Agile transformation is a journey

Leen Dewicke, Team Lead at BeNe Rail International, talks about the path her organization is taking towards a fully Agile way of working.

BeNe Rail international, 
agile way of working
best practice
pilot phase
implementation of agile organization

The joint venture that develops the technology behind international train tickets for the Dutch and Belgian railway organizations set off on a journey. Leen Dewicke, Team Lead at BeNe Rail International, talks about the path her organization is taking towards a fully Agile way of working. She discusses how to pave the way and why leaders are needed instead of managers.

For example, when travelers in the Benelux region book a ticket for the Thalys train, the systems of BeNe Rail International are behind it. Dewicke explains how such systems quickly become outdated since the digitization of the rail industry around the turn of the century. In this sector, commercial margins are shrinking, increasing the demand for a cost-effective approach. Societal trends like "flight shame" are making the railway industry more attractive, intensifying competition among suppliers. These are three significant reasons for BeNe Rail International to become more agile in their approach. Agile working became the way to make their new business strategy a success.

Breaking the waterfall system:

At the start of the pilot phase, the management team decided to embrace Agile methodology as quickly as possible. Some were already fans of this approach, while others were unfamiliar with it. Within the first few weeks, the changed dynamics were noticeable. Dewicke notes that the biggest challenge was to avoid falling into familiar patterns, to break free from the old waterfall system, and to move towards greater collaboration. Choosing the right method is also a pitfall. Dewicke warns that Agile and Scrum are different things and that it's important to choose the most suitable working methods within the Agile methodology.

Finding a route over the mountain

At BeNe Rail International, Kanban proved to be a suitable method, as it provides teams with a better understanding of the workload. The decision about which approach works within Agile is sometimes only clear during the journey, Dewicke believes. She understands that organizations often see the transition to Agile as a huge mountain. Her experience is that simply taking the first steps will naturally reveal a path over that mountain. According to her, introducing Agile is the easiest step; the implementation, which involves making choices and overcoming resistance, requires attention. BeNe Rail International deliberately chose Highberg because they emphasize guiding and coaching during the implementation after the introduction, focusing on both the 'soft' and 'hard' aspects of the Agile transformation.

Benefits of the hybrid period

On the journey towards becoming a fully Agile organization, BeNe Rail International is currently in a hybrid phase. Some teams are working according to new methods, while a part of the organization still operates in the old way. This phase requires a lot of coordination between these two worlds. In this inevitable period, Dewicke sees disadvantages but also benefits. The trial period on a smaller scale provides important lessons that guide decisions for broader implementation. The energy of Agile is already leaving a distinct mark. Dewicke observes how sharing sprint reviews from Agile teams encourages the rest of the organization. Everyone now sees how closely developers can align with customer needs. The teams are growing and staying connected.

The essence of practicing Agile

Dewicke considers encountering resistance on the path to Agile working within the organization to be nothing more than human. She has personally experienced how, during the transition, one can move through various stages of the Kübler-Ross change curve, including responses like denial, negotiation, and acceptance. In her view, the journey towards a different way of working demands not only something from the teams but also from the type of leadership. In fact, traditional managers are no longer necessary, as they mainly employ control as a tool, whereas what is needed are leaders who provide trust, inspire, and foster team growth. Throughout this journey, her advice is to consistently adhere to the essence of Agile and to continually observe the world around you in order to determine whether your organization is still keeping pace with changes. This way, you remain relevant and engaged.

Related insights