It’s 10 years since the post that changed my career

Happy New Year! For me it’s a big anniversary: this time in 2013 I had spent the New Year’s break taking the principles and practices of the Kanban Method, and from them abstracting a system of nine values. Then on January 3rd, I published Introducing Kanban through its values. Kanban’s values model was born.

Nine values are quite a lot to hold in one’s head at once, so I soon learned to present them in groups:

  • An initial six, or two groups of three: transparency, balance, and collaboration, then customer focus, flow, and leadership
  • Then understanding, agreement, and respect, which for reasons of brevity are often subsumed under leadership

In most of the decade since, it has been my most-read post each year. And it led to my first book, Kanban from the Inside (2014), which remains a Lean-Agile classic. Great! Now what?

I had no interest in making Kanban any more technical than it already was; if anything, the values model would always draw me in the opposite direction. Neither was I drawn to the emerging Kanban Maturity Model (or any other such model). What I did instead was to allow a common problem to bother me: why do so many people arrive at the training class not knowing why they are there? Tempting as it might have been to see that as a failure of administration or marketing, I saw it instead as a symptom that there were important organisational conversations that simply weren’t happening.

I realised quickly that this problem was far from unique to Kanban. To those that resent having had Scrum or (later) SAFe thrust upon them, the Agile manifesto’s “People and interactions over processes and tools” must ring rather hollow.

That took me away from Kanban into the realms of organisation, leadership, and strategy, to the development of Agendashift, and then sort of full circle, not back to Kanban and Lean-Agile specifically, but to business agility. Ten years on, as practice gets refined through use, as its message gets refined through the telling, and as we dig ever-deeper roots into the available theory, three main topic areas co-evolve together:

  1. As described now in two editions of the Agendashift book (2nd ed 2021), Agendashift the engagement model (thank you Daniel Mezick for describing Agendashift as such) and dialogic/generative organisation development approach (thank you Gervase Bushe & Bob Marshak), a way for practitioners to approach organisations without prejudging what solutions they will employ(/impose/inflict) and instead to help them have those missing conversations – engaging in participatory strategy, as it turns out
  2. The wholehearted organisation, a deliberately minimalistic values-based model of organisation and leadership, a spinoff from my third book, Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020) that unexpectedly gained a life of its own
  3. The leadership development curriculum Leading with Outcomes, which compared to Agendashift minimises detail relevant mainly to practitioners, and instead distils some easily-learned patterns, strategies, and organisational models relevant to leaders at all levels, leaders in transforming organisations most especially

Explicitly in both Agendashift and Leading with Outcomes and implicitly in wholehearted, we have doubled down on the eighth value of that initial nine-value model, namely agreement. What if we put agreement on outcomes before solutions? One way or another, I’ve been asking that question for most of the past ten years, and I have no doubt that it will keep me going for a good while yet.

I no longer identify as a Kanban guy. That separation was necessary to what followed, but all these years later I remain proud of the work I did there, of that first book, and of the blog post that started it all. Not that I’m planning on retiring anytime soon, but I have long seen it as marking the beginning of the rest of my career.

[Comment on this post on LinkedIn]


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From “What did you do yesterday?” to something better

Go for it! If the main purpose of your standup is to make sure that everyone is keeping themselves properly busy, then the questions “What did you do yesterday?” and “What will you do today?” are without doubt the basis of a great meeting format.

But be careful what you wish for. If your goals involve 1) the team meeting needs, and 2) learning from the process, those questions can hurt a lot more than they help. Honestly, I’m not a fan at all.

You could try these instead. Understand the pattern, and with practice, it runs itself:

  1. What are we learning from what we recently completed? And is it staying completed? Whose needs did we meet, and how do we know we met them?
  2. What can we get over the line?
  3. What is and isn’t making the expected progress? Are we clear about whose needs we’re meeting, what needs, how we’ll know, and what’s our approach?
  4. Do we have the capacity to look at what’s next, or is that enough until we next meet?

You probably won’t get to that overnight, so some things to try:

  • Instead of reviewing activities (what you did, what you’re doing, etc), try to focus the things that you as a team are trying to produce, in the context of the goals you’re pursuing
  • All else being equal (in bigger meetings, this pattern can work within other interesting ways to structure the work), try reviewing your work most-complete work first, not forgetting to start with celebrating and enquiring into work recently completed
  • Make a point of noticing how the conversations change as you work backwards, and develop your repertoire accordingly – by this stage you’ll likely be noticing not only a performance difference but a language change and changes to people’s expectations and behaviour, and you can build on that until they become habits
  • In all of the above, try keep in your mind and everyone else’s what you’re working backwards from: “someone’s need met” and “all the available learning fully accounted for” (my definitions of done and really done)

I’ve used this “right to left” technique in a range of settings, often supercharging something that really wasn’t working before – standup meetings, risk & issue review meetings, service delivery review meetings to name just three. Right to left is named after Kanban’s board review pattern (you start on the right-hand side of the board with work at or nearest completion) but it’s not hard to apply in other settings.

