Positive Incline Mike Burrows (@asplake) moving on up, positively

May 16, 2015

Coming soon: Agendashift

[Update: Now cross-posted to Agendashift’s new blog. View on blog.agendashift.com]

Imagine a change process based on choice and collaboration:

  • You (an individual or team) take an assessment of your choosing, invite a coach to facilitate one with you, or opt to participate in a survey
  • You explore online an analysis of your own inputs and the aggregated inputs of your colleagues, identifying strengths, weaknesses, leading and lagging areas
  • You identify the prompts or categories that best describe your collective agenda for change
  • You track actions through to completion until it’s clear that they have taken hold and are delivering the benefits expected

No emailing of spreadsheet-based questionnaires. No being left wondering what’s happening to your inputs. No imposition of priorities from on high. No failure of ownership and follow-through. These are my “itches to scratch”. Whether you’re a consultant, a client, or managing without external support, Agendashift can help you too.

Right there are Agendashift’s four A’s: Assessment, Analysis, Agenda and Action. Of course it doesn’t have to be as linear as that: given time, Action should dominate, kept on track with periodic recalibrations from the other three.

You’ll see a free version launched in the next few weeks that anyone can try without obligation. A little after that, paid accounts will bring the ability to design new assessment templates and to manage client/team workspaces.

Agendashift will launch with a “Values-based delivery” template adapted for public consumption from my book with the help of some much-appreciated collaboration. If you have ideas for other templates (your own practice’s tools perhaps, or more specifically Agile or Lean than mine), do get in touch.

Meanwhile, leave a comment, follow @agendashift on Twitter or sign up at agendashift.com to be sure of receiving launch news.

November 25, 2014

Understand motivation for change

Filed under: Kanban — Tags: , , , , , , — Mike @ 2:36 pm

One piece of feedback I’ve received a few times on step 1 of STATIK (and therefore on chapter 18 of my book Kanban from the Inside also) is that “Understand sources of dissatisfaction” sounds rather negative. What about sources of satisfaction, pride, strength, and so on? Are those unimportant?

It’s a very valid comment, and with David at this week’s Train-the-Trainer class in Cascais, Portugal, we renamed this step “Understand motivation for change”. Ironically, this name existed already as the title for the accompanying class exercise!

We made the change to the Foundations deck right there in front of the class. Other decks and my book will be updated as soon as is practically possible.

As it happens, I am very interested in the positive (the naming of my blog is no accident). My favourite retrospective format—a format that would work well in the context of a STATIK workshop—is the Stanford d.school’s “I like / I wish / I wonder” (“IL/IW/IW”) or “I like / wish / What if” (“IL/IW/WI”) which sometimes I abbreviate to “+/-/?”. In one simple exercise, we find out both what we’d like to change, what we’re keen to preserve, and what needs digging into further.

STATIK requires us to do this from two perspectives, internal and external. As my friend Markus Andrezak puts it, we need both self-awareness and empathy. Let’s strike the right balance between the positive and the negative also. It’s not all bad!

Source: Markus Andrezak

March 26, 2014

STATIK, Kanban’s hidden gem

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!

February 11, 2013

Hear me interviewed on SPaMCAST

I had the pleasure last month of being interviewed by SPamCAST’s Tom Cagley. It’s now up as SPaMCAST 224 – Mike Burrows, Kanban Values. I’ve never appeared in a podcast before and I’m very pleased with the result. Thank you Tom!

I reference these posts:

We touch on some more general aspects of leadership, on what it means to be a change agent, and on why some improvement efforts are ineffective. It may become apparent that the issues raised by “Potato, tomato” and “Agreement: it’s not about you” were on my mind at the time too.

London Lean Kanban Day deserves a link after I described it rather vaguely as being “in London, in March”. I’ll be doing a new version of “Kanban the Hard Way” that (naturally) features values. It’s not quite a values-centric talk – that’s in the works for LKNA13, more on that soon.


