From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation

It seems that my 2014 post Reinvigorating an existing Kanban implementation with STATIK is now gone. It is very likely the first mention of Reverse STATIK, and fortunately web.archive.org has saved it here, but 5 years on let me take the opportunity to revisit it.

We start with STATIK, the catchy acronym I coined for David J. Anderson’s Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban, which is quite a mouthful. STATIK looks like this (or at least it did in 2014):

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction
  2. Analyze demand and capability
  3. Model the knowledge discovery process
  4. Discover classes of service
  5. Design kanban systems
  6. Roll out

You may recognise those steps as the chapters of Part III of my first book Kanban from the Inside (hereafter referred to as KFTI); otherwise it was day 2 of the standard 2-day Kanban training. I don’t do much Kanban training these days (I don’t advertise it and for reasons of strategy rather than any falling out I’m no longer affiliated with the certification body), but when I do, I don’t use STATIK.

My main issues with STATIK aren’t the individual steps (there’s value in them all), but these:

  1. Even avoiding the middlebrow dismissal of “It’s too linear” (often thrown around rather unfairly), it’s much more likely to be understood and used as a discrete intervention (albeit a participatory one if it’s done the right way), not as a model for a continuous process.
  2. Even if I grant that you could in theory bail out of the process at any stage, it does rather assume that Kanban is the answer, so if we are to avoid the accusation of being solution-driven, something else has to come before it.

Aside (further to that second point, a bit of detail that doesn’t invalidate it): KFTI describes a step 0, ‘Understand the purpose of the system’, a phrase I borrowed (with full credit) from Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). That has morphed into ‘Understand fitness for purpose’ (for the service you are applying STATIK to). This is OK as far as it goes, but the faster it turns (as seems to be its intent) into a conversation about metrics, the less time anyone spends actually exploring purpose. If I’m honest, this part leaves me a little cold, though in the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that Kanban still does far more than any other framework I know to encourage its introduction in ways consistent with its principles. If only the others were as careful; if they were, perhaps Agendashift would never have been so necessary!

My original idea with Reverse STATIK was to retrace one’s steps, working backwards through the STATIK process looking for improvement opportunities. Today, I see it as more than that, and find it useful in two ways, both of which may seem surprising:

  1. Reverse STATIK turns out to be a great way to introduce/teach Kanban too. You can start with the simplest to-do/doing/done kanban board design (not yet a WIP-limited kanban system) and at each step introduce multiple options for improving not just its detailed design, but much of the surrounding organisation design that makes it work. No longer a one-shot intervention, but a rich model for improvement
  2. You can strip out all the kanban-specific techniques, replace them with their corresponding outcomes (outcomes that might be achieved in myriad other ways), and revise for breadth of coverage. A few iterations later (much of it done in collaboration with Dragan Jojic) we arrived at the genuinely framework-agnostic assessment that in the early days was Agendashift’s most important tool (it’s still important today but there are newer parts that are more exciting).

Aside: I glossed over one important detail there: In most people’s first experience of the assessment tool, its ‘prompts’ are organised under headings of Transparency, Balance, Leadership, Customer Focus, Flow, and Leadership. These 6 values are the titles of KFTI’s first 6 chapters; moreover Leadership incorporates Understanding, Agreement, and Respect, the so-called ‘leadership disciplines’ of chapters 7, 8, and 9.  I make no apologies for retaining these; most people would recognise these values as having relevance in any Lean-Agile context.

Fast forward to 2019, Reverse STATIK (mostly under the framework-neutral name of ‘Pathway’) looks like this:

  1. Refine existing systems
  2. Improve the service experience
  3. Manage the knowledge discovery process
  4. Balance demand and capability
  5. Address sources of dissatisfaction and other motivations for change
  6. Pursue fitness for purpose

These headings appear in my aforementioned teaching materials, as an option in the assessment tool, and the spine of the ‘Pathway map’, a visualisation inspired by User Story Mapping (see chapter 3 of the Agendashift book, which also introduces the Reverse STATIK model).

Instead of (and I say this tongue-in-cheek) doing a bunch of analysis exercises before (tada!) a kanban system is designed, an improvement process that identifies opportunities at a wide range of challenge and sophistication, with kanban or without. The spine starts small, grows in sophistication, and ends on high with purpose, leadership behaviours, and other similarly challenging, bigger-picture issues of organisation design; what detail gets prioritised under whatever heading at any given time is a matter for participatory decision making.

