Testing Talks is a new series of interviews highlighting well-known personalities from the world of software quality and testing. In this first episode, we had the pleasure to talk with Jan de Baere.
Jan de Baere is a coach and an educator who works with industry leaders and organizations. His goal is to support company culture transformation and to create a better working world. We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his job, experience and thoughts about Agile best practices. Here is his interview with 10 questions.
Can you introduce yourself and your background?
I’m Jan de Baere, I'm an organizational coach from Cegeka. I help companies to be better organized in their current context; in a context where you have knowledge workers. Priorities keep changing and in that context, I help companies to thrive in that new context. Before that, I started as a developer, analyst and project/program manager. Now, and for the last 10-15 years, I have been a coach.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I like to see how people, organizations or teams grow. How they craft conceptual ideas. How they combine it to create something that works in their context. It’s like an adventure on the job.
What motivated you to get into this industry?
I remember I joined a project that started too late. After a month, the manager came to see me and said: ‘I have three questions for you. First, can you explain why the team is out of schedule.’ The second question he asked was if I could make sure that the laughter of the team could be quieter because they were disturbing the rest of the floor. And the third question was if I could get rid of the post-it on the wall because it was not looking professional. And I told him that these three things actually go together.
And when he saw the results of the project, he asked me if I could join the company. So this is how I started to be a coach.
What are the biggest challenges when it comes to agile transformation for a company?
Imagine you want to set up Office 365 - which is the newest version of Office - and you have installed a Windows XP machine, an older version of Windows. So, if you try that, the result would probably be a big error because it doesn’t fit. And that’s basically what we try to do.
If you want to try to introduce new stuff, it just refuses, it creates an error. So it’s not simply having another mindset, you have to change the operating system too, piece by piece.
You also need to be able to talk to the top of the organization but also to every person in, because you have to find a way to make them work together.
What are the main criteria to succeed in agile transformation?
The main criterion is trust. Everything starts with trust. You have to trust management and also trust people from the team to work together.
Then, there is success. You have to change something for the better, as fast as possible and in the right direction. And success is defined by people you work with.
How do you see the future of agile?
We are no longer living in the industrial revolution, and people today are educated. Everything becomes more complex and changes faster and faster. That means that today we are in a completely different context, and Agile in the answer to that IT change of context. And this also applies outside of IT. They call it differently, but the driver of the change is the same.
If you think about Henry Mintzberg in the 70s, he said that adhocracy defined organizations with a “flexible, adaptable or informal form of an organization and that is defined by a lack of structure that employs specialized multidisciplinary teams grouped by functions”. That sounds a lot like Agile! So for me the future of Agile is when Agile will merge into a bigger movement of ever-increasing complexity, and we will see if it still exists as a name. It will be broader.
At Cegeka, we used to call our service ‘Agile at the Core’ but we changed that because the term Agile is not telling anymore what we are doing as we are not limited to IT. It’s much wider.
Your favorite anecdote about your job?
I was in a coaching conversation with a lady, it was just the two of us. She started to think, and she said: ‘Jan, do I understand that all the planning we have been doing about this transformation was useless? Is it a waste of time?’ I started to smile, and I said: ‘Yes, you could say that, that is not a city trip, you can't’ predict what will come out of it’. Then, she started to think again, and she said: ‘Jan, what could you have done if I had not come to that conclusion?’. I answered: 'Wait a little bit longer'. She understood that I was waiting for 6 months for her to have that insight. Of course, I could have said that 6 months earlier, but it would not have had the same impact. She needed to feel it herself to understand. But her face was priceless. That’s why I got up in the morning, to see people making that switch.
What is your greatest success?
When I talk to potential clients, I tend to present previous results from big companies that wanted to go Agile and who succeeded.
But for me, personally, when I look at the feeling part, it’s the switch I just described. The moment where you can literally see that people get it, that they change their thinking.
For example, the first switch I first experienced was during a meeting with 7 people. One of them, the manager, didn’t really believe in Agile and at a certain moment he stopped. He looked up, turned to me, and said: ‘those things actually work!’ Everybody started laughing because everyone knew he wasn’t the biggest believer, so it was amazing. And today, that person is worldwide responsible for Agile in his company.
What is your favorite testing book?
My favorite testing book? It depends if testing is a job or a hobby. If you are looking for tools and more practical information, go for the newest blogs and books, but if it is about principles, go for the oldest books because of values and testing knowledge. The Art of War for example has value about principles.
And your favorite testing blog?
You can take the usual suspects. But don’t spend all your time on that. When you have more complexity, you learn on the job. The more complex it gets, the more you go away from the standards.