My favourite Clean Language question

We describe our coaching game 15-minute FOTO [1] as “Clean Language-inspired”, and as shown on the cue card (below) it makes use of a small subset of the Clean Language questions, a subset particularly suited to exploring or modelling (ie building a model of) a landscape of obstacles and (especially) outcomes.

The objective of the game and its function in Agendashift is to generate a good number of outcomes that can then be organised in various interesting ways. Through subsequent exercises we facilitate agreement on outcomes, thereby helping to co-create the basis for organisational change. Those goals aren’t quite the same as those of Clean Language, and through my favourite Clean Language question I hope to say a bit about the latter.

Here’s the 15-minute FOTO cue card, an essential piece of equipment for the game. Notice that the X‘s (and in one question a Y), placeholders which the coach replaces with the client’s own words (coach and client are roles in the game; participants take turns in different roles):

15-minute-foto-cue-card-2018-01-29

Given the game’s objectives, the two most important questions on the card are these:

  1. “What would you like to have happen?”, which tends to “flip” obstacles into outcomes, moving from the negative to the positive, quickly identifying the outcome that might be found hiding behind the obstacle (figuratively speaking).
  2. “And when X, then what happens?”, which when the X is an outcome, generates another, and sometimes several. Asked a few times, a surprisingly long chain of outcomes can be generated with the minimum of prompting from the coach.

However, my favourite question on the card is a different one, namely “What kind of X?”. Functionally, it’s a clarifying question, one we use in preference to questions such as “What do you mean by X?”, and “Can you be more specific?”. In the aspiring Lean-Agile context typical of an Agendashift workshop, examples might include:

  • “What kind of Agile?” (instead of “What do you mean by Agile?”)
  • “What kind of collaboration?” (instead of “Can you be more specific about the kind of collaboration you’re talking about?”)

(Aside: see [2] for my answer to the first of those)

Let me further illustrate the “What kind of X?” (WKO) question with an everyday scenario that I frequently find helpful as an example. You have just told me that you’ll be on holiday next week. How do I respond?

Some possible responses politely close the conversation before it gets started: “That’s nice!”, “I hope you have a lovely time!”, and so on.

I might show some interest with a question: “Where are you going?”. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned question is not entirely without risk. Suppose your answer is “I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying at home”.  Awkward! Have I embarrassed you?

To be clear, “Where are you going?” isn’t a terrible question. It is at least an open question, a question to which might be given a wide range of possible answers. This is in contrast with binary questions that expect mainly yes/no answers or leading questions which are mostly about the questioner’s own agenda (in the Agendashift book [3] I describe the latter as not genuine).

The possible flaw in the question “Where are you going?” is that it makes an assumption that might not be valid in this context, the assumption that you’re going somewhere. “What kind of holiday?” removes that assumption – in fact it is about as stripped of assumption as a question can get. As a result, it is much more likely to lead to an interesting answer, one that I can’t easily predict.

This is what Clean Language is all about. It’s not about the killer question, a trick that like the world’s funniest joke soon gets old. It’s about putting the coach’s assumptions to one side, because what’s in the mind of the client is far more valuable. As well as heightening curiosity it improves listening, because we can’t fill in those X‘s if we’re not paying attention. And although there is some skill in choosing the question (a skill that we begin to develop by playing the game), it’s not about leading the client on the strength of the coach’s domain knowledge – there’s a time and place for that, but not yet. Instead, it’s about facilitating a process, one that helps navigate what may be complex issues, often helping the client arrive at some real insights.

15-minute FOTO is carefully framed as a game: it works within clear constraints and with clear goals. It’s not therapy, and never pretends to be. But for some it has been the gateway to the Clean Language body of knowledge with its generous community and has kindled interest in a deeper kind of coaching. And that’s wonderful!

References

[1] 15-minute FOTO
[2] My kind of Agile
[3] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation; Clean Language is introduced with 15-minute FOTO in chapters 1 and 2. See also its recommended reading page, in particular (these Clean Language-related books):

  • The Five Minute Coach: Improve Performance Rapidly
    Lynne Cooper & Mariette Castellino (2012, Crown House Publishing)
  • Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
    Wendy Sullivan & Judy Rees (2008, Crown House Publishing)
  • From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling
    Caitlin Walker (2014, Clean Publishing)

Acknowledgements: I’m grateful to Johan Nordin, Steve Williams, and Mike Haber for feedback on earlier drafts of this post.


