From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation

It seems that my 2014 post Reinvigorating an existing Kanban implementation with STATIK is now gone. It is very likely the first mention of Reverse STATIK, and fortunately web.archive.org has saved it here, but 5 years on let me take the opportunity to revisit it.

We start with STATIK, the catchy acronym I coined for David J. Anderson’s Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban, which is quite a mouthful. STATIK looks like this (or at least it did in 2014):

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction
  2. Analyze demand and capability
  3. Model the knowledge discovery process
  4. Discover classes of service
  5. Design kanban systems
  6. Roll out

You may recognise those steps as the chapters of Part III of my first book Kanban from the Inside (hereafter referred to as KFTI); otherwise it was day 2 of the standard 2-day Kanban training. I don’t do much Kanban training these days (I don’t advertise it and for reasons of strategy rather than any falling out I’m no longer affiliated with the certification body), but when I do, I don’t use STATIK.

My main issues with STATIK aren’t the individual steps (there’s value in them all), but these:

  1. Even avoiding the middlebrow dismissal of “It’s too linear” (often thrown around rather unfairly), it’s much more likely to be understood and used as a discrete intervention (albeit a participatory one if it’s done the right way), not as a model for a continuous process.
  2. Even if I grant that you could in theory bail out of the process at any stage, it does rather assume that Kanban is the answer, so if we are to avoid the accusation of being solution-driven, something else has to come before it.

Aside (further to that second point, a bit of detail that doesn’t invalidate it): KFTI describes a step 0, ‘Understand the purpose of the system’, a phrase I borrowed (with full credit) from Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). That has morphed into ‘Understand fitness for purpose’ (for the service you are applying STATIK to). This is OK as far as it goes, but the faster the this turns (as seems to be its intent) into a conversation about metrics, the less time anyone spends actually exploring purpose. If I’m honest, this part leaves me a little cold, though in the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that Kanban still does far more than any other framework I know to encourage its introduction in ways consistent with its principles. If only the others were as careful; if they were, perhaps Agendashift would never have been so necessary!

My original idea with Reverse STATIK was to retrace one’s steps, working backwards through the STATIK process looking for improvement opportunities. Today, I see it as more than that, and find it useful in two ways, both of which may seem surprising:

  1. Reverse STATIK turns out to be a great way to introduce/teach Kanban too. You can start with the simplest to-do/doing/done kanban board design (not yet a WIP-limited kanban system) and at each step introduce multiple options for improving not just its detailed design, but much of the surrounding organisation design that makes it work. No longer a one-shot intervention, but a rich model for improvement
  2. You can strip out all the kanban-specific techniques, replace them with their corresponding outcomes (outcomes that might be achieved in myriad other ways), and revise for breadth of coverage. A few iterations later (much of it done in collaboration with Dragan Jojic) we arrived at the genuinely framework-agnostic assessment that in the early days was Agendashift’s most important tool (it’s still important today but there are newer parts that are more exciting).

Aside: I glossed over one important detail there: In most people’s first experience of the assessment tool, its ‘prompts’ are organised under headings of Transparency, Balance, Leadership, Customer Focus, Flow, and Leadership. These 6 values are the titles of KFTI’s first 6 chapters; moreover Leadership incorporates Understanding, Agreement, and Respect, the so-called ‘leadership disciplines’ of chapters 7, 8, and 9.  I make no apologies for retaining these; most people would recognise these values as having relevance in any Lean-Agile context.

Fast forward to 2019, Reverse STATIK (mostly under the framework-neutral name of ‘Pathway’) looks like this:

  1. Refine existing systems
  2. Improve the service experience
  3. Manage the knowledge discovery process
  4. Balance demand and capability
  5. Address sources of dissatisfaction and other motivations for change
  6. Pursue fitness for purpose

These headings appear in my aforementioned teaching materials, as an option in the assessment tool, and the spine of the ‘Pathway map’, a visualisation inspired by User Story Mapping (see chapter 3 of the Agendashift book, which also introduces the Reverse STATIK model).

