#strategy and #agility, but then versatile

Mission, vision and strategy

(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)

In order to go somewhere, you have to know where you have come from. If the destination is a moveable goal, you regularly change direction. We expect leaders to offer us a path, which leads to a good future. The CEO leads his company to more profit in a, per definition, uncertain future. Pursuing such a future is the same as shooting at a moving target. Not infrequently, when the current goal is out of sight, the executive has to search for a new goal. Similar to what the hunter must do when his prey is too smart for him.

The mission is the starting point; the organisation’s right to exist. The vision is the future as we see it, and the strategy is the plan that we believe we must follow to achieve that vision. At least, that is what the professors at the business schools will have us believe. Think up the mission and strategy and during the execution achieve the vision. The reality, however, is many times more complex than the study books promise us.

Waterfall and future tolerate each other badly, very badly

It is tempting to think that if you spend sufficient time in advance thinking about the vision and the strategy, and you then plan these very well, that you have a better chance of achieving these compared to just getting on with the work. The conviction that you can plan and design a great deal in advance is what we call the waterfall method, which is still highly popular. But something that perhaps works for simple projects, no longer works when the project has a long duration. Then, all sorts of things can happen which can throw a spanner in the works of all the wonderful plans which were made to begin with.

A good strategy is always agile

Because the future is unpredictable, the organisation’s management must regularly adjust the vision according to the changing circumstances. This is one of reasons why agile has had an opportunity at all to make inroads into our organisations. When the vision changes, there is a significant chance that the strategy will also change! An organisation, which has a problem adapting itself to this arbitrariness, has an enormous problem.

I was recently at an organisation, which found it necessary to make its project managers agile. I questioned them further about the reason, but no clear answer was forthcoming. It transpired that, on average, making a decision took an average of one and a half years, and then the implementation by the project managers was carried out pretty quickly. When I proposed that it was perhaps better to spend some time looking at the decision procedure, everyone looked at me sheepishly. I seldom have an easy message to tell.

The mission is more certain than the vision

It is not about the vision and the road leading to it. The basis of a versatile strategy is a stable and solid mission. Knowing what your right to exist is, and from there ‘conquering the world’ step-by- step. The strategy emerges and meanders slowly towards the horizon, which we shall never reach; behind each horizon is another new horizon.

If, as organisation, you do not know what your mission is, then success is often nothing more than sheer luck. If you dare to decide what your mission is, then you have a handle for making progress and overcoming setbacks. With a mission you are able to achieve something, and when fate happens, the mission keeps you going.

Four basic questions we have to ask

Who are we? What are we capable of? Who do we know? What do we want?

Who we are determines what motivates us, and how we want to do things; an important ingredient for a good mission. But now, the following:  what can you bring to this world, and what is the organisation able to do with the resources available to it? Without co-operation, you cannot get anywhere, and it is the people in your network, therefore, who can help you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your mission. If you have an answer to the first three questions above, then there is no longer any difficulty in answering the fourth question.


#Agile voor alle sectoren

De ontbrekende zin in het agile manifesto

Het Agile Manifesto is oorspronkelijk geschreven voor software ontwikkeling. Het heeft een enorme invloed gehad in de wijze waarop we IT werkzaamheden zijn gaan organiseren. Toch zit er een ernstige weeffout in wanneer je het in andere sectoren dan de IT wil toepassen. Ik ga deze weeffout herstellen door het manifesto te herschrijven. Mijn intentie is daarmee de invloed van IT consultants op de agile ontwikkeling te verminderen en mensen uit andere sectoren uit te dagen mee te denken. Het agile gedachtengoed is te belangrijk om het aan IT­‑ers alleen over te laten.

Het oude Manifesto (voor software ontwikkeling)

  • Mensen en hun onderlinge interactie boven processen en hulpmiddelen.
  • Werkende software boven allesomvattende documentatie.
  • Samenwerking met de klant boven contractonderhandelingen.
  • Inspelen op verandering boven het volgen van een plan.

Hoewel wij waardering hebben voor al hetgeen aan de rechterkant staat vermeld, hechten wij méér waarde aan wat aan de linkerzijde wordt genoemd.

Op weg naar het nieuwe manifesto

De zinnen kunnen grotendeels intact blijven, ik vervang ‘werkende software’ door ‘werkende diensten/producten en afgeronde werken’, maar daarmee is nog niet de weeffout gerepareerd. Er ontbreekt nog iets wat de bedenkers over het hoofd hebben gezien. Zonder dat zou de agile transitie in de IT niet mogelijk zijn geweest.

De ontbrekende schakel is de actor technologie (ja u leest inderdaad ‘actor’ en niet ‘factor’), die een veel grotere invloed heeft dan dat je in eerste instantie zou denken. Het is een andere actor dan de mens die een eigen wil heeft, maar dat neemt niet weg dat er grote invloed vanuit gaat. Zonder technologie was het onmogelijk dat de agile revolutie in de IT had doorgezet. Automatisch testen, doorlopend in productie nemen, gaat niet zonder de juiste technologie. Het is de toepassing van de technologie die de motor achter de agile transitie is geweest, niet het Manifesto. Niet agile werken heeft de digitale revolutie teweeggebracht, maar omgekeerd, door de digitale revolutie zijn we agile gaan werken.

