Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

As mentioned in last week’s roundup, I was the guest speaker last night at a #bacommunity webinar hosted by Adrian Reed of Blackmetric Business Solutions. I am blown away by the response (still ongoing), and Adrian has kindly made the recording available already. You can watch it here (below, ad free), on YouTube, or on Adrian’s webinar page (blackmetric.com).

A modern take on a 70’s classic, we take some of the tools of modern product and organisation development and plug them into Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model, a model that (still) describes organisations of all sizes that have the drive to survive in a changing environment. The result of this exercise will feel remarkably familiar to Lean-Agile eyes, and yet it helps to reveal some of the serious dysfunctions too often experienced with current frameworks, both team-level and larger.

Mike Burrows

About the Speaker
Agendashift founder Mike Burrows is the author of Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition March 2021), Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020), and the Lean-Agile classic Kanban from the Inside (2104). Mike is recognised for his pioneering work in Lean, Agile, and Kanban and for his advocacy for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Prior to his consulting career, he was global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, CTO for an energy risk management startup, and interim delivery manager for two of the UK government’s digital ‘exemplar’ projects.

Links shared in the talk:

  • deliberately-adaptive.org
  • agendashift.com/changeban
  • agendashift.com/assessments
  • agendashift.com/a3-template
  • agendashift.com/book (the 2021 2nd edition of Agendashift) and its recommended reading page, looking out in particular for these authors:
    • Stafford Beer (VSM originator)
    • my friend Patrick Hoverstadt – for The Fractal Organisation, the second of two of his books I reference
    • Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey – here for An Everyone Culture.  Despite my oft-expressed aversion – alluded to in my talk – to staged development models, maturity models and the like, they impress hugely. The name ‘Deliberately Adaptive Organisation’ is totally inspired by their ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisation’, referenced towards the end of my talk. To integrate strategy, delivery, and development to the depth envisioned in Agendashift’s wholehearted mission, you need this stuff. Their Immunity to Change resonates too.
  • agendashift.com/subscribe – per the last slide, a ton of stuff still brewing and you don’t want to miss out 🙂

Enjoy!


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

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Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough”

Agendashift is founded on one simple but radical idea: authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes as the basis for change. If there’s a stronger foundation for the kind of change where engagement, collaboration, and innovation are key – any interesting kind of change, in other words – I have yet to find it.

Accepting that authentic agreement is unlikely without some kind of conversation, where do those conversations start? One tried-and-tested place is Celebration-5W, our context-capturing workshop kickoff exercise. It’s not the only available starting point, but it is certainly a reliable one. It’s a time travel exercise with a simple premise: we use the journalistic Five Ws – Who, What, Where, When, and Why – to report on a celebration that will take place some time from now. The exercise is usually done in small groups, with outputs compared in a debrief afterwards.

In version 6 I’ve made a couple of small changes to align the materials with how I already introduce and facilitate it:

  1. Under What, “your next big breakthrough”. This is a deliberate nudge away from the thinking that we must wait for the end of a project. For a while in my patter I would say things like “your next big piece of learning” but that’s too abstract for this early stage in proceedings and not nearly as engaging.
  2. Under When, I inserted “business-relevant” to make a “significant and business-relevant challenge”.  An obvious enough tweak, but I have always stressed that it’s not good enough to celebrate something specific to (say) Agile practitioners without making its business relevance very clear. Better indeed to start with something recognisably business-related and work backwards from there. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to do an Agendashift workshop without mentioning the A word at all and I make no apologies for that.

Celebration-5W-slide-2021-08-v6

As per the tip highlighted middle right on the above slide, the two affected W’s together represent a good place to start the exercise. The trick is to iterate between the What (top right in Mike Haber’s nice template) and the When (bottom right) until you have a scope that seems to work. We recommend a timeframe measured in months, long enough for there to be some real challenge remaining but not so long that it risks becoming just an aspiration or someone else’s problem.

Your next big breakthrough

What if workshop exercises aren’t your thing or if now’s not the time? Fair enough! A little mental/paper exercise for you:

  • What is the next big (multi-month, significant, and business-relevant) breakthrough that you would like to be celebrating?
  • Where do you think that breakthrough will come from?
  • Were you to ask those questions of your colleagues, how do you think they would answer?
  • How would their Five Ws compare to each other’s and to yours?

