October 29, 2020
Charl Vermeer was at the basis of an Agile total package at Kadaster: a broad transformation to new ways of working, a new organizational and leadership culture, embracing the cloud, data-drivenness and the adoption of emerging technologies. “Agile working has spread like an oil slick throughout the organization”, he says. “That provides maximum return for the Kadaster.”
Dissatisfaction with the business about the speed, turnaround time and predictability of IT projects became a hot topic around 2010 at the Dutch Land Registry. Business requirements and the products ultimately delivered did not match due to poor collaboration and unclear ownership. There was no connection to the original demand and needs.
This required a new basic infrastructure for rapid and flexible development and a different way of working. “IT was not involved at a strategic level”, says Charl Vermeer, current IT Manager Architecture, Innovation and Emerging Technology at Kadaster. “A new management, which embraced and stimulated the Agile philosophy, has definitively broken this dissatisfaction after our first steps in the transformation.”
Incidentally, the initiative to work differently did not come only from the former Project Manager Charl Vermeer. Also other managers were involved. “Together we tackled it bottom-up, after which top-down commitment quickly emerged.”
In 2011 a start was made to transfer the infrastructure to the private cloud. A year later, Kadaster started working with multidisciplinary teams. “Initially according to the Lean methodology, later Scrum because that suited us better. Continuous Integration & Delivery (CI/CD) was also introduced, followed by DevOps.
Making the various teams work Agile was also successful from a cost perspective: “There was a business case of approximately one million euros. In times of economic recession, that worked out well.”
“We have gone ahead with the new management”, says Vermeer. “People in the teams were partly included in the developments. In addition, new talent has also been recruited, especially people with competencies in Scrum methodology and cloud technology. In 2013 a new Management Team was appointed, which is still characterized by openness and accessibility.”
Ultimately, twenty existing teams were transformed to the Agile method in a short period of time. To this day, the philosophy is maintained with stand-ups, the approachability of managers and a so-called ‘Obeya Room’ for the stand-ups and where important decisions are made.
A nice change has been made in the management. “Instead of the issues of the day, we now focus on matters that we consider important for the longer term. We can use the saved time and energy to think about issues that will play out in the future or to better serve the business and other forms of innovation.”
Leadership within the Dutch Land Registry has thus grown. In any case, managers have more room to show vision and entrepreneurship. Vermeer: “There is also a greater willingness to invest in IT and emerging digital technologies. The IT function even reveals itself as an internal disruptor.”
Open innovation and open source are the core concepts. For now and in the near future, in addition to the cloud, a data-driven culture and digitization of products and services are central. With regard to data policy, distributed networks contribute to the principle of leaving data at the source as much as possible.
Ultimately, within a very short period of one to two years, a huge cultural change took place, with people within the various Agile teams being given a much higher degree of autonomy. The IT skills have also changed: more T-shaped, so both in-depth in terms of professional knowledge and being able to collaborate with other disciplines.
To safeguard the Agile philosophy and new working methods within the organization, so-called culture guards have been appointed: skilled people with a positive attitude towards developments. Vermeer: “In combination with continuous feedback, measurable outcomes and support from the management, much more energy has been released. It is buzzing and people are enthusiastic.”
Of course things could have been better at Kadaster in retrospect. According to Charl Vermeer, an Agile transformation might have gone even more smoothly if it not only has the commitment of the business, but is actually broadly supported within the organization in addition to the IT department.
Afterwards more attention could have been paid to the appointment of the Product Owners. “This is a crucial role for which you really need to select the best people. Portfolio choices were still too often made by management, while this should actually lie with the POs.” Perhaps Vermeer and his colleagues would have preferred to pay a little more attention to the internal marketing and communication around the transformation process.
An other important aspect is attention to ‘de-management’ in order to really invest autonomy within the teams. From the PO perspective: stakeholder management, joint focus on business value and measuring results is fundamental.
“The distinctive value of Xebia was the great commitment to get the job done together”, says the current Manager Architecture, Innovation and Emerging Technology. “That meant solving any problems together and not pointing fingers. During the coaching process, the gauging rod was regularly put in the organization to check progress.”
Xebia used the model of ‘demonstrating, sharing and copying’. As mentioned, twenty teams have been converted to Agile in this way. From there, the working method has moved to CI/CD and DevOps. Vermeer: “The Agile way of working has eventually spread like an oil slick.”
Kadaster currently works on an organization-wide Agile, based on elements from the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe): a set of workflow patterns for scaling Lean and Agile practices. SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of Agile teams. Covid-19 has also given a huge boost to digital working and collaboration. Productivity has increased.
At the time, Charl Vermeer was responsible at the Dutch Land Registry for the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of the initial Agile initiative. “We wanted to be as flexible as possible and we achieved that through an Agile total package: a combination of working differently and technologies such as cloud and emerging possibilities like blockchain and data science.”
“What we have gradually created now yields maximum returns”, he says not without pride. “As a technology department, we are a booster and influencer, looking up to fifteen years ahead. Our views are not only accepted but also highly appreciated. We are asked about everything.”