New from the Outside-in Strategy department

Two things:

  1. The next Leading with Outcomes module, Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for Success
  2. A new Agendashift-style assessment/survey tool, the Outside-in Strategy Readiness Assessment

1. Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for success

This is the third of the Agendashift Academy’s four planned Leading with Outcomes modules, and its self-paced incarnation begins its rollout today. Tentative schedule:

  1. Monday, June 20th: Customer
    “What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs?”
  2. Friday, July 1st: Organisation
    “When we’re meeting those strategic needs, what kind of organisation are we?”
  3. Friday, July 8th: Product
    “Through what products and services are we meeting those strategic needs?”
  4. Friday, July 15th: Platform
    “What are the defining/critical capabilities that make it all possible?”
  5. Friday, July 29th: Team(s)
    “When we’re achieving all of the above, what kind of team(s) are we?”

We are big believers in leadership and strategy at every level of organisation. “Strategic needs” brings together our customers’ needs and our strategy – whether we’re a team, a team-of-teams, or something bigger, and whether our customers are inside or outside our organisation.

Here’s a quick introductory video (05:33):

Module-wise, Leading with Outcomes is nicely on track to complete its rollout this year:

  • Leading with Outcomes: Foundation – already live (take this one first)
  • Inside-out Strategy: Fit for maximum impact – already live
  • Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for success – rolling out now
  • Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale – due in the autumn

All go live initially as self-paced, video-based training; instructor-led training (with me) is available right now for all but the last one, and we’ll be announcing a train-the-trainer programme soon too.

All four modules are included in your Agendashift Academy subscription. There are affordable plans for both businesses and individuals, with yearly and monthly options in both cases. If you’re a leader in a transforming organisation, you aspire to that role, or you support others in that journey, then it’s for you.

2. The Agendashift Outside-in Strategy Readiness Assessment

Developed for the above but I’m keen to see how it applies elsewhere, a really short (15-prompt) assessment tool, three prompts for each of the five layers of Agendashift’s outside-in strategy review. It’s free to try (registration required in this public survey mode). Like all the Agendashift assessment tools it can be used as the template for an organisational survey too; if you’re an Agendashift partner, you’ll find it on the templates dropdown.


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Resistance – or feedback?

This week I came across blog post that categorised resistors to “Agile” (actually to Scrum) as “diehards, sabateurs, followers, and skeptics”. I couldn’t let that lie and I responded on LinkedIn, but my post is now unavailable, possibly – though I speculate – because the one I responded to in an important way misrepresents Mike Cohn’s original. So here it is again, and slightly longer.

To those who take a solutions-first approach to change, resistance means:

  1. You’re not selling hard enough, and
  2. It’s the fault of those resisting that they’re not buying (and hence those shamefully blaming labels)

Never mind the contradiction, it simply does not occur that maybe it’s feedback, a quite reasonable response when you’ve failed to involve people in the right way early enough, failed to recognise real systemic issues, or most likely both. But that would mean admitting that the solution and/or the change paradigm are wrong. For different reasons, both are difficult things to admit, so it doesn’t happen.

And they wonder why people disengage when Agile, Scrum, or <insert framework here> are inflicted on them! As far as I’m concerned, in frameworks-land, this is the only fight worth fighting. Forget fixing the the process frameworks, our relationship with them needs to change. In a healthier relationship, we would see them not as solutions to roll out, but as resources to draw on as people up and down the organisation find fitting solutions to strategic goals agreed authentically and in proper context. Not solutions-first, but outcome-oriented.

Outcome-oriented change is both practical and teachable. If you want to be a more effective leader in a transforming organisation, you aspire to that, or if it’s your job to support others in that journey, check out Agendashift Academy. We help leaders at all levels succeed at developing and pursuing the kinds of strategy that go hand-in-hand with transformation. Membership is now by subscription, and with plans for both businesses and individuals and monthly and yearly options for both, you’ll find a plan that suits you.

