A CEO’s Perspective on Building an Effective Business 

Markanthony Akem is the founder of Agileseventeen. The organization offers SAFe, Scrum and information security managementcourses.
It also publishes a
weekly­ blog and monthly newsletter on all things Agile.

Finally, Agileseventeen has an online community portal to help Agile practitioners network, stay informed on industry news, and start or level up their Agile careers. 

Akem has many years of experience in business analysis and Agile software development.

He’s helped organizations like Kaiser Permanente, Bank of America, and Abbot adopt the Agile approach to project management. In this Q&A, Akem draws from his entrepreneurial and Agile practitioner background to share insights on how the Agile methodology can scale a successful start-up. 


Q:Tell us about your experience with Agile. What pushed you to pursue a career in it? Was there a defining moment you can point to, or was it more related to the trajectory of your professional life? 

AI was introduced to Agile while working as a business analyst.

I took an interest in the experience of coordinating and collaborating to drive team productivity and overall organizational change. I enjoyed developing a specific cadence of doing things. Moreover, everyone respected each other.

Over time, I decided to pursue Agile as a career path.


“I was introduced to Agile while working as a business analyst.”


Q: In your experience helping start-ups adopt Agile, what are individuals’ and teams’ most common misconceptions about transitioning into this framework? 

A: Thinking Agile only changes internal processes at work versus shifting how you think and approach life. Agile is more than going through the motions of developing projects incrementally and attending daily stand-ups.
It’s a mindset. Adopting Agile changes your fundamental rules of engagement, whether within your team or externally.

You start to think about how your actions can improve any scenario. That includes putting yourself in the third to reframe how you think and receive feedback. 


Q: How would you encourage someone to step outside everything they know and try Agile? 

A: The first step is understanding the difference between being and doing Agile. Being Agile is accepting you’re going to start thinking about things in a new fashion. Alternatively, doing Agile ties back to simply going through the motions. 

The second part involves seeking educational opportunities to help you learn how to apply Agile in different settings.

The certification is essential, but understanding how to contextualize what you’ve learned in various dynamics helps cultivate systems or big-picture thinking in Agile. 

This means you can focus on more than what’s in front of you.
Gauging the future impacts of your present actions helps to prioritize work.

This brings in the incremental concept of Agile, where you do what positions you to complete the next task. It’s normal for priorities to change, but this working style creates a buffer so you’re flexible enough to adapt to shifting priorities.

Anything you can’t get to immediately is added to the backlog of items you continuously pull from. 

Growth mindset vs fixed mindset


Q: How would you advise a new entrepreneur or Agile practitioner trying to introduce the framework in a resistant environment where teams or individuals don’t see its value? 

A: Start by understanding why they are resistant. Knowing this makes it easier to put yourself in their shoes. Moreover, transformation takes time, which varies based on the learning curve of each individual and team.

You’ll need to familiarize yourself with each person’s education style to know how to apply and reiterate the message.

Lastly, clearly state the “Why,” as people are less likely to do something without understanding how it will help them achieve a different result. 

It’s easier for smaller organizations to adopt Agile because they have a less established mindset. Often, large corporations have been building successful solutions in the same way for decades.

This makes it more difficult for them to see the value in transitioning. However, that’s where your respect for people and the ability to put yourself in their shoes can start making the difference in that shift.


Q: In your experience, how long does it take small and large organizations to see a return on value as they transition to Agile? 

A: That depends on how well executive and middle leadership adopt, adapt, and accept Agile.

The adoption part involves upper management understanding Agile, as it was their decision to transition.

This allows middle leadership to receive the proper training to help individuals and teams apply Agile (adapt).

Moreover, when the executive team understands Agile, they can better ensure that middle leadership is following and applying this thinking to business practices and IT operations (accept). 

Sometimes, the executive team does not lead the adoption of Agile, preferring to pass that responsibility on to the middle management. Agile then becomes an implementation for technology, not the entire organization, which comprises business and technology.

This creates a deadlock where the business side still needs to change its practices to better collaborate with IT, prolonging the transformation between six months and six years.

Executives should reinforce their support of the Agile framework by engaging in conversations within and between organizational teams. They should also practice it at their level, which can help decrease adoption time. 


Q: Within the Agile framework, what approach would you recommend is best for a new start-up? 

A: Right now, Scrum is the most practiced approach globally. That’s because it’s embedded in everything. So, starting with Scrum can help depending on the nature of the project.

I also recommend Kanban as it’s another framework embedded in everything. Kanban is also a great introduction to scalable frameworks like SAFe, which is helpful for larger businesses looking to adopt Agile. 

“Right now, Scrum is the most practiced approach globally” 


Q: What Scrum and Kanban practices do you see most across other Agile frameworks? 

A: The concept of the daily stand-up. Also, the visualization part of it, by that, I mean recording projects on a table that everyone can see.

This is especially true now, considering the popularity of working remotely with distributed teams. Lastly, the coordination and corralling.

This is because small teams work cross-functionally to scale large solutions – a huge part of what teams learn in Scrum and Kanban. 


Q: Do you need a team to practice Agile? If so, what’s the ideal number? 

A: You can practice Agile as an individual or collective group. Working in a team is more fun because of the shared responsibility.

However, you can still apply the Agile approach to project management as a single person. That includes ensuring you work in a streamlined fashion, manage your time, and respectfully engage with others. 


Q: What Agile approach best resonates with your management style and why? 

A: Scrum and SAFe. I like to see the big picture of things, which reflects my management style. If I build a solution today, I’m considering what it would look like in the next 10 to 15 years based on current market trends.

This allows me to position that solution to adapt to the end game the next day


Q: Failure is a part of the start-up journey. How does Agile encourage a resilient and learning-oriented approach to setbacks?

A: There’s a concept called fail fast; I prefer to fail forward. This means you fail and learn, which can help cultivate the survival mindset necessary to build a successful start-up.

Often, you take risks without knowing how it will turn out. In fact, before Agileseventeen, I tried other start-ups that went out of business. However, I’ve been able to apply those lessons, namely fostering a culture of communication and transparency, to continuously see the trajectory of where Agileseventeen needs to go and how we can get there. 


Q: What advice can you offer up-and-coming Agile entrepreneurs? 

A: There are so many things, but key ones that come to mind include learning how to use credit and manage money.

This will help you decipher what’s important enough to spend on and where you should cut costs. Also, understand who your good people are. Lastly, create a culture of Agile in your business from the get-go. As people join, they see it and get keyed in. 


Q: What’s the most rewarding part about leading an Agile service company?  

A: The innovation. We’ve tried and failed at developing solutions, but everybody’s input is respected. It’s not about the title you hold or what position you think you need to reinforce; it’s just debating the facts to get the best idea out there.

That’s a massive part of the dealings that we have as a team!


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