Instead of (and I say this tongue-in-cheek) doing a bunch of analysis exercises before (tada!) a kanban system is designed, an improvement process that identifies opportunities at a wide range of challenge and sophistication, with kanban or without. The spine starts small, grows in sophistication, and ends on high with purpose, leadership behaviours, and other similarly challenging, bigger-picture issues of organisation design; what detail gets prioritised under whatever heading at any given time is a matter for participatory decision making.

Relentless commitments to 1) participation and 2) agreement on outcomes as the basis for change are what took me from Reverse STATIK to Agendashift. The former wasn’t quite the 21st century engagement model I was striving for but a decent first attempt, and it lives on, even if quite well hidden.

pathway-mappingRelated:


Leading change in the 21st century? You need a 21st century engagement model!
Links: SubscribeHome | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

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…


Upcoming workshops; Istanbul, Berlin, Oslo, online

LqT4lizQ


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

Links: SubscribeHome | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

 

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)


Upcoming Agendashift workshops – Athens, London, Istanbul, Berlin, and online


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

Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: SubscribeHome | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

 

There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR

From the Agendashift Slack a few days ago:

Early morning crazy thoughts spoken out loud:
Wholehearted: bringing OKRs to life with Agendashift
A workshop based on and expanded from edited highlights of the core Agendashift workshop and the outside-in strategy review

Why “crazy thoughts”? The background: we’ve been discussing Objectives and Key Results (OKR) [1] in multiple corners of the Agendashift Slack in recent weeks (channels #wholehearted-x, #bookclub, and #strategy) and I didn’t hide my nervousness.  Isn’t OKR just Management by Objectives (MBO) rebranded, with all the dysfunction [2] that goes with it?

To cut a long story short (two books later), it’s clear now that Agendashift  – outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation [3, 4, 5] – and OKR are a great fit – so great that they almost seem made for each other. As recently as this week, Karl Scotland blogged about the combination (more accurately he blogged about Agendashift and 4DX, but the distinction isn’t that important):

I do still have reservations. It was – shall we say – an interesting experience reading (or listening to) Doerr [6] and Wodtke [7]. Good books both, but page after page (hour after hour) my frustration would grow before my concerns would finally be acknowledged. Given the risks (and they’re recognised), it seems clear to me now that OKR has something in common with Agile process frameworks: how you approach the framework matters very much more than the choice of framework itself. Depending on your point of view you may find that thought subversive (helpfully or otherwise), heretical, or commonsense; as for me, I’ve staked my career on it.

So to my caveats. Coming from where I’m coming from, they’re significant enough that they should treated not as footnotes but up front as design principles. OKRs must be:

  1. Respectful of diversity and autonomy at individual and team level
  2. Agreed through meaningful participation
  3. Executed knowing the difference between implementation and experimentation

Caveat 1: Respectful of diversity and autonomy at individual and team level

An objection sometimes laid at the door of OKR is that it’s all about alignment, and that the goal of alignment is to bring about some kind of monoculture. I reject this as a strawman argument; the goal of OKR is to provide enough direction that the organisation isn’t destroying its ability to get things done because its different parts keep pulling in opposing directions. For most organisations, too much alignment would be a nice problem to have, and address that very common issue well, great things can happen. In practice, key results (the KR part of OKR) aren’t long lasting (they work in timeframes ranging from days to months), and even many objectives (the O part) don’t last for more than a quarter; good luck creating a monoculture that quickly!

That argument dismissed, it’s worth remembering that OKR is a tool for strategy deployment [8], not operations management, and it’s explicit that existing operations must continue to perform well even as they undergo change. Resilient operations in an unpredictable world depends on diversity (you need to be ready to respond in different ways to respond as both conditions and internal designs change), and only a fool would seek to destroy options for the sake of consistency. Technically, we’re in the world of Ashby’s law of requisite variety [9]; colloquially, power is where the options are. If you can, why not create that power everywhere?