And it’s more than just a productivity hack. In my third book Right to Left (2019, audiobook 2020), I take that philosophy of working backwards from impact and learning and use it as a lens on the whole Lean-Agile landscape (and more). Further to it not being just a Kanban thing, the book shows how right to left fits very well with the best of Scrum. Contrast that with an all too prevalent left to right kind of Scrum that does the reputations of Scrum and Agile no favours at all, and that scales up in the worst possible way. Fortunately it’s fixable.

This post started out as a LinkedIn post, then a second:

  1. Go for it! (
  2. Building on that last one… (

And now a third:

    Like, comment, share!

    You can also take any questions you may have to one of the upcoming webinars – the first three (December 8th, January 12th, February 2nd) all finish with an AMA (Ask Mike Anything) session. Series link: The questions that drive us (



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    We help leaders and engaged team members at every level to gain fluency in the language of outcomes – developing and pursuing strategies together, innovating, learning, and adapting as the organisation renews and transforms itself from the inside.

    Video: Leading and Transforming with Outcomes

    Recorded yesterday at Agile Hartford, thank you Larry Bock for hosting!

    Our media page has several meetup talks with this same title, but as I mention in near the beginning, I spent the day yesterday doing a complete rewrite. The recent blog post that sowed the seeds for that rewrite is this one: Agendashift’s three meta strategies and I’m very pleased with how it came out.

    Most of the links mentioned in the video you’ll find at the bottom of this (and every) blog post. Apart from this one:


    What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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    The 1967 Manifesto for The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

    It may still too early to judge the 1990’s for its net contribution to organisational understanding. If much of what was published on the specific topic of change management had never been written, it might have been for the better! It’s not all bad though: I have recently enjoyed two books from that period, Karl Weick’s Sensemaking in Organizations (1995) and the 1994 first edition of Henry Mintzberg’s Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. (Regarding the latter one, if you can tell me whether I should also read the 2000 second edition, do let me know.)

    Reading Mintzberg, what stood out for me wasn’t so much his concept of emergent strategy (arguably not much more than a fancy name for what really happens to our best-laid plans) but these five things:

    1. The limits of rationalism and control, and the apparent disregard shown for them not just by the mid 20th-century strategic planners but by their champions in academia
    2. The idea, attributed to Edelman, of experts being those who avoid (or merely bemoan) the pitfalls but fail to notice the grand fallacy (see point 1 above, and I suspect I may never hear the words ‘expert’ and ‘pitfall’ in quite the same way again!)
    3. Primed by my prior reading of that Weick book on sensemaking, the idea of strategy as the means by which we make sense and meaning of our decisions; strategies don’t just help us to act in the present and project ourselves into the future, their role in helping us reinterpret how we got here is important too
    4. And before we get too comfortable with strategy as story, strategy as theory – something to be tested, lightly held
    5. Brian Loasby’s 1967 Manifesto for the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

    I’m having a bit of fun with that last one of course. I’ve no reason to think that Loasby (now Emeritus Professor in Economics at Stirling University) had anything manifesto-like in mind, and the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation didn’t exist back then. Not even its sources: the Viable System Model (Beer) was not yet fully formed; the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (Kegan & Lahey) was decades off; Agendashift’s main architect (yours truly) was just two years old.

    But check this out:

    if, instead of asking how they can more accurately foresee future events and thus make better decisions further ahead, firms were to ask first what they can do to avoid the need to decide so far ahead, they might be led to discover important ways of improving their performance.

    Brian Loasby, 1967, via Mintzberg

    Let me recast that in the “this over that” style of a notable document familiar to many readers, the Agile Manifesto. Adding some flourishes of my own:

    In the pursuit of business performance, we are finding it useful to see plans and strategies more as theories to be tested quickly than as predictions and commitments for the longer term. Through this change of perspective, we are learning to value anticipating and meeting needs over setting and meeting deadlines, open options over past decisions, and rate of learning over closeness of control. Not that deadlines, decisions, and control have no value, rather that when valued against needs, flexibility, and adaptability, it is the latter group that drives our development forward.

