My kind of…

Two years ago almost to the day,  I was among a group invited by Pierre Neis to answer this question:

What kind of Agile is your Agile?

I was writing Right to Left at the time, and “my kind of Agile” was already a feature of chapter 2. Here it is (the short version at least):

People collaborating over working software that is already beginning to meet needs

That’s just a starting point. To put it into practice, we work backwards from there, keeping needs and outcomes always in the foreground as we go. Understand how that “right to left”, outcomes-first kind of Agile differs both philosophically and practically from a “left to right”, backlog-driven kind of Agile – a kind that too often involves imposing process on people for the sake of mediocre results (at best) – and you’ll understand why the book needed to be written.

If you appreciate that essential difference already, you’ll enjoy the book’s singular perspective. If you don’t, you’ll find it a highly accessible introduction to the Lean-Agile landscape, one that avoids the mistake of explaining Agile in the terms of the models it seeks to replace, a mistake that undermines it every time it is made.

I opened this post with Pierre’s question of 2 years ago because I was delighted this week to speak at his invitation on “My kind of Agile” at an online meetup he hosts. In preparation I put up a new page:

In the print and e-book editions, My kind of… is Right to Left’s Appendix B. It’s a glossary of sorts, a gathering together of some informal definitions that are especially characteristic of the book. It starts with two versions (shorter and longer) of “My kind of Agile” and continues in that same vein.

If you’re listening to the new audiobook edition – out just a few days ago – the appendices aren’t included, so here you go!

cover right to left audiobook.001

Upcoming workshops (all online of course)

With yours truly unless otherwise indicated:

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


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Phases 1 & 2 of the agendashift-open project

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

The two sets of pages concerned are these:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Upcoming workshops (all online of course)

With yours truly unless otherwise indicated:

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


agendashift-banner-2019-12-17
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Doing Agendashift online (4 of n): Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes (IdOO)

The time to take a close look at 1) your strategy and 2) your ways of working is now. You need to do those together – integrated, wholeheartedly, no half measures. The place to do it is online. We’re here to help you.

This is #4 in a series of unspecified length, covering ways you can do Agendashifty things online (we have plenty of practice). And here, we really get to the heart of things.

Followers of this blog will know that 15-minute FOTO is our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, one of the highlights of any Agendashift workshop. You might even have guessed that this would be the 15-minute FOTO installment. You’re not wrong exactly, but first let’s see it in context.

Here it is in the Discovery session of the classic Core, Applied, or Deep Dive workshop, chapter 1 of the Agendashift book:

Idoo-Discovery

Same workshops, same book, but session/chapter 2, Exploration:

Idoo-Exploration

And now the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, different book (Right to Left), and the session Outside-in review (I):

Idoo-Wholehearted-OKR-outside-in-review-I

And session Outside-in review (II):

Idoo-Wholehearted-OKR-outside-in-review-II

Even if 1) the slides didn’t give the game away already and 2) I told you that there are two different flavours of 15-minute FOTO here and that sometimes we use a different tool entirely, you’d have no trouble recognising that there’s a pattern here.

I’m calling that pattern IdOO:

idoo-2020-03-25

Doing IdOO online

See the past installment 2. Celebration-5W to understand how we facilitate online at least one of the ways we can can establish some business context ahead of any reflection.

See 3. The assessments for how participants prioritise the assessment prompts on which they will reflect. For Discovery, it’s even simpler: just share the Agendashift True North (see the Resources section below).

Then (and you’ll find these questions in the True North deck):

  • When this is working at its ideal best for you, what’s that like?
  • And when that’s happening, what new stories could you tell?

Those questions work really well 1-2-4-All style as described in the assessments installment – individual silent reflections followed by pairwise, table group, and debrief conversations (a good test of your breakout room skills if you’re using Zoom).

That’s IdOO’s Ideal reflection part done. Easy!

To identify Obstacles:

  • What stops that? What gets in the way?

(See also The language of outcomes: 2. Framing obstacles)

Again, that’s straightforward enough. And again, 1-2-4-All works really well, except that this time those obstacles will need to be captured somehow when the conversation gets to table group level. Google Docs works great, but you’ll want to get documents set up and distributed ahead of time.

To generate Outcomes, you could just ask these questions with respect to the obstacles just captured:

  • What would you like to have happen? (or your favourite equivalent)
  • Then what happens? (asked a few times perhaps)

Even online, that’s temptingly easy. That would however be a huge opportunity missed. Instead of you asking the questions, how about your participants coach each other? That’s what 15-minute FOTO does, and both editions of the game (Lite and Classic) have versions specifically tailored for online use.