But that’s just the technical argument. Take away from people and teams their ability to create and exercise options and you destroy their autonomy. With that you destroy their engagement – and then it’s game over if what you need is their energy and creativity. So how then is strategy deployment meant to work?

Caveat 2: Agreed through meaningful participation

The textbook answer to this conundrum is that OKR works both top down and bottom up. Some objectives come from on high, with lower levels defining their own objectives and key results to suit. Others bubble up, high level objectives somehow summarising (blessing?) what needs to happen lower down.

I’ve long since abandoned this “Top down vs bottom up? It’s both!” thing. It’s a cop out that does little to help the inexperienced manager and may put even the experienced manager in a bind; small wonder that middle managers can be a miserable bunch (I’ve been one, so I know). Middle out is no help either; as with the iron triangle, it’s time to recognise that these metaphors make little sense in open-ended and high feedback contexts. Also, they are hierarchical in a way that’s quite unnecessary, and clinging to them just gets in the way.

My answer – and it comes from an area where Agendashift excels – lies in participation: facilitating challenging and meaningful conversations about obstacles and outcomes (and progress thereon), making sure that they take place frequently both within and between strategy, development, and delivery, and have diversity of representation in terms of both functional responsibility and seniority. In place of top-down imposition, authentic agreement on outcomes becomes the basis for change. Where in the past innovation and intelligence would become increasingly diluted and distorted as news passed up the chain, now we create frequent opportunity for rapid and informed responses.

Of my two most recent books, authentic agreement on outcomes is a key theme of Agendashift. My latest book, Right to Left [10] explores the implications for organisation design and leadership in much greater depth, in the final two chapters most especially.

Caveat 3: Executed knowing the difference between implementation and experimentation

A common lightbulb moment for participants in Agendashift workshops comes when we organise outcomes using the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise. We dare not speak its name up front – it rather spoils the surprise – so we go by the pseudonym “Option approach mapping” initially [11]:

mapping

The key insight is that not all outcomes are alike. Easily recognised (and all shades and combinations in between these extremes):

  • Some are uncontroversial and don’t need digging into, regardless of whether they’re to be done right away or kept for another day
  • Some you’re confident can be achieved reliably, but first they will need to be broken down by someone who knows what they’re doing
  • Others can be approached in different ways, but no single approach (or combination thereof) is guaranteed to deliver the outcome in its entirety; consequently we’re in the land of iteration and experimentation
  • Sometimes, where to start and even who to ask is beyond current knowledge

Reading/listening to OKR’s fascination with stretch goals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing in question with each one is whether we can do it in the time we’ve set for ourselves. If that’s your only hypothesis, much opportunity for learning – about customer needs as much as organisation capability or technical possibility – will be missed. Moreover, choosing a sequential approach when an iterative one is needed (or vice versa) is a costly mistake to make – costly not only in time and money but in reputations too. The books do get there in the end, but honestly, I feel they could do better. For some balance on issues of complexity, I’d suggest pairing Doerr with McChrystal [12], and Wodtke (which seems to be aimed at the startup community) with a good Lean Startup book, of which my favourite is Maurya’s [13].

So what are we left with?

Ten years ago I saw my employer, UBS, nearly destroyed by the scandalously ill-chosen ill-managed, and under-informed pursuit of the wrong goals (the recommendations of a benchmarking exercise conducted by a big name consultancy), so I speak from the heart here. But I’m not warning you against OKR – in all honesty I’m really warming to it.