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A small departure from the book

Slightly technical, but if you’re interested in what we know to be a remarkably effective combination of Clean Language, Cynefin, and Story Mapping as practiced in most Agendashift workshops, read on…

One of the notable highlights of an Agendashift workshop comes when we take the list of outcomes generated by the 15-minute FOTO game [1], transcribe them onto stickies, and organise them 4-points style [2]:

cynefin-finished-2017-12-16

Through the experience of the ‘4 points contextualisation exercise’ (to give it almost its full name), participants are slowly introduced to the Cynefin framework [3], the facilitator trying all the while to avoid naming the model or using Cynefin terminology such as ‘obvious’, ‘complicated’, ‘complex’, or ‘chaos’ (trust me, it’s hard!). For participants familiar with the model, it’s always a funny moment when the penny finally drops and the realisation dawns that Cynefin can be so much more than just a conceptual model, especially when there’s a good supply of ‘narrative fragments’ – outcomes, in our case – to play with. For those that haven’t come across it before, it’s a great opportunity to explore why different kinds of outcomes need different kinds of approaches, a lesson that’s much more meaningful when it’s learned through interacting with your own data (‘sensemaking’) than it would be as a lecture.

Up to now – and as described in the book [4] – the translation from the Cynefin representation to one based on a story map has been a 2-stage process. First, a few minutes of organised chaos as stickies are moved to under their respective headings:

Second, as much time as we want to spend – anything from a few moments to an hour or more – prioritising stickies within columns, and through that process making sure that there is a shared understanding of what each of them means and their possible dependencies on other stickies. Anyone who has done story mapping before will recognise that this can provide an important opportunity for some valuable conversations; we’ve found this to be the case even in public workshops, with ‘teachable moments’ aplenty.

A refinement

Instead of the ‘organised chaos’ followed by prioritisation, work clockwise from bottom right, prioritising as we go:

  • Starting with the ‘obviously obvious’: Sticky by sticky, check that they really are obvious (ie we can all quickly agree what needs to be done and can be pretty sure of the likely outcome), put them in their correct columns, and prioritise. Prioritisation will be easy, as there’ll be at most a few per column, a mixture of quick wins and less important items.
  • The ‘borderline complicated’: For the items on the border between obvious and complicated, explore why they were placed there, and discuss what should be done about their non-obvious aspects (perhaps there’s some important detail that someone will need to get to grips with). Prioritise them relative to the already-prioritised ‘obviously obvious’ items in their respective columns (again, this should be easy)
  • The complicated, one sticky at a time: who might be delegated to run with this item? Should we get some external help? In its appropriate column, how does it prioritise relative to the items already there?

I could at this point say “and so on through the complex and chaos” but the facilitator will flag up here that anything in or bordering on complex is likely to be a good candidate for hypothesis-based change (a session later in the day, see also [5]), and so it’s a good idea to mark each item in some way so that they can be identified easily later. And for the borderline cases:

  • ‘Borderline complex’: Are the complicated and complex parts easily separable? How will we organise this, mainly linear with some room for refinement along the way, or mainly through iteration with some expert input or planned work at the appropriate time?
  • ‘Borderline chaos’: Is it urgent to address symptoms or or attempt some diagnosis now, or can we afford to wait until we see what’s thrown up in the course of other work?

I’ll be honest: it’s still early days for this change and there’s no slideware [6] for it yet – if any is needed we’ll learn that through practice and by partner demand. That’s usually the best way!

[1] 15-minute FOTO, our Clean Language-inspired coaching game
[2] Cynefin Review Part 7 – Finding Your Place on the Framework (adventureswithagile.com)
[3] The Cynefin framework (wikipedia.org)
[4] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Press, 2018), chapters 2 and 3 in particular
[5] The Agendashift A3 template (and chapter 4)
[6] The Agendashift partner programme

Finally, some opportunities to experience it for yourself:


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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…

And in Swedish…

The cue card for 15-minute FOTO, our Clean Language-inspired coaching game is now available in Swedish, thanks to Agendashift partner Johan Nordin. Tack så mycket!