In some ways the online version is more efficient, with everyone joining in to help with the scribe’s task of capturing outcomes, clients as well as coaches able to refer to the notes (these roles rotate by the way). Especially if you’re facilitating it for the first time, don’t be afraid to join in – the Lite edition in particular includes a familiarisation phase.

Next time (not Monday, it being Easter) we’ll look at different ways those generated outcomes can be organised online.

Resources

All of these are open source (CC-BY-SA):

Become a partner for both the integrated workshop materials and the ability to administer the assessments described in the previous installment.

And the two books:

Upcoming online workshops


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Doing Agendashift online (3 of n): The assessments

The time to take a close look at 1) your strategy and 2) your ways of working is now. You need to do those together – integrated, wholeheartedly, no half measures. The place to do it is online. We’re here to help you.

This is #3 in a series of unspecified length, covering ways you can do Agendashifty things online (we have plenty of practice).

Here we look at Agendashift’s assessments, which have been online since the beginning. If ever you’ve been surveyed by email and Excel, you’ll know why we do it online; if you’re still doing it like it’s 1999, shame on you!

You can easily adapt the advice given here if you want to use the assessment for coaching purposes. Considerations for online workshops:

  1. How & when to send out the survey
  2. Delivering the survey debrief
  3. Facilitating the followups

That last consideration is a big enough topic that it will spill over into the next installment. Here we’ll cover things specific to the assessment itself.

1. How & when to send out the survey

I’ve not written about the assessment tool as much as I could and should – quite apart from its specific role in the workshop of helping people to identify areas of opportunity, it does a great job of setting the tone for the workshop or coaching engagement. And it’s a door-opener!

In its wording, we’ve taken great care to avoid prescription. People don’t respond well to anything that feels like coercion, and dialling back on the jargon means that it works in a wide range of contexts (some of our best experiences have been outside of technology teams) and opens up the broadest range of possibilities.

Some partners have reported good results from capturing survey input through a facilitated group exercise. Personally, I don’t do that, for fear 1) of sucking the energy from the room and 2) of depriving ourselves of the widest range of responses. That said, conducting the survey via a series of private one-to-one conversations does work really well.

Doing it one-to-one when you’re physically in the same room, handy tip #1 is to open the survey’s sharing link in a private browser window (an ‘Incognito’ window in Chrome). You slide your laptop over to your counterpart, they sign themselves up, and you take notes as they provide “as little or as much commentary as they like” as they complete their assessment. Online, just share the link – via Zoom’s chat feature, say – and have them complete their assessment whilst sharing their screen. Easy!

Tip #2: If you’re surveying a lot of people, and only some of them are through these one-to-one conversations, ‘tag’ the sharing link for each population group so that you can slice and dice the results afterwards. We find that leadership teams (for example) tend to score the assessment more strictly (lower, in other words), making them a good baseline for comparison with other groups.

For those larger populations, here’s a typical email invitation:

At the link below is the prework for <event>. Before you begin, decide on a scope – your team or something bigger – and stick to it; trust me that any differences in scope or scale will be not be an obstacle when we review the full survey results together.

If any of the prompts strike you as particularly important for discussion, please ‘star’ them when you get to the review page at the end. We ask that you limit yourself to a maximum of 6 stars, eg 3, 2, 1 for your top 3 priorities or 1 star each across 6; the tool will warn you if you go over this limit.

Please do your best to complete by <date> to give us time to print the handouts with the survey results. Thank you!

I like to send this out a week in advance. Of course for online workshops we won’t be relying on the printed handouts referred to in the last paragraph so the timing is slightly less constrained, but still you want to allow enough time both for responses and for a polite nudge or two if you’re not seeing the expected response rate.

2. Delivering the survey debrief

This part hardly changes. The debrief is already done via a browser-based report designed for projection, so just share your screen and you’re away. It’s a single page app that responds to your keyboard, mouse, or presentation clicker. The report starts high level – the aim being to get everyone comfortable and recognising their own data – and finishes on the prompts with the widest range of scores, where you’ll have the interesting discussions.

Tip #3: Remember the “brief” in “debrief”. Better too fast than too slow; participants will have plenty of opportunity to interact with the content afterwards.