Be honest now! Answers aren’t going to be identical, but you do want them to be coherent. If they are not, you have a problem, perhaps even the seeds of real crisis (I do not exaggerate – we’ve seen it firsthand). Of course it’s not normally as bad as that, but incoherence, misalignment, or complacency are hardly trivial issues either. One way or another, it’s time to get together and start creating some shared context.

Celebration-5W is one of the first exercises in our self-paced online training Leading with Outcomes. It represents just one of multiple opportunities for you to engage with questions of transformational leadership and with a range of tools specifically designed for productive conversations in the language of outcomes. Whether you’re a manager or a practitioner, we’re confident that it will help you be a better leader. Could it be where your next personal breakthrough comes from?

Related resources


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

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The IdOO pattern as leadership model

The IdOO pattern (below) is integral to the first two chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition (March 2021) and also to our Leading with Outcomes and Coaching with Outcomes training (self-paced and interactive workshop respectively). It hardly seems possible that the pattern is only a year old, but this post from April last year really does seem to be my first mention of it.

agendashift-framework-overview-16x10-2020-12-07-idoo

So what is it? Well, it’s at least four things in one, demonstrating its considerable “stretchiness” in terms of the timescales involved:

  • It’s a leadership routine – three or four quick questions, some quick answers, taking just moments
  • It’s a coaching pattern – a higher-level structure to wrap around your favourite coaching tools to bring some strategic perspective – less emphasis on getting to the next commitment, more on the strategic landscape in which options will be developed
  • For facilitators, it’s the overall arc for a string of workshop exercises, whether that’s an hour’s worth or a day’s
  • For consultants, it’s a way to frame a client engagement – as helping them understand where they’d like to get to, what’s in the way of that, and what they might achieve along the way

When taken slowly enough it’s fractal: there may be obstacles in the way of any outcome, and there is always the opportunity to bootstrap the process and identify new ideals at different levels of detail.

This post relates most closely to the first of those uses, IdOO as leadership routine. Here is the IdOO mnemonic not as the structure of a conversation but as an easily-remembered leadership model:

  • Ideal – sustaining a sense of overall direction, connecting people to purpose, helping people find meaning in their work
  • Obstacles – building trust and empathy by recognising the obstacles that people face – their everyday frustrations, the “struggling moments” of actual and potential customers – everything that stands in the way of performance and success; real, relevant, and representative problems that better-designed organisations or products would alleviate
  • Outcomes – keeping at the forefront the goals around which work is organised and to which streams of work are aligned; remembering to celebrate their achievement and to focus the associated learning (both organisational and individual) to the maximum

It’s not a million miles away from my 3-point summary of Servant Leadership. Here in the last chapter of Right to Left I’m channeling Greenleaf, noting what I describe as his “masterful systems thinking”:

  1. The first responsibility of the Servant Leader is to help others to be successful – removing impediments, ensuring that basic needs are met
  2. For people to remain engaged, the Servant Leader must help others find autonomy and meaning in their work, together discovering, developing, and pursuing the organisation’s values, mission, and purpose in society
  3. For this process of transformation to be sustained indefinitely, Servant Leaders must help develop Servant Leadership in others

Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (2019, audiobook 2020)

I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that IdOO supersedes any of that (IdOO only scratches the surface of point 3, for example), but it could be a good starting point if you find Servant Leadership hard to grapple with.

Sources

I’ve mentioned my Agendashift (2021) and Right to Left (2019) already; let me mention some other books I’ve referenced in one or both of those:

  • Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf (Paulist Press, 25th Anniversary edition, 2002) – decades ahead of its time and still an inspiration; I re-read it every few years
  • The Serving Leader: Five powerful actions to transform your team, business, and community, Kenneth R. Jennings & John Stahl-Wert (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd edition, 2016) – a recent take on servant leadership and a tweak on the language that some will welcome; I’m grateful to Agendashift partner and Servant Leadership champion Angie Main for finding that one
  • Host: Six new roles of engagement, Mark McKergow & Helen Bailey (Solutions Books, 2014) – a change of metaphor and one that brings new insights
  • Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, L. David Marquet (Portfolio, 2013) – another great book all round; helpful advice here with regard both to obstacles (when and when not to take them away, for example) and to the learning and development aspects of the model