Relentless commitments to 1) participation and 2) agreement on outcomes as the basis for change are what took me from Reverse STATIK to Agendashift. The former wasn’t quite the 21st century engagement model I was striving for but a decent first attempt, and it lives on, even if quite well hidden.

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A question among the good luck emails

There’s a contact button on the landing page for Right to Left, and through it I got this question which I have permission to reproduce:

Keep up the good work, and btw how do you use the Kanban Method these days, after your current progression?

My reply (verbatim):

In Right to Left you’ll see Kanban as just one of a set of complementary patterns in the Lean-Agile space (none of them more important than the others), and a more general approach to organisation development and the leadership that goes with that.

In my own work, Kanban is still in the mix but I’m very definitely needs & outcomes first, not solutions/framework first. STATIK tries to do a bit of that* but it does rather presuppose the answer! I prefer Reverse STATIK anyway, and my very occasional Kanban training uses that. The principles and practices are abstracted in the values, and they live on through the Agendashift delivery assessment (a conversation-starter, not a checklist of practices).

*To be fair, it does this quite valiantly and self-consistently compared with peer frameworks, but my comment stands.

And a PS, sent moments later:

One thing to add: this is not to diminish anyone’s work on Kanban (my own included) or any other framework. Testing boundaries is learning. But it’s also healthy to draw back a bit and broaden one’s horizons from time to time. And integration is also learning.

Some links to help with decoding the above (I knew my correspondent to be familiar with most of them):


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If you’ve read Kanban from the Inside…

…what should you expect from my second book?

TLDR: Agendashift wouldn’t have happened without Kanban from the Inside. It is however very much its own book. I think you will enjoy it 🙂

Not only is Agendashift not a book about Kanban – in fact it is very consciously method-neutral –  it makes few assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of Kanban either. In terms of detailed content then, the overlap is minimal and both books stand alone. The resonances between the two are however very strong:

  • The titles of the first six chapters of KFTI make an appearance in Agendashift chapter 2 (Exploration) as the headings of the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment. These are the values of Transparency, Balance, Collaboration, Customer focus, Flow, and Leadership. If you’re wondering what happened to Understanding, Agreement, and Respect (KFTI chapters 7, 8, and 9), they belong with Leadership (which shouldn’t be a big surprise).
  • Reverse STATIK (which was developed while KFTI was nearing completion) reappears in chapter 3 (Mapping), not as an improvement process, but to provide a sense of narrative flow to the transformation map, something the values can’t easily provide.
  • The same sense of respect for a broad range of models described in KFTI part II, in particular Agile, Lean, Lean-Agile, Lean Startup, Cynefin, Systems Thinking, and Scrum. If anything, the appreciation is deepened thanks to experience and integration.

Moreover, you can see the final chapter of KFTI (chapter 23, Rollout) as the springboard for Agendashift, a more thoroughly exercised how-to – not for Kanban, but for continuous transformation, a term not found in the older book. Expect these themes from chapter 23 to be developed more fully:

  • Making the agenda for change visible
  • Pulling change through the system
  • Making a connection between purpose and transformation
  • Identifying increments of change
  • Managing change visually
  • Recognising different kinds of change (and choosing appropriate tools)

The section Identifying increments of change contained the seeds for the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment, which in turn gave rise to the transformation mapping workshop and our now well-rehearsed routines for identifying priorities, obstacles, outcomes, options, actions, and so on. These are covered in chapters 2-4 of the new book.

In short, Agendashift wouldn’t have happened without Kanban from the Inside. It is however very much its own book. I think you will enjoy it 🙂

Read them both:

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Introducing the Pathway edition

In the weeks leading to Agendashift’s launch earlier this month, a number of things came together at just the right time. Two of those in combination – Clean Language and Cynefin – I blogged about recently. Another key element, the pathway, I have hinted at but not described adequately. It’s time to put that right.

Some background

The online part of Agendashift is built around the values-based delivery assessment, our distinctively non-prescriptive, non-judgemental, methodology-neutral tool. The 2014 version of this was extracted from my book (and not just by me – others had the same idea), and it has been revised beyond all recognition since then, first in close collaboration with Dragan Jojic and more recently by community work, mainly via our Slack group.

