Generative patterns: Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes (IdOO) | Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment

Generative patterns: Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes (IdOO)

IdOO image

IdOO – a mnemonic for Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes – is one of two key generative patterns in Agendashift. We use it at different times and with different combinations of tools and prompts, but still the underlying pattern easily recognised.


The motivation for IdOO lies in Agendashift’s first two principles:

  1. Start – and finish – with needs
  2. Agree on outcomes

Authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes is the most powerful enabler for strategic change that we know. IdOO promotes this by:

  • Having outcomes identified and articulated through participation in a generative process, not imposed from outside
  • Ensuring by construction that they are connected to needs

Specific instances of the pattern

Our transformation strategy workshops Core, Applied, and Deep Dive use the IdOO pattern twice:

  • In Discovery, reflecting on our provided True North statement, in a business context established by preceding exercises, and the resulting outcomes organised in a Plan on a Page
  • In Exploration, reflecting on prompts prioritised from our 42-prompt assessment, context already established in Discovery, and outcomes then organised through Mapping

Our various outside-in strategy review workshops employ the IdOO pattern either once or twice (see the OI-SR template for detail on the ‘layers’ below):

  • In the Impact! workshop, for the Customer layer (only)
  • In the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, initially for the Customer and Organisation layers and later the Product, Platform, and Teams(s) layers

Demonstrating IdOO at its most simple, the Agendashift True North deck asks the questions below in sequence, one slide at a time (the True North statement fulfulling the role of generative image, evoking a wide range of possible responses both spoken and unspoken):

  1. When this is working at its ideal best for you, what’s that like?
  2. And when that's happening, what new stories could you tell?
  3. What stops that? What gets in the way?
  4. What would you like to have happen?
  5. Then what happens? (And perhaps again: Then what happens?)

Facilitating IdOO

Ideal: This is the result of the reflection (written down or otherwise) and should not be confused with the generative image, adaptive challenge, or other prompt – provided or harvested – used by the facilitator in the reflection’s setup. Furthermore, the reflection always comes after establishing some kind of business context.

Obstacles: As described in our resource [Language of Outcomes] and in particular the second article in the associated blog series, it’s important to check that obstacles identify real issues and don’t suffer from certain unhelpful framings. Their elicitation is usually straightforward – from experience we have learned to use neutral but direct language when facilitating. In certain circumstances however it may be appropriate to employ a more elaborate obstacle identification exercise.

Outcomes: These can be generated by various means, for example one of the two variants of our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, 15-minute FOTO, the miracle question as popularised by The Solution Focus (McKergow & Jackson), or some combination. As already indicated, outcomes can be organised in multiple ways after generation.

IdOO is not always linear. For example, although 15-minute FOTO is mainly about exploring and developing a landscape of outcomes, further obstacles may be identified in that process, and from those, more outcomes. It could be said therefore that the process builds a fractal landscape of both obstacles and outcomes.

See also:

  • The classic coaching model GROW ( – Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward. Because we are developing strategy, IdOO departs from that highly recommended model in two key respects:

    1. We seek to generate a landscape of outcomes – potentially a fractal landscape with further obstacles and their corresponding outcomes embedded within it – covering a range of timescales
    2. Rather than seeking to help the client towards their next actionable step, we go on to organise outcomes to reveal lines of sight between near-term opportunities, key results, medium-term objectives, and long-term goals; by their construction we can reasonably expect to find coherence here
  • From the Clean Language community (to which the Agendashift community is closely aligned), the PRO ( model – Problem, Remedy, Outcome – by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley. The ability to recognise the differences between the three elements of the model and to move conversations between them are certainly valuable skills. Comparing PRO and IdOO:

    • Problem and obstacle are similar, differing perhaps more in tone than in substance
    • In IdOO, not seeking remedies at this stage, we are happy to gloss over them, replacing them with their respective outcomes (a strategy applicable in Clean Language coaching also). In Agendashift, potential solutions are considered later in the process, often loosely held as hypotheses and experiments. See Agendashift’s other key pattern, Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment.
    • Outcomes in the two models are the same.
  • Challenge Mapping (Sid Parnes, Min Basadur) – broadening and narrowing with Why and What, responses captured in How might we...? (HMW) form:

    1. “Why [is this an important challenge]?” (and “Why else?”)
    2. “What’s stopping us?” (and “What else?”)


  • From the Lean community (to which we also align), some resonances with Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata have been noted. Like the katas, IdOO could be described as a ‘routine’ to be practiced.

Further reading

Note that the IdOO mnemonic appears in neither book, though the pattern is easily recognised in both. A planned second edition of Agendashift will rectify that. References from Agendashift are collected here (references above are additional to those):

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Agendashift™ is brought to you by Positive Incline Ltd, UK-based specialists in Lean, Agile, strategy, and change. Founder Mike Burrows came to prominence in the Lean-Agile community as the orginator of Kanban’s values model, out of which came his first book, Kanban from the Inside (2014). His more recent books Agendashift (2018) and Right to Left (2019, audiobook 2020) bring a resolutely needs-based and outcome-oriented perspective to change, transformation, and the Lean-Agile landscape as a whole, contributing meanwhile a number of popular tools, games, and other resources. He works as a consultant, facilitator, and trainer, and as a keynote speaker at events public and private around the world.

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