Dit is de voornaamste reden waarom agile werken moeilijk is over te zetten naar andere branches dan de IT. Elke branche gebruikt zijn eigen technologie die de wijze van werken bepaalt. Er valt immers weinig te sprinten bij een groot infrastructureel werk en ‘dedicated’ teams gaat ook niet. Echter wanneer we in de opzet van dergelijke projecten bewust kiezen voor vernieuwende en ‘agile werken ondersteunende’ technologie dan is het misschien wel mogelijk. 3D printen, AI, automatische auto’s en augmented reality gaan agile werken in veel andere sectoren mogelijk maken.

Het nieuwe algemeen toepasbare agile-manifesto

Ik kom nu tot de volgende uitbreiding van het Manifesto:

  • Innovatieve wendbare technologie boven bewezen techniek.
  • Mensen en hun onderlinge interactie boven processen en hulpmiddelen.
  • Werkende diensten/producten en afgeronde werken boven alles omvattende documentatie.
  • Samenwerking met de klant boven contractonderhandelingen.
  • Inspelen op verandering boven het volgen van een plan.


Hoewel wij waardering hebben voor al hetgeen aan de rechterkant staat vermeld, hechten wij méér waarde aan wat aan de linkerzijde wordt genoemd. Daarnaast beschouwen wij de technologie als de drijvende actor in alle pogingen om wendbaar te zijn.

Dit lijkt mij beter werken dan het oude manifesto.

Crossing the #agile borders

Agile is here to stay

(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)

At one time agile working was a trend, but no more, it is now a fact. What started as a revolution is now the result of that upheaval. A different way of working, initially in IT, but now gradually being adopted, or at least thought about, by every industry. With everyone embracing of this new paradigm, in which for the sake of convenience, I also include lean and self-steering organisations, I now dare to say that agile has become traditional, and therefore we need new agile leaders!

When something like this happens, we become involved in a new collection of challenges. In the project management world, we have also seen this when we embraced PRINCE2, when everyone was using it. After the honeymoon period had ended and love was put to the test, it appeared that the ideal and reality were much further removed from each other than we thought. The same is now going on with agile: it is fantastic, but there is still a gnawing concern.

The limits of agile have been reached

By which I don’t mean that agile has had its day. On the contrary, I am convinced that we are going to take major steps forward. But how? When an approach reaches its limits, agile leaders can do one of two things: take a step back to the source, or a step forwards and try to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal.

When a choice is made to go back to the source, people point to how something has come into existence and state that you have to aim towards this over and over again. Many agile opinion leaders have chosen this strategy, and we see references to the agile manifesto. The frameworks, which must not be called methods, are provided with values and principles. Everyone reminds everyone else of it all the time, whether it is relevant or not.

This, dear reader, leads to professional sectarianism.

The agile mindset lies in the future

The reference to the past is understandable. The authors of the agile manifesto had a future in mind. The founding leaders of this movement, of which many are still active, want to provide this future with substance and, in this way, remain as close as possible to that ideal. Some of those trailblazers have become disappointed and quit, due to the direction agile is taking, which does not match with their desired ideal. An attitude, which in my opinion bears witness to a narrow-minded frame of reference.

Agile has become traditional, and has moved many years on from what was originally conceived. The leaders from the past should now receive more respect for what they initiated rather than a sympathetic ear for what they now have to say. Just as the ideas a grandfather has on, in his opinion, the ‘disastrous’ consequences of modern technology, the past leaders do not have much more to tell us about the present and future of agile working. They are the historical heroes, and that is about the most that can be said.

We need new leaders, and I challenge you to become such a leader.

The new agile leader

What do we see happening now? Organisations want to become, or are already, agile, but at the ‘boundaries’ of the ‘tribe’ or ‘release train’ there is an environment that although in a state of flux, is certainly not working agile. Think about a sect, which thinks that everyone has to think and become the same as them! When you demand that senior management also has to have the agile mindset, you are becoming one too. Perhaps, with the danger of group blindness, it succeeds, but often or mostly in fact, only in a limited way. Suppliers do not want to, or cannot as legislation gets in the way and prohibits certain things. Often we have to accept these impediments. Time and again, the agile leader sees a discrepancy with the harsh truth, which he or she has to reconcile.

And also in the team some gaps need to be bridged. Self-management is not to everyone’s liking, not everyone is intrinsically motivated and not everyone is waiting for a ‘why’ or a ‘wow’. A lot of people work for the money they can use for the things they really find important. There are limits to the motivation and the readiness to embrace the agile mindset. It is the new agile leader who has to bridge this gap.

The gap is as wide as you imagine it to be

When you have a strong conviction, for example that of agile working, your mindset is everything but agile. What I mean to say, in plain English, is that someone with a strong conviction (often) has an uncompromising and inflexible mindset. The leaders we now need have to be versatile in order to manoeuvre between paradigms.

Each time we have to bridge a gap, we look for a compromise, which is what leaders do. They work with what is available and understand how to get the best out of people imprisoned in their own systems. In all of this, they deliver value which is what agile leadership means. That is not something that lies in the past, in the roots of the agile philosophy, but on the contrary it lies in the future, that vague spot on the horizon called ‘valuable outcome’. The journey they make follows a road on which, without doubt, they will have to build many bridges and at the end, at the horizon, there will be a new horizon. And so it goes on, and endless journey of innovative steps.

Do you, together with me, want to be such a leader?