A postscript to ‘How I Choose my Models’

With a view to referencing it in the Agendashift 2nd edition I’ve been checking out the new Cynefin book Cynefin – Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World (Dave Snowden & friends). It’s a book with many contributors and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect but I’m enjoying it! If you have any interest in Cynefin I would definitely recommend it.

Despite appearances, this post isn’t about Cynefin. One contribution by Anne Caspari and Johann Entz von Zerssen really resonated with me, especially these two paragraphs from Anne (quoted with her permission):

I (Anne) come from 15 years of critical engagement with integral theory, adult development, and all kinds of change theories. When I started working with these theories and frameworks, they helped me immensely. They opened up my thinking and gave me a means to counteract both gross and subtle reductionism in practical work. This was especially helpful to me in my project management work in environmental planning and sustainability contexts. Adult development theory also helped me understand some of the phenomena I encountered in coaching and leadership work.

Over time, however, I experienced a growing scepticism around a new kind of reductionism that crept into most applications of these theories that often went unobserved by the respective communities. Examples include developmental bias (“we need to develop people”) in large parts of the integral theory scene and some very formulaic and linear applications of change theories (“step 5: find deeper meaning and purpose”).  Since this kind of uneasiness is hard to pinpoint and address, I just noticed that I kept away. I settled at the fringes of these communities and did my own thing. 

Yes! This! Exactly!

Anne’s struggle is the same as the one that triggered (via an outburst over Zoom of which I am not proud) the How I choose my models post. And the really funny thing: Andrea Chiou, the target of my outburst agrees with me. Violent agreement is a strange beast! From our Slack channel #what-i-am-reading (I pasted the above quote there as soon as I read it):

It is the ‘we need to’ of the ‘we need to develop people’ that annoys me. It separates ‘us’ from them -> increasing the gap between the ‘experts’ and the underdeveloped others.

And yes, you are doing your own thing.

It has been in fact a very interesting few weeks, one of those times when you’re really glad to be part of a diverse and supportive community with knowledge in areas I’ll never be expert in. My gut instinct hasn’t changed, I stand by every every word I wrote in How I choose my models, and yet I’ll be referencing some of that developmental stuff (caveated of course) in the 2nd edition.

The title of a new 6th and final chapter, Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, is inspired by Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey Laskow’s Deliberately Developmental Organisation (DDO), a model described in their interesting but slightly scary book An Everyone Culture. The surprise (not least to me) is that the DDO model comes from the same stable as Adult Development Theory, my “trigger”! I’m grateful to Jonathan Sibley for pointing me in that interesting direction, also to Teddy Zetterlund for some earlier seed-sowing.

I’ve learned that living by these three bullets of mine is harder than I thought:

  • Models that have withstood scrutiny over a length of time
  • Models that treat the individual’s agency, creativity, and problem-solving ability with the utmost respect
  • Models that help to scale up the preceding

If I’m not going to ignore a ton of potentially valuable and relevant work, there’ll be times when I will need to remind myself that the model, my reaction to it, and the reactions I observe in others or fear from them, are different things. What helps to win me – albeit cautiously – over to DDO is that this is part of the model itself. Not in an especially self-aware way methinks, but it’s a start.

A last word to Jonathan, which I apply first to myself:

A great challenge is to build a model and then hold it lightly. And sometimes, followers hold the model more tightly than the founder does!


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How I choose my models

As demonstrated by the models-sources-inspirations picture below, I like my models. If you’ve read my third book Right to Left, you’ll know also that I have little time for the idea that there is one best model – one best Agile framework, for example. And the fun isn’t in choosing between them, not even in recognising what each of them can bring, but in integrating them. And it doesn’t stop there: this is not a one-shot process design exercise, but a process of continuous transformation. In short, I’m a pluralist, and I love to see what happens when models and their underlying patterns are allowed to combine.

agendashift-inspiration-map-2020-06-29

Believe it or not, I am a picky though. In one of our weekly community Zoom sessions (see #community in Slack), that pickiness resulted in a conversation that was outside our usual norms (if the truth be told I was abrupt to the point of rudeness) and I reflected afterwards on what happened. Happily, we cleared things up quickly and had a much healthier conversation the following week after I had the chance to turn something heartfelt into something more articulate. What follows is a summary.

If Agendashift has taught me anything, it is to be very careful with assumptions. Credit for this goes to Clean Language, which turns the dial up to 11 on the discipline of its practitioners to minimise the influence of their private assumptions (which are SO not the point) on their conversations. This discipline applies most to their explicitly Clean conversations but it rubs off elsewhere in ways that need not mean “coachiness” when that is not called for. Practicing it subtly trains your brain to recognise when you are imposing yourself in ways that aren’t helpful.