    I am not seriously advocating a new manifesto – for me, that ship sailed long ago – but Loasby was definitely onto something all those years ago. Rewriting history, there is already something Lean-like about his heuristic, and for anyone trying it, I’ve little doubt that Lean’s explicit attention to people and to flow would soon be required in any determined application of it. Invite the customer inside that way of thinking and you get something quite Agile-like. And compared to Agile as first framed, much more obviously relatable to business agility too. Interesting!

    What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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    If you are not already engaging on strategy, the time to get serious is now

    2021 promises to be a big year for Agendashift and I want to share a train of thought that crystallised over the closing weeks of 2020 as I finished the 2nd edition*.

    Most Agile process is built around the autonomous team. The uncomfortable truth though is that many if not most of those teams get little meaningful opportunity to participate in strategy. Surely it is a funny kind of autonomy when strategy is something that happens to you!

    The flip side of the same coin: business agility depends on rapid adaptation, but it’s a funny kind of adaptive strategy when it doesn’t know how to listen and learn.

    Tackle those two problems together and you get loads more benefit for free. With authentic participation in strategy you get engagement. And with that, ways of working and broader aspects of culture become natural and integrated ingredients in the way forward, neither compartmentalised off (sterile when separated from mission), nor imposed (almost certainly self-defeating).

    This is of course where Agendashift comes in. Not only do we know how to facilitate those conversations, we give you the tools to keep doing it yourself. And it’s not just the workshops; how to make the process of continuous transformation self-sustaining is a key focus of ours, to the extent that much of the past 18 months has been spent digging deep foundations in systems, organisation, and personal development.

    As I write, the four nations of the UK each enter new levels of lockdown, a situation sure to be echoed in different ways around the world. Yes, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel this time, but there can be no doubt that the world of work has changed forever. If you’re a leader and your strategy process does not already invite meaningful engagement, the time to get serious is now. And we can help, whether that’s directly, working with your internal coaching team, or through one of our partners. Get in touch or check out our partner directory right away.

    If you’re a practitioner in (Lean-)Agile, strategy, &/or organisation development – one of those is enough if you buy into our mission of building wholehearted organisations – you can be that help. From the start, Agendashift has been accessible and affordable. And there’s no time like the present: join the partner programme now and your discount on the February Deep Dive will cover your first year’s membership.


    *The 2nd edition gets delivered to the publishers tomorrow for publication this quarter


    The workshops continue to evolve at quite a pace and watch out for some new developments this year. In the calendar so far:

    All the usual discounts apply: repeat visits (not uncommon), partners, gov, edu, non-profit, country, un- or under-employment, bulk orders. If you think that one might apply to you, do please ask. Most of those considerations apply to private workshops also.

    For the Deep Dive especially, if you think that you might become an Agendashift partner, partner discounts make it well worthwhile to get on board before you sign up to the workshop.

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    Agendashift roundup, October 2019

    In this edition: Berlin; Working at the intersection / a monster post on SAFe; Right to Left; Changeban, Featureban, and 15-minute FOTO; Upcoming workshops – Berlin, Oslo, Malmö, and online; Top posts


    I have a free day in Berlin today, arriving a day early to avoid travelling on what threatened to be Brexit day before a private workshop tomorrow. That workshop is actually the first of three November engagements in Berlin, with a 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop and (through happy coincidence) the Open Leadership Symposium:

    I keep saying it and I will say it again:

    • The Berlin workshop consistently delivers – not just a full house and a great experience, but a reliable source of great feedback and new ideas. Thank you Leanovate not just for hosting but for participating
    • The inaugural Open Leadership Symposium in Boston last May was a key coming together of multiple communities and it launched a new one. I have high expectations of the Berlin event, which takes place on the 19th with a selection of masterclasses on the 18th & 20th. If you’re thinking of coming to the main event, ping me for a chunky discount code (big enough to make a real difference, so don’t miss out!).

    Working at the intersection / a monster post on SAFe

    This was just a quick picture posted to LinkedIn and Twitter, but it has struck a chord with many people and it has already established itself as a way to introduce both myself and the communities I participate in. You’ll see some of the language reflected on the Agendashift site, the partner programme page most especially.

