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Agile Kitchen @ De Leie: a detailed account of an interesting evening

22 november 2022

We took our Agile Kitchen on the road for the first time and set up shop in beautiful Kortrijk for our Agile Kitchen session @ De Leie on November 9th. We were the guests of Cronos @ de Leie, the operating base of companies like Noest and Sweet Mustard, and it proved to be the perfect, inspiring setting for our Agile Kitchen session. We are happy to give you a detailed account of the evening!

It proved to be a well-filled evening with 2 interesting sessions on the agenda.

From non-IT role/developer to scrum master

Vincent started his presentation to elaborate on a story from iLean’s perspective, where iLean hired someone with no Agile experience or IT background. Geneviève was hired and transitioned from a project manager in a non-IT sector to a Scrum Master. It was a very intensive process, with intensive training, opposition on the market, and a lot of pair coaching. But Vincent was clear, he would definitely do it again. He described three pillars that marked our road to success:

  1. ‘Hire for attitude’ – The quote “hire for attitude, develop skills later” is attributed to Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines.
    “We’ll train you on whatever it is you have to do; but the one thing Southwest cannot change in people is inherent attitudes.” — Herb Kelleher
    Geneviève was hired because her attitude matched iLean’s.
  2. Curse of knowledge – This was our first real roadblock in the journey. The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with other individuals, assumes that the other individuals have the background knowledge to understand. We underestimated what it takes to develop Agile skills. A second roadblock was the market expectation where a CV needs to show Agile experience.
  3. Commitment – Both from our end, as from Geneviève. She really wanted this hard and agreed in working hard to get it. We raised the bar really high (too high), so expected no less of her. In the end, we invested a lot of time and effort, as expected, and also engaged in healthy conflicts. The high bar caused stress and motivation dips, but managing these conflicts made us both stronger as coaches, we grew closer to one another

To get over the opposition of the market, we invested in pair coaching and got her inside an organization we were already consulting. This gave her the necessary experience to find a Scrum Master role, and start her coaching journey.

As a final note, both people skills and the growth mindset are key competencies we hire for. As Vincent stated: “A good coach or scrum master isn’t thrown off balance by a multitude of problems. On the contrary, it gives him or her energy and the will to investigate where to start without wanting to do everything at once.”

Next, Thomas Vervaeke and Ruben Dewyngaert talked about their journey from developer to Scrum master.

One of the slides stated, ‘I love my job’, however, the journey to get to this point was sometimes challenging. Thomas and Ruben started off in development (.NET and front-end) in the flexible and growth-oriented environment of Cronos @ De Leie, where the culture focuses on people and their strengths, allowing for opportunities but also stretching their comfort zone.

They gradually grew in their scrum master role by starting to facilitate one of the scrum events for example. The greatest advantage of having worked in development before becoming a scrum master is that they really know and understand what teams do. The greatest risk lies in staying stuck or at times going back to their old development role.

“What does a scrum master do?” is a question that we came across often and it led to the 6 stances of the scrum master, described and visualized by The Liberators. The conclusion is that it is a very diverse and broad role.

Read more in Barry Overeem’s post: My Journey as a Scrum Master

A pattern that we noticed is that both Thomas and Ruben showed tons of enthusiasm in diving into this role. They started reading, going to events, and working hard to improve in their new role. This is exactly the behavior we expect from a good-quality coach. It is a lifelong learning journey.

Agile transformation at Atlas Copco

Next up were Jan Sem from Sweet Mustard and Tom van Baarle from iLean. They talked about the agile transformation at Atlas Copco, a complex environment with 4000 employees in Belgium of which 200 are active in IT.

The aim of this agile transformation was to focus more on value creation and become a trusted business partner in the Compressor Technique business area.

Jan’s role is mainly focused on supporting teams (at the moment 5 to 6) in agile and scrum whereas Tom, currently also guiding 1 team, is more focused on cross-team and organization-wide aspects.

At the start of the agile transformation Jan and Tom noticed that there was

  • a great focus on budgets and reporting,
  • a decentralized organization per business area, causing a whole array of different decisions and choices
  • A traditional work approach by means of projects
  • A focus on tools: “Agile? But hey, we already use Jira!” was a common remark

What is a good way to judge whether the agile transformation is progressing sufficiently? By means of cycle time (i.e the time between taking up work and finishing it), throughput (i.e how much work is done per period) and employee engagement!

The Atlas Copco Agile transformation in practice.

Jan and Tom shared some hands-on insights and experiences and gave some practical examples during their presentation.

For example, they started with a limited number of the more enthusiastic teams to work with.

They set up a guiding coalition in which different stakeholders could discuss the direction and draft the change principles (for example, agile is not a goal in itself, setting up cross-functional teams, do not change too much at once, …).

It is also important to keep in touch with what is happening within the organization, to find the balance between principles, practices and tools.

In a coaching journey of a team it is extremely important to listen first and coach second. Custom coaching and on the job coaching combined with good communication, with a practical approach and practical tools. For example, making the status of the change visible via team dashboards, community on Yammer, regular meetups, …

A successful transformation is always on a pull and not push base. Who is interested, is more than welcome, nobody gets pushed.

Of course this transformation is an ongoing process during which the planning sometimes needs to be changed. Good communication will allow for the best possible outcome.

Conclusion

Tom and Jan ended their session with some recommendations and conclusions that they happily shared with the audience. We want to share some of them with you!

  • Agile is not a goal in itself, the goal is better business outcomes. Agile is a good tool to help things surface but will not fix anything on its own.
  • Start with your why! Why are we going through this whole transformation process? Make sure to dig deep enough to get to the core reason.
  • Practice what you preach: you yourself should also implement the agile principles and practices
  • Show results (what and how), make everything visible and keep moving forward (with small steps at a time)
  • Be available and approachable for informal talks, so be present physically regularly
  • Work together (also with management!) and reflect enough

What’s next?

Jan and Tom will focus even more on working together with all stakeholders and stimulating cross-team collaboration. They will support more communities, such as product owners and tech leads, …

At the end of this session, there was an elaborate round of Q&A after which it was time for some well-deserved refreshments. It was fantastic to meet up and connect again in real life!

So we look forward to our next Agile Kitchen session, on location again in close collaboration with other communities.

Stay tuned, and we can’t wait to welcome you there!