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Q&A with Necmettin Özkan

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Necmettin Özkan, Ph.D.(c) on Agile Mindset | Agile transformation.

How could you describe your career path in few words?

I completed my undergraduate education in Computer Engineering at Ege University in Turkey and my master’s degree in IT Management at UTM in Malaysia. Then, I started my first job as a process and quality improvement specialist. The instinct for continuous improvement led me meeting Agile and Scrum in 2014. I was a part of the team that implemented Turkey's largest Agile transformation at that time in the bank that was also the biggest Agile transformation in the Middle East and East Europe and taking place in a highly regulated environment at large scale. This gave me the opportunity to experience how Scrum behaves outside of its comfort zone, at a large scale, and within a strict environment such as in a bank. Further, I continued to provide Agile transformation consultancy to organizations and teams I worked with.

I took part in various performance, quality, and process improvement initiatives to improve ways of working in IT and business units. I carried out those initiatives to ensure that change management is rational, data-oriented, people-cantered, encompassing cultural transformation and systematic. I have given numerous trainings to organizations, universities, and participants at events. I led teams to implement modern people-oriented management styles in their work.

Mixed with academic and practical experiences, I have gained a balanced and critical thinking perspective. I am eager to investigate how to be effective and how organizations and teams might make people the primary actors. Now, I am working toward my Ph.D. degree at Gebze Technical University, on agile mindset. From academic halls to leading teams, I am passionate about contributing voluntarily to the body of knowledge by sharing through public speaking, organizing events, lecturing at universities, mentoring, and reviewing for international journals and conferences, and producing academic publications.


What is Agile from your perspective?

The claim of being linear implies a way towards being flawless and free from errors, mistakes, faults, or defects. The delusion of the Waterfall methodology, the most typical and well-known example of the classical software development approaches, in following a systematic and linear approach (to the software development life cycle) is such. The more systematic (self-confident) approach comes with a more linear (claiming being perfect) logic in it. There exists an unrealistic divinity with aiming to know all the conditions with ignorance of context. Agility, on the other hand, refuses this unrealistic divinity for the complex domains and proposes returning to the man’s essence who is not naturally perfect or flawless, for such complex product and service developments.

The form in which agile processes gain its essence evolves into a circular shape instead of linear. For this reason, it is ideal for complex domains (such as software development life cycle) to be in a circular form. With this circularity, the human seeks to discover, research, learn, make mistakes, learn from mistakes, return to a starting point, learn again, know the unknowns, and adapt, which are especially required for agility. Based on this natural need for agility, some people have invented Agile. Agile approaches have appeared to meet the need of faster time to market, shorter development cycles, lower development cost, and the ability to move and change quickly and easily. Today, the term Agile represents widely appreciated values, mindsets, approaches, methods, and applications, especially for the software development domain as well as for other domains.

What is the current state of Agile today? Is Agile already dead?

To response the need for agility, some people have invented Agile approaches, based on their understandings and interests. While Agile approaches have brought many benefits to organizations, however some people blindly apply Agile methods and impose rigid Agile practices on organizations. Unfortunately, this has become the mainstream of today.

The reason behind this is simple; while transition of the agility capabilities from one form to another, people intentionally or unintentionally involve their perceptions, understandings, and intentions into what they create about Agile. For instance, the Agile world has been evangelized with commercial concerns, resulting in “selling agility” to organizations as an object in the form of packaged practices (shortly industrialized Agile™ products) for profits, as also pointed out by some of the manifesto authors, including David Thomas, Andy Hunt, R. C. Martin. In connection with this industrialization, people aim to put their products in a sacrosanct form to preserve their shapes.  Therefore, some aspects in Agile are seldomly scrutinized under the shadow of a strong marketing monopoly. As a result, today, a considerable number of organizations keep “doing Agile,” with the illusion of staying at the “comfort zone” coming with those industrialized Agile™ products and the real agility stays behind those “sold” packages. It has caused the Agile movement to lose its strength. But following the Gartner’s Hype Curve, we know and realize again that “agile” in an adjective form will be alive as a need for organizations and a journey towards to agility with no definitive end will continue forever.

So, what is likely future of Agile?

As organizations' need for agility will remain forever, then, we need to continue searching and finding different and better forms of Agile. During this journey, we should keep in our mind what Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” In the Agile context of today, regarding this aspect, the paradox is that a blind loyalty to methods, is, at least, inconsistent with the first value of the manifesto. It has started to become obvious that practices without any mindset leads to an identified end, a binary state, and finally a dead state. At best, after a while, the industrialized Agile™ practices will be largely equalized for organizations. But we have started realizing that we cannot achieve the agility by blindly following rigid and certain methods that are being created with the same mentality of yesterday. Agile methods are process tools proposed to achieve agility, then, in searching for better forms of Agile, organizations will probably make a difference with the people dimensions, provided with the guidance of Shu-Ha-Ri philosophy.

Therefore, in short times, many organizations will be at a crossroads to decide whether to keep cult-like aspects, obsessively sticking to the packaged practices of some others without changing the “sacrosanct” parts and adding more cases to the 58% failed Scrum implementations* or rise with the freedom of the people and system thinking focusing on real value. We will continue this journey shifting from “industrialized-based Agile” to “people-based Agile” by focusing on what is essential, with people, mindset shifts, supportive leadership, collaborative culture, more empowered teams and fundamental principles, and more liberated agility outside of “method prisons”, determinism, dogmatism, or monopoly of Agile. In addition to the people dimensions, system thinking approaches will support Agile to create more customer value systematically.

As another matter, being agile is not the first or the sole capability in the universe nor organizations. It is an adjective among the others and like the others (being disciplined, solid, mature, sustainable, valuable ...). When Agile comes in, it can affect some areas, not all. We will see that Agile will leave their proper spaces to the other adjectives with respect and continue its way in a more mature, modest, and sensible manner by following the Gartner’s Hype Curve.


*“15th annual state of agile report.” -center/analyst-reports/state-of -agile-report

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