What I learned about agile in 2018

Arthur von Kriegenbergh
Last updated 
December 31, 2020

Starting a fresh new year (and the ending of one) always make people in the mood to make lists, review their year and set new goals. You could think of it as lame, but actually it’s super helpful. Your personal retrospective at a set interval, giving you the opportunity to look at bird’s eye perspective to your life.

  • What works well for me?
  • What would I still like to learn?

2018 was my first year working fully on my own mission. And also my first one as a father. Which was both great and hard at the same time.

After having worked for a digital product agency for a couple of years, the itch of starting something for myself was growing bigger and bigger.

To give some more context, 2017 was a year of big personal growth for me. After my father passed away, my life had been turned upside down. It felt like being on pause in a computer game, not sure what to expect next. All kinds of questions were popping up in my head.

  • What is really important for me?
  • How do I want to spend my time?
  • Who do I want to be?

Of course, I’m not the only millennial with these questions. But I had the fortune to be surrounded by some great people to help me answer these questions.

Working with a coach gave me all new kinds of insights about myself, but also about patterns in the interactions I had. After a couple of months it felt like a weight fell off my shoulders.

From people I admire I learned several things to refocus or calm down when feeling overwhelmed. Walking (with music, podcast or audiobook on), journalling every day, meditation, enjoy the in-between time.

With friends and colleagues I had the most insightful conversations, which in part helped me understand why my career path lead me to become an agile coach.

My girlfriend Anne and I took a mini-retirement of three months. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. We went to South East Asia to learn more about my roots in Indonesia, surrounding countries and also about each-other.

That period was also the moment I took the time to work on the idea of finally starting a business for myself.

And because of all that, I feel like I have answered all those questions that where popping in my head. For now at least…

Focus on what’s important

It’s important for me to enjoy life. For me, that means not only setting ambitious goals, but also enjoying the journey it takes to achieve those goals. It also means spending time with the people I care about. (Which a lot of times is hard to balance).

I want to spend my time on being the best possible version of myself. As a partner, as a father, as a friend, and in my work. That means finding a balance between all the things I can do for work and being fully present when I’m not at work. And also to admit mistakes, and learn from them so I won’t make the same one twice.

I want to be an example when it comes to working in teams, especially when it comes to teams working on digital products.

The best results are achieved when working effectively in teams.

But, I see so many people struggle when working together with other people. They feel misunderstood, not appreciated or even frustrated in their daily work.

They have way more power to change that than they realise.

Agile is a mindset

There is so many things misunderstood about agile.

A lot of companies nowadays are telling their employees that they have to do agile. Most of the times this is combined with a reorganisation. People are being told to follow some processes and use specific tools.

They have little or no time to understand the underlying principles and values, because business as usual is still there. And even though they are now with less people, the same results are expected from them.

In Dutch we have a saying: “Old wine in new bottles”.

The people have no time to become agile. To understand why agile practices work and to decide on which one to use for their situation.

This leads to a lot of frustration.

But, ...

If agile doesn’t work for you, you’re doing it wrong.

And being agile is not the goal. The goal is that people enjoy the work that they are doing. That they are proud of it. That they go to work everyday whistling. That the things they do help solve problems of real people, or make their lives easier.

Employees are not resources. They are people.

Set high expectations

In 2018 I had the great pleasure of working at a school for 1 day a week, with students age 12 to 15.

One project we did was with 200 students at the same time. The students self-organised in teams of 5 and every team had the same challenge:

Make 100 people aware of the plastic soup in our oceans.

We (myself and 3 teachers) had 3 full school days with the students to accomplish this.

I set up a program inspired by the Design Sprint process, where we worked step-by-step towards a solution.

You can imagine that we were a bit anxious before the start:

Aren’t we asking too much of the students?

Boy, were we wrong. Our expectations were blown away.

Not only did they come up with ideas to make people aware, they executed them as well. At the end of day 3 we had almost 40 teams with a wide variety of solutions.

They reached a way bigger audience than we expected. And even gaining the attention of some media companies.

Within the school they came up with solutions to replace plastic in the cafeteria, to recycle plastic waste and to inform parents.

Within their neighbourhood they worked together with local supermarkets, worked with and invented games for kids to become aware of the plastic problem.

And online they managed to reach 10x bigger an audience by working with experts & influencers, and by telling stories and showing solutions for the plastic soup.

My lesson from all this? Don’t underestimate these young students, just because of their age. I know I did.

Show them what’s possible and then get out of the way. Be there when they need help, by asking questions or by supporting them when they face adversity.

For teachers this asks some completely new skills. And for some this will come as natural, and for some this is really hard work.

You can draw a direct comparison between the teachers and (middle) managers within companies wanting to become agile.

Help people (students or employees) enjoy what they’re doing. Help them be autonomous, help them achieve mastery, and find a purpose. Set them up for success.

Because of that they will achieve results you thought never were possible.

My 2019 goals

Although I have never been a fan of setting New Year’s resolutions, I have always been committed to setting goals and making clear plans to achieve them.

Goals that help me get out of my comfort zone, but don’t make me so uncomfortable that I start procrastinating.

#1: Help 40 people achieve their goals

I want to help people enjoy their work. Make them feel proud of what they’re doing. To be able to do this I want to have more conversations with people about their goals. So, …

What are your goals?

If you feel overwhelmed by these questions, these 2 steps — Dump & Focus — will help you set your goals.

Already know your goals? Tell me the number one goal or project you are committed to make a success and I’ll help you in achieving it.

#2: Create on-demand and live video courses

Also, I’m working on a number of video training courses, both in English and Dutch. As I said earlier, I see a lot of confusion about how agile tools and processes are understood. My goal is to help people learn what's working for them, so they can best apply it in their situation.

For now, enjoy your start of 2019! 💥