Agile transformation in a marcomms team

Werner van Bastelaar, Director of Communication & Information at the Sociale Verzekeringsbank (SVB), decided that it was time to join the agile transformation in the organization. An interview about the backgrounds, the introduction, the pitfalls and the results.

“If SVB chooses to implement agile, then as a marcomms department you are duty-bound to take part. Moreover, we had every reason to join. An evaluation of the department revealed points for improvement such as listening better to customers, a more proactive attitude in our advisory work and real internal cooperation instead of taking over a question entirely and working on the solution on our own. If you keep these improvements next to the agile philosophy then you only conclude one thing: an agile way of work fits for 100%.”


“How we started? In a way that many marcomms departments will recognize. Putting stickies on the wall, providing insight into the amount of work the team does. The real thing, with agile roles, a sprint rhythm and all the rituals we started with the help of an external coach. See, when I started my career there were still typewriters on the desks. I’ve seen big changes in our work and this is another one of them. It’s only logical to bring people in to help, it goes so much smoother than if you start figuring out how to do it yourself as a team with no real experience with this.”


“This way of working requires people to develop in a different way, to take responsibility themselves for strategies to create value together with others. Bringing that change from outside to inside works best if you know the work of marcomms. Just casting everything into the same agile mould as a new way of working is not going to work.”

Heartfelt advice

“There is a lot of dynamism in marcomms, a lot of ad hoc work. A question comes in and has to be finished the same day. For that, it is necessary to keep space. But it is also necessary to create space for work that will have strategic impact. Often in the longer term. Put someone next to the team who has experience with agile and knows the business from the inside. That’s my heartfelt advice to marcomms directors. “


“Letting go. That’s where our team struggled more than I thought beforehand. To break silos and expertise bubbles, we work on strategic projects with a few team members at a time. Sometimes this means making choices and letting go of your involvement in another project for a while. We could be a bit more flexible in this respect. Incidentally, team members readily admit that they still have difficulty with this.”


“Agile leads to results. For me, that is the big relief. In the beginning you think, ‘are we really doing it now?’ And then you see products being delivered. Team members share much more with each other what they are working on and really make each other’s work better. A felt joint responsibility for making the entire organization align more on marcomms initiatives is starting to emerge.”


“We are getting used to the agile rituals and the way of tackling work together with the organization. The next step is to make our backlog more strategic. And by extension, saying ‘no’ more. Counteracting fragmentation to bring more focus to things where marcomms can really make a difference. We have a ‘done’ jar, where we stock all the stickies of finished tasks and projects. We don’t yet have a ‘no jar’ for rejected work… Yes, that’s a concrete next step.”