January 31, 2013

Agreement: it’s not about you

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Uncategorized,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 7:22 pm

Google this morning gives 62 hits on “agreement” for positiveincline.com. Admittedly that includes some dupes, but it’s definitely an itch I keep scratching. Most recently:

Agreement is right there in the second foundational principle, “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change”. I like to turn this around: would you reasonably expect to be successful in implementing change without it? Could it be that it’s lack of agreement that’s limiting your progress? Or perhaps there is some agreement but it’s not deep enough – you’re agreed on the existence of a problem but not on its impact or causes (see understanding)?
Introducing Kanban through its values (January 2013)

On agreement, Greg Brougham brought to my attention Ackoff’s distinction between agreement in principle (a theoretical kind of agreement) and agreement in practice (an agreement to live with the consequences of a decision, accepting that agreement on “better” can be effective where consensus on perfection is impossible).
Kanban: values, understanding & purpose (January 2013)

Where in the assessment tool [is] agreement – “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change” is a foundational principle of Kanban and the organisational scope of any agreement is surely assessable. As a change agent, have I achieved 360-degree agreement? If I have, won’t this help make change “stickier”?
How deep is “How deep is your Kanban” (October 2012)

That last one needs some modification. 360-degree agreement is all very well, but it places me at the centre. What happens when I go away? How much agreement is left? If the agreement is about change, is that change really going to stick? David Anderson this week reminded me that change often fails to survive a generational change in leadership. That’s a sobering thought if you’re in the culture game.

I’m struck by the difference in coaching models aimed at getting to “what will you do now?” and other models (the Triad model [1] is a great example) that are more indirect but no less deliberate. Could it be that we invest too much in getting agreement from other people and too little in supporting agreement between people?

I’m pleased to report that I do see some very encouraging signs of the latter kind of agreement in my own consulting and coaching work. It takes time though! I wish I could give some recent concrete examples, but NDAs & such prevent. One day perhaps.

You may enjoy Jason Yip’s article We agree… but… meanwhile. I did!

[1] See The Culture Game – a book by Dan Mezick – Triads are described about half way through the article, and the book it describes is well worth a read.

December 27, 2012

My 2012 in books

I’ll get to my book of the year in a moment, but I begin with the two books that have had the most direct influence on my work in 2012.

The first is Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership by John Whitmore (2009). I’ve been using the GROW model described in this book not just as a coaching tool but as a gateway to A3, really appreciating its teachability, memorability and its reminders of the importance of framing and challenge.

Like the first, the second is new to me but not a new book. From Lean Software Strategies: Proven Techniques for Managers and Developers by Peter Middleton & James Sutton (2005) I have taken away a much stronger appreciation of the word customer, and I find myself repeating its advice often.

My book of 2012

I choose Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character not because it’s still fresh in my mind but because it’s a book that I hope will be read widely. Readable, thought-provoking and inspirational, it’s a book for anyone with an interest in the relationships between environment, learning, character and life prospects. That should be most of us.

For the benefit of UK readers I should mention that I had to import it from the US but it will be available here in paperback next month.

Honourable mentions

I approached How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business (2010) with some caution, the title preparing me for a book that might be overly analytical and worryingly money-centric. Instead, it’s a broad, insightful and practical book about making decisions and managing risk in the presence of uncertainty. I’m delighted that the author Douglas W Hubbard will be a keynote speaker at the 2013 Lean Kanban North America (#lkna13) conference.

Turning to fiction, I’m grateful to Dave Snowden for introducing me to anthropology-cum-science-fiction author Ursula le Guin.  Since reading The Dispossessed (1974) in preparation for the CALMalpha event I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, sharing some written for younger readers with our foster daughter.  This one remains my favourite though – I was genuinely disappointed that it had to come to an end! As a sci-fi fan, how did I not encounter le Guin previously?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman was for many reviewers a best book of 2011 and I got round to it in 2012.  Well worth the effort.

