Hey, everyone. It's your host Sergey Kotlov. And today we are going to talk with Mehmet Yitmen, managing partner of ACM Agile. ACM Agile is a leading Agile training provider in Turkey. And the talk we're going to have today is extremely interesting because we're going to get to the roots of the creation of ACM Agile and how Mehmet and his partners made ACM Agile what it is right now — one of the leading companies.
Mehmet himself is a great figure both in the Agile world and in the Turkish Agile community. Besides co-founding ACM Agile, he also co-founded Agile Turkey, which is the biggest non-profitable organization in this area for promoting Agile practices. He also wrote a bestseller book. I can't pronounce it, I apologize to my Turkish listeners because my Turkish is just non-existent. But it's a bestseller book about Agile, and it was published in Turkey.
So, Mehmet, thank you very much for joining us.
Thank you, Sergey, thanks for your invitation. Actually, you know, what you said about the books that you cannot pronounce because they're in Turkish, you are right. But there's good news. Two of them are English, and you can find easily one of them in Amazon, the name is “Scrum: Agile transformation journey.” And the other one, it's a free ebook, actually, which talks about the Agile transformation journey for Turkey. And you can find the book as a downloadable PDF for free on our website acmagile.com. And for the third one, I'm currently working on the translation, so soon, hopefully this year, it's one of my targets for 2022, I will be able to put the newly translated one into Amazon also.
Oh, that's fantastic news. Thank you, Mehmet, for sharing that data on your books, and I'm sure our listeners would be interested in reading the one which is in English. Maybe they also know Turkish, some of them, so they may be able to read the first one as well. Mehmet, could you please tell me a little bit more about how ACM Agile started and why it started? What was their vision? What was your intention for it?
Okay, it’s a long story, but let me try to make a short one. We founded ACM as a software company officially in 2007. I said “officially” because before we, as three engineer founders, founded the company, we were working on some projects at nights after our official jobs. Although ACM started as a tailor-made enterprise software solutions delivery company, our main aspiration in those days, I mean, in the very beginning, was to create our own dot-com business.
In that manner, we tried to create a Groupon-like discount platform in parallel to our main software delivery business. Our idea was to earn some money via the software delivery side and use that network and capital to grow our own dot-com brand. We tried that, but couldn't succeed in that. We didn't have enough capital, we didn't know how to create a brand. We couldn't survive multitasking these parallel businesses. And actually we were really young. I guess another fact that it was not the correct time for our dot-com idea, either. This taught us a lot. Most importantly, we learnt the importance of focus. But you know what? Learning is different than practicing, right? Although it taught us the importance of focus, it took us a few more years to really practice that learning. I will come to that portion too.
In parallel to this, our story of meeting Agile goes back to these early days that we founded the company. We heard about Agile from a business partner of my brother, which were in the software testing business. It was 2007 and we heard about Agile and we started to explore about Agile and what we loved its philosophy. I can say that as an industrial energy engineer and Lean enthusiast, I was also in search of how to better manage software projects, even before hearing about Agile.
I think here I need to mention that before forming ACM, I was working in a big company, its supply chain department. Although I had always been enjoying coding since my undergraduate, I was not so close with software projects. I was, to be honest, a bit shocked when I first faced with the Waterfall way of working style when we got our very first software delivery project. I couldn't believe that the software industry is using a model like Ford's production line and didn't embrace something new like Lean as we did in the industry for maybe 50 or 60 years ago.
We started to read and explore about Agile and Scrum and actually quickly adopted using Scrum in our tailor-made delivery projects, software projects. Our transition was quick. I think one of the reasons that made it easy is that I guess it was my background, which is about Lean. It helped us a lot. And also, I guess the philosophy behind Agility was really parallel with our worldview. So it helped us a lot to quickly adopt the Agile way of working.
What I'm saying is that Agile was us, you know what I mean? We found ourselves in that way of thinking and working. We were happy working like that. And also it was paying off a bit more, let's say, satisfaction on the team and also the customer side. Our customers were happy working with us and actually started to wonder about what's going on, how we were working, why we were working differently. I think the main part making them happy was our frequent delivery and flexibility. That created some interest in our customers. And with that, we started to talk about Agile and Scrum with them. Even helped a few of them to experiment using Scrum in a few of their own internal projects. I'm talking about 2007 and 2008.
