Mike’s idea of wholehearted organizations really gets at the heart of the strategy-implementation gap in companies.
Why I created this podcast
This is part 2 of the interview with Mike Burrows of Agendashift fame. In this episode we go into two of Mike’s tools which he uses to kick off larger scale change in organizations. You will discover two really practical change management tools that bypass employee’s natural resistance to change:
Agendashift founder Mike Burrows is the author of Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition March 2021), Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020), and the Lean-Agile classic Kanban from the Inside (2104). Mike is recognised for his pioneering work in Lean, Agile, and Kanban and for his advocacy for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Past leadership roles include global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, CTO for an energy risk management startup, and interim delivery manager on two of the UK Government Digital Services ‘exemplar’ projects.
How to start large scale change initiatives
Two things I wanted to ask about. In terms of easy ways for people to get started. So one thing that you’ve come up with that you’ve already mentioned change band. So what is it and how would you do it?
Change ban? It’s a, at one level, it’s a Kanban simulation game. No way to, to teach people how Kanban works and it’s based on feature band and which is. I forget when I came up with feature and feature band was the first thing I opened sourced, and never regretted open sourcing it. And I went and sourced a lot of my stuff ever since.
And feature ban. It’s very clear that you’re modeling a development process, a for Columbo design four or five column for design, and, the stages typically end up looking design build, whatever. And it’s fine. And actually as a teaching tool in the technology space, it’s been very popular.
It’s used all over the world and you can teach metrics and things like that with it as well. The one of the later stages of playing the game and the beauty of it is it starts simple. Although it’s clear that it doesn’t work very well. And then we make, an intervention or two, and suddenly things start to work a lot with certainly work flows a lot more smoothly.
And more importantly, in fact the players of the game find that they collaborate a lot more, and the big takeaway feature that both feature ban and change ban is the relationship between work and progress and collaboration. And it’s very, it’s a very pleasant surprise. Is it instead of when you do something lean based, the temptation is to think that, the only learning point is that when we control our work in progress, then the system is going to perform more productively and faster, and the worst of it.
But actually the relationships in work in progress and collaboration is a wonderful learning now. I wanted to get away from it being modeling, a development process, and I followed Jeff Anderson’s lead and I, and this was years ago now you’re reading around in the lean startup literature.
And in various lean startup books, you’ll find Kanban bowls that are built on valuable, feasible, usable, and the feature band board design the the column names aren’t valuable, feasible, usable, but their tuned map, they do map to those. And that there’s some prescription descriptions and the on the board and in the deck that explains the the relationship and the great thing about that, is it valuable? Is it feasible? Can we agree, an acceptable way forward? Is it sticking music? Is it working for people? Is it delivering the benefit that we expected? That sounds a bit less like a drug development process, and we found that people from outside development respond to it a lot better than they do to a, to feature that.
And we’ve simplified a bit, made it a bit more fun. We’ve abandoned the metrics module and that we let the Kanban trainers teach that in, with feature panels or whatever. And we’re focused very much in States on what a learning system looks like. We actually get points.
Experiments can everything in the changement system as an experiment and it can succeed or it can be rejected or use rejected rather than failed. We treat rejection as an active and positive step. It’s very artificial it’s, but it’s just a game, every time we complete my item, we get the chance to choose an item to reject.
So complete an item or a rejection item. And you get points, you get as many points for rejected items as you do for accepted items and the the scoring system actually Rewards, an even spread of acceptances and rejections a reward for maximum learning and making sure that every stage of the process is contributing to learning as well. And we don’t want to get into too much technical detail though.
So it’s a set at one level it’s simple and fun way of learning Kanban and get in that space main takeaway of, when your limit your work in progress, then there will be more collaboration. And it’s just less than you need to come down in scrum teams know this as well. Scrum team should know this as well.
And at another level, it’s teaching you about experimentation hypotheses lean startup, thinking about how we reflect on our learning and realizing that you’ve probably learned a lot more from the items that you rejected than the ones that succeeded.
And we, you start to introduce, what our hypothesis looks like, how do you frame your hypothesis so that your guaranteed, however, it ends up to generate some learning. And what’s interesting about where in the process that it failed and so on, what on earth were we thinking when we prioritize this piece in the first place and it got this far, and then we rejected them. And those are, that’s a question we don’t ask ourselves often enough. And we don’t typically have a forum for asking that question as directly as that and where the insight from answering that question is likely to go anywhere useful. So that’s an interesting question to walk an organization design as well.
So these are all topics that are very much about the agenda. Ships is very interested in. So all that sort of conversational stuff, outcomes, organized, generating outcomes organizing. Then that’s the first three chapters. The last three chapters is much more about how do we organize ourselves so that we are continuously learning, so that we’re adaptive. How do we frame our work? How can we, find solutions in a creative, innovative way? And, finishing with the, the, the serious organizational stuff, the viable system, stuff that to do deliberately adaptive organization, wholehearted organization, and so on.
And tying that to, well-tested models, viable system models. I said been around for decades tying it to what’s been happening at the organization development space in the time that agile has been around has undergone a revolution of its own.
