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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Future-Ready Organization: An Interview with Agile Manifesto Co-Author Arie Van Bennekum

The Future-Ready Organization: An Interview with Agile Manifesto Co-Author Arie Van Bennekum

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Key Takeaways

  • Arie van Bennekum is one of the rare co-authors of the Agile Manifesto, he advocates for the essence of agile
  • Being agile was never about learning specific dogmatic frameworks, practices, processes or techniques
  • To become agile, people and organizations must shift to a totally different paradigm, which includes different ways of thinking, working and collaborating. It requires to let go of old paradigms
  • Organizations that truly adopt the agile mindset and culture become more resilient and innovative
  • In order to avoid the mistakes of dogmatism, it is important to keep an open mind and question the status-quo, especially when challenged by legacy cultural and mindset paradigms

We certainly don’t need to introduce Arie Van Bennekum, co-author of the Agile Manifesto and global Thought Leader. Charismatic, yet down to earth, approachable, and pragmatic, Arie consistently puts people at the center of his vision and work. Passionate about Agile and the future of work, Arie has developed a proven Integrated AgileTM Transformation Model refined over a period of 22 years dedicated to successfully advising Fortune 500 CEOs and leading agile transformations.

Arie is Thought Leader and the Agile driving force at Wemanity, a world-class agile leadership consulting firm, is Chair at the International Consortium for Agile since 2012 and relentlessly presents the state of his research at prestigious Universities and international agile conferences.

My admiration and passion for Arie links back to his position towards the original values and principles of the Manifesto. Arie is probably one of the rare co-authors of the Manifesto who never lost touch with the essence of agile.He lives and breathes by the Agile values. One thing he likes to say is “Agile is something that you are by nature”. That doesn’t mean that we can’t become agile, we can learn it and grow into it. But being agile was never about learning a framework, practices, processes or techniques. 

Shaaron: I have a profound respect for the Agile Manifesto and its authors. You have captured the essence of what being agile and fostering agility is truly about, by putting people at the center of any practice and by transcending any particular framework, process or school of thought. There has been, since 2001, several Agile movements, few even produced their own manifestos and principles in a more or less dogmatic fashion. You revisited yourself the Agile Manifesto and made minor adjustments, which according to me aligns with the agile spirit of inspecting and adapting and continuous improvements. Could you tell us what these changes are and what led you to making these changes?

Arie: Continuous improvements, inspecting and adapting, failing fast are key values in agile that are not always very well understood or adopted in organizations. The Manifesto was written in 2001, when the focus was to find ways to delivering better software. Since, I have been researching and sharing a more holistic approach to transforming organizations. Therefore, I have refined the Manifesto to meet today’s needs and swapped “Software” by “Solutions”. I see agile as an integrated corporate solution to digital transformation and it applies to each and every function of an organization, from Human Resources as an example to Technology.

The second change I made is to add “fixed” to “Responding to change over following a “fixed plan”. Responsiveness has never been more a propos in today’s pace of change. This said, we do need to have a plan in place, as long as we don’t fixate on the plan, but instead remember that it is flexible, iterative and it will change as we uncover new information. The Integrated Agile Transformation model I developed, for example, puts a critical emphasis on iterating every step of the way. The model is based on timeboxed waves, each new wave being refined based on previous waves’ lessons learned.

Shaaron: What is your greatest achievement since authoring the Agile Manifesto?

Arie: I spent the last few years designing and establishing an innovative, highly customizable and future-ready approach to helping organizations become more nimble and agile: our Integrated AgileTMTransformation Model. Agile, in itself, is very intuitive, human centric and simple. However, people who are working on transformations, most of the time, just focus on implementing dogmatically one or a few frameworks or practices. They miss the most important part which is being agile versus doing agile. In order to be agile, people and organizations must shift to a totally different paradigm, that includes different ways of thinking, working and collaborating. This shift will in turn enables organizations to rip off all the sought-after benefits of being agile. I spent the last 22 years helping global organizations adopt and transform to agile which led me to design and mature the Integrated AgileTMTransformation Model, which is a proven approach to transforming to the new agile paradigms all the way from individuals to leadership, from corporate services to technology. 

Shaaron: That’s seems amazing Arie, and I absolutely relate to the necessity of reaching all functions of an organization, not just technology. Can you tell us more about the Integrated AgileTMTransformation Model?

