The language of outcomes: 5. Between ends and means

This is the 5th and final part of a series looking at the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation in our organisations, how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes 
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means (this post)

As ever:

  • Subscribe to our mailing list, and whilst you won’t get every post as an email, you will get our monthly roundups and you won’t miss a thing, I promise!
  • Scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe for yourself

5. Between ends and means

The typical Agendashift workshop involves multiple planning sessions. In a classic transformation strategy workshop as described in the Agendashift book [1], for example:

  1. Discovery: capturing not just where we’d like to get to, but some of the key outcomes we’d like achieve along the way
  2. Exploration: driven by the assessment [2], working forwards from opportunities, usually starting at a lower level of detail compared to anything seen in Discovery
  3. Elaboration: ideas, hypotheses, experiments, impact, etc – what we’ll actually do, the next level of detail captured on a just-in-time basis

(Sometimes we like to switch the first two around – maybe days apart – and that’s fine)

An outside-in strategy review workshop as described in Right to Left [3] might include a separate planning session for each of the five ‘layers’ – Customer, Organisation, Product, Platform, and Team. In the Wholehearted:OKR workshop [4] we take those layers in two groups, the first two (Customer and Organisation) on day 1, and the remaining three on day 2.

The different levels of detail or organisational concerns are interesting and useful, but so too is the separation between what Ackoff [5] calls ends planning and means planning:

  • Ends planning: where we’d like to get to and why
  • Means planning: where we will commit our efforts, with what resources, and how

Organisations too often jump straight to means without paying adequate attention to ends. This is change management as project management, with the solution – the Agile process framework, say – already chosen! The last few decades are littered with the repeated failures of that approach, and yet it persists, even – and most ironically of all – in the Agile community.

There’s a clear lesson there, and Agendashift provides practical ways to do both kinds of planning in the transformation and strategy spaces. There are some more subtle lessons though.

One important subtlety, and I’m grateful to Ackoff for the clarification, is that ends and means can be relative. Consider again these three sessions:

  1. Discovery: capturing not just where we’d like to get to, but some of the key outcomes we’d like achieve along the way
  2. Exploration: driven by the assessment, working forwards from opportunities, usually starting at a lower level of detail compared to anything seen in Discovery
  3. Elaboration: ideas, hypotheses, experiments, impact, etc – what we’ll actually do, the next level of detail captured on a just-in-time basis

If it is for a big enough scope (and that’s usually the case), most participants will experience Discovery very much as ends planning. Elaboration is clearly intended to be means planning.

For Exploration though, whether it’s means planning or ends planning can depend on your perspective. If you’re the sponsor, you’ll be glad to see teams fired up, engaged on the issues [6], prioritising a way forward. For you, that’s job done – means! On the other hand, if you suffer every day with those issues on the ground, exploring ways past them is an end in itself, a powerful motivation to change things, cathartic even!

The real lesson therefore is not just to practice ends planning from time to time, but to make sure that ends and means are properly understood relative to everyone’s different perspectives. Not just knowing the difference between outcomes and solutions, but knowing whose needs will be met by them. Not just resolving to avoid fixating prematurely on solutions, but having the awareness and skill to move easily between obstacles, outcomes, and solutions [7], the last of those lightly held, as hypotheses.

None of this will happen without the right people in the room. Again, if it’s collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation that you want:

Encourage solutions to emerge as & when they’re needed from the people closest to the problem [8]

Good advice generally, and especially so when those people closest to the problem are among those whose needs will be met. When the context is organisational change, it’s absolutely crucial.

Summary: The language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership

Yes, it may take a little discipline, but none of what I have described in this series is fundamentally hard. Yes, it takes some deliberate organisation design of the kind described in my books and explored in our workshops if it is to be sustained reliably over time, but that needn’t be a prerequisite for some real progress today. So why not start practicing now?