Not referenced but worthy additions to that list:

  • Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey (Free Press, 2006)
  • Demand-side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress, Bob Moesta (Lioncrest Publishing, 2020)

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Covey’s Speed of Trust, good stuff so far. Bob Moesta’s book fits here better than you might guess from the title; it’s a great book on Jobs to be Done, and it’s my source for the the phrase “struggling moments”.

IdOO at the the conferences

Don’t forget the Agendashift 2021 conference on May 18th – not long now! The IdOO pattern will certainly get a mention in my opening introduction (not keynote – that honour goes to Pia-Mia Thorén). And I’m thrilled that Gervase Bushe will be speaking on leadership in the closing keynote. He is the author or co-author of two of the 2nd edition’s key references, The Dynamics of Generative Change and Dialogic Organisation Development.  

Possibly a mention of IdOO in one form or another in my LAG21 talk on the 25th, trust-building being a key element of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (see the last couple of chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition). Agendashift Academy is proud to sponsor that conference too.


Upcoming

Listed now on the Agendashift Academy’s Store page are our scheduled workshops:

And always now the self-paced option:

Selected appearances by Agendashift partners, me where unspecified:


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Leading with Outcomes: a cheat sheet

To whet the appetite, a cheat sheet for:

Yes, you read that right: March 2021. Publication imminent!

Go to agendashift.com/leading-with-outcomes-cheat-sheet or click on the image below for download information, references, etc. It’s Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA); by subscribing you’ll get not just the PDF but the original .pptx file too – translations and other adaptations welcome. Enjoy!

leading-with-outcomes-cheat-sheet-2021-03-14-v1

Upcoming

Comment & reactions on this post appreciated: LinkedIn | Slack (join ours) | Twitter


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What’s new in the February Deep Dive workshop

February’s Agendashift Deep Dive isn’t just the first of the year, it’s the first since I delivered the manuscript for the 2nd edition (publication is due in March). The revision process has helped me identify a number of improvements to the workshop materials. More significantly – and as I mentioned in my previous post on strategy [1] – we have been digging some deep foundations in systems, organisation, and personal development over the past 18 months or so, work of a kind that takes its time to feed through.

There are two main elements coming now to the foreground. One is pre-existing, familiar to followers of this blog, and receiving an upgrade; the other is new. But before I introduce them, a reminder of what Agendashift is: it’s an engagement model. And what does an engagement model do? My definition [2] states that they have three jobs to do:

  1. To structure and support the work of those that would encourage innovation, change, and transformation
  2. To help the organisation engage its staff meaningfully in change-related work
  3. To keep the the organisation’s parts engaged with each other as they change

Visualised:

2021-01-18-engagment-model

The upgraded and new elements in Agendashift speak to the Organisation box in that picture:

  1. Wholehearted, our mission [3]
  2. The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, a non-prescriptive but still powerfully diagnostic model of business agility

In the 2nd edition you will see Wholehearted reconciled to two foundational models, Bushe & Marshak’s Generative Change Model [4] and Stafford Beer’s classic Viable System Model (VSM) [5]. Out of that reconciliation come a number of base assumptions [6] that Deep Dive participants will have the opportunity to validate, reject, or reflect on. (I’ll share them here once the book’s out.)

Book-wise I nearly left it there, but after sketching out an appendix with more detail on how that reconciliation worked, I felt compelled to add a whole new final chapter, Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, a title inspired by Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Deliberately Developmental Organisation [6]. My model plugs theirs, Agendashift, Sociocracy [7], and OKR [8] into VSM. Thanks to the way that VSM scales – fractally – the combination is able not only to describe team-level, organisational-level, and people-level agility in one self-similar model, it reveals some of the organisational issues that Agile delivery frameworks either ignore or exacerbate [9].

For the Deep Dive, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation helps to put several of our tools into better perspective, including:

I may also add an exercise on those scaling issues.