Tip #4: Remember that it’s not your job to provide a diagnosis but to facilitate a conversation. Calibrate any commentary carefully. Agreement on outcomes is the most powerful for enabler for strategic change that we know; it’s why Agendashift exists, and the assessment and the followups are designed with that in mind. Don’t undermine it!

3. Facilitating the followups

Group work starts with prioritising the assessment prompts, each table group choosing a shortlist of prompts for further discussion, prompts that help to identify areas of opportunity. 5 prompts per table group works well.

I like to facilitate this 1-2-4-All style:

  • 1: On their own, silently, participants choose their top 3
  • 2: In pairs (or threes, as necessary) , a conversation to arrive at a joint top 4
  • 4: In table groups, agreement on a combined top 5
  • All: A quick whole group debrief

Each of those steps suitably timeboxed.

Tip #5: if you’re using breakout rooms in Zoom (a great feature), remember that anything you’re sharing on-screen will disappear when participants move to their pairs, threes, or table groups. Clear instructions and the availability of all necessary resources are both essential. To that end, each page of the debrief (the one below, for example, or the pages designed for printing) has a shareable URL.

Screenshot 2020-03-25 09.06.37

What happens next isn’t specific to the assessment and I’ll save for next week’s installment what turns out to be a key pattern and well worth covering on its own. So watch this space!

Two things to leave you with meanwhile:

1. Ways to access the assessment:

  1. The Agendashift global survey, with a mini (18-prompt) version of the assessment
  2. The free trial – also the mini version, surveys limited to up to 10 people
  3. Through the partner programme, access to the full range of templates (including the main 42-prompt assessment), size restrictions removed:
    1. Engage one of our partners to administer a survey on your behalf; most would also be delighted to do the surrounding facilitation
    2. Become a partner yourself  – access not just the assessment tool but all our materials too

2. Upcoming opportunities to experience Agendashift online:

 


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Doing Agendashift online (2 of n): Celebration-5W

The time to take a close look at 1) your strategy and 2) your ways of working is now. You need to do those together – integrated, wholeheartedly, no half measures. The place to do it is online. We’re here to help you.

This is #2 in a series of unspecified length, covering ways you can do Agendashifty things online. Here we look at Celebration-5W, the exercise I’ve used at or near the beginning of nearly every workshop I have conducted in recent years, and (accordingly) the exercise that opens chapter 1 of the Agendashift book. It’s open source (CC-BY-SA license), one of several such resources you can access here.

From the Celebration-5W page:

Celebration-5W is the first of Agendashift’s Discovery exercises. We have now made it available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license; not only can you view the deck here (embedded from Slideshare), you can request the original source .pptx files for incorporation with your own material or adaptation to your needs.

Celebration-5W is a time travel exercise, typically focussed on a celebration several months into the future. It is typically used at the start of a workshop, retrospective, or chartering exercise to create some shared business context. Everything else we go on to discuss should in some way help us to achieve the things we identify here.

You can see it in action 6 minutes into the video on the 15-minute FOTO page.

Celebration-5W is easy to facilitate online. Just as with doing it in person, there are two main considerations. The technology may have some influence on your choices:

  1. Is this a whole room exercise, or do we work in small groups (table groups in person, breakout rooms online)?
  2. Fancy template, or “Put your paper in portrait mode, the five headings down the page”?

Doing this in person with 6 or more people, I have a strong preference for working in table groups, debriefing each group one at a time afterwards if there aren’t too many of those, a small number of groups volunteering otherwise. This way, you learn a lot from the alignment (or otherwise) of outputs. That said, some facilitators report good experiences doing this as a whole room exercise, so take your pick. Online, your level of comfort with managing breakout rooms will no doubt be a factor (and I’ll mention some gotchas next time), perhaps favouring the whole room experience.

Working in person, I have used Mike Haber’s template ever since he contributed it. Doing it in person isn’t an option right now, but for when that opportunity returns it’s easy enough to draw by hand, and the Celebration-5W Dropbox includes pptx and pdf files you can print (I print them on A3 paper).

Online, a couple choices:

  • Replicate Mike’s template in your favourite online whiteboarding tool (eg Miro)
  • In Google Docs (or equivalent), the 5W headings – Who, What, Where, When, and Why – down the page (or pages or docs plural, for multiple groups)

I like Miro, but given that this is usually the kickoff exercise, I stick with the option familiar to the most people, Google Docs. In fact, in the Agendashift Online workshop (see below), Zoom and Google Docs is all the technology needed for the entirety of the first two-hour session.