The assessment’s tone has changed noticeably over that two-year period. It is of course still organised by those six values – transparency, balance, collaboration, customer focus, flow, and leadership – but the 40+ prompts are much less about specific practices and much more about the outcomes derivable from them. That might seem like an odd change to make, but we find that people buy into those outcomes even when the by-the-book practices that lead to them can seem unattractive.

For example, who wouldn’t want to be able to say this about their organisation:

We understand our performance sufficiently to make timely decisions, to set appropriate expectations, and to guide focussed improvement

Buy into that outcome, and implicitly you’re buying into the changes that will bring it about. Compare that to the older version of this prompt:

We measure lead times and predictability and seek to improve them

With the benefit of hindsight I can sympathise with those that instead of buy-in reacted with push-back! The original wording was well-meant but ill-thought, almost guaranteed to provoke resistance in anyone who has experienced the mis-application of metrics or who wonders why we seem to promote one set of metrics at the apparent exclusion of others.

Outcome, agreement, action, planning

Much of coaching or facilitating with Agendashift can briefly be summarised as follows:

  1. Using the prompts to establish a shared understanding of the current situation, expressed in terms of how well the prompts describe reality (‘scoring’ the prompts)
  2. Using the prompts some sense of what’s important to people – first individually (‘starring’ selected prompts) and then collectively
  3. Prioritising those generic outcomes, then turning them into agreement on more specific outcomes that are more immediately realisable
  4. Generating, framing, developing, and organising actions that we hope will make the most important outcomes a closer reality

This is already powerful, but it’s not quite enough. We need pathways, shorthand for a process that turns something that could feel very multidimensional and amorphous into something sequential that can be tackled step-by-step over a period of time. It turns “a lot of good stuff” into a plan (where that’s warranted) or an agreed way forward (if that’s all that’s needed).

Agendashift’s latest trick is the ability to reorganise the values-based assessment on demand. Here’s a summary chart that illustrates the idea, using the ‘Pathway edition’ template:

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-11-47-45

Do the category names have a familiar ring? They’re inspired by Reverse STATIK, the ‘Reverse’ a clue that this is not the classic STATIK process that builds up to a Kanban system implementation, but a process of review and reworking that starts with our existing management systems, whatever they are.

In our example, the first category, Refine existing systems, already scores relatively well (or rather, its prompts do), but look at the number of stars! This category contains some of the most basic things to get right, and it would seem that there is strong support for making further improvement here before moving on to more challenging things.

Improve the service experience isn’t as well supported, but there’s a wide range of scores here. Before dismissing this category prematurely it would be wise to explore any differences of opinion. What’s going on here? Differences of understanding of the current situation, of what’s possible, or of the scope of the exercise? Well worth checking.

The next three categories, Manage the knowledge discovery processBalance demand and capacity, and (deep breath) Address sources of dissatisfaction and other motivations for change have moderate levels of support. Sequence-wise, they’re in at least roughly the right order.

The last category, Explore fitness for purpose, has the strongest support, but are we ready to tackle it yet? Would it make sense to tackle the basics before we address things that we know will be more challenging – organisation design, leadership behaviours and the like? There’s no one right answer to that question, but it’s worth asking!

It should be clear now that pathways here aren’t cookie-cutter plans, but starting points to be developed collaboratively. They can be used in conjunction with other tools (story maps and impact maps, for example). They can be cross-checked with other models (the Agendashift transformation strategy model or your favourite Agile implementation roadmap, for example), to find any gaps and help create a more robust plan. Alternatively they can form the basis of a simple working agreement, for example to revisit each category over the course of the next six retrospectives – a 10-minute conversation for 12 weeks of impact!

You can do this too

Are you in the business of Lean-Agile transformation –  a coach, consultant, or manager perhaps? Join our partner programme and you’ll have all these tools at your fingertips. Or you can use the services of one of our growing band of awesome partners, people who know when to put prescription aside, to start listening, and to facilitate rather than impose a process of transformation, a process that takes to you towards the outcomes you want.


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Agendashift, meet Reverse STATIK

Like this example from few weeks ago, I often find it useful to reconcile one model against another. What are the correspondences? Can I explain one in terms of the other? At the very least it’s a completeness check, but often it’s a great opportunity to give one or both models a thorough going-over.

In this instance, the two models are the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment template (the one behind our 2015 survey) and Reverse STATIK, another key component of our 1-day Agendashift workshop in values-based, hypothesis-driven change.

