Why Agile is Important for Indonesia

Companies that move towards self-organization will beat other companies that stay with command and control

Guest Post - 3 February 2017

Agile is a relatively new movement in Indonesia. Scrum adoption is accelerating and will spread through the IT and startup world in the upcoming years. I have been an agile fan since 2011 and saw the impact first hand on organizations in India, The Netherlands, and beyond. In mid 2016, I moved to Bali. As I noticed that agile was growing in popularity, I decided to start an agile agency. In November I did my first scrum training in Jakarta and since then I’ve been quite busy. In the past months, I have seen how agile and Indonesia match and where the challenges and opportunities are.


First, some challenges. Most people know the Agile Manifesto. This manifesto was created in 2001 by 17 smart guys. What most people don’t know is that there’s 12 principles underlying the manifesto. For some strange reason, whenever I go to conferences, every slide deck has the manifesto in it. But I never see the principles, which I believe are crucial if you want to move your company culture towards agility. One of the principles is:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

This is about ‘self organized teams’. Now the Indonesian culture is based on hierarchy. People are used to having a boss and wait for ‘instructions’. To me personally, the basis of this command and control style of management is a lack of trust. What a leader thinks is ‘I know what needs to be done’ and then gives his subordinates tasks. The agile principle above turns this upside down: a leader can give a problem or a challenge plus the resources the team needs. He then steps aside and lets the team figure out how to solve the challenge. If they need him, he’s there. But not to give orders, only to provide mentoring, so the team can get the job done. This is based on trust and assumes teams outsmart a single brain.

Habits are hard to change. Cultural habits maybe even harder, because everyone else is behaving the same way. When I started a software development office in India in 2008, I faced the same challenge. There are vast differences between Indian and Indonesian culture. But they share a high power distance. Geert Hofstede developed a measurement of hierarchy, called power distance. From this article you can see that India scores 77 and Indonesia 78. In comparison, Netherlands (I’m Dutch so that’s my reference point) scores 38. I refer to the article for explanation on the measurement and the exact meaning.

I have experienced first-hand that by creating a company that is flatly organized, supported by a set of strong values (potentially based on the agile principles), teams can get self-organized. A company creates its own culture and this culture can ‘beat’ habits that exist within a country. Of course it’s not easy.

Another challenge. One of the values of the scrum framework is ‘openness’. Last week, I organized a meetup in Yogyakarta. One of the topics we discussed was openness. I was facilitating a discussion with a group of about 25 people, all Indonesian. As is common in groups, there were a few outspoken people and most were quiet. Now there are many forces at play on the topic of openness: some people are shy and don't like speaking up (are less open); some people are comfortable speaking English, some are not (so they appear less open, but might 'pop open' when they speak their own language); some might consider it rude to speak up because of their role within the group. As a person, I'm used to this (in India I have similar experiences and I work with different cultures for over a decade). Some of the participants suggested that people in Indonesia are ‘not open’. It’s not Indonesian to share one's thoughts, because that might hurt someone else’s feelings.

One of agile meetup session

One of the values my company has had since its inception in 2005 is ‘openness’ (I had never heard of the manifesto in that period). What I have described above already is that company culture can ‘beat’ country habits. In the case of openness, I have seen this work too. You can hire for openness. Once you have a team existing of mostly open people, they will attract more open people and openness can spread. You can have events to share thoughts openly. You can reward being open. You can tie back compliments to open behavior.


I believe the opportunities exist exactly in the transformation on the above two topics. Companies that move towards self-organization will beat other companies that stay with command and control. To make self organization possible, openness is key.

Command and control has it roots in the factory model. People who made pins had to be very efficient at making pins and needed strict instructions to do so. But in today’s knowledge economy, most people don’t create pins. They have creative jobs, making software or related smart products. If you want to win in the marketplace, you need smart people, using their smartness to continually improve what they do and to create new products. And that smartness will only come to fruition if people are empowered. They need to have freedom and authority to do what they believe is right. Once people have that authority, they realize growth. They stretch themselves and perform more than they (and their boss) thought they could.

Adopting agile helps realize the above. And scrum provides the framework to get started. Agile is ‘open’, it’s a mindset, a set of principles to guide behavior. I believe that for Indonesia we need more. Scrum is also very open, but at its core it has roles, events and artifacts that give people guidance on ‘what to do’. It doesn’t tell them what to do specifically in their role, but scrum gives enough to organize the work.

- This guest post is created by Hugo Messer, agile entrepreneur and scrum trainer. Hugo has been working in the software industry for more than a decade. Since june 2016 he moved to Bali and started an agile agency Ekipa Indonesia. He's been an evangelist for the agile movement in Indonesia, organizing meetups, online groups and training programs.

He can be contacted via LinkedIn or his web page is a news portal for startup and technology innovation. You can be a part of`s startup community and innovation members, download our tech research and statistic reports, and engage with our innovation community.

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