You see that attention to assumptions in Agendashift’s outside-in strategy review. The way we make explicit its carefully minimal assumptions is of great help to the facilitator. See my recent Cutter paper for details (announcement included in my post last week); they’re also in Right to Left (chapter 5) and there will be brief coverage in the forthcoming 2nd edition of Agendashift also.

I tend to avoid models that encourage me to make assumptions about what is going in someone’s mind, how they will behave, how they will develop, and so on. The same at team level and organisation level, and I have come to be particularly sceptical of extrapolations from one of those levels to another. The replication crisis (en.wikipedia.org) gives me pause also.  For better or for worse therefore, you won’t see Agendashift depending on many “popular” models of psychology, development, or maturity. This is not to say that they are valueless, rather that they make potentially unreliable foundations.

What I do appreciate:

  • Challenges to my own assumptions
  • Ways to moderate the impact of unsafe assumptions
  • Ways to bring assumptions and misalignments to the surface at the right time
  • Ways to encourage people to find their own solutions in the pursuit of outcomes (authentically shared outcomes most especially)
  • Ways to sustain all of the above – engines of transformation

And supporting those:

  • Models that have withstood scrutiny over a length of time
  • Models that treat the individual’s agency, creativity, and problem-solving ability with the utmost respect (you’ll permit me some personal values and base assumptions there I trust)
  • Models that help to scale up the preceding

Thankfully, the list of helpful and reliable models compatible with my outlook of optimistic pluralism outlook is long, a fact to which my Models, Source, and Inspirations picture attests. And please do not take the omission of a favourite model of yours as a snub; if I don’t have time to throw yours into the Great Model Collider™ in the hope that something interesting will fly out, perhaps you (or someone else) will.

Opinions mine, strongly held it would seem. Thank you Andrea Chiou and Tom Ayerst for putting up with me – we got there in the end 🙂


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Just the one event in the calendar for now – I’ll be adding some more soon, and feel free to twist my arm if you have a particular requirement, public or private. The full menu of workshops is laid out here and over the months I schedule them for most time zones.


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Agendashift roundup, September 2020

In this edition: Good obstacle, bad obstacle; The quality that now has a name; 15-minute FOTO update; Agendashift #community Zoom; Upcoming events; Top posts

Good obstacle, bad obstacle

Important dates coming soon: a free October webinar ahead of a November Deep Dive workshop. Details of both here:

The quality that now has a name

I’m hard at work on the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book (not far short of a rewrite if I’m honest) and I’m now on chapter 3 (of 5). In my head I’m a couple of chapters ahead and in this blog post you can see some of what’s going on up there!

15-minute FOTO update

I’ve done some work on the deck for 15-minute FOTO, aligning it with how I have been facilitating our Clean Language-inspired coaching game over recent weeks. Also, I’ve made it both easier for me to maintain and more flexible: hide/show slides according to format (Lite or Classic) and medium (in-room or online). More here:

Agendashift #community Zoom

On Wednesdays I like to put out a reminder on Slack that tomorrow (ie every Thursday) it’s the Agendashift #community Lean Coffee Zoom at 14:00 BST, 15:00 CEST, 9am EDT. I can’t include the Zoom link in this post so ping me for details or check the #community channel in Slack.

Upcoming events

I might yet add some December dates but that will very definitely be the last Deep Dive of the year. If you’re holding out for one in a different time zone in early 2021, let me know.

I get asked about discounts based on country or similar factors. Typically answer is yes, also for non-profit, government, educational, etc, or if you’ve done one of the bigger workshops before – several people have attended multiple times. And Agendashift partners of course. Again, ping me.

Top posts

Recent:

  1. What I really think about Scrum (August)
  2. 15-minute FOTO, latest v9 deck
  3. The quality that now has a name
  4. Good obstacle, bad obstacle
  5. #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method (July)

Classic:

  1. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  2. What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation) (May 2019)
  3. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  4. Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley (February 2019)
  5. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)

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Phases 1 & 2 of the agendashift-open project

I’ve finished moving the source files for two sets of pages on agendashift.com to a public git repo, asplake/agendashift-open. In the process I’ve reformatted them from HTML to CommonMark – slightly limited but very much easier to maintain, a worthwhile tradeoff in this case.

The two sets of pages concerned are these:

  1. Agendashift as framework – principles, patterns, and activities
  2. Agendashift Workshops

Look around in either of those areas and you’ll see that each page links to its respective source file just below its license notice.

All 29 pages of this content were already Creative Commons, specifically CC-BY-SA. This change just makes it easier for others to reuse, comment on, or contribute fixes to these pages, and potentially to fork them and create create derivative works under the terms of that same license.

Let’s be clear what that means: Just about all the workshops and consulting services I offer are defined by this content and I accept the commitment to curate it carefully; others are free (within the quite generous license terms) to use it. It attracts some to join the community; some collaborate actively (see for example the Wholehearted:OKR page, very much a collaborative effort); some become Agendashift partners, gaining access to other tools and materials on a commercial basis; some corporate clients arrive via this route too.