All pretty straightforward, so give it a try! Including how access the Dropbox, there’s more on Celebration-5W here.

I leave you with some upcoming opportunities to experience it online:

Next: Doing Agendashift online (3 of n): The assessments

Celebration-5W-template-2019-03-v1


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Aka the ‘And when X…’ game

This post relates to 15-minute FOTO, our Creative Commons-licensed and Clean Language-inspired coaching game that’s not just for coaches – everyone gets a turn! Consistently, it’s a highlight of our workshops: it’s fun, insightful, and surprisingly practical. Above all, it’s the tool by which we generate outcomes – outcomes being the currency in which we deal.

For several weeks the 15-minute FOTO dropbox (which you can subscribe to for free) has included a beta version of the cue card (below) which adds the text “aka the And When X… game“. The facilitator’s deck has a slide with that as its title too. It’s a low effort / high impact tweak, a helpful reminder to the facilitator to introduce very briefly a little of the theory and practice of Clean Language. After exhausting my old stock of cards (I get them printed by the hundred) I had the opportunity to test the new one last week and the beta tag is removed at last!

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2020-01-v15

The Clean Language questions have been carefully curated and refined over the years to minimise the coach’s natural tendency to pollute a conversation with their unasked-for assumptions and solutions. Keeping the conversation ‘clean’ maximises the chances that the client will achieve an insight of their own.

An important part of the discipline is to stay with the client’s language. One question you won’t hear in a clean conversation is this (the X and Y here are placeholders for the client’s and coach’s words respectively):

What you said X, did you mean Y?

Put words into the client’s mouth like this and there’s a high risk that whatever the client was currently holding or constructing in their head (their model, a precious and perhaps fragile thing) will be destroyed. Potentially, a huge opportunity wasted! So, if as the coach you find yourself a bit lost (ie you’re unsure what X is or how to deal with it), turn instead to the “pre-question”:

And when X…

Three things have been achieved already:

  1. You’re stopped yourself from paraphrasing (or at least delayed it)
  2. You’ve bought yourself some time while you choose what question to ask next
  3. You’ve focussed attention on something interesting

And you have plenty of choice here. If it’s important that you (in the coach role) understand what X is, then ask a clarifying question, probably one of the middle three on the card. If it’s not – and let’s not forget here that the conversation isn’t about you – you could decide to move the conversation along instead and see what happens.

There’s another use for this technique, and that’s to go back to an earlier part of the conversation. Perhaps the conversation is uncovering a virtuous circle of outcomes (not uncommon, but congratulations!) and after a certain amount of repetition you’re ready now to jump off that roundabout. It’s easy:

And when X…

Is there anything else about X?

This is for some past X, allowing the conversation to take a different branch. You’re right, the “And when X…” isn’t strictly necessary. Yes, it’s a bit redundant. But it helps! Somehow, that big leap back seems more manageable.

Related


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

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

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


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The language of outcomes: 4. Organising outcomes

This is part 4 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 (this post)
  5. Between ends and means

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

4. Organising outcomes

The generative conversations described in the previous instalment produce lots of great output, and when you have lots of great output, you need ways to organise it! From the simple 3-column Plan on a Page to the string of Mapping exercises, the different visual languages all help participants to see the wood from the trees and decide what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s about agreement on outcomes (Agendashift principle #2 – if there’s a more legitimate basis for change than that, I’ve yet to see it). The shared experience of making the agenda for change visible (Agendashift principle #3) is a big part of that, and how that agenda is organised matters quite a bit. Done well, it supports our next leadership lesson:

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

…if, that is, you want collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, as per the introduction to every post in this series. And by way of a recap, if 1) those outcomes and their related obstacles are clearly related to meaningful needs, and 2) people are involved in their identification, articulation, organisation, so on, you get participation and engagement in the bargain! That’s our wholehearted mission [1], which describes both an end goal to aim for and something that you can experience right away.

When leaders support that “line of sight” maintenance process appropriately, it builds trust in people’s ability to make high leverage choices, preferring options that will deliver the most impact. And it scales very well! To put it another way, can you expect people or teams to give of their best in the absence either of shared objectives or that clear line of sight? Probably not, and it would be unreasonable in those circumstances to ask for it.

In our workshops, there are two sets of tools we use for organising outcomes:

  1. Template-based (or if you prefer, canvas-based)
  2. Sticky note based visual mapping exercises

They’re facilitated a little differently and I’ll describe them in turn.

