November 9, 2020
Ron Kolkman was one of the first CIOs in the public sector to start an Agile transformation. His pioneering experience at the Dutch Kadaster (Land Registry) helped the current IT leader at the Ministry of Defense in his later roles. “The business and the board simply demand that IT can respond quickly to changes.”
The introduction of Agile had already begun cautiously at Kadaster when Kolkman took office as CIO. But the broad movement towards a different way of working, including Continuous Integration & Delivery (CI/CD) and DevOps, was actually set in motion thanks to the IT leader. “It was related to my assignment to better connect business and IT within Kadaster”, he says. “There was a traditional customer-supplier relationship, which is not optimal if you want to work quickly and in a business-oriented way. The new motto was ‘IT belongs to all of us’, which also means some ownership on the business side: the product owners as representatives of the business within the teams.”
This interaction aimed at faster production of IT-based solutions and innovations that address a clear business need. “With this we have taken a significant step in the further development of the organization.”
“The combination of Agile, CI/CD and DevOps made us faster and more productive” - Ron Kolkman.
Agile working does require a different way of organizing and leadership, according to the current Director Joint IT Command Ministry of Defence “To begin with, we reduced the size of the mixed business IT teams. The direct result was a much more flexible organization, with clearly defined and shared responsibilities. The new structure and governance went hand-in-hand. As a leader within an Agile organization, more than before you must be able to work from substantive technology knowledge. Generalists, so people with a background in general management, have a hard time. In addition, all leaders must continuously develop themselves.”
A major change in the way of working has an impact on the entire organization and its management. At team level, this generally goes well quickly, because everyone sees the benefits. “But convincing the board of directors and taking them along is sometimes difficult”, says the Agile pioneer. “It’s not just about support, they also have to participate in the Agile setup themselves.”
The fact that the goals within Agile are sometimes a bit less clear-cut, or can be adjusted during the journey, sometimes leads to some discomfort. Certainly in an environment that hitherto was strongly geared towards control. Kolkman: “Especially then it is important that the teams and the board work according to the correct structure, such as the Scrum method. You also should make the results and the improved productivity measurable, so you know when to adjust.”
Thanks to the Agile way of working – cooperation between business and IT, Kadaster really improved at the time. “The ‘us and them thinking’ disappeared and people have also come to understand each other much better. Complaints about slow or unwilling IT were a thing of the past. There was a platform for CI/CD and we introduced DevOps, which made us faster and more productive.”
“Actually, I have exactly the same experiences with Agile in my later roles and functions”, continues the CIO. So after Kadaster also at the Judiciary and now within the IT department of the Ministry of Defense - the so-called Joint IT Command. “Agile therefore works fine within an organization that seems strongly command-oriented, but is in fact mission-oriented. Ultimately, it’s all about the intent and purpose behind it. As a leader, you must be able to convey that higher goal.”
Ron Kolkman is most proud of the fact that he has started a movement with the entire IT team at Kadaster towards the next step in the production of IT, with greater customer satisfaction as a result. Xebia was involved early on. “I look back on a good collaboration with Xebia, where the professional and pragmatic approach stood out most: little frills and no bingo with English terms that are incomprehensible to most non-IT people. So very down to earth, and based on a good measuring system.”
He did notice that a taught and controlled introduction is crucial. “The ambition was particularly high at Kadaster. In retrospect, we may have wanted to do too much at the same time. It is true that we have done and achieved the utmost, but sometimes it is wise to moderate the ambitions and the speed.”
According to the technology leader, it is evident that you have to produce IT in a different way than before. “The business and the board simply demand that IT can respond quickly to changes. The story is and remains: IT is no longer an exclusive right of technology specialists. The organization demands openness and speed. Otherwise, the business will do it themselves which leads to unwanted shadow IT.”
Ideally, there is no distinction between business and IT. These are intertwined deep in the primary process, and also in terms of products and services to the market. The first step for the IT department is to gain the trust of business and management. “Without that foundation, you will not be in a position to support the primary process. Step two is the right structure and governance to be able to do it together.”
It is meaningful for everyone to work within an organization that you are proud of, Ron Kolkman concludes. That happens when you successfully do things that are relevant, things that add real value for the users. “This works better when business and IT are close together within an Agile setup. So in mixed teams, which deliver the right solutions and services through CI/CD and DevOps.”
This was the case more than ten years ago and this will stay unchanged in the future.