Interview with Mike Burrows

I am very excited to present to you interview with Mike Burrows, author of ‘Kanban from the Inside’.

In his book, Mike has spoken on how to apply techniques to work to shift an organization’s focus on quality, flow, learning and experimentation. He has provided real-world, pragmatic, examples that support the foundational principles of the book. This time, I got to talk to him not just about Kanban and his book but also about some personal aspects of his life that has been life-changing for him. Let’s begin with our conversation.

Q1. How Kanban has changed your world?

Mike: Kanban quickly resonated with me because it gave me a language to understand phenomena and patterns that I long observed, first as a developer and then as a manager. I tried it for real in my role as CTO (2009-2011) and after that there was no going back!

Q2. What was the driving factor to write the book ‘Kanban from the Inside”?

Mike: My personal breakthrough was the articulation of a values model abstracted from the principles and practices of the method. It helped me explain the very human concerns that motivated Kanban’s ‘insiders’ that can unfortunately get lost in the noise when the details of technique, metrics, and so on get discussed. I also found a freedom in the structure – I could step back from the nitty-gritty of Kanban techniques and through the values make connections with longer-established bodies of knowledge such as Agile and Lean. “Understand the method, connect it to what you already know, and keep it positive”, to misquote the book’s strapline.

Q3. One thing you feel is still missing in the way Agile transformations are happening across the globe?

Mike: In one word that is also one of those values, agreement. Too many top-down transformation don’t start with engagement on outcomes. Similarly – and just as inexcusably – most bottom-up approaches are too inward-looking or too defensive to engage effectively. Where engagement does happen, it doesn’t last for long enough, because not enough attention is given to how it (and with it the transformation) will be sustained. I hinted at these issues in the book and pursued them ever since, and Agendashift was born.

Q4. What do you wish for the Agile Community worldwide?

Mike: I would like the Agile movement to be celebrated for what it has achieved, and then to work towards it being taken for granted. That would be world-changing!

Q5. How do you balance professional and personal life?

Mike: That’s a very big question. Through a combination of circumstance and deliberate choice my wife and I share a demanding personal life dominated by significant medical and social issues. I’m not sure that it would be at all compatible with a corporate career of the kind I enjoyed a decade ago, but in my new life as an entrepreneur my time is my own and it seems to work. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Q6. What is your biggest achievement in life?

Mike: Another big question, and I’ll limit my answer to work-related things. Probably the most gratifying experience was launching Agendashift with two dozen partners already on board. I had no idea how much energy, support, and learning I would draw from those early conversations and every onboarding call I’ve done since has been a positive experience. That in itself has been a valuable learning for me.

Q7. How is your experience working with INNOVATION ROOTS?

Mike: It has been fantastic to have partners in India who care about things that I care about and who I enjoy relating to at a personal level. Looking forward immensely to my next trip!

Q8. Final words for our readers…

Mike: I am very much looking forward to catching up with everyone at Lean Kanban India 2017. I’m thrilled also to have the opportunity to work again with my long-time collaborator Patrick Steyaert at the 2-day Flow Days workshop the following week. I hope to see you there!



Mike is author of “Kanban from the Inside” (the first values-based treatment of the Kanban Method, based on his experience as interim CTO for a late-stage startup) and founder of Agendashift, the home of an integrated set of online, workshop-based and coaching tools for a growing community of Lean-Agile transformation practitioners. Prior to these roles, he was Executive Director and global development manager for a top tier investment bank. His new book Agendashift: clean conversations, coherent collaboration, continuous transformation is due out later this year.