AgendaShift – A week with Mike Burrows

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AgendaShift – A week with Mike Burrows

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I just spent 4-days of my week (week of February 22nd) with Mike Burrows. The class was a Deep Dive into Mike’s AgendaShift thinking. I say thinking because I’m not exactly sure what to call everything he shared.

It could be part—

  • Agile mindset or principled approach;

  • Approach to organizational change;

  • Continuous change framework;

  • Toolbox of collaboration tools;

  • Engagement Model;

  • Focus on Clean Language throughout;

  • Forms, list, canvases, etc.;

  • OKR/Outcome-based model.

I took the class virtually across 4-days in 4-hour chunks. In my eagerness to attend a class sooner than later, I signed up for a class starting at 4:30am EST. Not my best decision ever.

I’ve only heard Mike speak a few times at conference events and in overviews of his thinking and materials. So, the Deep Dive was a welcome immersion into his approaches to learning, his thoughts, and stories. I was also curious as to how his approaches could benefit me in my agile coaching practice and with my clients’ interests in change.

I’m not exaggerating here, but we probably had ~30 or more breakouts over the course of the class. In each breakout, we explored something in the Discovery to Operations path that Mike envisions for organizational change.

Just to share one of the tools, we worked on a 15-Minute FOTO exercise. FOTO stands for, from Obstacles to Outcomes, and is a clean language approach to remove obstacles or impediments in converting or focusing your efforts on outcomes in your change efforts. The clean questions help to clarify and focus on the outcomes. We ran (practiced) it in several varieties and it exposed me to clean language while giving me the chance to explore it.

I loved the notion of Clean Language and the reintroduction to it. Previously I had a short introduction to it and, to be honest, I really hadn’t appreciated it very much. In fact, I considered it an unwieldy approach for coaching conversations.

However, I now have a new and growing curiosity for clean and plan on exploring it in much more detail, while adding it to my coaching toolkit.

I also appreciated the outcome focus of the class. Mike emphasized over and over again for us to examine, question, clarify, refine, and explore outcomes. I will certainly take that into my coaching practice as well.

As part of the above two Aha’s, I found myself thinking of the importance of Deep Democracy (from my ORSC experience) in hearing from all voices in the system. He emphasized many times that all of the tools (focused meetings, discussions, driving to outcomes) needed to invite or include as MANY levels of the hierarchy as possible as you travel through these phases— 

  1. Discovery – where would we like to get to

  2. Exploration – prospecting for opportunities

  3. Mapping – visualizing priorities & plans

  4. Elaboration – framing action, testing our thinking

  5. Operations – change as real work

One of my essential takeaways from the class is the importance of creating conversational opportunities amongst change stakeholders. Many (most) of the tools that we explored have that as a goal while increasing the focus, quality, and outcomes from those conversations.

Mike has an AgendaShift survey instrument that he uses to collect client context information. While I’ve been exposed to it several times, and it’s tightly coupled to the Discovery – Exploration phases, I’m still struggling to understand what kind of tool it is…Is it a maturity model, lean/agile practice assessment, survey vs. assessment, what?

All of the sheets, models, frameworks, tools, questions to ask, etc. Certainly, my practice of clean language.

But I think most importantly, the entire AgendaShift model is overwhelming. While Mike created it and clearly has it “all in his head”, it’s quite overwhelming to completely digest in a 2-day class. I think he still has some work to do to make it more approachable, digestible, and actionable for below-average folks like me.

Well, let’s cut to the chase. Would I recommend the class? Well, if you are an—

  • Enterprise Agile Coach

  • Change agent or Change artist

  • Senior organizational leader looking to inspire change

  • Some in HR/OD focused on helping with change

Then my answer is a wholehearted Yes!

But I believe your context matters. I would recommend familiarizing yourself with Mike’s Agendashift work before taking the class. 

Mike Burrows is a treasure to our agile community. He seems to be someone who is trying to help us with some of the gnarliest problems facing us when trying to shift organizational approaches and thinking.  And he’s doing it in a thoughtful and respectful way without imposing “Agile” and all of the other buzzwords on people.

But be warned, you’ll leave this class (and probably all of his classes) with your ideas challenged and more reading & change work to do…

Stay agile my friends,


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