Phase 3 will involve doing the same for the all CC-BY-SA content in the Resources area. Some of the pages are quite substantial and the conversion will require a little bit of effort, but worth it I’m sure. Making (for example) the page for Featureban page more community-maintainable must surely be a win.

Thank you John Grant for the nudge. Channel #open in the Agendashift Slack.


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With yours truly unless otherwise indicated:

For the latest workshop and speaking events check the Agendashift events calendar.


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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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Centered and T-shaped (sub)communities

On the evening of my arrival at Raleigh, NC from across the pond, I gave a new talk on my first book Kanban from the Inside. Here’s a slide I used to explain the philosophy behind Part II, Models, addressing in particular the question of how multiple (and some would say competing) models can be used together:

Screenshot 2018-04-04 15.28.37

I’m not going to expand on bullet 1 other than to point the curious in the direction of Gall’s Law.

Bullet 2 is much more up my street, and I’ve stuck to this line consistently – it’s pretty much the definition I use for the Lean-Agile community in the Agendashift book: a community that celebrates Lean and Agile, both separately and together.

That definition describes a very broad umbrella, and there’s a wide variety of things happening beneath it. Agendashift is one of them, a community centered [1] on outcome-oriented change. Around that theme we are:

  • Running with the idea, diving deep, developing it through use, making our more successful experiments more repeatable and more easily transferable to others
  • Taking a stance against imposed change (in which we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends in the OpenSpace Agility community)
  • Bringing together a range of different experiences and areas of expertise, colliding a number of models old and new, from within Lean-Agile and without
  • Expecting exciting things to happen.

It’s interesting to note that among the Agendashift community’s closest collaborators we have both Certified Scrum Trainers and Accredited Kanban Trainers, knowledgeable and experienced representatives of two great communities whose relationship hasn’t always been easy. Along with vast majority of practitioners who would be comfortable sitting under a Lean-Agile umbrella, I think I can speak for all of them when I say that each of them understands and respects the special contributions of their erstwhile antagonists. And after that, not just “Why can’t we all just get along?”, but “What can we achieve together that were weren’t achieving on our own?”

Observing this, I wonder aloud if the concept of T-shaped people [2] might extend to T-shaped subcommunities. I’m suggesting that in order to stay healthy, an ecosystem as large as Lean-Agile needs groups of people that have:

  1. The persistence to run with ideas and to see just how far they can take them (so that you don’t have to, except where there’s a genuine passion to pursue)
  2. The diversity to ensure they stay vibrantly creative
  3. Broad enough representation that their learning will diffuse and cross-pollinate via the overlaps between communities

Sometimes this will happen by accident, but I suspect that the majority of successful examples are the product of deliberate attention. Can we make it more repeatable? I don’t know, but I would certainly be interested in comparing notes with others who are doing similar things. Could conversations such as these help make Lean-Agile simultaneously more cohesive, more diverse, more respectful, and more productive? I’d like to think so…

[1] BDD is a Centered Community Rather than a Bounded Community (thepaulrayner.com)
[2] T-shaped skills (en.wikipedia.org)


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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 evolution 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…

inclusive • contextual • fulfilling • open

It started quite innocently yesterday on #random:

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-09-14-26

Martien wanted to know whether this was addressing Agendashift’s How, What or Why. Excellent question! Settling quickly on the Why and after multiple iterations over several frantic pages of chat with Martien,  Andrea, and Jussi we got to this:

  • Inclusive – because we’re more interested in what we can accomplish with others than in what we can achieve alone
  • Contextual – because every situation is unique, to be explored and developed in ways both tried-and-tested and novel
  • Fulfilling – because meeting people’s needs, goals, and wishes brings meaning, direction, and pleasure
  • Open – because we’re still uncovering better ways of working and new ways in which to combine them

We share this now as an invitation. If in any capacity you’re in the business of Lean-Agile transformation and these words resonate with you, read on.

Inclusive

Why inclusive? Because we’re more interested in what we can accomplish with others than in what we can achieve alone.

The Agendashift community embraces practitioners of a range of methods including Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, and ESP. And we get along just fine! What we have in common is a commitment to the crafts of coaching, facilitating, and leading. We also share a strong interest in developing contemporary approaches to transforming organisations so that they work radically better for those inside and outside of them. The tools we use are broadly neutral on the choice of delivery method (including the choice of no single one).

This deliberate inclusivity encourages diversity. The way Agendashift integrates ideas from bodies of knowledge as varied as Clean Language, Cynefin, Lean Startup, and Servant Leadership owes much to the range of specialisms and passions of the growing number of people I’m proud to identify as collaborators. To mention just a few, people like AndreaDraganJussiKarlMartienPatrick, Susanne, and Thorbjørn make Agendashift what it is today.