My caveats take nothing away, because I don’t think I’ve said anything contrary to the literature, albeit that it takes a long time getting round to it. So a few pointers:

  • Find groups of people – let’s call them circles –  who share (or should share) some common objectives. Give them the opportunity to explore thoroughly their landscape of obstacles and outcomes, decide what’s important, and set some priorities. Agendashift is the manual on that! Expect them to track progress and revisit both their understanding and (accordingly) their plans on appropriate cadences.
  • Look for overlaps between circles, and where they don’t (a single manager isn’t enough), delegate people into the intersections. Not only will the conversations here be a lot more interesting and challenging, but we’re very obviously creating opportunities for both alignment and mutual accountability. A wider organisation listening not just for progress but for learning here will be sending a powerful message (not to mention learning itself – if it’s listening).
  • Metrics can be great, but don’t reduce it all to numbers. I’d argue that the “Measure what matters” in the title of Doerr’s book is a little misleading – certainly it deterred me for a while! Moreover, and as Doerr rightly emphasises, it would be a catastrophic mistake to connect OKRs with individual compensation (Drucker’s plausible but ultimately disastrous error with MBO).

If you’ve read Right to Left, you’ll know where the above comes from. If you haven’t, put it on your list. Doerr, Wodtke, and my recommended pairings too! Mercifully, mine isn’t too long, so you might want to start there 🙂

[1] Objectives and key results (OKR) (wikipedia.org)
[2] Management by Objectives, Arguments against (wikipedia.org)
[3] About Agendashift™ (agendashift.com)
[4] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2018)
[5] Agendashift partner programme
[6] Measure What Matters: OKRs – The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth, John Doerr (2018)
[7] Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, Christine Wodtke (2016)
[8] What is Strategy Deployment (availagility.co.uk)
[9] Variety (Cybernetics) (wikipedia.org)
[10] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019)
[11] Agendashift in 12 icons
[12] Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal et al (2015)
[13] Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Ash Maurya (2012)


Upcoming Agendashift workshops – Stockholm, Athens, London, Istanbul, Berlin, and online


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

Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: SubscribeHome | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

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

Agendashift in 12 icons

Ten days until the big one – Right to Left comes out on the 15th – but still time to squeeze in something Agendashift-related…

Count carefully! Agendashift in 12 icons:

discoveryexplorationmappingelaboration-operation

They have a new section on the Agendashift home page and a dedicated page at agendashift.com/icons, both with links to related resources.

To see them in a bit more context, check out these workshop-related pages:

Other opportunities to experience all of this for yourself this autumn: Stockholm (9-10 September), Athens (17-18 September), Istanbul (26th October), and Berlin (13-14 November).

*The early bird discount for the London workshop expires at the end of this month so grab it while you can!

Credits:

  • Idea: this was one of several ideas discussed at the last Berlin workshop (writeup here, though this particular idea isn’t mentioned)
  • Produced in collaboration with Steven Mackenzie with the encouragement of Mike Haber, whose Celebration-5W template design is reflected in its icon
  • I appreciate also Teddy Zetterlund‘s input on naming of items in the third and fourth rows – I’m pleased how options emerges more clearly as a theme, with Mapping (the fourth row) bringing about the shift in perspective
  • Inspiration: Liberating Structures (www.liberatingstructures.com) and The Noun Project (thenounproject.com)

And as you’d expect, Creative Commons. See the icons page for details.


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

Visualising Agendashift: The why and how of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation

First, what doesn’t work (or at least it fails more often than it succeeds), transformation (Agile or otherwise) as project:

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.27.19.png

Using a shallow and dysfunctional version of a model that was already tired 20 years ago [1], linear plan meets adaptive challenge in a complex environment. Seriously? I’m not sure which is the saddest thing – that its failure modes are so painfully familiar, or that they’re so avoidable:

  • Instead of obsessing over how to overcome resistance, stop provoking it! Instead of imposing change, make it a process that is open in a big way to meaningful participation and creative collaboration.
  • Wrong solutions aren’t a problem if your experiments are:
    1. small enough to fail quickly, cheaply, and safely
    2. framed to generate learning about real needs, succeed or fail
  • Instead of being driven by solutions – with energy wasted on the consequences of  commitments made in the past – organise around outcomes, getting quickly to the point where you can confirm that they are already beginning to be realised
  • Instead of a depressing sequence of failed change projects – each of which on its own would risk fatigue – normalise a continuous style of change, baking it into everyday ways of working

None of this is hard. Despite its record of failure though, that linear model has familiarity on its side, not to mention generations of managers being taught that this how things are done “properly”. Thankfully, credible alternatives do exist however (see [2] for a selection), and here’s Agendashift (this is the Agendashift blog after all).

