The language of outcomes: 1. Identifying the adaptive challenge

Yes, I’m making good on a promise made in last week’s post, Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model, expanding on the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. For context, here’s the crucial bit of text in question:

The language of outcomes inviting leadership at every level: New conversations and new kinds of conversations – renewing the organisation’s discourse and thereby the organisation itself

As both the destination and the fuel for our journeys of change and transformation,  outcomes are absolutely fundamental to Agendashift. If there’s a basis for change more legitimate and motivating than authentic agreement on outcomes, we’d like to see it!

We have used that initial phrase – “the language of outcomes” – for much of the time that Agendashift has existed. However, our understanding of what it actually means continues to evolve. A couple of recent developments have brought it into sharper focus:

  1. With community participation and the willing support of workshop participants, we’ve conducted some deliberate experiments with wording and framing in our existing workshop material, noting not just the immediate impact, but the impact on later exercises downstream – how people respond to the exercises and the quality of the work they produce
  2. The design of two new workshops – Impact! (Tampa and London very soon) and Wholehearted:OKR (Oslo and London) – interesting as much for the material they exclude as for what they contain, challenging and perhaps redefining what should be regarded as core

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

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

Early drafts of this post with content for all 5 headings got rather long, so I’ll be releasing it as a series over the next few weeks. 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! I’ll link to the later posts as they’re released.

As ever, scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe.

1. Identifying the adaptive challenge

You won’t find the term adaptive challenge in the Agendashift book [1] but a 2nd edition would certainly change that! Informally, the Organisation Development (OD) literature – see for example Bushe [2] – describes adaptive challenges as those for which it’s hard even to define what the problem is, require involvement from a wide range of stakeholders, tend to throw up new problems of their own, and so on. Most of us will have seen them: the kind of challenge which requires at least the level of sponsor commitment and financial backing of a high profile project, but for which linear project approaches soon reveal themselves to be spectacularly ill-suited.

Stakeholder agreement on the detail of the challenge may be hard to impossible to obtain, but broad-brush identification of shared objectives needn’t be. You can just ask; the trick is to ask in such a way that the shared destination is articulated without fixating prematurely on solutions (remember: a rollout project isn’t going to work here).

Agendashift’s time travelling kickoff / context-setting exercise Celebration-5W [3] does this laterally, asking for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of a future celebration (of meeting the challenge spectacularly well), deliberately avoiding the How.

Another approach is to provide, harvest, or construct something that’s desirable enough to be worth pursuing even if it might never be fully attained – see for example Agendashift’s Lean-Agile-inspired True North statement [4]. Interestingly, the new workshops don’t use the provided True North. In its place, more time travel, with a series of outside-in strategy review questions [5] as described in chapter 5 of Right to Left [6]. Each question is designed to help identify an ideal (or “ideal best”) [7]; they begin with this one, the first of five:

  1. What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs?

That question is open to some serious unpacking (I sometimes joke that this question is a workshop in its own right), but again, you can just ask, taking care to ask in a perspective-shifting way that invites meaningful customer-relevant, and business-relevant outcomes as the answer. As it happens, that turns out to be good facilitation advice for Celebration-5W too. If what you’re celebrating won’t be meaningful to customers and other business stakeholders, think again. For a roomful of Agile coaches (a not untypical group in my case), do not, and I repeat, DO NOT celebrate your Agile transformation! Celebrate the first customer successfully served, the millionth registration, the billionth pound in turnover – real examples all – something externally visible and truly challenging in its own right that your transformation will enable or accelerate.

Shortly we’ll have a more definitive test for what makes a good answer, but first let’s distill some advice about asking questions:

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 [8, 9]. If the How can be deferred, don’t ask for it!

This isn’t just workshop facilitation advice, but advice to coaches and leaders. And that is of course what this language of outcomes thing is all about. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation (three hallmarks of the modern organisation that I bundle together like this frequently), how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

Next: 2. Framing obstacles

References

[1] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[2] The Dynamics of Generative Change, Gervase Bushe (Independently published, 2019)
[3] Celebration-5W (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[4] True North (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[5] Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[6] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[7] It’s mashup time: Adaptive challenges accomplished at their ideal best (December 2019)
[8] Better user stories start with authentic situations of need (October 2016)
[9] My handy, referenceable Definition of Done (May 2018) and agendashift.com/done, the latter CC-BY-SA

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.

