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

July 29, 2015

Three talks and a brand new class

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 4:11 pm

Earlier this month I spent a very productive week in Singapore. Our client (a significant player in Asia’s financial sector) added two extended lunchtime speaking opportunities to my agenda, each 2 hours long with time for food and networking. The first was on the Monday, a great opportunity to get introduced to people for the first time. The second was on my last day, a nice way to sign off and a chance to present to some more senior managers from both technology and business.

Adding a mid-week meetup (a evening event that included pizza, a talk, and a couple of rounds of Featureban), that’s a lot of speaking for one business trip!

If you’re thinking of bringing me into your business, this is a really good pattern to follow. There is double benefit: it maximises exposure internally, and it gives you a chance to do something good for your local Lean/Kanban/Agile community also.

At very short notice I am very happy to do any/all of:

  1. A Scrumban case study (this was my introduction)
  2. Agile leadership with Kanban (my Singapore signoff)
  3. Are we there yet? (my current keynote)

If there’s anything in my back catalogue that you think might be more relevant to your current situation, let me dust it down and bring it up to date.

Further to that last talk, I really should mention:

With thanks to my client and to Valtech for creating the opportunity!

June 5, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 17. Smaller Models

Filed under: Books,Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , — Mike @ 8:02 am

The purpose of chapter 17 is to cover a number of models that help explain things we’ve seen already in parts I and II or might need for Part III (Implementation). I’ve thrown in a few bonus items also! All together:

  • Little’s law, a beautifully simple formula with a nice visual interpretation (and an excuse to revisit cumulative flow diagrams)
  • The Satir change model, the late Virginia Satir’s powerful description of the change process
  • Two coaching models, the very useful thinking tool GROW, and Toyota’s A3 (first mentioned in Chapter 14)
  • Jeff Anderson’s Lean Change Canvas via a digression into the Pyramid Principle
  • Various models of facilitation, including games
  • Two models of leadership and collaboration, T-shaped leadership and triads

This week’s excerpt introduces the last of those.

Models of Collaborative Leadership: Triads and T-Shapes

The Triad is a very simple model of collaboration and collaborative leadership that has been practiced deliberately in a surprising variety of places. Thanks to Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, the book by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, we understand its applicability to corporate and community life. Triads appear in some churches in the form of prayer triplets (my wife, Sharon, has been a member of several of these); the model was even practiced by the KGB!

A triad connects three people, united by some common purpose. Sometimes it is the result of one person introducing two previously unconnected people; sometimes they are formed to perform some specific task. Effective triads obey two rules:

  1. Each member takes some responsibility for the relationship between the other two members, providing strength.
  2. Growth comes not by turning triads into quads, but by forming additional triads involving one or two members of existing triads, thereby creating networks.

I’m the kind of person who approaches a “networking event” with dread, and the triad model is just about the only form of networking that works for me. I have learned to make a point of introducing people whom I know to share some common interest. That’s rewarding in itself, but often I reap double or triple the benefit in the form of fruitful collaboration and new introductions.

Triads express collaborative leadership when they are used deliberately to share knowledge, to create opportunities, and to form bridges between different parts of the organization. I have encouraged graduate recruits to form long-lasting triads and to help one another to grow their networks from them, and I have used them short-term to solve specific problems.

Morten Hansen describes T-shaped management, which is somewhat analogous to the T-shaped people I alluded to in this book’s preface. His T-shaped managers encourage collaboration in two quite distinct ways:

  1. Much in the manner described in Chapter 3, close collaboration inside their part of the organization
  2. Addressing the downsides of collaboration described at the close of Chapter 3, “disciplined” collaboration across the wider organization

The key to Hansen’s model is that this second kind of collaboration is required to be purposeful and effective; it is not about networking for its own sake, and it is expected to deliver results in healthy proportion to the effort expended. Ill-disciplined collaboration may be worse than no collaboration at all.

Both models are entirely compatible with Kanban’s at every level kind of leadership. Triads don’t need to respect organizational boundaries at all, and those T shapes can emanate from anywhere. We can all do it.

Next up: 18 Understand sources of dissatisfaction. Previously: 16. The Kanban method. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and now on Kindle on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.

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.

