Agendashift roundup, January 2020

In this edition: January; And then it all kicks off…; Lean Agile London 2020; Mirror Mirror; Top posts

January

It has been a travel-free January, but still a busy one! There was the rebranding of Agendashift as the wholehearted engagement model, and then the first three installments of the promised (and already popular) blog series on the language of outcomes. As if that weren’t enough, I have also been recording the audiobook of Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile! Here’s a sneak preview (joke):

Right to Left, the audiobook
Right to Left, the audiobook

And then it all kicks off…

With January out of the way, the travel starts – in fact I fly out to Tampa tomorrow! Before the usual list of upcoming workshops, some discount codes: LONDON2020 for both of my London workshops (Agendashift partners and key collaborators Karl Scotland, Steven Mackenzie joining me for the second one, and – fingers crossed –  Teddy Zetterlund too), and NORDIC2020 for Malmö and Oslo with partners Julia Wester and Kjell Tore Guttormsen respectively.

For the London workshops, ping me for a bigger discount if you’re in government or non-profit, if you’re a partner, or if you’ve been to an Agendashift workshop before. And yes, attending multiple times really is a thing :slightly_smiling_face:

Lean Agile London 2020

What we knew and loved as London Lean Kanban Days is now Lean Agile London. I was LLKD’s first ever keynote speaker (or if you prefer, Dave Snowden’s warm up act) and I’m proud that Agendashift is a sponsor. Use code AGENDASHIFT for 10% off. Respecting what has become almost a tradition for me at this event, I’ll be bringing a brand new new talk, “Cleanish Strategy”. Many congrats to Agendashift partner Jose Casal for starting and continuing this great conference! It’s on April 27-28.

Mirror Mirror

If you’ve been following Agendashift for any length of time, you’ll know that I like a good mashup! With that in mind, I’m glad to support the Mirror Mirror team in two 90-minute online events put on especially for the Agendashift community. They’re free, and you can choose between these two dates:

  • 21 Feb – 12.00 – 13.30 UK time
  • 13 Mar – 15.00 – 16.30 UK time

Book your place here, and see you there! Your host: Lindsay Uittenbogaard

Top posts

  1. Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model
  2. The language of outcomes: 2. Framing obstacles
  3. The language of outcomes: 1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  4. The language of outcomes: 3. Generating outcomes
  5. Wholehearted:OKR

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

[Shared: LinkedIn & Twitter]

The short version: New year, new branding. It has substance. And a special offer!

Copy of Copy of Agendashift-banner

I’ve mentioned wholehearted here a few times. The response to it has been amazing – I’ve even had people citing it as clinching their decision to become Agendashift partners. And today we’re making it official, rebranding Agendashift as the wholehearted engagement model.

Time then to sharpen up the website! I have taken the opportunity to give it a substantial overhaul, most visibly here:

  • Our mission: Wholehearted – our branding, positioning, and elevator pitch in one
  • About Agendashiftgood for the engagement model part if that concept is new to you
  • The Agendashift home page – giving more visibility to the above and (while we’re at it) to the Agendashift Assessments, which are still going strong, very much something to be proud of but lacking in visibility of late

In fact, little has gone untouched. If you have a moment, check these out too:

The substance

Our mission: Helping organisations grow in wholeheartedness – to become less at war with themselves, their obstacles, imbalances, and contradictions identified and owned, value and meaning created through authentic engagement.

Expanding just a little:

Slide1

Source: Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com/wholehearted), CC-BY-SA licence.

The wholehearted page expands further, describing where we’re coming from, what sets us apart, the challenge that motivates us, and so on. Here, let say a bit more about how wholehearted works, what it isn’t, and three of its less obvious inspirations.

Wholehearted (or wholeheartedness) works because it is three things at once:

  1. It’s a metaphor that resonates quickly and is capable of inspiring at a human level
  2. It describes something worth striving for regardless of whether it can ever be attained in full
  3. It’s something that can be experienced immediately, and in practical terms

That hint of paradox doesn’t hurt either! And if you’re wondering about the experience part, read on right to the end, where I’ll repeat an offer made last month.