1. Identifying the adaptive challenge:

Without prescribing what the answer should be, ask questions that invite answers meaningful to the most stakeholders, exploring those answers just enough to be sure that everyone involved knows both whose needs they’ll be meeting and how they’ll be able to confirm that they’re being met. If the How can be deferred, don’t ask for it!

2. Framing obstacles:

If you want see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, identify real issues, taking care to avoid language that needlessly excludes people or possibility 

3. Generating outcomes:

Practice!

  • Practice asking questions to which you don’t already have the answer
  • Practice asking questions that don’t needlessly pollute the conversation with your own assumptions

4. Organising outcomes

Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives

5. Between ends planning and means planning (this post)

Encourage solutions to emerge as & when they’re needed from the people closest to the problem

References

[1] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[2] Agendashift™ assessments (agendashift.com)
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Wholehearted:OKR (agendashift.com)
[5] Re-creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century, Russell L. Ackoff (OUP USA, 1999)
[6] “Obstacles, contradictions, and imbalances recognised and owned as opportunities for authentic engagement” – the first line of Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com). See also its announcement, Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model
[7] See also Coaching for P.RO.s, (cleanlanguage.co.uk), Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, using slightly different terminology to Agendashift’s: problems, remedies, and outcomes
[8] What is Strategy Deployment (availagility.co.uk)

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson. And thank you Karl Scotland for reference [8].

Slide1


Workshops upcoming in 2020 – London (*2), Gurugram, Malmö, Tel Aviv, Oslo (*2), and online

For a 20% saving, use discount code LONDON2020 for the London workshops and NORDIC2020 for Oslo and Malmö.

See also our workshops and events pages – Switzerland and Australia to be added soon.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift™: The wholehearted engagement model
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The language of outcomes: 4. Organising outcomes

This is part 4 of a series looking at the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation in our organisations, how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes 
  4. Organising outcomes (this post)
  5. Between ends and means

As ever:

  • Subscribe to our mailing list, and whilst you won’t get every post as an email, you will get our monthly roundups and you won’t miss a thing, I promise!
  • Scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe for yourself

4. Organising outcomes

The generative conversations described in the previous instalment produce lots of great output, and when you have lots of great output, you need ways to organise it! From the simple 3-column Plan on a Page to the string of Mapping exercises, the different visual languages all help participants to see the wood from the trees and decide what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s about agreement on outcomes (Agendashift principle #2 – if there’s a more legitimate basis for change than that, I’ve yet to see it). The shared experience of making the agenda for change visible (Agendashift principle #3) is a big part of that, and how that agenda is organised matters quite a bit. Done well, it supports our next leadership lesson:

Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives

…if, that is, you want collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, as per the introduction to every post in this series. And by way of a recap, if 1) those outcomes and their related obstacles are clearly related to meaningful needs, and 2) people are involved in their identification, articulation, organisation, so on, you get participation and engagement in the bargain! That’s our wholehearted mission [1], which describes both an end goal to aim for and something that you can experience right away.

When leaders support that “line of sight” maintenance process appropriately, it builds trust in people’s ability to make high leverage choices, preferring options that will deliver the most impact. And it scales very well! To put it another way, can you expect people or teams to give of their best in the absence either of shared objectives or that clear line of sight? Probably not, and it would be unreasonable in those circumstances to ask for it.

In our workshops, there are two sets of tools we use for organising outcomes:

  1. Template-based (or if you prefer, canvas-based)
  2. Sticky note based visual mapping exercises

They’re facilitated a little differently and I’ll describe them in turn.

Template-based

Here are the Plan on a Page (PoaP) template and the Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template:

You can see that the second one is based in the first, adding some new columns to the left and introducing a new vertical axis. Both templates are Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) and available via our resources page [2]. Chapter 5 of Right to Left [3] mentions them both in the context of the Outside-in Strategy Review workshop, which is the platform on which our new Impact! [4] and Wholehearted:OKR [5] workshops are built. Plan on a Page is introduced in the opening chapter of Agendashift [6].