Screenshot 2018-08-21 09.11.26

Downloads, a video, and other information about the game may be found at www.agendashift.com/15-minute-foto.

See also FOTO in 15-minuti, announcing Italian and German translations.


Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)

A place has just become available for the September 14th Agendashift Studio – first come first served! By definition, it’s a cozy and informal Agendashift workshop for up to 4 participants held in my detached studio office in Chesterfield, convenient for the Peak District National Park; lunch at a local farm shop. £195 + VAT. £25 discount to past attendees &/or Agendashift partners; 40% off for public sector, educational & non-profit employees. Make yourself known the #agendashift-studio channel in Slack if interested in attending at another time.


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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…

FOTO in 15-minuti

Quick one: Massimo Sarti has kindly translated the 15-minute FOTO cue card into Italian. Thanks to Alex Pukinskis, we have it in German also. If you’d like either one of these, just go to the 15-minute FOTO page, request the materials as usual, and mention which one you’d like.

Massimo’s translation is particularly timely: since July’s roundup we now have a booking page up for the Core Agendashift workshop Facilitating Outcome-Oriented Change in Brescia, Italy on November 9th, ahead of Italian Agile Day 2018 on the 10th. We both hope to see you there!

Screenshot 2018-08-06 12.41.25

15-minute FOTO is our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, an essential and memorable component of every Agendashift workshop. We have released it under a Creative Commons with-attribution licence to enable its wider use and to encourage adaptations.

FOTO stands for “From Obstacles to Outcomes”, and you have 15 minutes to generate as many as you can, using only the questions on the cue card. An example of “generative over prescriptive” if you like.


Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)


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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…

An outside-in strategy review, Agendashift style

I’ve just about finished an initial draft of the second chapter of Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean-Agile (which now has a landing page). Its three-part structure is firming up nicely as follows:

  1. Right to left (four chapters): Lean; Agile; Fundamental Lean-Agile patterns and how they combine; Scaling frameworks
  2. Outside in (one to three chapters): Strategy reviews (and related tools); Capability reviews; Feedback loops and other organisational patterns
  3. Upside down (one  to two chapters): Designing for leadership and change: Servant leadership, Leader-Leader, the inverted pyramid, engagement models (of which Agendashift is an example) and so on

The shape works, and I’m thrilled with how the well the right-to-left thing is working out – see for example last week’s post #RightToLeft works for Scrum too which is already a top 5 post for the year and is helping me find collaborators interested in giving the scaling frameworks a similar treatment.

I’ve not just been writing. Let me share four questions I posed (one at a time) at a outside-in strategy review (a private workshop):

  1. Customer: What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs? (‘Strategic needs’ being the customer needs that best define our mission)
  2. Organisation: When we’re meeting those strategic needs, what kind of organisation are we?
  3. Product: Through what products and services are we meeting those strategic needs?
  4. Platform: When we’re that kind of organisation, meeting those strategic needs, delivering those products and services, what are the defining/critical capabilities that make it all possible?

(Admission: I got two of these the wrong way round in my prep last week, which changes the wording slightly. This exercise still worked great though!)

If you’re familiar with the model, you may be wondering what happened to the fifth and innermost layer, Team. This we covered not by a question, but via the Agendashift True North, focussing not on the work that teams are doing but on ways of working.

As we considered each layer, we captured some vision, then obstacles. After exploring the five layers individually, 15-minute FOTO to turn obstacles into outcomes.

15-minute-foto-cue-card-2018-01-29 The 15-minute FOTO cue card

Precede all of that with some forward-looking context-setting and segue into hypothesis driven change and A3 (all of which are standard features of our transformation strategy workshops) and you have an outcome-oriented strategy review, done Agendashift style.

Want to explore these and other complementary strategy-related tools with us? Join myself and Karl Scotland at our Agendashift + X-Matrix Masterclass9th-11th October, Brighton, UK. Or drop us a line about private workshops. You might even facilitate one yourself – the tools and materials aren’t expensive!


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

Agendashift roundup, May 2018

In this edition:  ‘Done’ goes viral; Right to left; Reviews for Agendashift; Munich and South Wales; Tools and translations; Upcoming; Top posts

‘Done’ goes viral

I don’t usually start with the blog, but within days of posting, My handy, referenceable Definition of Done jumped to the top of the leader board for 2018, bringing with it a linked post from 2016, Better user stories start with authentic situations of need.