April 24, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 11. Systems Thinking, Complexity, and the Learning Organization

Filed under: Books,Kanban — Tags: , , , , , , — Mike @ 12:02 pm

This series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside has reached Part II (Models). For the next few chapters we look outside to other important bodies of knowledge.

I’m not going to reproduce here chapter 11’s tour through Systems Thinking and related fields—I’ll jump straight to some of my conclusions. If they leave you hungry for the detail, you’ll have to read the book!

The Method’s Design

Several elements of the Kanban Method have their roots in the models outlined in this chapter. In particular:

  • The transparency practices (Chapter 1) create new leverage points, making the system more open to challenge and improvement. Furthermore, they can promote self-organization, a strategy for resilience in the presence of uncertainty.
  • Core practice 5, Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally, connects collaboration (Chapter 3), knowledge, experimentation, shared learning, and evolutionary change.
  • Kanban shares with Lean (Chapter 13) a Systems Thinking approach to leadership (Chapter 6). In the long run, organizations get the leadership they deserve, the kind that their system recruits, encourages, and promotes. It follows that the most enduring organizations are those that have paid attention to this.
  • Albeit implicitly, the first foundational principle, start with what you do now, points both to Systems Thinking and to evolutionary change. I’ve added some extra emphasis by abstracting from this principle the understanding value (Chapter 7)—the goal is for organizations to value understanding and to have the discipline to make it the precursor to change.
  • Evolutionary change is explicit in the second foundational principle, agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change (see Chapter 8, agreement).

Earlier chapters have made it clear that the Kanban Method leaves room for interpretation. This is a strength. It is articulated sufficiently clearly for a community to rally around it, yet it is applied with sufficient diversity that its community continues to learn, to develop lower-level practices, and to share experiences. It is satisfying to observe that the Kanban community itself demonstrates in some measure all five of Senge’s characteristics of the Learning Organization.


Neither Kanban nor Systems Thinking should be one-off exercises or specialist, “ivory tower” disciplines that are kept separate from where the “real work” is done. John Gall advises this (sometimes known as Gall’s law):

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system[1].

Don’t worry that every step must be right first time. Keeping the system in motion with safe-to-fail experiments, there’s a limit to how much harm any one step can do, and any local difficulties will soon shake out. Under these conditions, suboptimization—the localized improvement that makes things worse globally—is less a problem than the loss of momentum caused by fear of it. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” as they say.

[1] Gall, John. 2003. The Systems Bible: The Beginner’s Guide to Systems Large and Small, 3rd ed. Walker, MN: General Systemantics.

Next up: 12. Theory of Constraints (TOC). Previously: 10. Patterns and Agendas. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

March 20, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 6. Leadership

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 12:24 pm

The sixth in a roughly weekly series of excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 6 on leadership is pivotal – it brings together the preceding five values and the three still to come.

What if [Kanban’s at every level] kind of leadership doesn’t come naturally to your organization?

Fortunately, Kanban doesn’t leave you to solve this problem on your own. When change is stimulated, it creates leadership opportunities both large and small. The more widespread, repeatable, and visible this process is, the more positive its impact on your organization’s culture will be.

Opportunity Everywhere

Let’s test that. Where can we find these leadership opportunities?

  • Transparency: In knowledge work, things don’t make themselves visible or explicit by themselves; leaders choose to make them so. This is as true in the small details—the wording of a policy, for example—as it is in the bigger things, such as institutional feedback loops.
  • Balance: Where are we overloaded, and why? Are our pain points obvious, or does the volume of work hide them? Is the mix of work right? There is leadership opportunity in asking these questions as well as in the decisions that may follow.
  • Collaboration: Making an introduction, reaching out, sharing a problem, noticing how people interact—all of these can be acts of leadership.
  • Customer focus: It takes leadership to acknowledge that the process may be ineffective at discovering and meeting real customer needs.
  • Flow: Are you seeing it? What is stuck today? Where do blockages repeatedly occur? Why is that? These are everyday questions of leadership.
  • Leadership: Encouraging leadership in others can demand real leadership on the part of the encourager. Kanban’s kind of leadership not only spreads, it reinforces itself.