I usually facilitate these with people working in table groups of about 4 people each, with a whole-room debrief afterwards. For a long time I brought blank A3 paper for groups to work with; now I bring printed templates (A3 printers are ridiculously cheap now and I have my own).

To fill in these templates, it helps to identify the obviously short term and obviously long term outcomes first, with fewer of the latter than the former. With enough of those chosen, the interesting “signs that you’re winning” outcomes will be the bulk of the remainder. And working backwards (right to left) from the longer term outcomes works really well; from the way the outcomes were constructed, a natural structure emerges quickly. That “line of sight” is established!

Visual mapping exercises

A highlight of day 2 of the Advanced Agendashift workshop [7] is the ‘string’ of mapping exercises represented by the icons below. Moving to sticky notes, we can deal with much greater numbers of outcomes than would be practical with the paper-based tools.

Screenshot 2020-02-02 14.08.35

Option Approach Mapping is a pseudonym for the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise . It’s described in the Agendashift book (from start to finish, post-exercise debrief included) and also here:

We use the pseudonym because the exercise goes much better if the underlying model isn’t revealed until the end. No spoilers!

Option Relationship Mapping is quite new – originated by Karl Scotland and Liz Keogh only a year or so ago – and it took a while for us to settle on a name. We tried “Reverse Wardley Mapping” (for which I can only apologise), “Option Approach Mapping”, and “Option Orientation Mapping”, but none of these names quite stuck. You’ll see these now discarded names in the following blog posts:

Vindicating the new choice of name, of the three exercises it’s Option Relationship Mapping that does the most to “Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives”. As exploited in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, it visualises a key step of OKR / 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX), that of choosing key options that will have the most leverage.

However, if there’s time to do two or all three of the ‘string’ of exercises, I will! Option Approach Mapping (aka Cynefin Four Points) as well as creating some great talking points also sets up Option Relationship Mapping beautifully – this is described in the “Stringing it together” post I referenced above. Either/both of those exercises also ease the construction of the Transformation Map, a Story Map (kinda), with outcomes instead of user stories and a transformation “pathway” instead of a user journey for the map’s ‘spine’. The fun part is prioritising outcomes in their respective columns; the preceding exercises help to pre-sort the outcomes so that outcomes of similar levels of abstraction come together, making this part considerably easier.

Unlike the template-based exercises, I tend to facilitate these as whole-room exercises, combining each table group’s outcomes in the process. In Option Relationship Mapping this helps to build agreement on high level themes and objectives. Pathway Mapping does this too though a little less impactfully; also it identifies clearly where the work will start (prioritisation and then elaboration* being just-in-time activities).

*Elaboration (just in time): We often develop our chosen options for action in the form of a hypothesis that (among other things) describes its hoped-for impact as a list of outcomes. The techniques are well understood and I didn’t schedule a separate instalment in the series for this, but you can see that it’s outcomes all the way down!

Next: 4. Between ends and means (coming soon)

Notes & references

[1] Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift Resources (agendashift.com/resources)
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Impact! Strategic outcome orientation for products and services (agendashift.com/workshops)
[5] Wholehearted:OKR – Bringing OKR to life with Agendashift (agendashift.com/workshops)
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[7] Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation (agendashift.com/workshops)

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.


Workshops upcoming in 2020 – Tampa, London (*2), Gurugram, Malmö, Tel Aviv, Oslo (*2), and online

For a 20% saving, use discount code LONDON2020 for the London workshops and NORDIC2020 for Oslo and Malmö.