What it’s not:

  • Another Agile reboot – I have more respect for Agile than that
  • Another Agile process framework – there are plenty of those already, and beyond the travesty of imposition (Agile’s shame) there are other serious issues with that approach that I’ll come to
  • A manifesto (whether Agile’s “this over that” style or otherwise) – there are more than enough of those too; wholehearted is our mission statement, and the internal work of clarifying that to ourselves, partners, and clients was more important than the wider response (though naturally I’m grateful for the validation)

As acknowledged here previously [1] and as documented on the Wholehearted page, the initial inspiration for the wholehearted metaphor is due to the acclaimed architect and father of the patterns movement Christopher Alexander; in Right to Left [2] I reproduce with permission a quote from his classic book The Timeless Way of Building [3]. Applying Alexander’s metaphor in an organisational context, I channel three further inspirations that might not be obvious and aren’t called out explicitly: viable system model, servant leadership, and social constructionism.

Viable system model

The more mainstream Agile becomes, the more credit seems to be given to delivery process at the expense of critical things like strategy and organisation development. Time and time again, what gets copied (out of its original context) is the surface detail; what gets missed is less easily reproduced but vastly more critical to lasting success.

That’s a familiar enough complaint. Suffering from very similar problems, the Lean community woke up some years ago to what might have become a fatal flaw and went about redefining and reinventing itself. The Agile community seems to recognise the problem, but it takes a long time to turn the supertanker around and its momentum is still very much the other way. If I’m honest, I’m not convinced that the turnaround has even started.

Lest I be accused of merely whining, we offer something very practical:

Strategy, development, and delivery integrated – made whole – through participation

Those few words describe much of my work of the last few years; I phrased it that way thanks to the consultant’s secret weapon, Viable System Model (VSM) [4]. VSM is the model developed by Stafford Beer, an early pioneer of management cybernetics, and it identifies the elements required for an organisation to be viable and how they relate to each other.

In wholehearted I’ve picked out only three of those elements (you’ll find more in Right to Left), but it’s a decent start! Students of VSM will recognise also that participation is a possible approach to solving the problem of requisite variety, which roughly translates into the organisation being able to recognise and cope with the range of 1) what’s thrown at it and 2) what happens within it, the two being related.

Servant Leadership

Organisations won’t last long if they’re not meeting needs. Today that sounds like a truism, but writing in the 1970’s, long before a decades-long shift in employment patterns played out, Greenleaf [5] grasped and articulated some profound implications for leadership. I’m a firm believer both in good leadership and in starting with needs [6], so what better model than this one!

A small caveat: I have come to understand not only that leadership development and organisation development are inextricably linked, but that the latter is often the more promising entry point. Jumping straight to my bottom line, I have zero appetite for cultural change initiatives when they’re divorced from the organisation’s practical and strategic realities. In Agendashift-speak (with credit to Daniel Mezick and Mark Sheffield for the wonderfully punny inviting leadership [7]):

The language of outcomes inviting leadership at every level

I could also cite mission command, Marquet’s leader-leader model, etc here too – see the last chapter of Right to Left for how I tie these together.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism [8], is the philosophical concept that underpins dialogic organisation development, on which Agendashift leans heavily (though not exclusively) [9]. It’s the recognition that people and their social interactions give reality and meaning to organisations (to its credit, there’s more than a hint of that in the Agile manifesto). Without them, the organisation is nothing and meaningless, and it’s another reason why a process-centric view of organisations is so hopelessly inadequate.

Much less sterile (and related to the language of outcomes):

New conversations and new kinds of conversations – renewing the organisation’s discourse and thereby the organisation itself

You know something has changed when the language has changed; the converse can be true not just at the level of terminology or sentiment, but fundamentally.

Watch out for a follow-up post very soon (it’s already drafted) on the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership.