What conditions are needed if that kind of leadership is to thrive? The next three chapters cover the remaining three values, namely the leadership disciplines of understanding, agreement, and respect. These get to the heart of the Kanban Method’s approach to change.

Next up: 7. Understanding. Previously: 5. Flow. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

November 11, 2014

STATIK, Kanban’s Hidden Gem (my #lkce14 talk)

Filed under: Kanban — Tags: , , , , , , , — Mike @ 2:19 pm

[Updated – see end of article]

The 2014 autumn conference season closes with Lean Kanban Central Europe 2014, one of my favourite events of the year. My talk expands on the STATIK part of last week’s keynote.

It starts with the underpants gnomes, who (like many) might implement Kanban thus:

  1. ???
  2. Put up a board
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

It finishes with purpose:

Know what you’re delivering, to whom, and why

For at least one audience member, the key slides are in the middle, slides 33-34. I described as “a little old fashioned” the idea that we deliver incrementally in order to get feedback. As per last week’s keynote, we need to be validating relentlessly right through the process; only then can we hope to anticipate customer needs. The change to “hypothesis driven development” isn’t just a change of jargon!

Statik, Kanban’s hidden gem from Mike Burrows

Update: This sketchnote captures slide 50 beautifully:


I wish I could do that!

September 18, 2014

A process of knowledge discovery

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 3:32 pm

Creative knowledge work is a process of knowledge discovery. You might say that this statement goes a long way to define creative knowledge work and let the rest be left the imagination, but there is still plenty to be said about the process of knowledge discovery.

In Kanban from the Inside I make 16 mentions of “knowledge discovery” – clearly it’s an important term! They are concentrated in these chapters:

  • 4. Customer Focus, about the value
  • 10. Patterns and Agendas, which introduces the Kanban Lens
  • 20., 22., and 23., which take us through the STATIK implementation steps Model the Workflow (aka Model the Knowledge Discovery Process), Design Kanban Systems, and Rollout respectively

The presence here of the customer focus value is a clue that I leave precise technical definitions to others. Instead, I describe the coming together of attitude and actual practice, which (in general) values encapsulate superbly. My conclusions could be summarised as follows:

  • Aim not merely to take orders or to satisfy requirements, but instead to anticipate and meet needs at the right time
  • Be humble about how little you really know; proceed accordingly
  • Be humble about how inadequately your process uncovers needs; help it to adapt
  • Even after delivery, expect to learn more about how needs are being met; validate!

In short—and with apologies to Stephen Covey—begin humbly with the undiscovered need in mind.

I use the word “humbling” every time I retell the story of my first introduction of an explicit post-delivery validation step. Tired of seeing my teams deliver against unneeded requirements, I insisted on it out of pure frustration and with a “that will teach them” kind of negativity, aimed mainly but not exclusively at our customers. The effect on the whole process was however nothing short of profound; the end result being real collaboration at every stage of the process!

Nowadays, and with the advent of the likes of Lean Startup and Lean UX in which validation is formalized, we know that a commitment to validation is a highly repeatable way to catalyze a shift from requirements-driven to hypothesis-driven development. The Kanban Method doesn’t make this commitment explicit, but it is a widely recognized practice fully in keeping with the customer focus value and the core practices of “Manage flow” and “Implement feedback loops”. And for me personally, there’s no going back.


August 8, 2014

Servant Leadership #quote

Filed under: Books,leadership,Values — Tags: , , — Mike @ 8:05 am

Leaders are those who are followed or emulated because they possess the ability, experience, or knowledge necessary for achieving the objective that is pursued, valued or required by others. Thus a leader is in a position of serving others by providing the guidance and direction necessary for a particular outcome or result.

Dallas Willard and Gary Black Jr
The Divine Conspiracy Continued (HarperOne, 2014)

June 3, 2014

“How deep” rebooted: values-based depth assessment

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Uncategorized,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 3:23 pm

[Update 1: do read this post in conjunction with the previous one—Pulling change through the system—I don’t make it clear enough here that the purpose of the assessment is to help generate priorities for change]

[Update 2: the assessment tool has come a long, long way since the version still downloadable from here. Do yourself a favour and go to agendashift.com to use the latest version online.]

