Interview with Mike Burrows


Sometimes the conversation about tools is a way of avoiding having the real conversation

Interview with Mike Burrows

Agile Pioneer, Author, Corporate Advisor
Founder of Agendashift, Director at Positive Incline Ltd
United Kingdom

Interviewed by Aina Aliieva
International Correspondent, PM World Journal
Ontario, Canada

Introduction to the interviewee

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 (2014). Mike is recognized for his pioneering work in Lean, Agile, and Kanban and for his advocacy for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Prior to his consulting career, he was a global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, CTO for an energy risk management startup, and interim delivery manager for two of the UK government’s digital ‘exemplar’ projects. To contact Mike, go to Mike Burrows.


Q1.      Mike, could you describe the initial reasons behind creating Agendashift and its evolution?

Mike Burrows (Burrows): It actually started with the assessment tool. My first book Kanban from the Inside came out in 2014, and soon after publication I and a few other people around the world realized that the checklist at the end of the book was a pretty good basis for an assessment tool. And I went through a number of iterations on that and collaborated with my friend Dragan Jojic on improving it.

We found that most of the improvements actually came from taking as much of the jargon out as possible and making it less specific to Kanban. We did our best to give it a good overall Lean-Agile coverage without getting into specific practices or techniques.
So, eventually, my attention turned to working out how to do workshops around it. I discovered that rather than using the tool to diagnose what was wrong with the organization, I was using it to start some conversations. And I’ve been on a journey now for the last four or five years to formalize that process, with or without the specific starting point of the assessment tool.

Q2.      There was a sentence in your book, “meaningful self-organization at every scale.” That really touched me because you’re talking about frameworks that they can be good or can be bad. What’s your opinion on these and is the Agendashift often confused with the framework?

Burrows:      I’ll start with self-organization first. I think self-organization has been taught so much as a team thing, and in a way, that’s so easy to confuse with self-management. I’m actually really pleased that books like Team Topologies and Dynamic Reteaming have come out in the months before the second edition of Agendashift, so I was able to reference them. Because now we’re talking about self-organization not just about what work people do and how they collaborate, but also about what structures emerge from the collaborations. Taking it up a level, what happens when teams collaborate with each other? What happens when people move between teams? Are there different kinds of relationships between teams? Can we encourage people to be more mobile? Is there an optimum level of mobility even? Where are the decision-making forums in which it becomes very apparent that we need to change something?

All of this depends on people being suitably authorized to make those changes happen, whether that’s through sort of an organic process or by someone directing it.  Many organizations need to make it easier, and they need to design for it.

I want to pick out another phrase from the book, “for too many teams, strategy is something that happens to them.” There’s just not enough participation across delivery, strategy, and organization development. So it’s hardly surprising that self-organization is a very hard-to-detect feature in most organizations.

I think Agile hasn’t helped by teaching us self-organization in a way that’s so team-centric. I can kind of understand how it happens. But if you’re interested in whole organizations, it can be a little frustrating at times. I think the same about servant leadership as well – I did a whole series of blog posts a few years ago on that topic because I was just so frustrated – it being taught that servant leadership is just serving your team as though that it was all about.

For years I’ve tried to encourage people to think more organizationally, and if we’re going to really make a significant impact, then that has to happen.

Q3.      The organization is the most powerful invention of humanity, right?


To read entire interview, click here

How to cite this interview: Aliieva, A. (2021). Sometimes the conversation about tools is a way of avoiding having the real conversation, Interview with Mike Burrows; PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue V, May. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/pmwj105-May2021-Aliieva-Interview-with-Mike-Burrows.pdf

About the Interviewer

Aina Aliieva

Toronto, ON, Canada


Aina Alive (Aliieva) has 10+ years working in Project Management and an Agile environment.

She has managed and consulted on Technical, Construction, Telecom, Retail and Engineering projects. Aina is a Transformation Leader, Coach & Mentor. She helps individuals, teams and organizations in their transformation journey. Aina is passionate about productivity, creating a positive work environment and building Dream teams.

Aina has a Masters’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA in technology. She holds PMP and PMI-ACP certificates. Aina is a proud member of PMI CWCC (Canadian West Coast Chapter), PMIT (Toronto Chapter), PMI Ukraine Chapter and UAE PMI. She is also a Program Manager, Disciplined Agile in PMI CWCC and DA Ambassador in PMIT.

Aina is an experienced public speaker and coach. In her free time, Aina participates in different mentorship programs, speaks at webinars and interviews people for her blog.

She can be contacted at https://www.linkedin.com/in/aina-aliieva/

To view other works by Aina Aliieva, visit her author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/aina-aliieva/