For the uninitiated, Reverse STATIK takes STATIK, the long-taught recipe for implementing Kanban (it’s the second day of your typical 2-day Kanban workshop), and backtracks through it, looking for improvement ideas as we go. Serendipitously, it has a nice presentational structure: it starts with the mechanics of kanban systems (the process assumes you have one to improve), layers on some new concepts, and finishes with a flourish on purpose and fitness.

So how do they reconcile? Pretty well:

  1. Kanban systems: This gets 5 of the 8 transparency prompts, plus one from balance (“Our system has a clear commitment point that separates potential work from work in progress”).
  2. Classes of service: the “urgency” part of the transparency prompt We distinguish different work items according to how they’re processed, their source, and their urgency” belongs here. Others have already noted that this prompt could benefit from a little rework! Four flow prompts and one more from balance complete the set.
  3. The knowledge discovery process: this takes 5 prompts from customer focus, 2 from collaboration, and 1 from flow.
  4. Demand and capability: 5 prompts from balance (no surprise there) and 1 from customer focus.
  5. Sources of dissatisfaction: all the prompts that relate to dependencies, other impediments, and organisational structure belong here. 2 from transparency, 1 from balance, 3 from collaboration, and 2 from flow.
  6. Purpose and fitness: this takes the whole of the leadership category, plus prompts relating to validation, measurement and safety (2 from flow and 1 each from transparency and customer focus.

No prompts go wasted, but bringing them together from different value categories does reveal some redundancy. I don’t feel too bad about that however – so what if the assessment template for Reverse STATIK will be a little shorter than the original! That said, I’ve no doubt that the completion of this exercise will result in some improvements being fed back.

So watch this space for announcements. I and our beta testers will likely test this privately with clients in workshop and coaching settings before publicising it more widely. I don’t know if it will hit Agendashift’s front page in a “featured” survey but you can be sure that it will in due course be made available to those that can make good use of it.


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STATIK, Kanban’s hidden gem

December 2017: First published in March 2014, this post is reproduced from my now defunct personal blog positiveincline.com. My first book Kanban from the Inside was published a few months later, and you’re seeing some of the seeds of Agendashift here also. I’m thrilled that the name “STATIK” caught on in the way that it did – made a good idea (David’s) much easier to talk about!

As far as I can tell from my extensive research (two Google searches), I’m the first person to notice that the “Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban” could go by a nice acronym, STATIK.

Not heard of it? You’re probably not alone. It’s not widely regarded as a first-class component of the Kanban Method, but maybe (and I’m expressing just a personal opinion here), we could change that.

You may recognize the steps:

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction
  2. Analyze demand and capability
  3. Model the knowledge discovery process
  4. Discover classes of service
  5. Design kanban systems
  6. Roll out

Our training has included these elements for a long time and we now expect each of them to be taught in accredited training (except perhaps step 6, which is beyond the scope of Foundation level training). If STATIK has a short name already, it’s “Day 2″!

if that doesn’t explain its familiarity, perhaps you’re reminded of the equivalent steps in Lean:

  1. Identify value from the customer’s standpoint
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Create flow
  4. Establish pull
  5. Identify and eliminate waste

In both formulations there’s an implied “rinse & repeat”. They’re not exactly equivalent (STATIK is by design more specific to creative knowledge work) but the parallels are clear.

I’ve been doing a lot with STATIK in the past year and a bit. It’s the focus of Part III of my book; in my interactive workshop at LKNA14 we will explore the combination of STATIK, values, and serious games (I’ve been working with Luke Hohmann on key elements of this); and of course I’ve been teaching, coaching, and consulting. And it changes things!

So to the real point of this post: I’m learning to be a little skeptical when I hear of changes driven from the board – “improvements” to layout, policies or WIP limits designed to drive changes in behaviour. I’d much rather hear that discussion of customer dissatisfactions or team frustrations is provoking discussion on how system changes might achieve one or more of these three things:

  • make the impact of these issues more visible
  • bring suspected root causes closer to the surface
  • start in some testable way to address these issues

Changes to kanban systems then follow, as necessary.

I hope we’re agreed that change should be implemented with understanding,agreement, and respect (the three values I call leadership disciplines). STATIK is a highly actionable implementation of that guiding principle. I commend it!


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change. By building agreement on outcomes we facilitate rapid, experiment-based evolution of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of the contradictory and self-defeating imposition of Lean and Agile practices, Agendashift helps you keep your vision and strategy aligned with and energised by a participatory culture of co‑creation and continuous transformation. More…