It is absolutely NOT our goal to define some kind of overarching method, the next SAFe, say. We love to see people take the likes of Scrum and Kanban in their purest forms and see just how far they can take them. Likewise, practitioners of LeSS, SAFe, and ESP can test larger scale patterns in the field, and there’s much we can learn from their experience, especially in terms of how to support this level of change. Inclusive is not “embrace and extend” – often a sign of a shallow understanding of what went before – but “celebrate diversity”.

Contextual

Why contextual? Because every situation is unique, to be explored and developed in ways both tried-and-tested and novel

How are your standup meetings conducted? Physically or figuratively speaking, are they round the room with the three questions, or right-to-left, closest-to-completion first?

OK, bad question. Let’s approach it in a different way. Instead of binary, checkbox questions, consider this prompt – one of several from the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment that touch on how we organise and discuss our day-to-day work:

We share progress on our work frequently and are quick to collaborate as the need or opportunity arises

This isn’t just more inclusive. Yes, we allow ourselves a range of solutions drawn from multiple sources, inside or outside the mainstream. Also, we’re choosing not lead with a preferred practice to which there may be perfectly valid objections. We’re starting instead with outcomes, and if there’s agreement that those outcomes are desirable, we’re already halfway there.

But even that’s not the full story. Who gets to say that standup meetings should be the next item on the change agenda? Contextual isn’t just about choosing best-fit practices and bypassing resistance to change. It’s about discovering where the organisation is most amenable to the kind and degree of change that it needs. Contextual isn’t just problem-solving, it is strategic, ambitious, and purposeful. The alternative is irrelevance.

Fulfilling

Why fulfilling? Because meeting people’s needs, goals, and wishes brings meaning, direction, and pleasure

This works at so many levels! It applies to us as agents of change: for all its frustrations, there’s joy in our work! It applies to all who bring an attitude of service to their customers and colleagues. It applies to every leader of companies, teams, or communities who recognises with respect and humility the degree of choice available to every employee, member, or participant.

There are technical, strategic, and even political issues here too. A striking example is the “Start with needs” strategy implemented by the UK government for its digital services, a model that is now being replicated in other countries. Out of that strategy followed new user-centric specialisms (new at least in the government context), concrete evidence that the days of sponsor-driven or supplier-driven design were coming to an end.

Our sincere wish is that for every piece of work we consider starting, we pause to identify the authentic situation of need that is waiting to be addressed by it. If we can find one, our work has purpose. If we can’t, it’s likely that we’re building mediocre solutions to the wrong problems. Nobody needs that.

Open

Why Open? Because we’re still uncovering better ways of working and new ways in which to combine them

The Agile manifesto didn’t draw a line and say “job done” in 2001. We’ve seen an explosion since, and still the job isn’t done. Nor should we expect it to be.

However, 15 years is long enough for a new status quo to be established. In many organisations and communities, “that’s how we’ve always done it” can be said about Agile practices just as naturally as it can about the kind of practices that Agile sought to replace. And having established a new status quo it’s tempting to defend it.

That would be a mistake, however. In our business (in any business?), there are few “solved problems”, problems that will stay forever and optimally solved. If we’re complacent enough to let our competitors explore beyond boundaries we’ve set for ourselves, we get what we deserve. Unfortunately, that kind of complacency can incur severe collateral damage and it’s no wonder that these “sins of omission” have been described as being among the most serious that leaders can commit [1].

Open sits very well with inclusive, but we’re not going not pretend that between us we have all the answers. Open by design means that we’re encouraging innovation, we’re ready to borrow from surprising places, and we’re prepared to let go. Open is also vulnerable, and vulnerability is difficult. Fortunately, we do it in very good company.

Join us!

If this makes any kind of sense to you, hang out with us. Join our Slack community or LinkedIn group – you would be very welcome in either or both places. You can help by sharing knowledge, trying new things and sharing your experience, refining our message, getting it out there. Or just spend some time with us and discover what it’s all about.

For the most part, the tools live on agendashift.com, with a deck for workshop facilitators (partners), and an A3 template that like our Featureban game has been released under a Creative Commons license. There’s also a white paper that was last updated in July – feels like an age ago!

Consider participating in one of our Agendashift facilitator days – Leeds, UK on December 5th [eventbrite.co.uk] or London, UK on January 19th (details to be published by the end of next week; register interest here).

And beyond your individual participation, think about what Agendashift’s inclusive • contextual • fulfilling • open might mean for your community or organisation. What can we learn from each other? How can we support each other?

[1] Ackoff, Russell L. 1991. Ackoff’s Fables: Irreverent Reflections on Business and Bureaucracy. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

My thanks to Martien and Jussi for their invaluable feedback on earlier drafts.


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