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Agendashift roundup, May 2022

In this edition: June workshop; Academy Update; A fight worth fighting; New podcast interview; 15-minute FOTO version 12; Upcoming; Top posts

June workshop

Plenty of reasons to put this one first: It’s less than 3 weeks away, there’s a 10% discount on offer, and it’s my first public workshop in quite a while:

Academy update

For Agendashift Academy subscribers, the fifth and final chapter of Inside-out strategy: Fit for maximum impact was released last Friday and already we’ve issued the first certificate of completion for this self-paced training.

Currently live:

  • Leading with Outcomes: Foundation (do this one first)
  • Inside-out Strategy: Fit for maximum impact

In production, chapter 1 due for release in June, announcement to follow:

  • Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for success

In development:

  • Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale

Not only are we on track for releasing the whole of the planned Leading with Outcomes curriculum this year, we have plans for some ‘bitesize’ content that we’ll be able to drip out on a weekly basis.

A reminder of our intended audience:

  1. Leaders in transforming organisations – at whatever level of experience and in whatever role
  2. Those that aspire to that – whether that’s aspiring to leadership or to be a leader in an organisation that’s transforming healthily
  3. Those who support the above

Check out our subscription plans for both businesses and individuals; both have monthly and yearly options. And talk to us if you might be interested in the trainer or facilitator programmes which we’ll be announcing soon.

A fight worth fighting

As featured on the Agendashift and Agendashift Academy homepages, the three strategies thing is brewing nicely. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means – all is explained in my latest article on InfoQ:

That’s pretty definitive, well worth the read if you want to understand where Agendashift is right now. And inspired by my current reading (Bateson):

Read both and the connection between the two will be obvious enough. The punchline to the second one:

In the methods & frameworks world, I believe there is only one fight worth fighting, and it is not between frameworks. It is between those who would fit people and organisations to frameworks (branded or otherwise), and those who find that idea intolerable.

New podcast interview

Last month’s roundup went out early, and it missed a podcast interview that went out on the 30th. It was with Shahin Sheidaei of the Elevate Change podcast, and you can find it here and on the usual podcast platforms:

15-minute FOTO version 12

A small tweak to our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO, further emphasising the Host role:

Upcoming

Top posts

  1. 15-minute FOTO, version 12
  2. On values, meaningfulness, and change – parallels with Bateson and Mead
  3. You can’t deliver a task (August 2018)
  4. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  5. Big changes for the Agendashift Academy (April 2022)

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On values, meaningfulness, and change – parallels with Bateson and Mead

Punchline first:

In the methods & frameworks world, I believe there is only one fight worth fighting, and it is not between frameworks. It is between those who would fit people and organisations to frameworks (branded or otherwise), and those who find that idea intolerable.

From a book I am taking the time to savour, here is acclaimed anthropologist and systems thinker Gregory Bateson, on the work of his former wife Dr Margaret Mead, another acclaimed anthropologist:

[If] we go on defining ends as separate from means and apply the social sciences as crudely instrumental means, using the recipes of science to manipulate people, we shall arrive at a totalitarian rather than a democratic system of life. The solution she offers is that we look for the “direction” and “values” implicit in the means, rather than looking ahead to a blueprinted goal and thinking of this goal as justifying or not justifying manipulated means. We have to find the value of a planned act implicit in and simultaneous with the act itself, not separate from it in the sense that the act would derive its value or from reference to a future end or goal.

Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)

This passage resonated strongly with me. Translating from the social space to organisations, how, as leaders, do we make it easy for people to find meaning in work whilst still respecting their choice in the matter? And if it’s the job of leadership to take people to new places, can we make the process of change more meaningful, again without dictating what form that meaning should take for each individual concerned?

My biggest contribution in the frameworks space was a values model for the Kanban Method (2013). It explained why and how Kanban was meaningful to me, and it turned out to be helpful to other people too – to the extent that it become adopted as part of the method’s formal definition.

But I didn’t stop there. I was on a journey, and it wasn’t long after the publication of Kanban from the Inside (2014), that I found myself detaching myself from Kanban community. There was no big disagreement behind this move, and to be clear, I remain proud of that model and my first book. It was simply that there was a job to be done, and I felt that it would be easier done outside.