References

[1] Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in (May 2018)
[2] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[3] The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, (OUP USA, 1980)
[4] Viable system model (en.wikipedia.org), and I would strongly recommend one of Right to Left‘s references, The Fractal Organization: Creating Sustainable Organizations with the Viable System Model, Patrick Hoverstadt, (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)
[5] Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf, (Paulist Press, 25th Anniversary edition, 2002)
[6] Agendashift model overview“Start with needs” is principle #1
[7] Inviting Leadership: Invitation-Based Change™ in the New World of Work, Daniel Mezick and Mark Sheffield (Freestanding Press, 2018)
[7] Social constructionism (en.wikipedia.com)
[8] What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation) (May 2019), the book in question being Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change, Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak (2015, Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Agendashift partners Steven Mackenzie, Dragan Jojic, Karl Scotland, Teddy Zetterlund, and Kjell Tore Guttormsen for their part in the many iterations that wholehearted went through. To Daniel Mezick, Jutta Eckstein, Heidi Araya and partner Angie Main for their feedback and encouragement. Finally to Mark Sheffield for his careful review not just of this post but to the linked resources.

Special offer

20% off for any private (company-internal) Wholehearted:OKR workshop held in January, and 10% off for any booked by the end of that month for delivery at some agreed later date. Perfect for kicking off not just the new year but a new decade!

Or attend a public workshop:

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

See also our workshops and events pages. Tel Aviv (early June) to be added soon. All workshops (not just Wholehearted:OKR) have been updated to reference wholehearted.


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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There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR

From the Agendashift Slack a few days ago:

Early morning crazy thoughts spoken out loud:
Wholehearted: bringing OKRs to life with Agendashift
A workshop based on and expanded from edited highlights of the core Agendashift workshop and the outside-in strategy review

Why “crazy thoughts”? The background: we’ve been discussing Objectives and Key Results (OKR) [1] in multiple corners of the Agendashift Slack in recent weeks (channels #wholehearted-x, #bookclub, and #strategy) and I didn’t hide my nervousness.  Isn’t OKR just Management by Objectives (MBO) rebranded, with all the dysfunction [2] that goes with it?

To cut a long story short (two books later), it’s clear now that Agendashift  – outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation [3, 4, 5] – and OKR are a great fit – so great that they almost seem made for each other. As recently as this week, Karl Scotland blogged about the combination (more accurately he blogged about Agendashift and 4DX, but the distinction isn’t that important):

I do still have reservations. It was – shall we say – an interesting experience reading (or listening to) Doerr [6] and Wodtke [7]. Good books both, but page after page (hour after hour) my frustration would grow before my concerns would finally be acknowledged. Given the risks (and they’re recognised), it seems clear to me now that OKR has something in common with Agile process frameworks: how you approach the framework matters very much more than the choice of framework itself. Depending on your point of view you may find that thought subversive (helpfully or otherwise), heretical, or commonsense; as for me, I’ve staked my career on it.

So to my caveats. Coming from where I’m coming from, they’re significant enough that they should treated not as footnotes but up front as design principles. OKRs must be:

  1. Respectful of diversity and autonomy at individual and team level
  2. Agreed through meaningful participation
  3. Executed knowing the difference between implementation and experimentation

Caveat 1: Respectful of diversity and autonomy at individual and team level

An objection sometimes laid at the door of OKR is that it’s all about alignment, and that the goal of alignment is to bring about some kind of monoculture. I reject this as a strawman argument; the goal of OKR is to provide enough direction that the organisation isn’t destroying its ability to get things done because its different parts keep pulling in opposing directions. For most organisations, too much alignment would be a nice problem to have, and address that very common issue well, great things can happen. In practice, key results (the KR part of OKR) aren’t long lasting (they work in timeframes ranging from days to months), and even many objectives (the O part) don’t last for more than a quarter; good luck creating a monoculture that quickly!

That argument dismissed, it’s worth remembering that OKR is a tool for strategy deployment [8], not operations management, and it’s explicit that existing operations must continue to perform well even as they undergo change. Resilient operations in an unpredictable world depends on diversity (you need to be ready to respond in different ways to respond as both conditions and internal designs change), and only a fool would seek to destroy options for the sake of consistency. Technically, we’re in the world of Ashby’s law of requisite variety [9]; colloquially, power is where the options are. If you can, why not create that power everywhere?