Agendashift’s defining characteristic is that it is outcome-oriented. Just about every part of it deals in some way with outcomes: identifying them, articulating them, organising them, working out how they might be achieved, and on on. In this post I endeavour to visualise that process.

I will describe Agendashift in 10 steps. That might sound worryingly linear, but there’s some structure to it:

  • Steps 1-4 are happening frequently, at different levels of detail, and to varying degrees of formality – in fact those are just some of the ways in which Agendashift scales (the topic of a forthcoming post). Together, these steps represent a coaching pattern (or routine, or kata if you like).  It’s not just for practitioners – we teach it to participants too, introducing a more outcome-oriented kind of conversation into organisations that may have become over-reliant on solution-driven conversations.
  • Steps 5-9 are about managing options, a continuous process punctuated from time to time by more intense periods of activity.
  • Step 10 could just as easily be numbered step 0 – it’s about the organisational infrastructure necessary to sustain the transformation process.

Steps 1-4: A coaching pattern that anyone can practice

Step 1: Bring the challenge close to home

The pattern starts with some kind of generative image, the organisation development (OD) community’s term for “ideas, phrases, objects, pictures, manifestos, stories, or new words” that are both compelling in themselves and are capable of generating a diverse range of positive responses [3, 4].

Agendashift provides a number of these starting points:

  • The Agendashift True North [5]
  • The prompts of one of the Agendashift assessments; the Agendashift delivery assessment in particular has 43 of these, a few of which are prioritised by people individually or in small groups
  • Potentially, any of the outcomes generated through this process overall (we make this explicit in the Full Circle exercise, presented in the book [6] as an epilogue)

Sometimes these generative images may seem out of reach, but nevertheless, reflecting on them is typically a positive experience, sometimes even cathartic. The invitation is simple:

  • “What’s that like? How is it different to what you have now?”
  • “What’s happening when this is working at its best for you?”
  • “X months down the line, what will you be celebrating?”

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.27.40.png

Step 2: Identify obstacles

Again, a simple question:

  • “What obstacles are in the way?”

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.28.01.png

Step 3 (optional): Clarify

Deep diagnosis at this stage tends not to be productive. Sometimes however it can be helpful to clarify a little, when obstacles seem vague and/or overgeneralised, or when they seem to prescribe a solution already:

  • “What kind of X?” (the X here referring to an obstacle)
  • “What’s happening when X?”  (ditto, this question being helpful for finding the real obstacles that motivate prematurely-specified solutions)

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.28.31.png

Step 4: Outcomes, more outcomes, and yet more outcomes 

From our generative image, a generative process, one capable of producing lots of output! It starts with a classic coaching question:

  • “What would you like to have happen?” (for an obstacle)

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.29.09.png

Moving deeper into ‘outcome space’:

  • “And when X, then what happens?” (the X here identifying an outcome noted previously)

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.29.24.png

Clarifying, exploring locally, or preparing to take conversation in different direction:

  • “What kind of X?”
  • “What is happening when X?”

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.29.37.png

See [7] for more of these Clean Language questions (with a video) and [8] for an brief introduction to how they work. What we have here is a highly repeatable coaching pattern adaptable to a wide range of contexts. And as we practice it we’re teaching change agents of every kind how to speak the language of outcomes.

