Management Should Apply Agile Methodologies: No more top-down management

Maximize customer and employee satisfaction through Agile transformation into an autonomous organization that can think and act on its own.

Interview with Masashi Kono, an EXIN Agile Scrum Certification holder


The EXIN Agile Scrum Certification program combines Agile methods and Scrum practices. Agile methods were originally used in software development. However, Agile methods and Scrum practices have become increasingly incorporated into management teams to form a flexible and dynamic workforce, focusing on providing value to customers.

Etsuko Nakagawa, Director at EXIN Japan, spoke to Masashi Kono, Division Manager for Kyndryl Garage in the Strategic Services Division at Kyndryl Japan, about the key to success. Masashi respected individual contributions, where time spent waiting for instructions from managers and reporting was significantly reduced. Masashi transformed his division into a more autonomous and Agile organization – and he aspires to roll out this approach in more departments.

The courage to question established norms is the driving force behind positive change

– Tell us a little more about Kyndryl Japan.

Masashi: Kyndryl started as a spin-off from IBM IT infrastructure services on September 1, 2021. As the pace of change in the world and the importance of trust in companies and organizations increases, maintaining the robustness and reliability of the technological infrastructure that underpins our society while remaining open and flexible is becoming increasingly important for our customers. While maintaining a strong partnership with IBM, we strongly promote collaboration with a broader ecosystem of partners and work with our customers to create strong social value. Kyndryl is a combination of two words.

The word “Kyn” comes from the word “kinship” which represents the strong bond with employees, customers, partners, and commitment to fostering good relationships. The word “dryl” is coined from “tendril” and evoking new growth and connections, and a stance of working together towards social growth.

We see ourselves as “The Heart of Progress”, Kyndryl aims to create social foundations that act as a cornerstone of building the future with the strength of the team. Together, we will make the future reality.

– Why did the organization spin-off from IBM?

Masashi: In a nutshell, Kyndrl separated from IBM so we could reorganize and transform our structure into one that can quickly provide the service that our customers want.

Using only solutions from one vendor or from a single cloud vendor is very unusual.  Focusing solely on IBM products doesn’t provide a sufficient breadth of solutions to achieve a customer’s vision. Customers expect the most efficient and comprehensive IT architecture and services to accelerate their business by combining solutions from various suppliers.

We are able to establish and take advantage of additional partnerships which allow Kyndryl to offer a broader range of solutions to our customers.

– What is your current position?

Masashi: I started a new division and became the General Manager of Kyndryl Garage.

Kyndryl Garage provides people, methods, and an experimental launchpad for our client’s IT infrastructure transformation. We support the transformation of IT services according to schedule and expert guidance by testing the latest methods and technologies to overcome customers’ pain points.

To develop a digital IT strategy, customer experience, and proof-of-concept in a timely manner, we implemented an approach that includes the Agile and Scrum techniques that we learned in a series of training sessions.

– Are Kyndryls “experimental launchpads” unique?

Masashi: If you are trying to develop a new software application, you can do it with minimal investment in equipment and cloud resources but developing and testing an infrastructure solution involves a significant amount of upfront financial and human resource investment, especially if you are trying to develop new technology. We believe that by providing a testing ground, we are able to lower the risk of trying innovative solutions and give our customers a sense of value, that  “Kyndryl is able to support their transformation in every way and in a timely fashion”.

-Is supporting IT services, as well as, supporting the transformation of IT services a key part of your strategy for growth?

Masashi: Yes, it is. In recent years, many organizations have been promoting digital transformation (DX). However, there are many cases where they deviate from what DX is to change the organization, processes, and corporate culture of their business to establish a competitive advantage. In some cases, new tools are forcibly introduced. In these situations, productivity drops, and projects fail.

At Kyndryl Garage, in addition to the experimental launchpads, we thoroughly test the potential effects of the new approach in terms of business growth and confirm our hypotheses are correct. By repeating failures and successes in a controlled environment, we are able to assist our customers to move in a positive direction regarding digital transformation.

Unique content and workshops create a learning experience you will never forget

– When did you earn your EXIN Agile Scrum certification, and why did you choose it?

Masashi: I received my certification in 2019 when I was working at IBM.

At that time, DX was a keyword that was heard everywhere. So, our group set up a sales team specializing in promoting DX infrastructure. While DX in the business domain is easy to imagine, when I asked myself, “What is DX regarding infrastructure?”. While first I wanted to get to grips with the most suitable way of doing things, I wanted to take it a step further with EXIN Agile Scrum because I felt the need to try something different.

Agile development concepts of “maximizing customer value”, “focusing on speed”, and creating a new way of thinking are different from the traditional ways of thinking. By combining the fields of agile and IT infrastructure, I came up with the idea that new “chemical reactions” could open up new approaches that had never been used before.