But that’s just the technical argument. Take away from people and teams their ability to create and exercise options and you destroy their autonomy. With that you destroy their engagement – and then it’s game over if what you need is their energy and creativity. So how then is strategy deployment meant to work?

Caveat 2: Agreed through meaningful participation

The textbook answer to this conundrum is that OKR works both top down and bottom up. Some objectives come from on high, with lower levels defining their own objectives and key results to suit. Others bubble up, high level objectives somehow summarising (blessing?) what needs to happen lower down.

I’ve long since abandoned this “Top down vs bottom up? It’s both!” thing. It’s a cop out that does little to help the inexperienced manager and may put even the experienced manager in a bind; small wonder that middle managers can be a miserable bunch (I’ve been one, so I know). Middle out is no help either; as with the iron triangle, it’s time to recognise that these metaphors make little sense in open-ended and high feedback contexts. Also, they are hierarchical in a way that’s quite unnecessary, and clinging to them just gets in the way.

My answer – and it comes from an area where Agendashift excels – lies in participation: facilitating challenging and meaningful conversations about obstacles and outcomes (and progress thereon), making sure that they take place frequently both within and between strategy, development, and delivery, and have diversity of representation in terms of both functional responsibility and seniority. In place of top-down imposition, authentic agreement on outcomes becomes the basis for change. Where in the past innovation and intelligence would become increasingly diluted and distorted as news passed up the chain, now we create frequent opportunity for rapid and informed responses.

Of my two most recent books, authentic agreement on outcomes is a key theme of Agendashift. My latest book, Right to Left [10] explores the implications for organisation design and leadership in much greater depth, in the final two chapters most especially.

Caveat 3: Executed knowing the difference between implementation and experimentation

A common lightbulb moment for participants in Agendashift workshops comes when we organise outcomes using the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise. We dare not speak its name up front – it rather spoils the surprise – so we go by the pseudonym “Option approach mapping” initially [11]:

mapping

The key insight is that not all outcomes are alike. Easily recognised (and all shades and combinations in between these extremes):

  • Some are uncontroversial and don’t need digging into, regardless of whether they’re to be done right away or kept for another day
  • Some you’re confident can be achieved reliably, but first they will need to be broken down by someone who knows what they’re doing
  • Others can be approached in different ways, but no single approach (or combination thereof) is guaranteed to deliver the outcome in its entirety; consequently we’re in the land of iteration and experimentation
  • Sometimes, where to start and even who to ask is beyond current knowledge

Reading/listening to OKR’s fascination with stretch goals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing in question with each one is whether we can do it in the time we’ve set for ourselves. If that’s your only hypothesis, much opportunity for learning – about customer needs as much as organisation capability or technical possibility – will be missed. Moreover, choosing a sequential approach when an iterative one is needed (or vice versa) is a costly mistake to make – costly not only in time and money but in reputations too. The books do get there in the end, but honestly, I feel they could do better. For some balance on issues of complexity, I’d suggest pairing Doerr with McChrystal [12], and Wodtke (which seems to be aimed at the startup community) with a good Lean Startup book, of which my favourite is Maurya’s [13].

So what are we left with?

Ten years ago I saw my employer, UBS, nearly destroyed by the scandalously ill-chosen ill-managed, and under-informed pursuit of the wrong goals (the recommendations of a benchmarking exercise conducted by a big name consultancy), so I speak from the heart here. But I’m not warning you against OKR – in all honesty I’m really warming to it.

