DevOps Institute

Humans You Need to Know: Mike Burrows, Agendashift

Human Aspects

July 27, 2021

By Helen Beal, DevOps Institute

In this blog series, our chief ambassador and self-proclaimed herder of humans, Helen Beal, writes about the humans she admires for the work they are doing to improve ways of working and our understanding of human behavior. Humanologists if you will.

Who’s the human?

Mike Burrows is a change expert, having experienced many years of organizational change efforts firsthand, he switched to helping organizations drive change when he founded Agendashift in 2015. He says:

“The sad fact (is) that too much of the change industry still sees resistance as something to overcome, not the massive clue that they’re approaching transformative change completely backwards.”

Mike is known for pioneering the values model for the Kanban Method that led to his definitive book, ‘Kanban from the Inside’, a lean-agile classic. His second book, ‘Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation’, was published in April 2018 with a 2nd edition in March 2021. ‘Right to Left’ came out in 2019, then as an audiobook in May 2020.

I first met Mike when I stumbled across his Featureban game, a Kanban simulation he generously licenses under Creative Commons. I’ve had great fun with teams over the years, incorporating it into DevOps workshops. Teams build an imaginary product and experiment with work in progress (WIP) limits and how they affect flow. Imaginary products I’ve seen teams build include the death star, a theme park, a cat palace – it’s a lot of fun and very effective at explaining Kanban principles.

More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mike on a couple of webinars where we’ve talked about how to ensure DevOps journeys are guided by meaningful metrics, and how to successfully apply OKRs within DevOps and value stream management ways of working.

What’s the Human’s Story?

Mike graduated with a mathematics degree from Imperial College London and embarked on a career in information technology in the late 1980s. He started out as a software engineer working his way up to IT Director and CTO positions in a variety of industries, spending twelve years at UBS Investment Bank.

Switching to consulting, training, and interim management, Mike founded Positive Incline in 2011, allowing him to focus on developing as an independent. During that time, he did stints as interim delivery manager on two of the UK government’s digital ‘exemplar’ projects, both experiences influencing his later work. Much of his focus now is on leadership and organization design. As he says, “Success is about so much more than technology!”

In 2015, Mike founded Agendashift with the mission of “building wholehearted and deliberately adaptive organizations – organizations that keep outcomes ahead of solutions, and keep strategy, organization development, and delivery integrated through participation.” A thriving community-driven project, Agendashift seeks to model those behaviors in its own development. Its rapid progress is reflected in the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book (March 2021) and the subsequent launch of the Agendashift Academy. His next goal is to see Agendashift recognized not only for its value to practitioners but as a great platform for leadership development also.

What Does Mike Like to do When He’s Not Working?

Mike’s daughter has complex needs, so the boundaries between work time and family time are necessarily blurry. Working from home has been a blessing in that regard! It also means that he is never far away from a piano – there’s an electronic keyboard in his office, and in the house is the upright piano he grew with.

What Makes Mike a Humanologist?

Mike builds and engineers organizations so that they are designed to change. To achieve this, they must embrace human participation. Agendashift’s True North statement is:

Everyone able to work consistently at their ideal best:

  • Individuals, teams, between teams, across the organization, and beyond
  • Right conversations, right people, best possible moment
  • Needs anticipated, met at just the right time

At its core, Agendashift is an engagement model; a way to ensure all humans in an organization are empowered to make change happen, and happen all the time.

The 5 Agendashift principles

  1. Start – and finish – with needs
  2. Agree on outcomes
  3. Keep the agenda for change visible
  4. Manage options, testing assumptions
  5. Organize for leverage and learning

DevOps requires organizations to become dynamic learning organizations and at DevOps Institute, this is key to how we help our members, humans of DevOps, advance. I recorded a videocast in my Herding Humans with Helen series where we talk about Joy at Work and how to create it, feel it and sustain it. Members can listen to that here. Mike also recorded a SKILup Minute as part of our How to Be Human Series. Members can listen to that here. In it, you can find out more about How to Be Curious.

Find out more about this human:

Helen Beal is a DevOps and Ways of Working coach, Chief Ambassador at DevOps Institute and an ambassador for the Continuous Delivery Foundation. She provides strategic advisory services to DevOps industry leaders and is an analyst at Accelerated Strategies Group. She hosts the Day-to-Day DevOps webinar series for BrightTalk, speaks regularly on DevOps topics, is a DevOps editor for InfoQ and also writes for a number of other online platforms..

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