On the quality and nature of backlogs

From the Agendashift and Agile and Lean Software Development LinkedIn groups (the second by request):

If you’re building systems for use by humans, ploughing through backlogs of requirements  – however well they might be written – rarely delivers anything better than mediocrity. Conversely, in a high feedback environment (where ideas get tested very quickly), even apparently low-quality inputs can deliver great results, if the inputs do at least focus collaboration and innovation on the right challenges.

Not that the “upstream” folks get a free ride from me – it’s their job to ensure a ready supply of those right challenges to work on, options developed to an appropriate level of detail just-in-time. What’s “appropriate” here is highly contextual, depending as it does on the degree of uncertainty involved and the skillset of the team. Focussing on the quality of the backlog as a whole would be a mistake and not a metric I would want anyone to take seriously.

That’s taken a little out of context and there is no doubt a risk that I’ll be misunderstood, but the comment stands alone well enough I think. One thing is for sure: I completely stand by the idea that ploughing through backlogs is a recipe for mediocrity, particularly when the system under construction is mainly for use by real people. I said it before in Agendashift and I’ll be saying it again (albeit for a different audience) it in Right to Left.

As to the idea that focussing too much on the quality of the backlog can be a trap for the unwary, let me quote from the draft of Right to Left. Here we’re describing close collaboration between development and its ‘upstream’ process in a digital context where this kind of working is now very well proven:

[They] learned to stop thinking of [their ‘upstream’ process] as a phase broken down into stages with gates in between; now they understand it as managing a portfolio of options for the best possible return. The best ideas will be released quickly, perhaps even before they are fully formed – the opportunity being great enough that more eyes and hands should be involved sooner. Some ideas take longer to mature, the cost/benefit equation being sufficiently marginal that a few rounds of prototyping and user testing might save the team some wasted effort later. The least promising ideas will languish for a while before a positive decision is made to reject them. No-one mourns a rejected option; each one is a bullet dodged, waste avoided.

Focus less on the backlog itself and more on the job that it has to do!


Upcoming Agendashift workshops

See recent blog post: Agendashift workshops in Seattle, London, Boston, and Berlin

Facilitated by Mike Burrows unless otherwise indicated:

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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

A Grand Unification Theory for Lean-Agile?

The job of chapter 3 of the forthcoming book Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is to introduce a number of important Agile, Lean-Agile, and associated frameworks. I have taken care to describe them not as alternative solutions that must be chosen between, but as patterns to be combined in interesting ways. That’s not a new idea, but what does seem remarkable is how helpful a right-to-left perspective is in explaining how they work together and complement each other. When I say right-to-left, we’re talking not just collaborative, continuous, pull-based, and so on (concepts conventionally associated with Lean-Agile) but something very explicitly outcome-oriented.

Almost verbatim from the manuscript:

  1. Scrum (and Scrum-based scaling frameworks, if that’s your bag): continuously iterating on and self-organising around goals (short term outcomes) in the pursuit of longer term outcomes – product vision, the team’s mission, broader organisational objectives, and so on
  2. Kanban, making progress on outcomes visible, concentrating effort on the ones that matter most, fostering a focus on completion
  3. XP and DevOps, right across development and production, providing the infrastructure of process, practice, and technology necessary to accelerate feedback on the delivery of outcomes
  4. Service Design Thinking (along with user research, user experience and so on), continuously discovering which outcomes are important
  5. Lean Startup, pursuing business viability through continuous deliberate experimentation, managing for impact (outcomes again), finding and continuously refining a business model that enables customer outcomes to be sustained

Here it really is outcomes that holds everything together, not (as you might expect) flow, collaboration, or some other shared value or technical principle. This way, we avoid saying “if you dig deep enough, they’re the same” (which I hear from time to time and strongly reject, believing that it does each framework’s creators and communities a huge disservice).

Neither are we saying “don’t use frameworks”, if (and it’s quite a big if) this means that you must always start from first principles. A sensible way to start is again outcome-oriented and has a measured and pragmatic attitude towards frameworks (quoting this time from chapter 4, Viable scaling):

  • Identify needs – looking at what kind of organisation you’re trying to be and at what you’re trying to achieve  – and the obstacles that currently prevent those needs from being met
  • Agree on outcomes, not just goals plucked out of the air, but the kind of outcomes that might be achieved when these obstacles are removed, overcome, or bypassed
  • On a just-in-time basis, prioritise outcomes and generate a range of options to realise them, using your favourite frameworks as sources of ideas (not excluding other sources, but valuing coherence nevertheless)
  • In manageably small chunks of change and through a combination of direct action and experimentation (choosing between those approaches on a case-by-case basis according to the level of uncertainty and risk involved), begin to treat change as real work: tracking it, validating its impact, and reflecting on it just as we would for product work

In a nutshell, I’ve described Agendashift, which is of course a right-to-left approach to change and transformation. Other engagement models exist – see OpenSpace Agility (OSA) for another excellent, well-documented, and highly complementary example. Whichever approach you choose, take care to choose one that models Lean and Agile values, lest the dissonance proves too great and you fatally undermine your work, a very real risk. To sow disengagement would be a truly bad outcome!

