Editor's Note: Jurgen Appelo (above) is keynoting at The Path to Agility conference on May 23 - 24, 2012 at the Arena Grand Theater in Columbus. 

Jurgen Appelo: No Shortcuts to Agile
By Terreece Clarke, May 3rd, 2012

Jurgen Appelo, author of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders and How to Change the World is a keynote speaker at The Path to Agility conference on May 24th. His presentation, entitled ‘How to Change the World’, suggests that it takes a broad, calculated effort on the part of change agents to build Agile organizations, one small positive change at a time.

"According to the famous "butterfly effect" even the smallest changes can have big consequences," he said. "Taking that into account, anyone who has made a small positive change in the world around them is by definition a world changer. Though of course, the more you are able to change the world directly around you, the bigger the chance that the effects in the end will indeed be big."

Agile Rationale

It’s through this cumulative effort, combined with a focus on other people’s ‘irrational’ needs, that Appelo suggests change agents can be successful.

He noted, "...[people] have a tendency to rationalize things, but people often are not thinking and behaving rationally. That why change agents must figure out how a behavioral change connects with the interest of other people. What is it that they need? And what non-rational things can you do to trigger their desires?"

Once these triggers are identified, anyone can earnestly lead with Agile principles.

"Agile means putting individuals and their social interactions ahead of process and tools, embracing change over following plan, focusing on products and services that actually work instead of just producing forms and documents, and trusting customers and business partners instead of suing them over contracts. Anyone can do that, in any environment," Appelo said.


"I wanted to be a computer programmer ever since I was 11 years old, when I had my first Commodore 64 computer," Appelo said.

That path lead to studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, earning his Master’s degree in 1994 and leading a “horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, quality managers and service managers.”

Appelo's insatiable curiosity allows him to the opportunity to see how his work impacts others.

"Someone traveled 1500 kilometers (from Romania to The Netherlands) just to be at my book launch last year," Appelo said. "Quite coincidentally he was the one who caught the "officially launched book" when I catapulted it into the audience. Some weeks later he emailed me from Romania, saying he had implemented a few practices from the book with his team, and it worked for them. I was very happy about that."

Turnaround Advice

So what does he tell someone who is on the fence about working to turn a "crappy organization" into a place people want to work?

"They should do whatever motivates them most. For some people that will be walking away from their bad employer," Appelo said. "For other people that will be ignoring the bad part of the organization and focusing on the job that they like. Indeed, for some people it is option 3, which is changing the organization from the inside. You should only do that if you're passionate about the organization and if you like learning to become a change agent."