Arie van Bennekum on Agile Working – A Look Back and a Look Forward at the Trends for 2018

“Agile working” is one of the most common management terms of the year and Japke-d. Bouma (columnist for the NRC, a Dutch newspaper) even included the word “agile” in her discussion of Dutch office clichés. These days, undergoing an Agile transformation seems to be the rule rather than the exception. However, successfully implementing an Agile transformation is still considered quite an impressive feat. There is a growing awareness of change, along with a greater need for full-service delivery that involves all stakeholders in the same process at the same time with the aim of creating increased business value more quickly. But how can organizations achieve this, and what factors do organizations need to adapt their Agile practices to? I take a look back at the main developments in Agile over the past year and explain what I think are the most important trends for the coming year.


What Happened in Agile in 2017?

It is clear that there is a demand for Agile working. There is a general demand for co-creation within the market, and the number of requests from organizations that want to undergo Agile transformations is increasing at a rapid rate. Technologies and innovations are coming in quick succession, and that is why it’s important for organizations to be able to deliver products faster. If your organization is currently unable to respond quickly to changes, and is therefore also unlikely to be able to in the future, it will be tough to survive.


Agile working has been developing for some time. The first attempts to offer alternatives to the traditional sequential approach date back several decades. In the nineties, a number of experts further explored different methods of working. Seventeen of these experts brought all of these experiences together, and the points that we agreed on became the Agile Manifesto. You can read more about it in this blog post. In the second half of the nineties, DSDM was applied in many places in the Netherlands. Shortly after the Manifesto was written in 2001, XP came strongly to the forefront, followed by the rise of the scrum. Starting in 2003, Agile gradually grew as awareness of different methods was increased. For around five years now, the Agile interaction concept has also been used widely outside IT circles. It’s not only IT departments that are working differently — the entire corporate structure is changing to tap into all the benefits afforded by Agile working. In 2017, we saw that there are challenges and opportunities for organizations in this area in particular. Last year, we observed three clear trends.

From Scaled to Corporate Agile

Whereas a few years ago we mainly saw Agile principles being applied within teams in an organization, over the last year we have seen a shift of focus toward interaction between teams. Within programs, the road is paved through “scaling.” With a growing number of teams, there is greater need to coordinate work between Agile teams. If this doesn’t happen, it will lead to friction. The challenge for 2018 is to achieve integrated collaboration across the entire organization. For example, Agile working can be implemented in such a way as to achieve a corporate Agile structure based on the concept of full service delivery, where the benefits are reaped in terms of the organization’s core tasks.


With this full service delivery, it is important that all stakeholders work together on the same product from the beginning of the production process. A typical example is the production of a Monopoly game. Designers and marketers get to work right away designing the board game and only involve lawyers when the board game is complete. This means that any legal issues with the board go unnoticed until that point, so the game ends up in the trash can and the whole process starts again from the beginning. This could have been avoided if everybody had been involved in the process from the beginning: a full service delivery approach. With the disciplined implementation of Agile interaction processes, one of the drivers behind Agile becomes the prevention of delays. Anybody who has control over the product or an aspect of it must remain involved: analysts, developers, end users, lawyers, marketers, designers and anybody else.


A Wake-Up Call for Management

Management is becoming increasingly aware of the need to integrate all stakeholders into one production process. In the past, many organizations called upon Wemanity for Agile transformations, wanting to “change the IT department first.”

When you realize that you are implementing Agile for business, this is no longer the right approach. After all, Agile ensures better business value that can be marketed faster with better internal quality. Today, you can see that if managers and directors recognize the usefulness of involving all stakeholders, this actually allows for faster delivery of products or services. In 2017, Agile stopped being seen as an IT trend and became something that everyone should do all together. Kudos!