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Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (India*2, US*2, UK, Netherlands):

Also: Channel #agendashift-studio in the Agendashift Slack if interested in a cozy workshop with me at Agendashift HQ (Derbyshire, England).


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

Open sourcing our Discovery exercise, Celebration-5W

Here’s how chapter 1 of the Agendashift book opens:

Picture the scene: It’s some months from now, and you’re celebrating! Isn’t it wonderful to see everyone together like this? And you deserve it: over this period, you, your teams, and your entire organisation have achieved far more than anyone would have thought possible. You dared to aim high, and still you smashed it!

What makes this celebration so special? We’re going to explore that via some time travel and the classic journalistic questions of Who, What, When, Where, and Why, otherwise known as the five W’s.

Most Agendashift workshops kick off with this simple time-travelling and context-setting exercise – the first of four Discovery exercises – and now we’ve open-sourced it. Head over to the Celebration-5W page for more information, including a preview of the slides, a video, download information, and related tools and exercises.

The small print:

Celebration-5W is copyright © 2018-2018 Agendashift (a trading name of Positive Incline Ltd). Celebration-5W by Mike Burrows of Positive Incline Ltd is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.

We warmly encourage customisations, adaptations, translations, etc to be made and shared. It seems however that not everyone gets how Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (aka CC-BY-SA) is meant to work, so I’ve added a guidance slide to the deck.

If you have questions, drop me a line or (better) go to channel #workshops in the Agendashift Slack. There are several people there who have facilitated this exercise before. I have used it dozens of times.

Enjoy Celebration-5W!

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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

Agendashift’s many extension points

I was going to do “Agendashift isn’t a maturity model” this week, but that can wait. In response to a question that came up in the run up to our last #leancoffee (there’s an alternate today at 4pm GMT, on a week where our time difference to the US is an hour less than usual, see Slack for joining details), here are Agendashift’s extension points, things that by design can be swapped for other things.

Nearly all of these extension points are mentioned in the book, Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Often they come with recommendations of other things to try and mentions of books and other resources on the Recommended reading page if suitable references exist. So by chapter:

1. Discovery

  • Use a different context-setting exercise / icebreaker to the described Celebration (5W). Recommended: Remember the future (Hohmann) and The Future, Backwards (Snowden). Note: a page on agendashift.com for the Celebration (5W) exercise is on my to-do list.
  • Use a different True North. At our next joint masterclass, Karl will probably have us create one.
  • Instead of the Clean Language-inspired 15-minute FOTO game to generate outcomes, use something based another coaching model, Solutions Focus (McKergow & Jackson), say

2. Exploration

  • Use an assessment other than the Agendashift delivery assessment. We’re rather proud of ours, but other good ones do exist. You want one that generates insights and helps uncover genuine opportunities, so avoid:
    • Assessments that are just checklists of practices (prone to generating more cynicism and resistance than insight)
    • Anything too vague or fluffy to pinpoint where the opportunities lie
  • See Discovery above re generating outcomes

3. Mapping

  • This remains an area ripe for innovation (and watch this space)
  • The book mentions X-Matrix / TASTE (Karl again) and Impact Mapping (Gojko Adjic). More recently I’ve become a fan of Wardley Mapping (Simon Wardley).
  • After mapping, reconcile with other models to help you spot the gaps. The book references my own 6+1 Strategies (although I cringe a little to see it described as the “Agendashift transformation strategy framework”, which would also describe Agendashift itself. I will fix that.)

4. Elaboration

  • Use your favourite hypothesis template
  • Use your favourite A3 template (here’s ours). I joke that there are as many A3 templates as there are Lean consultants.
  • Use, don’t use, or find an alternative to the Cynefin 4 points contextualisation exercise (it’s described as optional, though 15-minute FOTO does such a good job of providing its input ‘micro-narratives’ that I am usually loathe to skip it)

5. Operation

Beyond the book

  • Agendashift is about change, introducing/developing/deepening the use of Lean and Agile, not a delivery process or framework. So Agendashift + other frameworks? Agendashift + Kanban is already a thing (I don’t advertise it but I do get called upon to do it). I sometimes speculate out loud that Agendashift + DevOps ought to be thing. I also wonder aloud (and not entirely in jest) whether Agendashift could be “the safe way to introduce SAFe”. And why not Agendashift + Scrum?
  • Agendashift + Strategy very much a thing – I do strategy workshops privately and may find a way to do it in public workshops. Karl also majors in this area; X-Matrix / TASTE is a strategy deployment model.
  • Agendashift + OpenSpace Agility (OSA) looks like a natural partnership but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. I suspect that others will beat me to it (which is great of course).

Just counting top level bullet points, I make that 17. Not to mention that sometimes we sometimes change the sequence or run exercises standalone.

The standard exercises are all well described in the book. Become an Agendashift partner, and you get ready-made (and customisable) workshop materials as well as unfettered access to the assessment tools (there is a limited free trial also). But don’t feel like you must stick to the standard exercises – we don’t!