And at the end of 2008, with all these experiments and experiences, I can tell you that we found ourselves as ambassadors of Agile and Scrum in Turkey. Agility is what we believed in, and we wanted to make everyone aware of working like that. So it began to be our passion. From then on, I mean, from late 2008, Agile and Scrum were not just our main differentiator in the software delivery business that we already had, but were also a unique business line for us. We started to deliver webinars, workshops, then trainings and coaching for Scrum and started to spread the word in the Turkish business market.
But it took us about 5, maybe 6 years and some successful early projects with some giant telecom companies and banks to create somewhat of awareness and interest about Agile in the market.
When we came around 2013, I can tell you that our main aspiration was to accelerate the Agile transformation of the Turkish market. And in parallel to this, we lost our original interest of being a software delivery house, actually. Then we decided to solely focus on Agile in 2013 where our passion lies and slowly decided to close the software delivery business. Since then, since 2013, for the last 10 or even more years, ACM now is a business consultancy company which enjoys Agility and self-management philosophies.
Wow, this is actually a fantastic story. It’s really impressive how you started as an industrial engineer, and then became a software engineer, and then transformed to an Agile transformation leader. This is a fantastic story. Thank you very much.
And from your perspective right now, what was the hardest part of the beginning? You said that you started as a software company, but what was the hardest for introducing Agile, starting working with Agile, which happened in the end of 2008? And what was the hardest part for the decision when you realized that you don't want to be a software powerhouse anymore?
Experimenting and piloting into new sectors and new businesses was the easy part because as I mentioned, Agility is in our DNA already. But the hardest part was market creation. We created the market and it was the hard spot. When we first started talking about Agile and Scrum, it was in 2008, I can tell you that there was nearly no one with any idea about these concepts in the Turkish market. I remember even my early meetings with IT managers, most of them were not interested about Agile. They didn't know it. They were not interested about it. And also, they were giving us some advice to focus on something else than this weird Agility. I mean, like, for example, they were giving advice to us to focus on ERP or CRM business instead of Agile if you like to survive in the business. The awareness was in that level. Nobody was aware of Agile and what we were trying to do. This was a huge pushback.
And that pushback that we were facing made us think about the question “How can we make people aware of Agile and convince them at least to try it?’ With this question in mind, we started several initiatives to make that interest inside the market.
First of all, we contacted Agile Alliance and did our best to be part of the worldwide Agile community in different platforms. We contacted Agile practitioners and teams practicing Scrum worldwide, tried to learn as much from them about how they started and scaled in their market.
On the other hand, we started our local community, which is agileturkey.org with a desire to find visionaries like us to share our aspirations and together work on creating the part in the market. But unfortunately, in the beginning, I mean, 2008, 2009, there were just a few of them in the country. But as a small group of volunteers, we started to delegate lots of informative talks and workshops for free, even invited a few Agile practitioners to Turkey to share their experiences with us, did lots of volunteer work. And when I look back, I can tell you that, I guess for the first 6 years of that community, to create market awareness inside Turkey about Agile, we invested, I think, more than 100k US dollars to create that interest in the market. It was a huge effort and it was a huge capital that we burned for the first 5 or 6 years. But it was not enough
In parallel to this, just talking about the theory or showing success cases from the western world was not enough. You had to prove the success of that transformation, the success, the benefits of Agility in Turkey, with Turkish companies, with Turkish projects and teams. We were lucky actually to have customers that we were already working for software delivery who were happy working with us. They believed in us and let us adopt Scrum in their internal projects. When we succeeded there, the transformation started to scale into new projects within them and also even started to spread to other visionary customers that were interested in the new way of work and got bored with the Waterfall problems. I think then it started to scale after getting over that initial challenges about creating the market, creating awareness and interest in the market.
Yeah, crack in the market in the beginning and basically creating it from scratch is an enormous task. Congratulations that you made that and right now you can actually enjoy the flourishing market based on that.
This is what the hardest part is, right? Still, when you started bringing awareness, and more people started to join, and competitors appeared, from your perspective, what are the two most important factors that made ACM Agile the leader so that ACM Agile could keep this position for all these years?
What I can say is that I think firstly, we are experts and actually more of that. We are believers, philosophers and practitioners of Agility and decentralized autonomous ways of working. We do everything we do to liberate organizations and inspire individuals to thrive. This is our passion, this is how we live.