It’s fair to say that I have a complicated relationship with the Kanban Depth Assessment tool. With some excitement, I tweeted this picture from the 2102 Kanban Leadership retreat:

A few months after that tweet, I blogged How Deep is “How Deep is Your Kanban”?. Fortunately, I was able to channel my frustrations into something positive, and the eventual result was Introducing Kanban Through its Values.

Meanwhile, I find the tool useful in practice, even if flawed. That’s awkward!

Two years on from the Mayrhofen retreat we’re in Cascais, Portugal for this year’s retreat (#klrpt), and I have the opportunity to test a values-based realisation of our original idea, which I drafted only last week for the final chapter of my book (yay!).

Focusing on outcomes more than benefits, I asked participants to identify and categorise aspects or features of systems they would expect to see in mature Kanban implementations. This picture shows just a small selection:

2014-06-03 12.44.06

(I should explain that “Leadership & the Leadership Disciplines” pragmatically lumps together leadershipunderstandingagreement, and respect. I was actually rather gratified that Pawel Brodzinski expressed the concern that I didn’t give them sufficient individual prominence.)

Now for the measurement part. Sebastian Sanitz presented the Agile Fluency Model (Diana Larsen and James Shore), which uses a simple four-point measurement scale; Sebastian used the metaphor of learning a new language to explain what the different points on the scale feel like.

Since this morning’s workshop I have replaced my prototype’s ten-point scale with this more well-defined four point scale:

  1. Our system exhibits this aspect barely, if at all
  2. Our system is somewhat capable of exhibiting this aspect
  3. Our system exhibits this aspect convincingly, for the most part
  4. Our system departs from this only very exceptionally, understanding and managing the consequence when it does

These are applied per aspect; there are typically half a dozen or so of these per value category. I aggregate results within each category using a geometric mean (compared with a simple arithmetic mean, this gives more weight to lower/weaker scores, ie the aspects likely to be in most need of attention).

You can download the spreadsheet here: values-based depth assessment.xlsx. Some screenshots of the assessment worksheet and the radar chart visualisation are shown below. For the book, I will incorporate a time-based view from Ruben Olsen.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 15.05.42


Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 15.07.24

I honestly believe this to be an improvement on the old tool, but I know that there will be those that would still prefer to see it based on a checklist of low-level practices. I’m afraid to say that you’re unlikely to get that from me! Still, I’d be grateful for feedback, soon enough that I can accommodate it before the book’s publication (September, fingers crossed). If it takes additional work to separate the tool from the book—context matters, after all—that’s fine.

May 30, 2014

Pulling change through the system

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 11:50 am

I’m busy finishing the very last chapter of Kanban from the Inside. It’s about the last step of the STATIK implementation process, namely rollout. I treat rollout as a long-running, open-ended process that is very amenable to visual management. In fact, it seems to be hard to find a significant Kanban implementation these days that doesn’t maintain some kind of visual management system in parallel with the main delivery system, devoted to change, problems, out-of-the-ordinary dependencies and so on.

With Kevin Murray of Valtech, I’ve had success with variants of what we call the “Problem Board”:

Problem Board

Anyone can add new problems to the input column on the left. After triage and ownership assignment, in-progress problems move vertically between the daily and weekly areas according to the amount of time we wished to devote to discussing them. Once “Sorted”, problems are “Closed” once we are sure that they aren’t going to resurface, decisions have been logged, and so on.

The board we’re using right now board is similar, except that we have conventional swim-lanes that span the board horizontally, each for a defined work stream. Unfortunately this means losing the daily/weekly split, but with a complex delivery to manage, it is more important that we’re able to organise problems this way.

Jeff Anderson‘s book The Lean Change Method includes this very nice design:

Clearly, it is very much about change management. It emphasises two things that are important to me: agreement (one of the nine values), and validation (which I describe in the chapter on customer focus). Separating qualitative validation from quantitative verification seems very smart too; typically teams will be happy to confirm behaviour changes long before it is possible to confirm any significant performance improvement.

Next week I’m at the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Cascais, Portugal. I would be very pleased to discuss STATIK and compare change management kanban systems there. General purpose (like mine), or change specific (like Jeff’s)?

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