See also our workshops and events pages – Switzerland and Australia to be added soon.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift™: The wholehearted engagement model
Links: Home | About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
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The language of outcomes: 3. Generating outcomes

This is part 3 of a series looking at the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation in our organisations, how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes (this post)
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means

As ever:

  • Subscribe to our mailing list, and whilst you won’t get every post as an email, you will get our monthly roundups and you won’t miss a thing, I promise!
  • Scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe for yourself

3. Generating outcomes

One of the things Agendashift is remembered for is the use of Clean Language via our open source coaching game, 15-minute FOTO [1], which is among the exercises covered in chapters 1 & 2 of Agendashift [2]. Indeed, it would be easy to think that the language of outcomes and Clean Language were one and the same thing. If you’ve been following this series, you will understand already that they are not! However, and even if practised only sparingly, Clean Language as a leadership discipline does offer a number of important takeaways. Again in the context of wanting to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, it’s not hard to see that you might want to:

  1. Practice asking questions to which you don’t already have the answer
  2. Practice asking questions that don’t needlessly pollute the conversation with your own assumptions

If you’ve heard that vulnerability might be key to good leadership but don’t know where to start, why not start with those?

15-minute FOTO is a great introduction to those two practices. It uses a menu of 8 Clean Language questions, which for an in-room workshop are provided on printed cue cards, one per participant:

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2019-09-v14

Typically, the game starts with a list of obstacles (see the previous instalment). Digging into obstacles isn’t very productive (in the game certainly, and surprisingly often in real life too), so we go quickly (if not immediately) from ‘obstacles space’ to ‘outcomes space’ with “What would you like you have happen?”.

The questions in the main part of the cue card were specifically chosen for their usefulness when exploring outcomes space. From right to left, the questions in the middle can be taken in three groups:

  1. Then what happens? – a question that takes us deeper into outcomes space
  2. A choice of three clarifying questions – including my favourite [3]
  3. Two questions that draw us back

Not only can you experience a surprisingly rich and (in a good way) challenging conversations with just those questions, most of the work is done by only three, the three shown in bold on the card. What’s hard therefore isn’t mastering them, but resisting the temptation to depart from them! Mostly – and tellingly – it means resisting the temptation to give advice uninvited, to prescribe, and to ask questions that say more about the questioner than they do about the topic, the client, or what’s in their mind.

That leaves one last question – What obstacle might be in the way of X? – which you might remember from the previous instalment. It creates the opportunity for a shallow dive into obstacles space – not a productive place, so we won’t linger there for long!

The X’s in the questions are placeholders for the respondent’s own words, repeated as verbatim as possible. This isn’t about mind tricks, a sneaky way to build empathy! Rather:

  • The person in the coach role – the asker of questions – disciplines themselves not to impose their own assumptions on the conversation, helping them maintain an attitude of curiosity. They can expect to learn something!
  • The person in the client role – responding to those questions – isn’t jolted out of their thoughts by words that don’t fit the mental model that the process is exploring/building. We’re putting the client first, and the conversation can go so much deeper this way!

This is not about one ‘killer question’ (a shallow and rather silly idea if you ask me). Neither is it a hunt for the ‘right’ answer! Rather, it’s a powerful demonstration of a generative process, a simple set of rules that takes some input (as described in the first two instalments the initial challenge and the obstacles in the way of that) and patiently grows a list of outputs (outcomes here) through the repeated application of a defined procedure.

In 15-minute FOTO, the roles, of coach, client, scribe, and observer are rotated so that every participant gets a turn in each role. As coaches, they guide the process by choosing which questions to ask, but the content is always the client’s – they’re the experts after all! It’s an amazingly productive process, producing lots of output, all of it coherent by construction, and anchored on something real, those obstacles.

Even though it takes only a few minutes, there’ll be enough work produced that it will need organising somehow. That’s the topic of the next instalment. Meanwhile, practice!

  • Practice asking questions to which you don’t already have the answer
  • Practice asking questions that don’t needlessly pollute the conversation with your own assumptions

Next: 4. Organising outcomes

Notes & references

[1] 15-minute FOTO (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[3] My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.