Screenshot 2018-05-05 06.23.15

The reaction to this post was striking. Clearly, most people got what I was doing right away, but a few (5% maybe) seemed offended that I had dared to subvert a cherished Agile concept, the definition of done. I have absolutely no regrets on that score, and not just because it provoked a response: it’s a legitimate target that I’d be only too happy taken down and replaced with better things – definitions of ready (the obvious technical alternative), needs, outcomes, goals, validation, and so on.

Right to left

It seems slightly crazy that I’ve started work on a new book (my third) so soon after Agendashift, but I just can’t help myself!

Are you tired of introductions to Agile (and actual implementations, for that matter) that start “on the left” with projects and backlogs and work their way slowly rightwards to where the long-suffering customer patiently waits for something of value actually to happen? Well so am I, and I’m doing something about it.

My best guess is that Right to left will be available sometime in 2019, and hopefully no more than 12 months from now – let’s call it early summer ’19. There’s no landing page for it yet but there is a #right-to-left channel in the Agendashift Slack and some blog posts:

For completeness, theme 3 of 3, “upside down”, the supportive organisation, will get its own post in the next few days.

In terms of tone, I’m aiming for “a book you’ll happily give your manager and hope they’ll want to pass on to theirs” – less practitioner-focussed than KFTI and Agendashift then, but plenty for the expert to enjoy too I’m sure.

Word count so far: 2,910 (May 31st, 2018).

Reviews for Agendashift

Fewer than I’d like (to be honest I’m a little frustrated), but the reviews we do have are great, all 5-star so far. See for yourself:

Many thanks to those that have taken the trouble so far, and keep them coming!

Munich, and South Wales

For reasons we don’t fully understand, the Munich workshop didn’t quite get off the ground. There were sales, but not quite enough of them came soon enough for us to be confident of being able to give a good experience. Postponed rather than cancelled, and we may find a client organisation both to host it and to ensure numbers. That’s a model that could work in your city too; do get in touch if you have even just a small core of people interested.

Cardiff though – with DevOpsGuys as both excellent hosts and active participants – was great. Again some fantastic feedback for the 2-day Advanced workshop, and I spoke afterwards at the South Wales Agile Group.

I’ll be in South Wales again in July for Agile Cymru, where no fewer than five Agendashift partners will be speaking:  Cat SwetelJose CasalKarl ScotlandMatt Turner, and yours truly. That’s amazing! Clearly, if you want to find good people, you should check out the partner directory, and perhaps decide to join that list yourself 😉

Tools and translations

  • The 15-minute FOTO cue card is now available in German – thank you Agendashift partner Alex Pukinskis
  • Featureban is now available in Spanish – thank you Youssef Oufaska and Daniel Carroza

After a long wait, we finally got to play Changeban during the Cardiff workshop and it worked great! A new version of the deck is now available, a couple of bugs fixed (just with the deck, the game itself worked as planned). More here:

Upcoming

Speaking:

Over the summer period, the only workshops I’ll be doing will either be private or the Agendashift Studio event on July 7th (in my home studio office in Chesterfield, UK, and it’s sold out). Watch this space for an exciting autumn/winter programme.

Top posts

Recent:

From the archives:


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Links: 
Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
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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…

Updated materials for ‘15-minute FOTO’

As promised in last week’s roundup, there are now updated versions of the cue card and facilitation deck for our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, 15-minute FOTO.

PDFs of both are available for anonymous download at the above link, where you’ll also find a video of a workshop session that includes the game (among other Agendashift-related things). It’s also covered in chapter 1 of the book.

If you’d like the original PPTX files, just ask. Also, the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack is a good place for questions, and shout if you need an invite.

Changes:

  1. At the top of the card, we’ve given the coach a question to initiate each conversation
  2. We have given subtle emphasis to “What would you like to have happen?” and “Then what happens?”, the two most important questions in the game
  3. We’ve included the most up-to-date poster on the reverse (a download for this is also available and we’ll email registered users about that separately soon)

15-minute-foto-cue-card-2018-01-29

Enjoy!


Upcoming Agendashift workshops (see Events ):


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 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…