Bateson goes on:

This then is the type of discipline which has enabled Dr Mead to point out that a discrepancy – a basic and fundamental discrepancy – exists between “social engineering”, manipulating people in order to achieve a planned blueprint society, and the ideals of democracy, the “supreme worth and moral responsibility of the individual human person.” The two conflicting motifs have long been implicit in our culture, science has had instrumental leanings since before the Industrial Revolution, and emphasis on upon individual worth and responsibility is even older. The threat of conflict between the two motifs has only come recently, with increasing consciousness of, and emphasis upon, the democratic motif and simultaneous spread of the instrumental motif. … Are we to reserve the techniques and the right to manipulate people as the privilege of a few planning, goal-oriented, and power-hungry individuals, to whom the instrumentality of science makes a natural appeal? Now that we have the techniques, are we, in cold blood, going to treat people as things? Or what are we going to do with these techniques?

Again, parallels. In the methods & frameworks world, I believe there is only one fight worth fighting, and it is not between the frameworks. It is between those who would fit people and organisations to frameworks (branded or otherwise), and those who find that idea intolerable.

I am on that second side. My fight is against those so convinced of their rightness that they’re sure that the ends justify the manipulative or coercive means, or they lack the imagination, curiosity, or courage to consider that there might be alternative approaches to change. And there really are alternatives. Let no one tell you that change-by-imposition – legitimised the change management industry despite its repeated failures – is the only model. That wasn’t true even 20 years ago – Agilists take note – and it definitely isn’t true now.

That fight is what has energised me in the 8 years since my first book and I expect it to continue to sustain me for the rest of my career. It has taken me from method to values and then to outcomes, meaningfulness, wholeheartedness, leadership, and strategy. They’re integrated into a participatory approach to change and transformation, one that is more than capable of reconciling sophisticated thoughts on organisation design with utmost respect not only for the person but for the organisation that people create together.

It’s hard enough being a leader in a transforming organisation without your approach to change making things worse. If that’s you, Agendashift Academy is there for you. And if your organisation is entering into a relationship with a process framework, make sure that the relationship is healthy one*.

*That’s my recent article on InfoQ: Adaptability by Agreement: Valuing Outcomes over Imposed Solutions. It’s the most complete written treatment yet of Agendashift’s three strategies model. Watch out for videos too, in particular from last week’s Lean Agile London (#LALDN22).


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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15-minute FOTO, version 12

The facilitation deck for our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO is now at version 12. Just one change: for the Lite format of the game, what previously were announced under a heading of “Tips:” are now announced as follows:

Help your colleagues enjoy a productive time:

  • Start small: 5% and 15% outcomes, bullet point answers
  • Be generous in the outcomes you accept (and write down)
  • If a minute passes without an outcome being captured, something is wrong

A renamed heading might seem a trivial change, but in the debrief after the game we will introduce (retrospectively) the three roles of Client, Coach, and Host, which in the Lite format any player can adopt at any time. Client and Coach correspond very obviously to the tasks of answering and asking the questions from the cue card, but until this version, it didn’t seem that we had done enough to set up the Host role.

Bonus

Emphasising the “leading” in “Leading with Outcomes” (our core curriculum), this discussion question comes from the Agendashift Academy version of the 15-minute FOTO debrief:

Reflecting some more on the Client, Coach, and Host roles, which one is the leader?

There it’s pre-recorded; I have tested it “live” also.

For some background on prior changes that led up to this one:

As ever go to agendashift.com/15-minute-foto for tips, download instructions, and an ancient but still fun video.


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Big changes for the Agendashift Academy

As predicted, Friday 29th is pivot day! As of today:

  • Agendashift Academy (academy.agendashift.com) has moved to a subscription model
  • Choose between Agendashift for Business and Agendashift for Individuals – subscription packages for businesses and individuals, each with yearly and monthly options

And we’re picking up the pace – new content goes live today and we’re committed to releasing new content at least twice a month:

  • Leading with Outcomes: Foundation is already live and very well received – this self-paced module is the one to take first (if you have this already, we’ve given you all the benefits of a yearly individual subscription for the next 6 months)
  • Starting today, we’re releasing Inside-out strategy: Fit for maximum impact at the rate of a chapter a week:
    1. Everybody on the same page with purpose (today, Friday, April 29th)
    2. Getting to the issues that matter (Friday, May 6th)
    3. Organising strategy visually (Friday, May 13th)
    4. From outcome to action (Friday, May 20th)
    5. Designing your inside-out strategy sprint (Friday, May 27th)
  • Outside-in strategy: Positioned for success is in production and will come onstream from June
  • Adaptive Organisation: Business Agility at every scale will come onstream from September
  • Also beginning this summer, we are putting together two long series of short “bite-size” videos that will take us well into next year

On our student community platform (based on Circle), each new module gets its own discussion space. We’re already holding regular AMA sessions (“Ask Mike Anything” – sorry, couldn’t resist), and there will be other subscriber-only events, webinars for example.