Workshops upcoming in 2020 – Tampa, London (*2), Gurugram, Malmö, Tel Aviv ,Oslo (*2), and online

For a 20% saving, use discount code LONDON2020 for the London workshops and NORDIC2020 for Oslo and Malmö.

See also our workshops and events pages – Switzerland and Australia to be added soon.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift: The wholehearted engagement model
Links: Home | About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
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Helpfully subversive about frameworks

This is me being helpfully subversive (if that’s not already a thing, it should be): [1]

 

1. It’s helpful to see frameworks as mere exemplars of patterns

The ‘mere’ will rub a few people up the wrong way, but it’s true! If for example you can see Scrum as iterated self-organisation around goals [2], you’re capable of seeing the same not only for SAFe, but also for OKR, the subject of my previous post [3]. Could a Scrum or SAFe practitioner learn from OKR (or vice versa)? You bet!

2. How they combine is often more interesting than the patterns themselves

See the patterns and you see not only the similarities but the complementarity. Scrum and Kanban for example are a great combination [4]. But don’t stop there! In this same spirit of integration rather than differentiation and tribalism, Chapter 3 of Right to Left [5] covers some of the key landmarks of the Lean-Agile landscape as patterns: Scrum, Kanban, XP, DevOps, User Story Mapping, Jobs to be Done, BDD, Service Design Thinking, Theory of Constraints, and Lean Startup.

No, I’m not trying to define some huge new framework that solves every problem. That would be horrific! Just helping you make sense of what’s out there.

3. How they’re introduced matters way more than the framework itself

It’s well known that many if not most change initiatives fail. Why so many in the change industry and with it much of the Agile industry still cling to the linear, implementation-focussed, and resistance-obsessed change management frameworks of the past beats me. It’s embarrassing!

It’s why Agendashift [6, 7] exists, and with it other modern engagement models such as those mentioned in [8]. They too are exemplars of patterns and are simply begging to be combined! Towards that purpose and since that post was written, the Open Leadership Network [9] has come into being, and I’m proud to be an advisory board member. For all of us, this is not just a provocative statement, it’s a primary motivation that’s powerful enough to encourage us to collaborate. We’re walking the walk here!

If you remember me waxing lyrical about the network’s launch event, the Open Leadership Symposium in Boston last May, you’ll be glad to know that there’s another one in Berlin in November [10]. See you there!

[1]  3 subversive contentions about frameworks in 1 tweet (twitter.com)
[2] ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)
[3] There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR
[4] Scrum and Kanban revisited (August 2017)
[5] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (agendashift.com)
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (agendashift.com)
[7] Agendashift home (agendashift.com)
[8] Engagement: more than a two-way street (September 2018)
[9] Open Leadership Network (openleadershipnetwork.com)
[10] Open Leadership Symposium Berlin 2019 (openleadershipnetwork.com)


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

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It’s out! Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile

Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is released out today in both print and Kindle editions, with other e-book formats to follow. Find it here:

  • Amazon UK (amazon.co.uk) and Amazon US (amazon.com), disregarding Amazon’s incorrect estimated shipping dates
  • Waterstones (waterstones.com)
  • Barnes & Noble (barnesandnoble.com)
  • Or search “Right to Left Mike Burrows” at your favourite online bookstore

And when you’ve read it, do please leave a review – it really helps.

Whoop – I was lucky enough to read Mike’s new book as it formed. It somehow manages to be a crisp, articulate read with depth and reflection. Mike has written an essential read for anyone interested in people-centric, pragmatic, outcome-based change. I’m very happy to recommend this and excited for Mike!

Angie Main (linkedin.com), Change & Organisational Development Lead, UK

A third book, and so soon after the last one! Why this one, and why should I read it?

Most people reading this announcement ve rcould easily describe themselves a digital leader of some kind, whether that’s understood in some corporate sense or perhaps as a practitioner of Agile, a movement whose co-evolution with the rise of digital technology is no accident. Whichever way you respond to the term, this book is for you.