Arie: The Model consists of a series of iterative waves composed of an Assessment and Foundations meant to create a common ground for the transformation. These are crucial because they determine transformation’s objectives established in tight collaboration between the organization and our agile coaches. 

The Assessment is a based on a six organizational competencies framework, that puts a strong focus on culture, participatory environment, customized solutions, knowledge management and mindset and behavior. The competencies have been used as a starting point for almost 2 decades and are refined on a regular basis.

Some of the common problems we solved for organizations and teams are knowledge silos that impede the speed of innovation, absence of agile portfolio prioritization that hinder speed to value. We increased transparency and accountability that led to addressing legacy applications silos and technical debt, or aligned structures and jobs to agile roles. The graph below breaks down the content of each wave. 

Shaaron: You introduced the concept of “Agile as Metabolism”, which, from my perspective, compares organizations to living organisms. Various studies published by research universities and consulting firms came to the conclusions that organizations that “mirror life”, and that embrace human centric structures have proven to be more resilient, more adaptable to competitive challenges and to driving greater innovation. People naturally identify themselves to the culture these companies foster, are happier and more productive.

It goes along with your belief that agile is about pausing, being consciously aware of current paradigms, and being consciously willing to replace them with new paradigms. From my experience, this shift is almost like a leap of faith, and requires taking risks and facing the unknown, even when guided by experts in organizational behavior and agile. Cultural transformation and mindset shift are the most challenging to achieve, and that’s probably why most organizations focus on doing agile instead of being agile. 

What’s your secret sauce for helping people and organization grasp the agile mindset when they are obsessing over agile mechanics and methodologies?

Arie: This is a really good question. At Wemanity, we develop and implement many simple yet customized activities that help organizations shift the focus from doing agile to being truly agile and nimble. Some of these activities are to pair our agile coaches with behavior scientists to accompany the people and the culture along on the transformative journey. 

In addition, with trained Management and Development coaches, we address organizational effectiveness and conduct regular job evaluations as roles change.

Through surveys and assessments, we also work with organizations to identify old paradigms that hinder their transformation. We consciously identify these and we enlist or empower their people to propose concrete ideas on how to move away from these in order to make room for new agile paradigms. 

Some of the most common paradigms we see are “telling, directing people versus trusting them”, “it’s a must/ important deliverable to us versus limiting work in progress and identifying the MVP for the customers”, individual heroics versus “team empowerment and responsibility”, “velocity versus value”, “stop starting versus start finishing”. In a nutshell, the outcome I keep in mind and socialize is what being Agile is all about.

Our Teams are composed of:

Shaaron: I often think about how agile can benefits people’s lives, education, innovation, if we focus on the right values. Any personal lesson learned that you would share, especially to the young generations of professionals? How can they avoid the mistakes of dogmatism and of doing agile instead of being agile?

Arie: Think forward. Keep an open mind. We all have our paradigms and perceptions. The moment it becomes difficult and distressful we most of the time have the reflex to step back into what we know. So, think forward, experiment, learn and improve. Staying the same means getting behind.

About the Interviewer

Shaaron A Alvares is a Certified Agile Leader, Coach and Practitioner, with global work experience in technology and software development. Since 2005, she has introduced lean agile product development practices within various global Fortune 500 companies in Europe, such as BNP-Paribas, Christie’s International, NYSE-Euronext, ALCOA Inc. and has led significant lean agile transformations at Amazon.com, Expedia, Microsoft, and more recently at T-Mobile. Passionate about Agile, Shaaron focuses on introducing the Agile mindset, and targeted team practices customized to the culture and aligned with organizational performance goals. Shaaron completed a Masters of Philosophy and did a PhD at the Pantheon-Sorbonne in Paris. She completed an MBA in Finance in Seattle.

About the Interviewee

Arie van Bennekum has been actively involved in DSDM and the DSDM Consortium since 1997. Before that he had been working with Rapid Application Development. His passion for agile methods is based on delivering to customers what they really need in a way that really suits end-users and business. Because facilitated sessions are very important within the DSDM method and his passion for group processes and human behaviour, he is very often involved in projects as facilitator and coach. At this moment in time he is a member of the board of DSDM Consortium Benelux and accredited as a DSDM-practitioner, DSDM-trainer, DSDM Consultant and IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF).

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