Facilitating an X-Matrix Workshop

I was asked recently for guidance on facilitating a workshop to populate an X-Matrix. My initial response was that I don’t have a fixed approach because its so contextual. It depends on who is in the room, what is already known or decided, what the existing approaches are, how much time we have etc. On reflection though, I realised that I do tend to follow some general patterns.


The overall flow is one of divergent and convergent thinking, as described by Tim Brown in Change by Design, and as as shown in the following diagram which turns the TASTE model on its side. We begin with an exploration of options, framed by Strategy and Evidence and guided by the True North, before moving to decision making on what actions to take.


I always like to start any training or workshop with a clear purpose. This is the generic starting point I usually being with. Its a bit wordy but mentions most of the key points.

To create organisational alignment by collaboratively exploring and co-creating a strategy, and to enable autonomy by communicating and deploying the strategy, such that everyone is involved in discovering how to achieve success.


I referred to the following agenda in my post on a Strategy Deployment Cadence. (Eagled eyes readers will spot that I have added a seventh item which I originally omitted).

  1. What is our current situation?
  2. What aspirations define our ambition?
  3. What are the critical challenges or opportunities to address?
  4. What strategies should we use to guide decisions?
  5. What evidence will indicate our strategies are having an impact?
  6. What tactics should we invest in first?
  7. How coherent is the plan?
What is our current situation?

For a group that has already worked this way before, this might be as simple as a brief presentation on the current key business metrics or results so far. Effectively it is reviewing the current likelihood of meeting the aspirations.

For a group that is completely new to this way of working, I have had good experiences of using Future Backwards from Cognitive Edge to create some situational awareness and start drawing out conversations about different perspective on the way things are.

What aspirations define our ambition?

Again this will probably be some form of quick presentation for established groups – probably combined with the prior review of the current situation.

Alternatively, it can simply be a quick discussion or check-in where the key economic drivers are reasonable well understood.

I can also imagine using a technique such as 1-2-4-all here to draw out some different ideas and come to some agreement.

What are the critical challenges or opportunities to address?

This is where the divergent thinking really starts and I try to encourage as much variety and include as wide a group of roles and experience as possible.

Open Space has worked really well for this, allowing people to bring in and discuss any topics that they feel are relevant. Having said that, it’s important to emphasise that discussions should be around learning more about the current situation, and to hold back on jumping to discussing solutions for now.

The downside has been that Open Space makes it possible to not discuss topics which might be important. I have seen relevant sessions abandoned because necessary people are not there to share useful information. It might be worth considering some additional constraints, such as specifying that a certain mix roles or departments must be represented in each session.

What strategies should we use to guide decisions?

This could be as simple as a review or reminder of existing strategies, or it could be a deeper dive into deciding new strategies.

Where there are’t existing strategies in place, a diagnosis will be needed, which could be an output from a previous activity (e.g. Open Space, or Future Backwards) or a new activity. For example creating and exploring a Wardley Map might be a useful approach. (I’m looking for an opportunity to try this!)

What evidence will indicate our strategies are having an impact?

As with strategies, this could be as simple as a review or reminder of existing artefacts (of evidence), or it could be a deeper dive into deciding new forms of evidence.

For the latter I have used a variation on the 15-minute FOTO exercise from Mike Burrows and Agendashift which uses Clean Language questions to transform obstacles to outcomes. (FOTO is an acronym for From Obstacles To Outcomes). In this case the “Obstacles” are derived from the challenges and opportunities explored earlier in the agenda, and the “Outcomes” are such that we can look for evidence that they are being achieved.

Multiple resulting Outcomes can then be combined with 1-2-4-all again to come to agreement.

What tactics should we invest in first?

Up until this point, the work has ben very exploratory, and participants are usually itching to come to some concrete decisions. This is where the convergence of all the ideas begins to happen.

Open Space has again worked really well for this, allowing people to bring in and discuss the solutions that they feel will have most impact. To help focus, and introduce some enabling constraints, its useful to use A3s as an output of each session, either the Backbriefing or Experiment A3 depending on the scale of the workshop.

How coherent is the plan?

The last section depends on whether we are explicitly populating an X-Matrix. Sometimes it is just a model on which the workshop is based. If there is an X-Matrix its usually a large shared one, formed of multiple sheets of flipchart paper, and we use it to look for the messy coherence by filling in the correlations on various matrices.

Depending on group size I’ll do some variation of a small to large group exercise to get everyone’s input, discover differences and explore the rationale. For very small groups, this can be as simple as 1-2-4-all (again!). With more people we have split into four sub-groups, each working on a separate matrix, and then presenting back for discussion. For a huge group we had sub-groups work on the whole X-Matrix and then use coloured sticky dots to mass-populate a huge shared X-Matrix to see the patterns of agreement and disagreement.


I hope this gives a flavour of how I approach facilitating Strategy Deployment and X-Matrix workshops, without it appearing to be prescriptive. If I have more time with the group then I’ll probably spend it on tactics, forming teams and backbriefing. This could include a Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation, using the Outcomes generated while deciding what Evidence to look for. Another possible agenda item is to decide how to track progress i.e. what is the feedback mechanism for how and when the evidence be shared and discussed.

Of course if you would like me to help you – and it is always valuable to have an external facilitator – please contact me. I’d love to talk about how this could work in your context!

The Agile Transformation Conundrum

ParadoxI’ve been thinking recently about what it means to go through an Agile Transformation. The usual interpretation I find is that its a Transformation to using Agile approaches (or doing Agile), or if I’m being generous to being Agile. At first glance, that seems wrong to me for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it implies that the Transformation has an end state – doing (or being) Agile. Once we are Agile we have Transformed. Yeah! I think that the transformation should be continuous, however. The Transformation is in learning how solve problems, and not learning how to implement solutions. It is learning how to Learn.

Secondly, it implies that Agile as an end state is a primarily tactical endeavour. The focus is on Agile itself, rather than on the aspirations that Agile might help achieve. I prefer to focus on how Agility can strategically help achieve aspirations.

And yet a call myself a Lean & Agile Consultant, because essentially that’s where my experience and skills lie. I don’t consider myself to be an expert in strategy development (although its an area I’m learning more and more about). That seems to be a conundrum because on the one hand I generally work with Agile Transformations, and on the other hand, my focus isn’t on Transforming to Agile.

How to resolve that conundrum? Well I could talk more about Agility Transformations to put more emphasis on strategic agility? Or I could go meta, and talk about transforming to a state where we can continually transform. A Transformability Transformation? Except I’ve just made a word up, so how about an Adaptability Transformation?

Or I could just learn to live with Agile Transformations 🙂