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Italy, Germany * 2):


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Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

If you’ve read Kanban from the Inside…

…what should you expect from my second book?

TLDR: Agendashift wouldn’t have happened without Kanban from the Inside. It is however very much its own book. I think you will enjoy it 🙂

Not only is Agendashift not a book about Kanban – in fact it is very consciously method-neutral –  it makes few assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of Kanban either. In terms of detailed content then, the overlap is minimal and both books stand alone. The resonances between the two are however very strong:

  • The titles of the first six chapters of KFTI make an appearance in Agendashift chapter 2 (Exploration) as the headings of the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment. These are the values of Transparency, Balance, Collaboration, Customer focus, Flow, and Leadership. If you’re wondering what happened to Understanding, Agreement, and Respect (KFTI chapters 7, 8, and 9), they belong with Leadership (which shouldn’t be a big surprise).
  • Reverse STATIK (which was developed while KFTI was nearing completion) reappears in chapter 3 (Mapping), not as an improvement process, but to provide a sense of narrative flow to the transformation map, something the values can’t easily provide.
  • The same sense of respect for a broad range of models described in KFTI part II, in particular Agile, Lean, Lean-Agile, Lean Startup, Cynefin, Systems Thinking, and Scrum. If anything, the appreciation is deepened thanks to experience and integration.

Moreover, you can see the final chapter of KFTI (chapter 23, Rollout) as the springboard for Agendashift, a more thoroughly exercised how-to – not for Kanban, but for continuous transformation, a term not found in the older book. Expect these themes from chapter 23 to be developed more fully:

  • Making the agenda for change visible
  • Pulling change through the system
  • Making a connection between purpose and transformation
  • Identifying increments of change
  • Managing change visually
  • Recognising different kinds of change (and choosing appropriate tools)

The section Identifying increments of change contained the seeds for the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment, which in turn gave rise to the transformation mapping workshop and our now well-rehearsed routines for identifying priorities, obstacles, outcomes, options, actions, and so on. These are covered in chapters 2-4 of the new book.

In short, Agendashift wouldn’t have happened without Kanban from the Inside. It is however very much its own book. I think you will enjoy it 🙂

Read them both:

agendashift-part-1-cover


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It’s here! Agendashift (part I) is published!

Part I of Agendashift: clean conversations, coherent collaboration, continuous transformation is available now on Leanpub in MOBI (Kindle), EPUB (iBooks, Google Books, and other e-readers), and PDF formats, also via Leanpub’s online reader. Buy it today and you’ll still have time to recommend it to your colleagues for the weekend 🙂

If you plan to read it on your iPad or iPhone, note that we have encountered a couple of formatting bugs specific to Kindle on the iOS platform and I’d recommend downloading the EPUB format and reading it in iBooks.

In celebration, we’re offering a discount on Lean-Agile Strategy Days, London (June 7th & 8th). For the next week, you can use the code BOOKLAUNCH for a discount of 10%. It just goes to show that launch codes can sometimes be used for good…

What next?

In the next week or two I’ll be sharing plans for Part II and some thoughts about next steps for Agendashift more broadly. To stay tuned, join our LinkedIn group and/or Slack community. Meanwhile, enjoy part 1!

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The Agendashift book (part I) goes to press on the 11th

When I say “press”, I mean that it will be available for purchase and download in multiple formats from leanpub.com/agendashift.

The teaser:

How do you bring about continuous transformation, and how do you do it without resorting to the questionable top-down and bottom-up approaches of the 20th century? Agendashift describes an inclusive, values-based, and methodology-neutral approach fit for the 21st century, based on genuine participation and integrating the best of modern techniques.

And the main blurb:

Imagine… everyone able to work consistently at their best:

  • Individuals, teams, between teams, across the organisation
  • Right conversations, right people, best possible moment
  • Needs anticipated and met at just the right time

Fun to imagine, but how do you begin to bring that kind of Lean-Agile vision to life?

This book has some answers, exploring new ways to scope, launch, or re-energise your Lean-Agile transformation, integrating some powerful techniques from Clean Language, Cynefin, Agile, Lean Startup, A3, and Kanban.

Modelled on the Agendashift transformation mapping workshop, this book covers:

  1. Discovery – identifying strategic goals, obstacles, and outcomes
  2. Exploration –  prioritising areas for attention, generating outcomes, agreeing scope and approach
  3. Mapping – building your transformation plan
  4. Elaboration – generating options; framing and developing actions
  5. Operation – organising for continuous transformation

Read this book if any of the following apply:

  • You’ve an interest – whether as a practitioner or potential sponsor – in Lean-Agile change (perhaps under a banner of “Agile transformation” or similar)
  • You’d like to see what a 21st century change management approach can look like, and how that might inform your work as coach, consultant, or some other kind of change agent
  • You’d love to see a model for Lean-Agile change that properly reflects Lean-Agile values and demonstrates Lean-Agile process and thinking in operation

agendashift-part-1-cover.png


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