    Who/where we are on one slide: People working at the intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development – bringing balance & perspective, focus on needs & outcomes, helping each other up their game in new areas

    working at the intersection

    That picture is a good scene-setter to a post that within 36 hours was my most-read post of the year:

    Also doing well is a Kanban-related post:

    And I can only apologise for this related tweet 😉:

    Right to Left

    Thank you Paul and Justyna! Two podcasts for the price of one, a book review and an interview:

    After a long delay, Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is at last available in EPUB format. That means you can download it as an ebook from more online booksellers, including Apple Books, Google Play Books, and Kobo – just search “Right to Left Mike Burrows”.

    There were two more 5 star reviews on Amazon UK this month (thank you!), making eight so far. We’re still waiting for the first one on Amazon US though, so who will be first?

    Changeban, Featureban, and 15-minute FOTO

    Some news about three of our Creative Commons-licensed resources.

    Changeban 1.3 is now the recommended version (it was in beta until properly tested). I’ll be making the equivalent changes to Featureban before making a separate announcement. Also, their respective Slack channels have merged into one, #featureban-changeban.

    The updated 15-minute FOTO cue card is definitely an improvement and it too is out of beta. A new ‘Lite’ (gentle introduction) version of the game has been through a number of iterations and we’ll announce it soon. It’s available to try if you know where to look! Slack channel #cleanlanguage, and it’s enabling some new #workshops (we’ll announce those properly soon too).

    Upcoming workshops – Berlin, Oslo, Malmö, and online

    Top posts

    Leading change in the 21st century? You need a 21st century engagement model!
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    What I really think about SAFe

    I keep repeating myself – more so since the announcements of the latest edition of SAFe – so let me put it here for the record. It’s based on previous comments on Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere; nothing I haven’t said before, but not all in one place.

    My concerns (I do have them) are entirely around implementation, but SAFe is by no means unique in that regard. It’s one on a long list of things for which how you approach it matters way, way more than the thing itself.

    See SAFe as 1) a curriculum 2) a demonstration of how things can fit together: fine, whatever, if that floats your boat. That much should be clear from chapter 4 (the scaling chapter) of Right to Left. Some aspects I praise, the principles most of all, and I suggest ways to start from there.

    See SAFe as a realisation of patterns such as iterated self-organisation around goals, you’re on pretty good foundations. Credit where credit is due, I found in my researches for the book that SAFe makes this more explicit than any of its rivals, at least when it comes to descriptions easily accessible to outsiders (and I didn’t stop there).

    See SAFe as a solution to be implemented: you are courting disaster. Implementing something as big as this with any kind of determination leads almost inevitably to imposition, and that’s the way to destroy collaboration, self-organisation, problem-solving, and innovation. Why would you do that?

    This problem is not specific to SAFe, and it’s the driver behind engagement models such as Agendashift (mine), OpenSpace Agility (Mezick et al); moreover it’s a big enough problem that we actively cooperate, not compete.

    The sad truth is that mainstream Agile acts like the last two decades of organisation development never existed. If the impact weren’t so serious, it would be laughable. It’s certainly embarrassing, shameful even. SAFe must take its share of responsibility for that, but it is by no means alone.

    There. I said it. Arguing about the relative merits of the framework becomes a way of dancing around that most crucial point. So don’t ask me to endorse or condemn it; I just won’t. But don’t think I don’t care…

    What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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    A question among the good luck emails

    There’s a contact button on the landing page for Right to Left, and through it I got this question which I have permission to reproduce:

    Keep up the good work, and btw how do you use the Kanban Method these days, after your current progression?

    My reply (verbatim):

    In Right to Left you’ll see Kanban as just one of a set of complementary patterns in the Lean-Agile space (none of them more important than the others), and a more general approach to organisation development and the leadership that goes with that.

    In my own work, Kanban is still in the mix but I’m very definitely needs & outcomes first, not solutions/framework first. STATIK tries to do a bit of that* but it does rather presuppose the answer! I prefer Reverse STATIK anyway, and my very occasional Kanban training uses that. The principles and practices are abstracted in the values, and they live on through the Agendashift delivery assessment (a conversation-starter, not a checklist of practices).

    *To be fair, it does this quite valiantly and self-consistently compared with peer frameworks, but my comment stands.

    And a PS, sent moments later:

    One thing to add: this is not to diminish anyone’s work on Kanban (my own included) or any other framework. Testing boundaries is learning. But it’s also healthy to draw back a bit and broaden one’s horizons from time to time. And integration is also learning.

    Some links to help with decoding the above (I knew my correspondent to be familiar with most of them):

    Autumn workshops
    – Stockholm, Athens, London, Istanbul, Berlin, and online

    Leading change in the 21st century? You need a 21st century engagement model:

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