My caveats take nothing away, because I don’t think I’ve said anything contrary to the literature, albeit that it takes a long time getting round to it. So a few pointers:

  • Find groups of people – let’s call them circles –  who share (or should share) some common objectives. Give them the opportunity to explore thoroughly their landscape of obstacles and outcomes, decide what’s important, and set some priorities. Agendashift is the manual on that! Expect them to track progress and revisit both their understanding and (accordingly) their plans on appropriate cadences.
  • Look for overlaps between circles, and where they don’t (a single manager isn’t enough), delegate people into the intersections. Not only will the conversations here be a lot more interesting and challenging, but we’re very obviously creating opportunities for both alignment and mutual accountability. A wider organisation listening not just for progress but for learning here will be sending a powerful message (not to mention learning itself – if it’s listening).
  • Metrics can be great, but don’t reduce it all to numbers. I’d argue that the “Measure what matters” in the title of Doerr’s book is a little misleading – certainly it deterred me for a while! Moreover, and as Doerr rightly emphasises, it would be a catastrophic mistake to connect OKRs with individual compensation (Drucker’s plausible but ultimately disastrous error with MBO).

If you’ve read Right to Left, you’ll know where the above comes from. If you haven’t, put it on your list. Doerr, Wodtke, and my recommended pairings too! Mercifully, mine isn’t too long, so you might want to start there 🙂

[1] Objectives and key results (OKR) (wikipedia.org)
[2] Management by Objectives, Arguments against (wikipedia.org)
[3] About Agendashift™ (agendashift.com)
[4] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2018)
[5] Agendashift partner programme
[6] Measure What Matters: OKRs – The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth, John Doerr (2018)
[7] Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, Christine Wodtke (2016)
[8] What is Strategy Deployment (availagility.co.uk)
[9] Variety (Cybernetics) (wikipedia.org)
[10] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019)
[11] Agendashift in 12 icons
[12] Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal et al (2015)
[13] Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Ash Maurya (2012)


Upcoming Agendashift workshops – Stockholm, Athens, London, Istanbul, Berlin, and online


Leading change in the 21st century? You need a 21st century engagement model:

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Notes from the April 2019 Advanced Agendashift workshop, London

Update (June 28th 2019): Over the months, the exercise referred to here by my working title Reverse Wardley has served us incredibly well. With full credit to Liz and Karl, it’s a great addition to our workshops and I love it! My name for it has proved way too nerdy for some tastes though, and after several iterations in the Agendashift Slack we may be settling on Option Visibility Mapping. If that changes, I’ll update this update! I’ve also added a new tag ‘mapping‘ to this and related posts.

Thursday and Friday last week was the 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop in London. The quick version of my takeaways (all confirmed by the retro stickies):

  1. Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper
  2. The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster
  3. My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate
  4. Some rejigging
  5. Excitement around “wholehearted

Also, details of the next four of these workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm.

Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper

Announced only a couple of weeks ago, I would definitely recommend using Mike Haber’s template – it makes the exercise easier for everyone involved, and the output vastly more presentable. I’ve updated the Celebration-5W page to make it more prominent.

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

The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster

Also announced recently but previously untested, a beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card is now made official:

No-one missed the old “Is there a relationship between X and Y?” question (a question that comes with health warnings) and according to the retro sticky, the new question “Where does X come from?” rocks!

My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate

I mentioned my “Rule of Three” in answer to an important question about who should be invited to internal workshops. I had already written it up for my forthcoming book Right to Left but I was encouraged to put together a page for it with an easy-to-remember url, agendashift.com/rule-of-three.

After a few iterations on the text (helped by feedback in the #right-to-left channel in Slack), here’s the key quote:

Clicking on the image or the link above you’ll find a condensed, bullet point version, and some notes that hint at what’s to come in the book.

Some rejigging

Consolidating experiments described in Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley, The Cynefin Four Points exercise moves from day 1 to day 2, the launchpad for Mapping rather than the conclusion to Exploration. It allowed me to run “my slowest ever Discovery” on day 1, and nobody minded one bit.

Update: The name “Reverse Wardley” is (as we say in the UK) “a bit Marmite”, meaning that some loved it and others hated it. Is it “way too geeky”? This was already suspected, but I still don’t have a better alternative.

Excitement around “wholehearted

Remember Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in (May 2018)? For the evening of day 1, Steven Mackenzie (one of Right to Left‘s reviewers) suggested we held a “Lean Curry” around the topic. Here he is with his heart-shaped picture:

Before Right to Left is even published, perhaps a spinoff! Definitely one to watch.

Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm


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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…