Meet the Coach: Niels Verdonk
For our semi-regular Meet the Coach series we meet with Niels Verdonk, agile42 coach and founder of agile42 Netherlands.
What is your background and how you became involved with Agile and agile42?
I started working as a Developer in 1996 and in 1999 I came across the book Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change. At the time I worked in an organisation which prided themselves in the fact the were the best in delivering fixed time fixed price projects. A colleague and I were trying to spread the gospel but back then it was unthinkable we would sell an eXtreme Programming (XP) project to a client. I mean this was before the term Agile was even coined. Until they got a pretty 'extreme' request from a client to deliver a white label mortgage offering website in 6 weeks and they thought we were up for the job. We delivered in 5 weeks!
For a few years I kept trying to spread the gospel in mostly waterfall delivery organisations but applied the technical practices of XP in most cases. Until I landed somewhere as a Development Manager of a startup in Amsterdam where I started to apply the XP concepts initially, but when we grew to 10+ developers in 2006, we needed more structure and a colleague at the time, Garbrand van der Molen, suggested to look at Scrum. We liked the concept and ran a small experiment, we liked the concept but realised we would need help. Though some contacts we managed to setup a meeting with one of the few experts in Europe, who happened to travel trough Schiphol at the time. We met at the airport with Andrea Tomasini who helped us at eBuddy with training and coaching our first teams and later supported the entire organisation becoming Agile. since agile42 was officially founded in 2007, I like to claim we were the first customer of agile42 :-)
In 2012 after 6 years at this startup, we scaled up to 10 teams and I decided I wanted to help other organisations with implementing Agile. Pretty quickly I founded a Dutch subsidiary of agile42, and the best part of the story is that the before mentioned colleague Garbrand als works with us in the Netherlands since last year!
Agile is still limited to the IT department or it's growing in other areas as well, according to your experience?
With my development and XP background I initially worked mostly in Software and IT environments. Over the last few years more and more requests came from non-IT organisations. When you look at the elements of the Agile Manifesto, it is clear it has it's roots in Software Development, but in the Scrum Guide the work software is not mentioned once. The concept of Cross Funtional Teams is not limited to Software Development either, in fact it's pretty universal. I started to realise it's less about process and more about people, the part "People and Interactions over Processes and Tools" is rightfully the first element of the Agile Manifesto.
We worked with Marketing Teams delivering campaigns with Scrum, teams working on innovative new product concepts, Teams delivering plastic products, Office Management teams and even Facility Management teams. Of course there are some differences to Software Development, especially when working with Hardware Development, but the joy of working together as a team working towards a shared goal is universal. What is an obvious difference is that in Software and IT everyone already heard of Scrum and Agile or even has prior experience, which can be helpful when implementing it. But it can also be an impediment when people have bad experience or have a wrong understanding of it.
Outside Software and IT Agile concepts are mostly new to people, which is why training and coaching is even more important to make sure the concepts are well understood and old habits are overcome when moving to a new way of working.
You are based in the Netherlands but work across Europe with agile42, do you see any specific characteristic in the Dutch market?
My feeling is that in the Netherlands the Market is dominated by recruiters more than in other European countries. This means that many organizations let a recruiting agency find an Agile Coach for them. Unfortunately most recruiters at agencies are no experts on Agile transitions, but they are still trying to sell an Agile project by placing an Agile consultant or coach. Of course it is in the best interest of the agency to place the Agile coach 5 days a week, but in many cases this is not needed at all. Most organisations are better of having a coach on-site for two days a week, and learn to operate independent from the coach the rest of the week.
Anything especially interesting that you came across recently?
I'm dying to get my hands on a copy of Geoff Watts book: Product Mastery, but this was already the topic of a previous blog post.