The surprise package

I carried around a review copy of Agile Project Management for Government: Leadership skills for implementation of large-scale public sector projects in months, not years in my suitcase for several weeks and was more than a little surprised and humbled to discover my name listed in the acknowledgements! It’s not an easy topic topic, but author and fellow Agile North speaker Brian Wernham has done a good job of drawing out valuable lessons from reference projects around the world and calling out the kind of leadership necessary for project delivery in the public sector to improve.

Since first meeting Brian I have myself joined a large public sector programme so the arrival of this book turned out to be very timely. I should get round to a longer review in the New Year.

Next up

Top of my list for next year (already purchased and downloaded onto my Kindle) is The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager (2012) by Daniel Mezick. Do you confront culture and mindset head-on, or regard them as something emergent? That has been a favourite conversation topic on Twitter and in conference bars and I’m really looking forward to reading Dan’s take on this.

November 19, 2012

Dole out the 3C’s

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Values — Tags: , , , , , , — Mike @ 10:34 pm

I pick that phrase out of Eight Ways to Avoid the Kaizen Roach Motel, from Mark Hamel’s (@MarkRHamel‘s) blog. The 3C’s? Challenge, courage, creativity. That’s a new one on me but I like it – you may recall that I argued for “challenge” a month ago, here.

Hat tip: Curious Cat’s Management Improvement Blog Carnival #182.

October 23, 2012

No-one said it would be easy…

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Portfolio — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Mike @ 8:33 pm

Much as expected, Lean Kanban Central Europe 2012 (#lkce12) turned out to be an excellent conference, probably the best-organised I’ve attended. Well done to the board (Markus, Pawel, Hermanni, Klaus and Karl) and everyone who helped behind the scenes.

The slides for my talk ‘Not “Portfolio Kanban” but “Kanban”’ are now up on Slideshare.  The most important slide is probably the one shown below (#30), which illustrates the scale of the what’s to be done “if we are serious as change agents” (a phrase I used more than once).

Four different directions of interaction to consider. Four different considerations (the “Agreement, Alignment, Models, Challenge”) for each direction. That makes 16 if all combinations are relevant (most will be). Hard work and worth tracking, so perhaps some new visualisations will be needed too – something to think about. I will be talking to David about incorporating some or all of this in the “Kanban depth” tool also.

October 19, 2012

How Deep is “How Deep is Your Kanban”?

[wonkish, sorry]

I’m busy putting the final touches to my portfolio-related talk for next week’s #lkce12 conference in Vienna. It owes a significant debt to David’s milestone talk How Deep is Your Kanban, but this leaves me with a couple of slightly embarrassing niggles.

Where in the assessment tool are:

  1. Agreement – “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change” is a foundational principle of Kanban and the organisational scope of any agreement is surely assessable. As a change agent, have I achieved 360-degree agreement? If I have, won’t this help make change “stickier”?
  2. Challenge – The language of the tool is big on improvement, implicitly in the direction of “improved” or “fitter”. Isn’t this a bit weak? What about other drivers, direction-setters and pace-setters? Together with “leadership” and “alignment” (already well represented), adding “challenge” might go some way to address the “Kanban is too nice” perception and help complete the connection with Lean organisational practice.

Got that off my chest!

With that out of the way, keep an eye out in my talk for my son’s summer programming project – Kanban meets Design Factory meets Beyond Budgeting. It needs a better name than “Foo” though…

July 20, 2012

Short post: Problem, Issue, Focus

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean — Tags: , , , , , , , — Mike @ 9:58 am

“No problem is problem” might work well at Toyota, but in my experience, many managers don’t like to be asked for their problems or issues, as though having to own up to some would be a source of shame.  “None that need be shared in this forum” is a typical response.

It’s early days, but I’m using and suggesting to others “What is your current focus?”.  A focus (for improvement) sounds more positive, more testable, more likely to carry over in a useful way from one meeting to the next, perhaps an opportunity for an A3-style discussion or report.  Instead of something to get out of the way, a focus is something to take to a successful conclusion.  What manager would want to admit to having none?

Could it work for you, until at least that shame barrier is breached?

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