Workshop-wise, in the short term we have made the decision to concentrate first on business subscribers, with public workshops to follow. Individual subscribers are not forgotten however! In due course, we’ll announce changes to our existing partner programme and a new programme for trainers wishing to teach from our material.

If you are a leader in a transforming organisation or aspire to be one, then we’re here for you! To find out more – our vision, features, subscription plans, FAQs etc – head over to academy.agendashift.com now.


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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What I really think about Kanban

Previously on this blog:

My first book, Kanban from the Inside (2014), remains a top book for Kanban so I really ought to complete that list.

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Michael Leber. The hour (livestreamed) flew by very quickly and I’m very pleased with how it came out, so thank you very much Mike! If you’re on LinkedIn, this is the better link to the recording:

Otherwise this one:

It was a wide-ranging talk but we started with Kanban (the method as well as the tool) and I said a few things about it I haven’t really said before. A couple of key quotes:

I don’t find that [evolutionary change] principle exciting. I don’t get excited about evolutionary change – it’s like the wrong metaphor for a great tool.

If you’re serious about it, it has got to be with some intent. If you’re just fixing problems just because you see them, it doesn’t actually meet needs, it doesn’t get you to where you want to get to. And if you’re going to get to where you want to get to, you’ve got to have a conversation about where that is, what that looks like, what direction it’s in. … If you’re serious about the outcomes and their obstacles, serious about where you’re going to focus your efforts, serious about understanding the relationships between outcomes, you’re actually doing strategy.

To be fair to Kanban (the method), it tries harder than most Agile frameworks to get to that, but it doesn’t really get there, and nor will it so long as a tool (the kanban system and its supporting structure) is the predetermined answer. That’s why I am where I am now, non-aligned framework-wise, developing Agendashift as a way to help organisations and their leaders approach change and transformation strategically. If you want change, learn to have the strategy conversations around it. Don’t start with a solution (an Agile framework, say); start with agreement on outcomes. Done authentically – the right people in the room, the results of the conversation not prejudged – the rest follows so much more easily.

Finally, some of the links mentioned:

And my books (all of them now available also in German):

  • Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition 2021)
  • Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020)
  • Kanban from the Inside (2014)

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Updated: Agendashift as framework, 2022 edition

I’ve updated agendashift.com/framework to lead with the three strategies:

Update 2022-04-07: If you have access to Agendashift’s Commons or more specifically to Agendashift assets, there’s a new framework overview deck, Agendashift framework overview 16x10 2022-04 v3.pptx. Best viewed full screen and with the Source Sans Pro font installed. If you don’t have it, you can request access via the framework page.

Enjoy!


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Updated: Agendashift’s three meta strategies

[Updated March 10th: tweaked the headings, replaced the image]

Or if you prefer:

  • After Rumelt, three guiding policies – thank you Oren Golan for the reminder
  • Less grandly, three things to keep working at if you’re doing anything strategy-related (which, if you think about it, should be a lot of the time)

For now at least (this is a work in progress) I’ll go with meta strategies. They’re strategies for getting better at strategy, in particular the kinds of strategy that tends to motivate transformation. And forgive me if I drop the meta once in a while.

Meta strategy 1. Keep asking the “agreement on outcomes” question

Which is to say, keep asking this question and learn to really mean it:

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

Authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes. “Authentic agreement” meaning the right people in the room, agreeing on things that matter, expressed in their own words. “Meaningful outcomes” meaning not just numbers, not just targets, but needs met, happy endings to stories, the world changed for people in meaningful ways.