Details of that February Deep Dive:

And before that:

For all three workshops, all the usual discounts apply: repeat visits (not uncommon), partners, gov, edu, non-profit, country, un- or under-employment, bulk orders. If you think that one might apply to you, do please ask. Many of those considerations apply to private workshops also.

For the Deep Dive especially, if you think that you might become an Agendashift partner, partner discounts make it well worthwhile to get on board before you sign up to the workshop.

References

[1] If you are not already engaging on strategy, the time to get serious is now (January)
[2] agendashift.com/about
[3] agendashift.com/wholehearted
[4] The Dynamics of Generative Change, Gervase Bushe, Gervase R. Bushe, (BMI Publishing, 2020)
[5] The Fractal Organization: Creating Sustainable Organizations with the Viable System Model, Patrick Hoverstadt, (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)
[6] Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein, (Jossey Bass, 5th edition, 2016)
[7] An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey, (Harvard Business Review, 2016)
[8] We the people: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, John Jr. Buck & Sharon Villenes, (Sociocracy.info Press, second edition, 2019)
[9] What the (Lean-)Agile scaling frameworks don’t give you (December)


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If you are not already engaging on strategy, the time to get serious is now

2021 promises to be a big year for Agendashift and I want to share a train of thought that crystallised over the closing weeks of 2020 as I finished the 2nd edition*.

Most Agile process is built around the autonomous team. The uncomfortable truth though is that many if not most of those teams get little meaningful opportunity to participate in strategy. Surely it is a funny kind of autonomy when strategy is something that happens to you!

The flip side of the same coin: business agility depends on rapid adaptation, but it’s a funny kind of adaptive strategy when it doesn’t know how to listen and learn.

Tackle those two problems together and you get loads more benefit for free. With authentic participation in strategy you get engagement. And with that, ways of working and broader aspects of culture become natural and integrated ingredients in the way forward, neither compartmentalised off (sterile when separated from mission), nor imposed (almost certainly self-defeating).

This is of course where Agendashift comes in. Not only do we know how to facilitate those conversations, we give you the tools to keep doing it yourself. And it’s not just the workshops; how to make the process of continuous transformation self-sustaining is a key focus of ours, to the extent that much of the past 18 months has been spent digging deep foundations in systems, organisation, and personal development.

As I write, the four nations of the UK each enter new levels of lockdown, a situation sure to be echoed in different ways around the world. Yes, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel this time, but there can be no doubt that the world of work has changed forever. If you’re a leader and your strategy process does not already invite meaningful engagement, the time to get serious is now. And we can help, whether that’s directly, working with your internal coaching team, or through one of our partners. Get in touch or check out our partner directory right away.

If you’re a practitioner in (Lean-)Agile, strategy, &/or organisation development – one of those is enough if you buy into our mission of building wholehearted organisations – you can be that help. From the start, Agendashift has been accessible and affordable. And there’s no time like the present: join the partner programme now and your discount on the February Deep Dive will cover your first year’s membership.

autonomy

*The 2nd edition gets delivered to the publishers tomorrow for publication this quarter

Upcoming

The workshops continue to evolve at quite a pace and watch out for some new developments this year. In the calendar so far:

All the usual discounts apply: repeat visits (not uncommon), partners, gov, edu, non-profit, country, un- or under-employment, bulk orders. If you think that one might apply to you, do please ask. Most of those considerations apply to private workshops also.

For the Deep Dive especially, if you think that you might become an Agendashift partner, partner discounts make it well worthwhile to get on board before you sign up to the workshop.


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The Outside-in Service Delivery Review (OI-SDR)

oi-sdr-slide-2020-11-07

It’s something of a work in progress but I have given the Outside-in Service Delivery Review (OI-SDR) its own page now, agendashift.com/oi-sdr, its content Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA). It’s long overdue – the OI-SDR was introduced in the 1st edition of Agendashift (2018), described more fully (with a case study) in chapter 5 of the  Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020) and it will be revisited big time in the Agendashift 2nd edition due early 2021.