– Sounds very promising, so you were not instructed by your company to take the course?

Masashi: I always thought that there would be no growth in new perspectives and ways of thinking without learning, so I opted to take the course on my own.

IBM also focused on design thinking and agile practices, but they were shunned because app development members were given priority and IT infrastructure members were not expected to benefit.  No one had done it before, so I decided to try it because nobody knew what kind of possibilities I would find if I didn’t try it.

– You knew EXIN Agile Scrum beforehand?

Masashi: Yes. There are many community activities at IBM, and it is very rooted in the company culture to give feedback on the key things people have learned and experienced.

At that time, there were also many workshops on Agile and I was constantly exploring the possibilities within IT infrastructure.

– Was the exam difficult?

Masashi: Actually, I did well on the qualification test. It wasn’t that difficult. But Scrum is an unfamiliar technique, so I learned everything with an open mind, and it was very interesting.

– Do you have any tips for others wanting to take this certification?

Masashi: Motivation! (laughs)

Getting a certification is simple. The scope of the questions is fixed so if you master what is within the scope of the course, you will definitely pass. Be sure to review the course requirements in advance, especially the time requirements, and compare them with your previous experiences. Then you can estimate the amount of time you will need to master the material.

Keep in mind, that as your responsibilities increase in the company, you will have less time for studying. In my case, I have only about 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays, so if I have a qualification that requires 100 hours of study, I always plan how I can finish in 24 hours. Then, I learn to use the improvements I’ve learned next time with running hourly sprints. You can make full use of the Scrum methodology while acquiring the certification.

– That’s great to hear! Have you recently earned any other interesting qualifications?

Masashi: In 2021, I earned all four major cloud certifications, AWS (Amazon Web Service), Microsoft Azure, GCP (Google Cloud Platform), and IBM Cloud in one week. Before I studied for these certifications, I thought, “Some people will probably get it in a month, but no one will get it in a week.”

My colleagues were surprised about my achievements in a week, which changed their attitudes to doing certifications within Kyndryl. I gave a presentation about this very experience in the Kyndryl community. I received a great response that spread throughout the company.

– How was your EXIN Agile Scrum study?

Masashi: It was a five-day training session that included an exam on the final day. Not everyone was able to pass, and to be honest, a few questions were difficult. I was able to pass because I discussed the unclear points of the training with the instructor every day.

– Did the format of the training sessions help you recall what you learned?

Masashi: If I were to memorize only lecture content, I would quickly forget that content. Fortunately, the EXIN Agile Scrum course was a workshop style. I can still remember details of the course from two years ago

– Are the workshops better?

Masashi: The workshop style is definitely good. About fifteen participants are divided into three groups to discuss and post notes on a flip chart. In the training sessions, each team presented the results of each task. Something particularly noteworthy was the workshop’s focus on practical aspects. Since the workshop is based on practice, the workshop techniques can be used in the field. The workshop technique of using cards to vote on priorities is still used in the field, even after two years.

Prior to training, I was familiar with Agile Scrum. But I didn’t know how to translate that knowledge into action. As the first step, training and coaching by someone with field experience is very important. I highly value the workshop-style training as a meaningful way to gain hands-on experience.

– Your chosen method of study seems to be unique! Do you feel your methods can be easily picked up by others?

Masashi: Nothing is impossible! The worst thing you can do is build your walls too high and say to yourself it is impossible. Even if someone says I’m reckless, I believe in my own potential, and if I do that, I will always challenge myself when the opportunity presents itself.

IBM usually recommends getting a multi-cloud certification, but many employees don’t take the initiative to study new things and expand their knowledge base. However, the division manager, who is always busy, decided on his own to take on the challenge and passed four qualifications in a week.

Human beings are interesting, and it is inspiring to hear about people who try and achieve things even when they believe that they are too busy to be successful in such a challenge.  When I challenged myself and I did better, more and more people started to challenge me. I was really happy to receive a report every week that I tried something new, i.e., to achieve a new qualification, and I was successful. When I became serious, I realized that people would respond seriously and that people’s minds can be moved by their actions. Once again, I broadened my perspective about what I can do for my colleagues as a leader.

A world of reversals, the manager plays a supporting role and members take the lead.

– Do you find EXIN Agile Scrum useful?

Masashi: The IT infrastructure organization has a relatively traditional culture and there are deep-rooted cultural reasons that the group does not change and basically believes that it is not right to change. But to grow, you have to make some changes. EXIN Agile Scrum is a systematic way to show everyone how to make a difference.

– EXIN Agile Scrum involves having an assigned Scrum Master, members who all use a Kanban board. The logic here is that when the manager enters a room, they can see all progress at a glance. How do they make use of this?

Masashi: The project management tool, Trello, and the cloud-based whiteboard tool, MURAL, provide a similar system virtually.