Solutions second, outcomes leading the way – literally “leading with outcomes” [1] – solutions emerging from the people closest to the problem [2], people already motivated to find them.

All of that is a 180 degree turnaround from those 1990’s models of managed change, a different paradigm entirely. Instead of using outcomes to sell solutions (and very often solutions of the wrong kid of scale), we use outcomes to find solutions. Not just game-changing for engagement, a completely different game.

Meta strategy 2. Change the game’s objectives to keep outcomes in the foreground

The trick here is to change the meaning of ‘done’:

  • You’re ‘done’ only when needs have been met
  • You’re ‘really done’ only when you have fully accounted for all the learning

Outcomes don’t go away once we start thinking about solutions – quite the opposite. Outcomes change what ‘done’ and ‘really done’ mean. When we account properly for learning, it creates certain expections, helping to keep ‘done’, ‘really done’, and all the outcomes they represent in the foreground. Solutions are kept in their proper place, just a means to an end, held much more lightly.

We’re done when “someone’s need was met” [3], the outcome demonstrably achieved. This implies that we know whose need we’re trying to meet, what need, and how we’d know that we have indeed met it.

We’re really done when we’ve fully accounted for all the learning that goes with achieving the outcome. To be sure of not missing any, work is framed in the right way (as hypotheses and experiments, whenever that’s appropriate), the right things are monitored, and regular reviews are in place. The regular rhythm of review and the shared understanding of what each review entails creates containers for learning. If you know that the learning will need to be accounted for, it really changes how you work.

Meta strategy 3. Keep developing your understanding of where all this happens

Where rather than how, because the third meta strategy of the three is not about practice or process, but organisation [4]. It’s about working to eliminate a common organisational dysfunction, also working to develop a kind of organsational agility that’s about so much more than mere speed.

If instead of keeping outcomes in the foreground you allow yourself to be distracted by solutions and how you’re rolling them out, you are managing for progress (or worse, activity), not impact. Compounding the error, one group manages things that people closer to the work could easily be managing for themselves. And it works in the opposite direction too: one group second-guessing the needs, priorities, and strategies of another. In short: the wrong people managing for the wrong things. Totally dysfunctional, so common, and don’t be so sure that your branded process framework or your PMO will fix it for you either!

Often this dysfunction happens between levels of organisation (up and/or down), but the trick is to think less in terms of hierarchy or process and more in terms of identity and purpose. For an outcome, what’s the group of people most closely identified with it or that you would want to see organising around it? Conversely, for any group of people with an identity of its own and the apparent will to develop itself – team, team of teams, something bigger, something cross-cutting, whatever – what are the outcomes that it is pursuing? What, in other words, is its strategy, and has it been afforded the opportunity to develop it for itself and in its own words?

That way of looking at organisation has a dynamism that’s simply not there in the org chart or the process diagram. People participating in multiple circles, circles that overlap and rapidly share learning, insights, and intelligence because they also share people. For as long as they’re needed, circles that have lives of their own. Structures that by themselves and in their relationships support both the development of people and the development of the organisation. Structures rich and dynamic enough to meet the ever-changing complexities of the business environment.

With this third meta strategy, the preceding two don’t just have a home, they have many homes. Strategy becomes something fractal and emergent, living in the conversations not just within circles, but between them.

3 meta strategies

[1] This section drawn from the first video in Leading with Outcomes: Foundation (academy.agendashift.com)
[2] Thank you Karl Scotland for that wording
[3] See Done (agendashift.com/done)
[4] See the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (deliberately-adaptive.org)

For further reading, my two most recent books:

  1. Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd ed 2021)
  2. Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020)

What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

Welcome to Agendashift™, the wholehearted engagement model

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Video: Leading and Transforming with Outcomes

Recorded yesterday at Agile Hartford, thank you Larry Bock for hosting!

Our media page has several meetup talks with this same title, but as I mention in near the beginning, I spent the day yesterday doing a complete rewrite. The recent blog post that sowed the seeds for that rewrite is this one: Agendashift’s three meta strategies and I’m very pleased with how it came out.

Most of the links mentioned in the video you’ll find at the bottom of this (and every) blog post. Apart from this one:

Enjoy!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

Welcome to Agendashift™, the wholehearted engagement model

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