I don’t want to give too much away just yet but you can expect the second edition to be a lot stronger on questions of organisation, leadership, and (self-)governance than the first, and the OI-SDR is a key part of that (moreso than might be obvious at first glance). Meanwhile, there’s plenty in Right to Left if you haven’t already read that or listened to it, and the Deep Dive workshop – see Upcoming workshops below.

Related

Upcoming workshops

All the usual discounts apply: repeat visits (not uncommon), partners, gov, edu, non-profit, country, un- or under-employment, bulk orders. If you think that one might apply to you, do please ask. We have a quorum already but the more the merrier.


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Devs not clear about strategy? It’s likely way worse than that

A quite common issue surfaced by the Agendashift Delivery Assessment is that so-called delivery teams (and I don’t just mean developers and other technologists) aren’t clear about things like vision, purpose, and strategy. Digging into what was apparently a source of real frustration at one client a few years ago, I asked a product manager what he and his colleagues in the product team were doing to keep these things at the forefront of minds and conversations in their technology team.

His answer?

“They never asked”

I was unable to stop my jaw from dropping! At my unguarded reaction he tried hastily to row back, but not very convincingly.

Show me a development team not involved in the strategy conversation and I’ll show you one that delivers code but not insights, features but not intelligence, and products that are mediocre at best, meeting the spec but failing to satisfy. You don’t want that. No strategist worth his salt wants that. No business can afford that kind of failure for long, but work in a strategy bubble and it’s what you get.

The systems theory around this issue is well known, developed since the middle of the last century. A key lesson is that if you neglect the necessary interplay between organisational processes such as strategy and delivery (to name but two), you put your independent existence – your viability – under real threat. Happily, much of the associated practice is now highly accessible to a 21st century audience – the startup community lives by it – so there’s little excuse not to be guided by the theory.

As for Agendashift, it’s built into our mission statement, right there in the middle:

wholehearted-16x10-2020-03-15

The practical side is reflected in the bottom half of the new framework overview (see the recent announcement Agendashift as framework):

Agendashift overview 16x10 2020-04

The pattern Just-in-time (JIT) strategy deployment is the second of two key generative patterns in Agendashift, and is itself several patterns for the price of one. It describes strategy as being (and I quote):

“developed and refined collaboratively (with varying degrees of participation) over time and in response to the feedback generated through its implementation, solutions emerging from the people closest to the problem”

Agendashift has always been about strategy – whether transformation strategy specifically or strategy more broadly – but it can’t (and doesn’t) ignore delivery. If you’re struggling to connect the two adequately, read that page and take (I hope) some inspiration. And for a whole book’s worth, start with the highly accessible Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. If you’ve not read any of my books before, this one is almost certainly the one to pick first.


Upcoming online workshops

All online, and all with your truly (Mike Burrows) unless otherwise specified:

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


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Interim roundup: Language of outcomes series; Impact! workshop (and more)

Just 10 days into February and there’s enough happening to warrant an interim roundup:

  • I published the 5th and final instalment of my “Language of outcomes” series today, complete with a summary of leadership lessons taken from all 5 posts. Read The language of outcomes: 5. Between ends and means or start from the beginning with The language of outcomes: 1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  • I’m just back from Tampa, FL for the first Open Leadership Symposium of the year and the very positive public debut of the new Impact! workshop. Read: What just happened? What they said about the new Impact! workshop
  • That same workshop comes to London on Friday. Short notice I know, but use code LONDON2020 for 20% off, and ping me if you think you may qualify for a bigger discount. I’d be glad to see at least a couple more people there so you probably do, but be quick! If Friday is too soon (or too short), check out its bigger brother, the 2-day Wholehearted:OKR workshops taking place in March and April.
  • The Tel Aviv workshop (June 3rd) is now on the calendar (see below). Watch out for Switzerland and Australia (yes, you read that right) too!

impact-workshop-tampa-bits-and-pieces

Photo: Ulises S. Aguila


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

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

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


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift™: The wholehearted engagement model
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The language of outcomes: 5. Between ends and means

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

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

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

As ever:

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

5. Between ends and means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary: The language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership

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

1. Identifying the adaptive challenge:

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

2. Framing obstacles:

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

3. Generating outcomes:

Practice!

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

4. Organising outcomes

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

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

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

References

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

Acknowledgements

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

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