Template-based

Here are the Plan on a Page (PoaP) template and the Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template:

You can see that the second one is based in the first, adding some new columns to the left and introducing a new vertical axis. Both templates are Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) and available via our resources page [2]. Chapter 5 of Right to Left [3] mentions them both in the context of the Outside-in Strategy Review workshop, which is the platform on which our new Impact! [4] and Wholehearted:OKR [5] workshops are built. Plan on a Page is introduced in the opening chapter of Agendashift [6].

I usually facilitate these with people working in table groups of about 4 people each, with a whole-room debrief afterwards. For a long time I brought blank A3 paper for groups to work with; now I bring printed templates (A3 printers are ridiculously cheap now and I have my own).

To fill in these templates, it helps to identify the obviously short term and obviously long term outcomes first, with fewer of the latter than the former. With enough of those chosen, the interesting “signs that you’re winning” outcomes will be the bulk of the remainder. And working backwards (right to left) from the longer term outcomes works really well; from the way the outcomes were constructed, a natural structure emerges quickly. That “line of sight” is established!

Visual mapping exercises

A highlight of day 2 of the Advanced Agendashift workshop [7] is the ‘string’ of mapping exercises represented by the icons below. Moving to sticky notes, we can deal with much greater numbers of outcomes than would be practical with the paper-based tools.

Screenshot 2020-02-02 14.08.35

Option Approach Mapping is a pseudonym for the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise . It’s described in the Agendashift book (from start to finish, post-exercise debrief included) and also here:

We use the pseudonym because the exercise goes much better if the underlying model isn’t revealed until the end. No spoilers!

Option Relationship Mapping is quite new – originated by Karl Scotland and Liz Keogh only a year or so ago – and it took a while for us to settle on a name. We tried “Reverse Wardley Mapping” (for which I can only apologise), “Option Approach Mapping”, and “Option Orientation Mapping”, but none of these names quite stuck. You’ll see these now discarded names in the following blog posts:

Vindicating the new choice of name, of the three exercises it’s Option Relationship Mapping that does the most to “Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives”. As exploited in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, it visualises a key step of OKR / 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX), that of choosing key options that will have the most leverage.

However, if there’s time to do two or all three of the ‘string’ of exercises, I will! Option Approach Mapping (aka Cynefin Four Points) as well as creating some great talking points also sets up Option Relationship Mapping beautifully – this is described in the “Stringing it together” post I referenced above. Either/both of those exercises also ease the construction of the Transformation Map, a Story Map (kinda), with outcomes instead of user stories and a transformation “pathway” instead of a user journey for the map’s ‘spine’. The fun part is prioritising outcomes in their respective columns; the preceding exercises help to pre-sort the outcomes so that outcomes of similar levels of abstraction come together, making this part considerably easier.

Unlike the template-based exercises, I tend to facilitate these as whole-room exercises, combining each table group’s outcomes in the process. In Option Relationship Mapping this helps to build agreement on high level themes and objectives. Pathway Mapping does this too though a little less impactfully; also it identifies clearly where the work will start (prioritisation and then elaboration* being just-in-time activities).

*Elaboration (just in time): We often develop our chosen options for action in the form of a hypothesis that (among other things) describes its hoped-for impact as a list of outcomes. The techniques are well understood and I didn’t schedule a separate instalment in the series for this, but you can see that it’s outcomes all the way down!

Next: 4. Between ends and means (coming soon)

Notes & references

[1] Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift Resources (agendashift.com/resources)
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Impact! Strategic outcome orientation for products and services (agendashift.com/workshops)
[5] Wholehearted:OKR – Bringing OKR to life with Agendashift (agendashift.com/workshops)
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[7] Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation (agendashift.com/workshops)

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
Links: Home | About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
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The language of outcomes: 3. Generating outcomes

This is part 3 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 (this post)
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means

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

3. Generating outcomes

One of the things Agendashift is remembered for is the use of Clean Language via our open source coaching game, 15-minute FOTO [1], which is among the exercises covered in chapters 1 & 2 of Agendashift [2]. Indeed, it would be easy to think that the language of outcomes and Clean Language were one and the same thing. If you’ve been following this series, you will understand already that they are not! However, and even if practised only sparingly, Clean Language as a leadership discipline does offer a number of important takeaways. Again in the context of wanting to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, it’s not hard to see that you might want to:

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

If you’ve heard that vulnerability might be key to good leadership but don’t know where to start, why not start with those?