To meet the growing number of requests for Agile transformations, the number of Agile coaches also increased in 2017. A common problem that these coaches must be wary of is the risk of falling back into traditional sequential methods themselves. “Agile coaches who implement Agile transformations but don’t adopt an Agile approach themselves are an embarrassing example of this. It really does happen!” It is up to Agile coaches not only to shield themselves from old principles and work through classic resistance behavior, but in particular to do this with their internal or external transformation customers. One of our senior coaches recently noted that there is still a need for this. She was surprised that managers call out for transformation, but when it comes down to it they refuse to make time for it themselves and end up falling back into old behaviors. It’s a real shame! With the rise of coaches, it is important to monitor quality not only within teams but also particularly within the management layer of an organization. Agile leadership is an essential factor for success, and it’s crucial to lead by example.


The Old Working Paradigms Are Still Ongoing

Despite this awareness, old ways of working still persisted in 2017. Paradigms are ingrained, and they determine our reflexes under stress long after the organization has learned the new way of working. In my opinion, only a few organizations understand the correct way to apply Agile principles. The cause of this lies in the fact that all over the world, we are used to thinking sequentially. This means that people are used to doing everything step by step. As a result, organizations still have steps for the testing, integration and approval of a requested product or solution after it has been created. However, in the current market, there is no room for people and organizations that continue to think in this way. Whether we like it or not, time to market will be the differentiator in the coming years.


Paradigms can only be turned around by properly applying Agile principles. People need to be willing to throw their fixed principles overboard and to bring Agile working principles into the modern working environment. Culture is an essential part of this, and is determined by people and their behavior. Some people will explore the possibilities while others will come up with counter-arguments. Every “yes but” is an old paradigm rising back up to the surface. Slowly but surely, the time for counter-arguments is running out. The social climate of modern times calls for quick, appropriate reactions.


This gives coaches an important role. It is important for them to have a behavioral background and to join the race with this in mind. This will allow them to distinguish themselves from Agile practitioners. Coaches must also actually want to achieve change. It makes a huge difference whether someone purely coaches or acts as an integral part of a specific transformation: coaching makes someone better at what he or she does, which is why we so often see “Agile” used with all kinds of traditional aspects; transformation brings about change not only in teams but across the whole organization.


Agile in 2018: Challenges and the Future  

Agile changes everything. Organizations can’t switch over to Agile just like that. They undergo the transformation with a clear objective in mind, such as implementing digitization or improving time to market. An Agile transformation is a commitment and should work for you as an organization.

We generally see two types of organization in Agile transformation processes:

  1. Companies that are very much aware of the higher speeds and business value that they will be able to achieve, and that will monitor this Agile process. These companies see the need for continuous improvement.
  2. Companies that do want to apply Agile principles, but are not aware of the continuous improvement that is required for this. They assume that the Agile transformation will come to an end at some point. Companies that assume that there is only one way to work Agile will never achieve the desired Agile results; Agile transformation is never “finished”!


Agile organizations are able to continuously and quickly respond to changes in the market. If as an organization you think that you’ll be ready to respond to a constantly changing market for the rest of your life after one transformation, then you have completely missed the point of Agile. Organizations will be faced with the following trends and challenges in 2018.


  1. Corporate Agile Will Keep Progressing

One of the greatest challenges for organizations in 2018 will be the full delivery of Agile. They will have to structure their way of working (the organization’s metabolism) so that they are able to develop, operationalize and maintain Agile full service delivery. This means that ancillary entities within the organization, such as HR, marketing, etc., will need to be assimilated into Agile dynamics. This requires in-depth connections between different departments within the organizations. There shouldn’t just be teams with multi-disciplinary professionals; there should be multi-disciplinary teams where all stakeholders are and remain involved throughout the process. Note that even though some will say “that’s how it’s always been,” being involved in the Agile process means that you follow the rhythm of the interaction process, disposing of all retrospective checks and controls.


On the corporate level, corporate Agile requires interactive collaboration, both horizontally and vertically within the organization, but how can an organization achieve this if the people are all doing different jobs and departments have no connection with each other? Integrated Agile is the answer, and that is the great challenge for 2018.