Change management in the nineties was, choose a solution, sell it, roll it out, leave a comment, and then choose new solution deliberately noxious about it. But whole system consulting process or core process consulting. It doesn’t mean, process management, the process of the change process and the conversations that need to happen. And then more recently dialogic organization development, generative organization development. And in fact, there’s a model called the generative change model and by Marshack and Bush. So it’s coming from the academic organization development space and the model maps almost one-to-one with a gender shift. It’s amazing. Almost fell off my chair when I read the dialogic ID book. And and again, when I read the generative change. Book it’s a real paradigm shift. This has happened in the ODI space, that has quite a lot of parallels with the paradigm shift that happened in the technology space with that joint. And there’s a lot that they can learn from each other.
And I just love connecting to these different models and integrating them and seeing what we can reconcile them and seeing what we can learn in the process. And and so on.
Another tool that you mentioned is the 15 minute photo since it’s 15 minutes, that sounds like a good place to start for people. What is it and would people go about doing that?
The name is from obstacles to outcomes. That’s the photo bits in 15 minutes. So it’s quick. Our description of it is our clean language inspired coaching game. So we are teaching people how to have some coaching conversations using the clean language questions, and the really cool thing about it is not me standing at the front, asking the questions, it’s me organizing people in table groups or breakout rooms. And then either having informal conversations as a whole group. And anyone can also ask a question that anyone can answer type conversation.
And then the second time round, a more intense version where we’re rotating the one-to-one conversations around, around the table. So everyone gets a turn as being the coach. Everyone gets a turn that being the clients, everyone gets a turn at being described, Whiting, all the outcomes down. Everyone gets a term turn at being the observer, the safety officer or the timekeeper, and so on all the things that observers to. And it’s based on a quite small subset of the overall set of clean language questions.
So clean language, I should say. It comes from the therapy world as a number of coaching tools. And there are different ways that you can use it. And use it in a way that’s appropriate to the contract that you have with the people that you’re working with. I’m very clear, I’m not the therapist.
I want to design 15 minute votes, so it’s not therapy, it’s, how do we get, how would we take our list of obstacles and turn that, in a way that has clear business value, turn that into a list of outcomes that we can then organize. And by construction, those outcomes are related to each other. Interestingly, so basically in a, given an obstacle, what would you like to have happen? And that turns it into a, into an outcome. Nine times out of 10, you can always ask it twice. If you don’t get an outcome, you can clarify obstacles or you can clarify outcomes with what kind of, if you say, if your obstacle was you said rubbish stand-ups so like what kind of rubbish or what kind of stand-ups what could terrify that’s a bit more and probably unnecessary in that case.
And then what would you like to have happen? You say something about that you would want what kind of to clarify just those three questions actually. Oh, and once to have what have mentioned that, then what happens? So you go within what happens, takes you from outcome to outcome and with what would you want to have happen? What kind of, and then what happens? Just three questions. They do 90% of the work in 15 minute folks.
So I, but there are some others now what’s happening when. What happens before? Where does that come from? And so on. And that’s some rules you use the question was on the card verbatim. Most of the questions have an X in them, which are for the client’s own words.
And when better stand ups, then what happens, that’s just a silly example. What kind of better standards, where do those better stand-ups come from? What happens before better? Stand-ups is there anything else about better stand ups? And what’s forcing the coach to do is to actively listen.
And the more subtle thing about clean language is that you’re actually helping the client to build a model. No, you’re not saying when you said X, did you mean Y and sort of them losing their train of thought, or have you thought of Zed again then losing their train of thought, instead of you are going words, they’re going with them or going with their words and helping them build up a picture that perhaps they’ve never built up before.
It’s really funny then what happens? It’s such an easy question to ask. It’s only three words and the longer version and when whatever it was, you said, then what happens is a few more words. We’re still not many words, and what’s more, the client knows it’s coming and even so it can take them as a surprising amount of time to answer.
And that’s very revealing when, so often we’re heads down doing our work, and forgetting why we’re doing it. And forgetting about, what it’ll do for our customers when we’ve delivered it and what they will then be able to do. And so on. And “then what happens?” Questions. It’s all about, consequences. And so much of it, isn’t about what makes the work meaningful.
every time I see people think hard about the, “then what happens” question. We give ourselves so little time for thinking about why we do what we do. And that’s part of the power of the game. Yeah it’s a great thing.
Yeah. So agenda shift the new version that’s coming out next month?
hopefully. So by the time this goes out, I hope hopefully it will be out in the UK. It’s actually ordered all the already available for pre-order. The print version the Kindle version suffered a minor delay, but I’m hoping that by a launch date of the 29th or thereabouts, certainly by the end of March, I’m hoping that it’s gonna be available. In print and Kindle versions, and it’d be going outside on other ebook platforms as well. And so whether it will be out to more platforms by the end of March, I am not 100% sure, but certainly be available in some forms. And in that timeframe,
Okay, great. We’ll definitely leave a link in the notes. And and also I guess the main place for all the resources is the gender shift.com
or I’m going to agendashift.com/resources specifically for the, that comment. It’s pretty easy to find the resources page. So you can find some of the things that we talked about, the 15 minute FOTO, all of the resources around that our feature ban and change ban the outside the strategy review and so on.
You’ll find that so very easily. There’s a cheat sheet as well, actually just published another couple of weeks ago that helps bring together all that sort of 15 minute FOTO stuff and the strategy review stuff. And it will it’s a new way of listening guide to the first couple of chapters, at least to the book as well.
Yeah, that sounds great. Thank you very much.
Mike’s idea of wholehearted organizations really gets at the heart of the strategy-implementation gap in companies.