Both audiences – and yes, there’s a challenge there – deserve a book that does all of these things:

  • Speaks with empathy and from experience to anyone who is called to digital leadership or might have it thrust upon them
  • Speaks respectfully, insightfully, and at times firmly to Lean, Agile, and its other key sources and communities – avoiding lazy dogma and tribalism, and not excusing failures and excesses either
  • Represents a clear departure from 20th century thinking, not falling into the trap of trying to explain Agile and Lean-Agile in the terms of past models

To give a sense of what makes this book different, let me present two representative elements: the Right to Left metaphor, and my kind of Agile. In place of a glossary, a selection of short and characteristic extracts such as the two below are collected in Appendix B, My kind of…

Right to Left:

A whole-process focus on needs and outcomes … Putting outcomes before process, ends before means, vision before detail, “why” before “what”, “what” before “how”, and so on. It can also mean considering outputs before inputs, but give me outcomes over outputs, every time.

Simultaneously visualising this and echoing Agile’s manifesto, what if Agile meant putting the things on the right (needs met, outcomes realised) ahead of everything to their left (process, tools, practices, and so on)? Happily, an explicitly outcome-oriented Agile is straightforward enough to describe, and it makes me wonder why it is not done more often. Perhaps Right to Left will change that!

Agile (short version):

People collaborating over the rapid evolution of working software that is already beginning to meet needs

Whether or not you get the references, if you get that definition, you will love this book. If you don’t get it, you need to read it.

Across chapters 1-4, Right to Left is both the metaphor by which the fundamentals are (re-)introduced and the fresh perspective from which the Lean-Agile landscape is surveyed. The last two chapters, 5. Outside in and 6. Upside down, take complementary perspectives on issues of organisation, change, governance, strategy, and leadership, drawing on Viable System Model (VSM), Servant Leadership, Sociocracy (aka Dynamic Governance), and of course Agendashift for inspiration. In case you’re wondering why I reference models from outside the Lean-Agile mainstream, let it be said for now that process frameworks, the Agile practitioner’s stock-in-trade, will never be enough. For a more considered treatment of frameworks than that, you’ll have to read the book!

Readers of my previous books will have some sense of Right to Left‘s humane and optimistic philosophy already. My first, Kanban from the Inside (2014), was organised around values and it’s only a short step from values to outcomes. Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2018) describes a 21st century approach to change; for reasons of focus it leaves behind a Right to Left-shaped hole that I knew would be exciting to fill. If you’ve read neither of those, start instead with my latest and see where your interest takes you – I give full credit to my sources and provide an extensive recommended reading list.

For further book-related news and conversation, follow us on Twitter, join the #right-to-left channel in the Agendashift Slack, and check out blog posts tagged right-to-left. Via the Right to Left page on agendashift.com you can send book-related questions direct to my email inbox (or simply wish me luck!) and subscribe to the mailing list.

Enjoy!
Mike

cover-right-to-left-2019-04-26.001 border


August 15th 2019: Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is released today in both print and Kindle editions, with other e-book formats to follow. Find it here:

Agendashift founder Mike Burrows is known to the Agile and Lean-Agile communities as the author of Kanban from the Inside (2014) and Agendashift (2018), the creator of the Featureban and Changeban simulation games, a keynote speaker at conferences around the world, and as a consultant, coach, and trainer. His new book Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is published August 15th 2019.

Right to Left‘s foreword is by John Buck, Director at GovernanceAlive LLC (MD, USA), co-author with Sharon Villenes of We the people: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy (2nd Ed. 2019) and co-author with Jutta Eckstein of Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space & Sociocracy: Survive & Thrive on Disruption (2018).

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: New Generation Publishing (15 Aug. 2019)
ISBN-10: 1789555310
ISBN-13: 978-1789555318

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!

Screenshot 2018-12-11 13.40.42.png


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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…

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):


Agendashift-cover-thumbBlog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
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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