15-minute FOTO is a great introduction to those two practices. It uses a menu of 8 Clean Language questions, which for an in-room workshop are provided on printed cue cards, one per participant:

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2019-09-v14

Typically, the game starts with a list of obstacles (see the previous instalment). Digging into obstacles isn’t very productive (in the game certainly, and surprisingly often in real life too), so we go quickly (if not immediately) from ‘obstacles space’ to ‘outcomes space’ with “What would you like you have happen?”.

The questions in the main part of the cue card were specifically chosen for their usefulness when exploring outcomes space. From right to left, the questions in the middle can be taken in three groups:

  1. Then what happens? – a question that takes us deeper into outcomes space
  2. A choice of three clarifying questions – including my favourite [3]
  3. Two questions that draw us back

Not only can you experience a surprisingly rich and (in a good way) challenging conversations with just those questions, most of the work is done by only three, the three shown in bold on the card. What’s hard therefore isn’t mastering them, but resisting the temptation to depart from them! Mostly – and tellingly – it means resisting the temptation to give advice uninvited, to prescribe, and to ask questions that say more about the questioner than they do about the topic, the client, or what’s in their mind.

That leaves one last question – What obstacle might be in the way of X? – which you might remember from the previous instalment. It creates the opportunity for a shallow dive into obstacles space – not a productive place, so we won’t linger there for long!

The X’s in the questions are placeholders for the respondent’s own words, repeated as verbatim as possible. This isn’t about mind tricks, a sneaky way to build empathy! Rather:

  • The person in the coach role – the asker of questions – disciplines themselves not to impose their own assumptions on the conversation, helping them maintain an attitude of curiosity. They can expect to learn something!
  • The person in the client role – responding to those questions – isn’t jolted out of their thoughts by words that don’t fit the mental model that the process is exploring/building. We’re putting the client first, and the conversation can go so much deeper this way!

This is not about one ‘killer question’ (a shallow and rather silly idea if you ask me). Neither is it a hunt for the ‘right’ answer! Rather, it’s a powerful demonstration of a generative process, a simple set of rules that takes some input (as described in the first two instalments the initial challenge and the obstacles in the way of that) and patiently grows a list of outputs (outcomes here) through the repeated application of a defined procedure.

In 15-minute FOTO, the roles, of coach, client, scribe, and observer are rotated so that every participant gets a turn in each role. As coaches, they guide the process by choosing which questions to ask, but the content is always the client’s – they’re the experts after all! It’s an amazingly productive process, producing lots of output, all of it coherent by construction, and anchored on something real, those obstacles.

Even though it takes only a few minutes, there’ll be enough work produced that it will need organising somehow. That’s the topic of the next instalment. Meanwhile, 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

Next: 4. Organising outcomes

Notes & references

[1] 15-minute FOTO (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[3] My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)

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
Links: Home | About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
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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
Links: Home |
About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

It’s mashup time: Adaptive challenges accomplished at their ideal best

A quick one, based on work already informally announced and more that’s in progress:

Already shared on Slack, LinkedIn and elsewhere, but for the record:

Released a v3 of our outside-in strategy template – just a 1 word change, replacing “Objectives” (confusing in an OKR context) with “Ideal”, channeling Ackoff if you like

oi-sr-template-2019-11-30
OI-SR template (agendashift.com)

And while I’m channeling Ackoff, a mashup:

adaptive challenge ideal best

Watch this space for news of Wholehearted:OKR, the new 2-day workshop from which this slide comes.

The Celebration-5W here is the Who, What, Where, When & Why of the (future) celebration, the context-setting exercise with which I kick off nearly all of my workshops. CC-BY-SA. This additional slide creates the early opportunity for some references:

[1] adaptive challenge: Heifetz, via Bushe & Marshak (Dialogic Organization Development, The Dynamics of Generative Change, etc) – organisation development here embracing complexity.

[2] ideal: I’m sneaking in an early opportunity to mention Ackoff’s concept of idealized design, setting the tone before the newly-modified Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) tool is introduced. See Re-Creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century (1999), a classic and highly recommended.

[3] When you’re ___ at your best, ___?: Dee Berridge & Caitlin Walker, via Caitlin’s book book, From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling (2014), which I reference and warmly recommend in both Agendashift and Right to Left. Clean Language is introduced in the session following, via the 15-minute FOTO exercise (also CC-BY-SA).


Agendashift: From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, an engagement model fit for the 21st century
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