Workshops upcoming in 2020 – Tampa, 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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Needs-based, outcome-oriented, continuous, open

(Updated May 30th with new home page copy)

It’s the week of the Open Leadership Symposium (I landed in Boston yesterday). To celebrate, a quick refresh of the Agendshift home and about pages, both starting with an updated banner:

agendashift-banner-2019-05-07

The ‘open’ is new. A short explanation (the about page has more):

Screenshot 2019-05-30 16.24.53

That’s all! See you tomorrow/Wednesday at the symposium? I’ll expand further on themes of Open, Engagement Models, and Organisation Development – see last week’s post for a taste of that last one. Or Thursday/Friday at the masterclass – still time to book a place?


Upcoming workshops – Boston and Berlin

Watch this space for Greece, Turkey, London, the Benelux region and Scandinavia in the autumn.


Blog: 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 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…

Continuous Delivery demands Continuous Discovery

This is the second of an informal series of posts suggested in the July roundup,  expanding on tweets that have sprung to mind while writing (or thinking about writing) my third book, working title Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile. In case you missed first one: You can’t deliver a task.

Tweet #2:

Do you recognise this pattern?

  • We get somewhat good at building stuff
  • Later,  we get somewhat good at testing it
  • Later still, we get good at deployment, so good in fact that we can do it at will
  • As work starts to flow, deficiencies in development and testing become more apparent, and they get dealt with
  • All of a sudden, the real bottleneck turns out to be outside of development – a lack of high quality ideas in the pipeline and/or frustrating delays in getting decisions made
  • Now what???

There is something almost inevitable in this sequence – in fact anyone familiar with the Theory of Constraints (TOC) will expect it! If you’re unfamiliar with TOC, it’s the model behind Eli Goldratt’s classic business novel The Goal, and much more recently the DevOps novel The Phoenix Project; TOC teaches that once you’ve addressed enough of your internal constraints, your key constraint will be found outside.

Although there’s a lot to be celebrated in that progression, no team wants to get to the “Now what???” stage. Your choices:

  1. Hope that it never happens (or not care, because teams are there to be disbanded)
  2. Plan to deal with it when it does happen
  3. Make Discovery (or “upstream” or whatever else you call it) a first class activity in your process

Option 3 implies some proactivity, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be difficult. Instead of dismantling that capability as your latest initiative gets off the ground, keep it going, even if at a reduced level. Instead of accepting requirements at face value, make sure that someone is taking the time to understand their authentic situations of need. Instead of fire-and-forget delivery, validate that needs are being met, expecting to feed some new learning back into the process. Simple changes, but as documented in my first book, the effect can be profound, even humbling!

You can of course go further. One of the most important moves made by the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) was to insist that every new service had a credible plan to sustain user research and ongoing service evolution – not just at the beginning but indefinitely into the future. “Start with needs” wasn’t just a slogan, it was a strategy, and a successful one! If government could do this in times of austerity, what excuse does your organisation have?


Public workshops (US, UK, IT, DE)

Make yourself known the #agendashift-studio channel in Slack if interested in attending another cozy 1-day or 2-day workshop for 3-4 participants in my studio office in Chesterfield, Derbyshire (minutes away from the Peak District National Park).


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 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…

Anticipating needs ahead of time

[Originally posted on positiveincline.com September 24 2013, restored to blog.agendashift.com February 13, 2018. Except for the first one, links are to web.archive.org.]

Last week’s post Stand up meeting, thinking tool, leadership routine included this line:

In what ways do the activities of this stage help us anticipate what will be needed?

“Anticipate” and “will”: two very future-focused words.

That emphasis on the future is captured very nicely in the closing words of the Toyota Customer Promise that I found displayed on a plaque behind the customer service desk at my local Toyota dealership:

…anticipating the mobility needs of people and society ahead of time

Think of a service on which you personally rely. Wouldn’t you be delighted if they anticipated your needs ahead of time? What process innovations would be needed in order for that to happen? How could that thinking be translated into your workplace, and how would it then be sustained?

These are important questions. They’re questions of customer focus, of flow, and of leadership, the three direction values. They’re important because an organisation that works on its capability to anticipate and meet future needs is a fitter organisation, and it’s the fittest that thrive.

There’s more where this came from! My book is going to be a while, but in the next few weeks you can hear me speak on Kanban’s values at:

Unfortunately I must report the postponement of the UKSMA annual conference at which I was to give the keynote. I’ll mention it here when it has been rearranged.