ALI2018 Keynote Interview – Henrik Kniberg

With Agile-Lean Ireland 2018 only a few short months away, we had a chat with our opening keynote speaker, Henrik Kniberg, to find out his thoughts on topics ranging from the future of Agile, the Spotify Model, Climate Change, and more…


ALI: What first got you interested in Agile? Who were your early influences?

Henrik: I needed a sane way to run my software dev organisation in a startup in the 90s. I’d seen enough failed projects before to know how NOT to do it. I stumbled over the c2 wiki ( and got super-inspired by the thing that later came to be know as eXtreme programming. So I’d say Kent Beck’s materials were probably my first influence. Later on I met people like Jeff Sutherland, Mary Poppendieck, Jerry Weinberg, Ron Jeffries, and Alistair Cockburn, and started working with most of them as well. They became a very big influence.


ALI: What were the key ingredients which helped in in a successful Agile transformation you’ve been involved in?

Henrik: Systemic long-term thinking, and lots of experimentation. And a fail-friendly culture. And trust. A lot of good stuff happens when teams and managers act under the assumption that everyone else really wants to do a good job.


ALI: What do you see the role of the Portfolio function as in an Agile organisation?

Henrik: Big orgs need structured portfolio management in one way or another. Small orgs don’t.

ALI: Sometimes we hear people say they’re looking to copy the Spotify Model. What is your reaction to that statement?

Henrik: Copy and evolve. It’s a great adoption strategy. Probably the most common adoption strategy. Starting from scratch is risky and time-consuming, better to find something inspiring, copy it, and then adapt to your context. So yes, I’m positive to it. Just don’t expect a miracle.


ALI: You’ve worked with both Spotify and LEGO on using Agile at Scale. This is a hot topic in our community right now – what are the top patterns you’ve observed to help Agile at scale succeed?

Image result for spotify modelHenrik: Shared integration cadence. Get everyone* together on a regular basis to do a shared demo and discuss the next steps.

(*everyone = any given set of teams and stakeholders that have a lot of interdependencies).

Big Room Planning is also a powerful pattern.

Also, the bigger the scale is, the more you need to rely on share purpose, transparency, self-organization, and short feedback loops rather than control and structure. Big orgs are too complex to be able to micromanage – if they try, they just get totally bogged down.

People sometimes ask “does agile work at scale”, but my experience is that, the bigger the scale, the more you need agile.


ALI: What is the biggest thing companies keep getting wrong and what advice would you give to help?

Henrik: Leaders at big companies tend to underestimate the amount of change they need to make at the management layer – especially when it comes to mindset. Sometimes they think it’s just the teams that need to change.

Also, sometimes leaders don’t realize that agile (like most change) is an investment. In big orgs change takes a long time, so they need to be patient and persistent. There will be bumps on the road and short term losses.

Sometimes big orgs think software is an isolated thing, a separate department, and that agile only applies there. That’s a big mistake.


ALI: Where do you see Agile being in the next few years?

Henrik: I think the word will get less and less sexy, and gradually fade away. The principles behind, however, they are timeless and will be around for a long time. So I think agile principles will be embedded more and more in our society, while the fancy buzzwords (Scrum, XP, Agile, etc) will probably fade, and perhaps in the future be replaced by new cool buzzwords that mean more or less the same thing 🙂

Also, agile is escaping from software and spreading to all kinds of industries. The results seem mostly positive, so I think that trend will continue (or even accelerate).


ALI: We’ve been closely following your recent work around helping the environment – how do you think your experience of helping positive change using Agile might help here?

Henrik: Agile is all about taming complexity, and about systemic problem solving. Fits perfectly with climate change – because it’s a complex problem that only can be solved with a systemic problem solving approach. Also, agile is a lot about triggering behavioural change, which is one of the big challenges of climate change. So although I still feel like the new kid on the block in climate circles, many of the issues and challenges feel very familiar. I hope we can make a difference!

You can start here (shameless plug):


ALI: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Agile-Lean Ireland 2018 in Dublin?

Henrik: To hear what everyone else is saying about the questions above! And maybe some music jamming 🙂

Henrik will be our opening keynote speaker at Agile-Lean Ireland 2018 at Croke Park, Dublin, on April 26th 2018. Don’t miss you chance to see him by getting your tickets now.