  1. HR Will Drive Forward the Full Delivery Transformation

An important role in this process is reserved for HR departments. The question for the coming year is how HR can be structured to allow a maneuverable Agile organization; the way that HR department manages the rest of the organization is crucial. Among other things, they should find staff who match the Agile business process, know the Agile profile and set up the appropriate evaluation models to match this. Agile is no longer just about carrying out individual tasks; it is about delivering as a team. Suddenly, it no longer matters—or doesn’t matter as much—who does what. That has an impact, and not only on the evaluation process.


It also leads to changes in the recruitment system. There is a need for new kinds of reward systems and evaluation models: rewards that focus on team performance rather than individual performance, and evaluation processes where team members are assessed by each other rather than by their managers. Be wary of keeping individual bonuses, for example, because they will always put pressure on team performance. It should be the team’s results that determine the bonus rather than individual results. This means that individuals must now harness qualities that weren’t previously required in their everyday work — in an Agile environment, these qualities come to the fore. Personal development is not a one-off evaluation process; it is a continuous process where individuals look at what is required to benefit themselves, their team and their organization, and then act accordingly.


  1. Futureproof by Daring to Be Agile

In 2018, it won’t only be producers who will begin to work Agile — the whole chain will start to adopt this approach. Adapting and delivering products, software and services as quickly as possible doesn’t simply require a single organization — it requires the whole chain. ”An example that I often quote involves a party that submitted a work order to a European government for new hardware. The national government made a plan for this and wrote out a pitch for various parties. Before the tender process began, six months had passed. The supplier only became involved a year into the project due to the long selection process, and it ended up taking a year and a half before the project was at a stage where the hardware could be ordered. By that point, the technology had become obsolete and the hardware was no longer available. This is what the speed of innovation requires of us nowadays. There is a demand for high response speeds from all types of organization, including governments.


A slow, sequential approach is no longer viable for organizations. Everyone in this kind of chain should be aware of the ultimate goal of Agile working. If a party cannot envisage itself as part of this, then there is no room for that party in the chain. So don’t be afraid of leaving your supplier if it does not fit into your Agile organization.


  1. Vision Determines Scope

Change starts with a vision. In 2018, it is no longer tenable for Agile projects to keep suffering from a lack of vision. Vision makes it possible to select—or reject—programs, projects and requirements. I recently visited Italy to meet with a division of a banking organization. There, they told me that they “in fact deliver every project that is requested,” without prioritizing or thinking in terms of value. Thinking about value is central to Agile, as it gives you room to make targeted choices. Thinking about value begins with the vision.


My advice to companies is to really think about why you as an organization want to adopt an Agile approach, and what you as an organization want to achieve with the Agile transformation. It is essential to apply Agile principles in such a way that they contribute to the goal that the organization has in mind and not the other way around. Agile makes organizations futureproof, but this can only be achieved if people are aware of the necessity for continuous improvement and if all stakeholders inside and outside the organization are aware of the purpose of the Agile transformation. Doing Agile to be Agile is so 2017 (or 2016, or 2015…).


About Arie van Bennekum:


Arie is a pragmatist who embeds his pragmatism in structure, discipline and common sense. He has done so from his very early days in health care and the military forces up to where he is today. This eventually led to him being one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto and an expert in Agile Project Management, team facilitation, Agile techniques and user involvement.

Over the years Arie has become an expert in international Agile transformations. He has developed models for organizational competencies, the transformation process, coaching types and other topics which facilitate an Agile transformation – not an easy job. He has created a team around him of highly skilled Agilists with various profiles from technical development coaches to psychologists to support the human and organizational aspects of the transformation.

Belief in his team, facilitating them to reach for their best, and the importance of client and end user involvement have his focus. These topics are at the forefront when he speaks, presents, demonstrates and lectures about Agile as thought leader of Wemanity, as chair of the Agile Consortium International, lecturer at Universities and as a presenter at conferences.