July 21, 2017 Focus area: Digital Transformation

It is time to connect Agile in practice and culture

When I talk about Agile, people love to hear about Booking.com. Traditional organizations want to crack the code and become as Agile as the Ubers, Netflix’s and AirBnB’s of the world and they want Blinklane to help them. Now I am connecting my experience at  Booking.com with theories and processes organizations use to adapt to the changes they face in their environment.

At Booking.com I attended stand-ups and saw how teams used Kanban boards and tools like Trello and Jira for backlogs. But during the years I worked there I never heard of Agile certification and I believe neither my colleagues did. You might wonder: how come that these organizations are so good at adapting to a changing market? 

Agility starts at the company culture. The Booking.com values make you a ‘Work horse vs. show pony ‘ and it stimulates you to ’Get things done today. Tomorrow will bring fresh challenges’. Taking small steps is something they stimulate and you won’t be punished for making mistakes from which you’ve learned. The Agile values are incorporated in the core values of the organization and are valid for each single employee, no matter in which department or team they work.

Let’s have a look at what happens if we would for example implement Scrum as a new way of working. At first, organizations focus on introducing the new process. New roles are being assigned and Product Owners and Scrum Masters learn what is needed to guide and facilitate their Scrum Team. Teams will implement the rituals: having stand-ups every day, working in sprints of two weeks and using a retrospective to evaluate the working process and collaboration. They want to show astonishing results, like increasing velocity, after implementing the new way of working rather sooner than later.

But the success of agility lies in whether every single individual, from leadership- to team level, experience and internalise what goes behind the Agile values. Collaboration and asking for feedback are two examples of what will change in an agile transformation, but changing a way of working does not instantly make people adapt a different way of collaboration. Neither makes it people at all levels in the company willingly to ask for feedback to learn from. To crack the code to agility, companies’ values need to be aligned with the Agile values, instead of introducing ‘Agile values’ separately.

Now is the time for organizations to connect Agile in practice and culture. I advocate for more understanding in organizations on the cultural change that is needed to become a smooth agile enterprise. Starting at the top level to adapt a servant leadership style in which people are being trusted. Followed by all other levels in the organization to see changes in communication and interaction. Empowered teams should make decisions and successes should be celebrated.

Everyone needs to understand that a cultural change is not adopted in the same pace as an agile way of working can be adopted. The only way to shift the culture, is to understand where you’re standing and to admit that things need to change. Most important to be aware of, is to never forget the need of getting everyone on board. Only then you’ll be able to adapt to change.