput, and work in progress; quality metrics (defects escaped to production, for example); data on blockers and their impact; staffing levels; skill distribution and development

That’s quite a long list, beyond the capacity of most people to maintain on their own, and to be clear, they’re only suggestions. Both to make it practical and to help avoid the oppressive imposition of metrics:

  • Each layer is represented by one or two people (two being preferable, creating mentoring opportunities and making it easier to broaden the range of seniorities involved in the meeting overall), each closely identified with their respective layer(s)
  • The choice of which metrics will be presented is theirs (and by extension, their respective team’s¹); the meeting’s facilitator can coordinate across layers to help ensure good coverage

In the outside-in service delivery review (OI-SDR), those layers define the top-level agenda. The sequence helps to expose any misalignment between what we’re trying to achieve and the work we’re actually doing – not just within each layer but with respect to what’s been heard already. Within each layer, we go right to left:

  • A narrative update that includes an affirmation of we’re trying to achieve
  • What this layer’s metrics seem to be telling us
  • What has been learned from our experiments completed since last time
  • What experiments we currently have up and running and what we hope to learn
  • What’s in the pipeline

I was asked in a meetup last night what I would do if I could implement only one thing. Five years ago, I might have answered with “Validation”; today, my answer is the OI-SDR. It’s a piece of deliberate organisation design, building in the strong organisational expectation that learning will be happening – learning about our customers and learning about ourselves. An opportunity for double loop learning. And to do it justice, you’ll soon be practicing validation anyway!

Find out more

The OI-SR and OI-SDR are described in chapter 5 of Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. Available in the usual places and (since May) as an audiobook.

Check out the workshops pages also – not just for Wholehearted:OKR and other strategy workshops but also for Implementing your OI-SDR among the short training workshops.

¹ ‘Circle‘ might be a better word than ‘team’ here. I’m alluding to Sociocracy, and that’s  covered in Right to Left chapter 6.

Related posts:

Upcoming public workshops


August, Julia Wester stepping in:


The Agendashift events calendar always has the latest public workshops – watch this space for another (and updated) Wholehearted:OKR – and visit the workshops page if you’re considering doing something privately – chances are we have something of interest.

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#2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method

In the models-sources-inspirations picture shared in the  June roundup earlier this week you may have noticed one or more less-than famous acronyms upper right. I did leave a breadcrumb or two, but as was my plan all along, let me spell them out.


The newest acronym – just days old – is 2MBM. From the patterns page (the Right to Left link points to my book/audiobook of that name):

Right to Left: ends before means, outcomes before solutions, and the two MBMs – meaning before metric and measure before method (2MBM)

MBM 1: Meaning before metric

I’ve been using this one for a while. Some clues here in From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019):

This [understanding fitness for purpose] is OK as far as it goes, but the faster it turns … into a conversation about metrics, the less time anyone spends actually exploring purpose. If I’m honest, this part leaves me a little cold … .

My real concern here is with a common behaviour: consultants and other practitioners leading too hard with a favourite metric. My advice: whether they’re pushing lead time, velocity, or NPS, if they’re not also demonstrating an interest in connecting deeply with your purpose, politely show them the door.

More reason to trust your instincts when you feel yourself go cold at the mention of metrics is when they’re imposed as targets. It’s when OKR (Objectives and Key Results) turns into MBO (Management by Objectives), and there’s a reason why the latter is discredited, disowned by its creator (Drucker). Particularly when they’re tied to compensation and advancement, imposed targets inspire creativity of the wrong kind, too-clever ways to meet the goal. In a word: dysfunction.

MBM 2: Measure before method

So…  metrics are bad? No! As we’ll see in a moment they can be a source of healthy creativity if explored at the right time. If the first MBM translates to “not too early”, then the second translates to “not too late”. In fact, there’s “too late”, and then there’s “way too late”:

  • “Too late”: having a solution idea and then coming up with the metrics that it is likely to impact, justifying it on that basis
  • “Way too late”: implementing a solution idea and looking for benefits afterwards

Not so much alignment as post hoc rationalisation, severely limiting the likelihood of any real learning taking place, and missing some vital input into the ideation process.

To illustrate that last point, here’s how we now teach it in Agendashift:

  1. Reacquaint ourselves with the outcome we’ve chosen to work on (remember that with us it’s “outcomes all the way down” and we haven’t even got to the bottom of that stack yet) with Challenge Mapping
  2. Having explored around it, identify a list of success indicators for that outcome
  3. With the conversations of steps 1 and 2 still in the air, generate solution ideas
  4. Select the fantastic option, the one most likely to significantly outperform – relative to the others and disproportionately (non-linearly) relative to its cost and risk


And finally to two more of the acronyms on my picture (plus a bonus).

Karl Scotland‘s TASTE stands for True north, Aspirations, Strategies, Tactics, and Evidence. What we’ve known for a while – in the Agendashift material we have deliberately made this a two-part exercise to emphasise this point – is to leave Tactics until last. Cross-referencing them in an X-Matrix, we’re asking this question:

  • Inspired by and aligning to our True north, what Tactics (collectively) will support our Strategies and deliver the Evidence of success we hope for? (Aspirations are already correlated with Strategies and Evidence at this point)

Larry Maccherone‘s ODIM stands for Objectives, Decisions, Insights, and Metrics. One creative way to think of it is in behavioural terms:

  • For this objective to be achieved, what will people need to do differently? If that involves them making different decisions, what in their immediate environment will guide those? What then do we need to measure?

In the latest iteration of the Wholehearted:OKR workshop we use TASTE when we’re exploring alignment between levels, a way to build coherence at scale. ODIM is introduced near ideation time (previously it came too early, reducing its impact – no pun intended).

One last credit: I took “Measure” and “Method” come from Salesforce’s management process V2MOM:

  1. Vision— what do you want to achieve?
  2. Values — what’s important to you?
  3. Methods — how do you get it?
  4. Obstacles — what is preventing you from being successful?
  5. Measures — how do you know you have it?

Type 1 MBM but not (as presented here) type 2. Still, it starts in the right kind of place, and for that I’m glad. Thank you Steve Pereira and Tom Kerwin for an interesting Twitter conversation.

Followup post:

Related posts:

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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