Currently ACM Agile is an ecosystem of more than 30 Agile enthusiasts full of the same passion. That’s the most important part. Mainly, I can tell you that for us, this is not just a work to earn money, but it is more about living and fighting for what you believe. Because believe me, there are many easier ways to earn money than telling people that they need to change. This is what we're doing in the Agile world. We're not training or helping people to transform into something. We're not doing that. Personally, I don't see any benefit from companies who are there just for training. I think in order to train for something first, you need to do it. You need to be practicing it deeply. That's our advantage, I think. Actually, instead of training for knowledge, what we are doing is that we are sharing our own aspirations and values. We are talking about what we believe and what we’ve experienced so far, we're talking about what we live for. Our commitment and curiosity, they are two values of our company. They also support us to be the vanguards and masters of what we are doing.
We continue to challenge ourselves a lot. We experiment with lots of new ideas, learn from them and share the benefits of our learnings with our clients and with the community also. I think one of the success factors that helps us is that we are an Agile company also. I mentioned about experimenting. For example, one of our current experiments is about creating a platform to help companies and leaders for their mindset shift, leadership styles, and measurable OKRs for most of Agile transformation efforts. We all know that. We are trying to figure out some new ways to help leaders on that. And it's coming soon. We will try and we will announce it on our ACM Agile website. We will definitely learn something out of that and we will keep trying, keep iterating some more beneficial solutions to provide to our customers and to the market. I think, our aspiration, our expertise, our curiosity, and desire to do more are the main factors that are affecting our success.
On top of this, another major difference that I can mention about our company ACM Agile is that we are really customer-focused. I think it's not a correct term to say. What I can tell instead of it is that we genuinely and sincerely being part of our clients and their daily business life so we live with them. We do everything we can do for the sake of them. Our clients experience that they can call us on any issue and that we will do our best for them. To make it another way, I guess I can say that we are real friends with our customers, so we take their problems and desires seriously and help them to find the best ways to be more successful. We are our customers. I think that's another important factor that triggers our success.
That’s more than two, but it's a fantastic combination. I think with such customer obsession, in a good way of this, in a good form of this word, it's a big thing.
Mehmet, we were talking about the history and the whole development of ACM Agile, and it's pretty amazing. When you started, there was no Agile market at all. So you basically created it from scratch together with other players on the field. But let's imagine that right now someone wants to start a new Agile training company. The market is very different. And this podcast is to help not only Agile, but training companies, training businesses to actually improve themselves and to improve their businesses and maybe motivate some trainers to start their own training business. So, given that, in retrospect, the Agile market is very, very different from what it was 10 years ago or a little bit more, what would be the advice for people who are just starting? What would you do differently right now if you start a new company?
It's a good retrospective question. It's hard. It, for a while, took me back to 15 years ago. My first answer is that I wouldn’t start that early. It was really painful. But if you're talking about the current market, yes, it's already mature, everyone knows about it and everyone wants to be Agile. That's good. And there are lots of misconceptions. So it means that there's a huge opportunity in the market. That's the good news.
I'm not sure what to say actually. I think I will try to find the real need, real pain in the sector. So it will be my first thing to start to question and understand. And if I ask that question to myself, “What's the real need or pain in the sector currently?”, I think it's about leadership transformation. The first thing that I can imagine. So as a newcomer, I think I may try to find ways to help leaders to understand and internalize Agility better and easily. Because, as I mentioned, it's not an easy thing for leaders of an organization to unlearn what they practiced for many years in the traditional way of working, and then try to get familiar with a totally new mindset. Basically, when we checked the leadership, management in a traditional way of working, we saw that leaders were responsible to make sure that people were working hard enough and executing the assigned tasks. But now, in an Agile organization, leaders are most responsible for creating a productive and innovative environment for their teams instead. Basically, leaders are there to protect and grow the culture. But this is easy to say, but it's a huge shift
Turning back to your question, I guess we all need to think more on making this shift easier. Coming up with solutions to address these needs or this pain, let's say, could be one thing I may do now is a new start in the market. Even that's one of the topics me and also our companies are trying to focus on more.
Thank you very much. It's a very interesting approach. When we talk about the Agile market, this is a particularly big issue. But the approach to try to look for real needs and real pain and then try to generalize on that, this is perfect. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Sergey. It was a pleasure.
And I thank you very much for a very interesting talk. It's more than enough for today. It will be a pleasure for me to have you one more time on our podcast a little bit later to talk about the changes you had or maybe some particular topic.
Sure, that would be great. I would be pleased.
Thank you very much and see you next time.
See you, thank you.