All team members can add new cards to the Trello backlog whenever a new customer or new idea comes up. Basically, we accumulate issues from customers, ideas to make the customer happy, and issues that need to be improved as a team. We accumulate a lot in a month to see what kind of work we need to do as a team.

From there, we decided to use MURAL to prioritize and take concrete actions, which helped change our team members’ awareness of issues and lead them to start whiteboard discussions to develop solutions. With traditional management, there were many times such activities were carried out on an ad hoc basis, but with new tools and processes, groups can grasp the work situation quickly while visualizing the activities more strategically and continuously. In the past two years, it has become possible to conduct activities with much higher productivity than before.

– Do you need knowledge to adapt to the changing times?

Masashi: Knowledge is important. Actually, many people focus only on knowledge, but they aren’t able to move forward. Improving and changing culture and business practices requires knowledge, methods, and a practice environment. In my case, I use Trello and MURAL to make the process work efficiently.

In the past, my team used old Excel-based methods, but now they use Trello to manage all of their tasks. Furthermore, we use the Scrum method to make weekly task iterations.

Within a few months, members that couldn’t stick to their schedules were 99% compliant. The only thing I did was add new cards and manage them when new tasks came up in Trello. With that simple change, I went from 50% adherence to 99% adherence. They were able to reduce the management burden and use governance, mainly because they were able to visualize their own situation and the team’s status very quickly. If someone was behind schedule, it was immediately apparent to this person and the team. Consequently, this team member started to strictly follow their schedule without any additional instructions from management.

So, to summarize, you changed to a more flexible way of working.

Masashi: Yes, we did a total reversal on how we divide the work among team members. In the past, managers would have to direct work from the team members based on their skills and workload. In this scenario, the manager always became a bottleneck. Every team member was required to provide progress reports, then team members needed to wait for additional changes and improvements.

The process wasn’t very efficient so I thought about how to work efficiently and how team members could work comfortably. So, I took the plunge and decided on a “raise-your-hand” method. With this process, if there are tasks that you would like to do, you simply, raise your hand.

Those who were used to the culture of waiting for instructions were initially reluctant to try this out at first, but gradually things started to change.

I eventually found myself in an organization where my team could think and act on their own with minimal instructions. What’s even more exciting is that we’ve been able to change from a passive style of work to a more spontaneous style that motivates team members and improves performance.

Another interesting point is that because all the team’s projects are managed visually in Trello, we can compare each other’s performance and aim even higher and take on more challenges. Furthermore, anyone in the team can easily offer to help others out with difficult tasks. I have seen much higher productivity levels than ever before because all team members are now acting autonomously.

– Do you mean that there comes a time when qualifications, knowledge, and techniques have to change to keep up with modern times?

Masashi: In an age of unpredictability, where we don’t know exactly where we are heading next, we need to get prepared. Our team has learned more about cutting-edge technology and methods than our clients, and we have experienced successes and failures. This experience allows us to better support our clients in their future growth plans, which is the most valuable thing we can do for them. Among them, “EXIN Agile Scrum” covers Agile, Scrum and DevOps, and are must-have skills to adapt flexibly to the ever-changing times we live in.

– What do you think are must-have techniques for management?

Masashi: We can’t see what the future holds, and our client’s expectations are changing on a daily basis. Conventional management methods can no longer keep up with this sense of urgency. Management methods that can respond to change quickly I feel, are important to be able to respond flexibly to differing customer requirements.

Keep in mind that it’s not just the customers that don’t know where to go, but team members as well can be unclear about the path forward. So, managers must clarify the mission and vision of the organization and make sure they are present and relevant to the current operations. These actions will further strengthen trust and confidence in the team.

– What kind of team do you want to build from now on?

Masashi: My team achieved better results than I expected, so I think it’s definitely worth exploring if more employees in my organization are open to our approach with EXIN Agile Scrum. Wouldn’t it be nice to achieve a fully Agile organization, where all the employees work proactively and flexibly?

– Sounds like a grand plan!

Masashi: It does sound that way! By taking the initiative and making use of the EXIN Agile Scrum program, we have been able to manage tasks more efficiently, visualize team progress, and quantify productivity. These clear benefits are worth communicating to others in Kyndryl.

As the next step, we are starting to work on encouraging company-wide co-creation. By using Trello and Mural, we are able to collect opinions and ideas from people on the ground and discuss them across departments. The opinions on the field are formed and finally reflected in the strategy of the management. It would be wonderful to work in a company where this system is company-wide. The way everyone wants to work is the way the company should work, so I will proudly continue to promote reform and continue to work in a company that I am proud to be a part of.

-Thank you for your time to chat with us today.

Masashi Kono

Kyndryl Japan GK
Kyndryl Garage, Strategic Services Division,
General Manager / Senior Managing Consultant