Steps 5-9: Managing options

These steps are about managing the bigger picture (sometimes quite literally):

Step 5: Organise (Map)

Here are two possible visual organisations of the generated outcomes: the Options Orientation Map (aka Reverse Wardley [9,10]) and something akin to a User Story Map, with outcomes prioritised in columns:

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.32.21.png

Step 6: Prioritise, just in time

When – by design – everything is changing, it’s better to give yourself options than to decide and specify everything up front:

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.32.34.png

Step 7: Choose the right kind of approach

Outcomes don’t just vary by size or difficulty, they differ fundamentally:

  • Outcomes that need the minimum of ceremony, because everyone can easily agree what needs to be done
  • Outcomes that can be delegated to someone with the necessary expertise
  • Outcomes for which multiple ways forward can be identified, yet (paradoxically perhaps) it’s clear that the journey will involve twists and turns that are hard to predict
  • Outcomes for which it’s hard to see beyond symptomatic fixes

If you’re thinking Cynefin at this point, well spotted! See [9, 10] again.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.32.52.png

Step 8: Generate options

Where you want innovation, create the opportunity to generate multiple options for the outcome or outcomes currently under the spotlight, and as diverse as you can make them. If you have a framework in mind and it has good options for your current challenges, include them! (We’re framework-agnostic, not anti-framework!)

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.33.05.png

Step 9: Frame hypotheses, develop experiments

Not every outcome is best approached this way (see step 7), but where uncertainty is high, frame your chosen option as a hypothesis, then develop it as an experiment [11]:

Keeping the show on the road

Step 10: Rinse and repeat

So often said, and so often ignored! Whenever you hear “change cycle” or “improvement cycle”, it’s important to ask about the mechanisms in your organisation design (structure, process, leadership behaviours, etc) that will sustain the process. That’s a question we know to ask, and we have some helpful patterns to suggest when the current organisation design is lacking.

Among other things, we’re looking for at least three levels of feedback loop:

  1. The day-to-day meetings whose purpose is to help people make informed choices about what to do, where to collaborate, and when to seek help
  2. Operational review meetings that:
    • Step far enough back from the day-to-day to scrutinise progress (or lack thereof) in terms of both speed and direction
    • Create expectations of continuous and impactful experimentation
    • Cause learnings to be aired and spread
  3. Strategic review meetings that reconfirm key objectives (calibrating the level of ambition appropriately), and ensure the right levels of commitment relative to other goals

One way to visualise the strategic calibration part is as an “aspiration gap”, the area in red below between the outcomes being worked towards and the overall challenge that seeded this process.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 14.33.31.png

Sometimes the aspiration gap is so big that it isn’t even recognised – not seeing the wood for the trees, so to speak. With too little ambition and too little coherence across the options under consideration, both energy and alignment are lacking. Continuous improvement initiatives are prone to this; their failure modes may be different from those of the linear change project but failure here is still uncomfortably common.

Conversely, when the aspiration gap is small, there may be too much focus on an overly specific objective, leaving few options available outside a prescribed path. You’re into linear planning territory again, and we know how that goes!

This is why those three feedback loops are so necessary. Almost by definition, continuous transformation needs daily conversations. For it to be sustained, it also needs a tangible sense of progress and periodic reorientation and recalibration.

“Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation” – the strapline to the Agendashift book – summarises the process pretty well. If there’s anything hard about it, it is simply that it’s a departure from that familiar but tired old linear model, the one that we all know doesn’t really work. So dare to try something new!

References

[1] What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation)
[2] Engagement: more than a two-way street
[3] Notes on Dialogic Organizational Development (medium.com)
[4] Gervase Bushe: Generative Images (youtube.com)
[5] Resources: True North
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation
[7] 15-minute FOTO
[8] My favourite Clean Language question
[9] Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley
[10] Takeaways from Boston and Berlin
[11] The Agendashift A3 template


Upcoming Agendashift workshops
(Online, Stockholm, Athens, London, Istanbul, Berlin)


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

Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | Partners | Books |Resources | Events | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter