The parallel lives of our IPs #1

In this new series, we speak to the a-connect IPs who are running exciting ventures outside of their consultancy work. From part-time journalists and B&B owners to music writers and health app creators, our entrepreneurial IPs tell us just what it takes to have a dual-track career!

Today, Bernardo Carvalho, who has been an IP with a-connect for more than seven years, shares with us his experiences of founding and building up a shellfish breeding and aquaculture business in Portugal.

1. When you’re not working as an IP, what do you do?

I run a shellfish breeding and aquaculture business called Oceano Fresco, which is based in Portugal ( Our aim is to be the world leader in the introduction of innovative shellfish varieties with the most relevant traits for the production and consumption chain, while respecting environmental sustainability and consumer safety.

I started Oceano Fresco in late 2015. We employ four people (three professionals with PhDs and one technician), each of whom has breeding, genetics and cultivation skills. We have an advisory board of three people with extensive experience in plant, finfish and shellfish breeding. The intention is to apply tried-and-tested breeding approaches for plants and finfish to shellfish.

2. How did you come up with the idea of starting a shellfish breeding business?

The idea came to me gradually and unexpectedly. In actual fact, what it ended up becoming is somewhat different from my initial idea. I had become acquainted with the business of breeding and selling seeds to growers during an a-connect project at a global agribusiness company. The notion that we could feed an ever-increasing population by mixing genes in different ways really appealed to me.

However, since land-based farming and livestock breeding is a mature business, I looked to the sea for opportunities. I decided on shellfish because the sector is large but relatively primitive, and a significant difference can be made by applying science and technology in a systematic way. In addition, a shellfish is one of the most sustainable sources of human protein because it does not require any antibiotics, chemicals or artificial foods (it eats plankton), and it contributes to water quality by filtering it. Breeding shellfish offers the perfect combination of a strong business opportunity and something that is good for our planet.

3. What are the challenges of your dual-track career?

The most obvious one is time. Being an IP is already a time-consuming activity and combining it with the notoriously demanding role of entrepreneur is extra challenging. In addition, it requires a lot of mental effort to constantly switch between two completely different topics and be on top of both.

4. What are the rewards of your dual-track career?

It’s great to have the flexibility to have a dual-track career. This is simply not possible in a standard career. Without the flexibility that being an IP offers, I would probably not have managed to launch my shellfish company. It’s also very useful to apply what I learn from working with leading global companies as an IP to my work as an entrepreneur, and vice versa. Finally, it’s a flexible way of generating income.

5. Do you have any words of wisdom for IPs considering starting an entrepreneurial venture?

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Resilience and adaptability are key, but it’s worth it if you believe in the vision. However, you have to be prepared to pull the plug if it does not work (it’s not easy and I did not manage to do it with my first startup).


The parallel lives of our IPs #2

In ‘the parallel lives of our Independent Professionals’, we speak to the a-connect IPs who are running exciting ventures outside of their consultancy work. From part-time journalists and B&B owners to music writers and shellfish breeding, our entrepreneurial IPs tell us just what it takes to have a dual-track career.

Today, Guilherme Sakajiri, who recently joined the a-connect network in Brazil, shares with us his experiences of developing and launching a healthcare app. Read the full interview here.

When you are not working as an IP, what do you do?

I am currently running a startup called TagFit. We develop health promotion programs for people with chronic diseases or at risk of developing those diseases. Our main program is called “Vida Plena” (‘live fully’ in translation), which was designed to help pre-diabetes users to avoid development of Type 2 diabetes.

How did you come up with the idea for the health app?

When I decided to become a health entrepreneur I started searching for a problem that was relevant, but at the same time, that was manageable for someone who had never worked directly in healthcare.

So, when I found out that 50% of healthcare costs were defined by habits, it was love at first sight. Finding out how to influence and change habits, could be even bigger than finding the cure for cancer (I am still not sure which one is harder).

What has been your biggest accomplishment with the app?

In the first three months after launching our app, we got more than 30,000 downloads. At the time, it seemed like an significant achievement, but as I matured as an entrepreneur I learned that this was just a vanity metric. Much more important, was the result of our first proof of concept with a logistics company. We only had four participants, but three of them engaged during the whole program and one of them avoided serious health complications thanks to the changes he implemented with us.

Have you been able to coordinate or utilize your app with an a-connect project?

I have not had this opportunity so far, but it is very possible. I think the most obvious way we could make this happen is by engaging in a project to reduce health insurance costs. In Brazil, those costs are growing more than 2x faster than overall inflation, making this a major concern for almost every large company.

What are your future plans with this app or are there other business ventures planned?

My app is now part of the portfolio of another company that I have co-founded with Rodrigo Freitas, who is another healthtech entrepreneur. This new venture is called Syligo Health. We define ourselves as a product builder focused on healthcare. Our main service line is called Product Lab, where we collaborate with players in the healthcare and life sciences industry to develop innovative products for their biggest pains.

Do you have any tips for other Independent Professionals who are thinking about starting something themselves?

Acting as an Independent Professional is what kept my startup alive, since I did not look for external funding when building it. Splitting time between these activities was a great decision for me, as creating a new business idea from scratch takes time and requires a complete different skill set than that of an IP.

My advice is to keep working as an IP for a while, before focusing 100% on you startup, unless you have investors who back you up or if you already have a customer.

Guilherme has a niche for healthcare projects in the digital technology space. He began his career at Gradus Consulting before moving to McKinsey, where he worked very generally across a variety of sectors and functions. Balancing his life as an entrepreneur and independent professional, Guilherme founded TagFit, which develops health promotion programs for people with chronic diseases or at risk of developing those diseases. The complete programs are only offered for business clients, but the supporting app is free and is currently available in Brazil for download.

The parallel lives of our IPs #3

‘The parallel lives of our Independent Professionals’ presents a-connect IPs who are running exciting ventures outside of their consultancy work. From part-time journalists and B&B owners, to musicians and shellfish breeding, our entrepreneurial IPs tell us just what it takes to have a dual-track career.

Today, Bruno Santos, who joined the a-connect network in London in 2016, shares with us his inspiration to become a musician, how he combines his occupations and of course, where to find his music.

Read the full interview here.

1. When you are not working as an IP, what do you do?

Music is my main occupation away from consulting – especially writing, performing and recording original songs.

I am enthralled by every step in the music production process, from lyric and music composition, to playing multiple instruments and creating great sounding records. I am also my own publisher and label, handling everything from production and copyright registration, to distribution and promotion.Technology allows me to do this from home or even on the road while working as a consultant with clients overseas. Music accompanies me everywhere.

I also enjoy spending time with family/friends and pursue parallel hobbies, including long-distance running and anything that involves creating and learning.

2. How did you start singing and playing music, and who has inspired you the most?

My start in music came from growing up in a musical home with a violinist mother and music-loving father. It was not long before I picked up a (tiny) violin around the age of 3 and later began exploring other instruments. Inspirations came from everywhere through the cultural diversity of living in 12 different cities – 10 countries – 6 continents. Countless people have inspired me in different ways on the multiple disciplines I pursue within music.

3. What has been your biggest success as a musician?

I do not believe there has been a single “biggest success” in my musical path. Every technique mastered, song written, collaboration, gig, record produced, track published on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon or anywhere else, press/TV/radio appearance (such as Rolling Stone magazine, Billboard, MTV, and many more) – each step has been a key success in building and maintaining my life in music.

Picasso famously said: “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” Remaining an artist at the edge of my craft and consistently creating new material, despite parallel lives in demanding fields such as consulting, is a big success in itself for me.

4. How does being an IP influence your music career and how does being a musician influence your IP-career?

Music inspired my interest in business and ultimately consulting. I stumbled into the music industry at a young age and quickly (a) noticed commonalities among seemingly unrelated industries, (b) understood the value of strategy and (c) discovered that I enjoy learning about and solving complex situations that generate a positive impact. Both careers are complimentary to each other and require overlapping skills such as structure, persistence and teamwork. In consulting and music, I am constantly absorbing external inputs to create a tailored output from a blank sheet of paper.

I believe the discipline, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit developed in music seep into my consulting work and add value to projects even when my clients have no idea about my music life. In turn, consulting has strengthened my leadership, communication and analytical skills, which are all valuable in the music business.

5. Are you performing on a regular basis?

Currently, I am ambitiously concentrated on writing and recording new music. Time is scarce when working as a consultant and initiatives in music can be endless. While I love performing, my attention naturally shifts between studio and stage depending on where I am in the music creation–promotion cycle. A focused drive within each realm, consulting and music, allows me to sustain and excel in these parallel activities.

6. Do you plan to focus more on the roles as a musician or on being a consultant in the future?

Both roles are meaningful to me for the intellectual challenges involved, potential for impact, people I work with, autonomy and congruence with my global background. They are not mutually exclusive and I plan to continue engaging in exciting consulting projects while maintaining my music in parallel.

Bruno is an a-connect Independent Professional who began his career at Petrobras in Singapore, a major global petrochemicals-supplier before moving to Brazil, where he worked for boutique consulting companies and Procter & Gamble. His experience spans multiple industry sectors, with a focus on Financial Services, FMCG, Chemicals and Agribusiness. Bruno has lived all over the world, including the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Balancing his life as Independent Professional and Musician, he strongly relies on technology to connect both worlds.

Bruno sings and plays all instruments heard here on Spotify and iTunes.

The parallel lives of our IPs #4

When you are not working as an IP, what do you do?

I am the co-CEO of the social startup, Direct Coffee, that I founded with my wife, Marie, two and half years ago. We import forest coffee directly from African smallholders, roast it in Switzerland and sell it online on as beans, powder or biodegradable Nespresso-compatible capsules.

I spend hours in the Jeep on bumpy roads in Ethiopia or Madagascar, going to remote places to find stunning forest coffees and meet the people who grow it. I speak with the farmers, cooperative leaders and with members of the community to figure out their reality. From these experiences, the coffee is 100% traceable and each one has a story that goes beyond the obvious: What is it like to live as a coffee farmer? What do they love about it? What are their challenges as a farmer, as a cooperative and as a community?

The direct trade allows us to make sure that the maximum amount of money stays with the farmers’ families and does not end up in the pockets of middlemen. In addition, for each package our customers buy, they support one child of the coffee farmers through health and education projects we implement with technical partners.

We call our concept Fairtrade 2.0 – as our customers do not rely on anonymous labels and have the opportunity to join us on a coffee trip to meet the producer communities in Ethiopia. By exchanging with the people at the other end of the value chain, consumers and producers are usually surprised about how much they have in common and about their previous misconceptions. The trip also acts as a trustworthy signal for all our customers who know they can meet our partners and see with their own eyes that their coffee is a good deal for everyone involved – including nature.

How did you come up with the idea of starting a social start-up?

It all started in July of 2015, during our honeymoon trip in Ethiopia. We fell in love with the country, its cultural richness and open-minded, entrepreneurial people. Ethiopia is the biological birthplace of Arabica coffee and we quickly came up with the idea to sell this incredible product to finance social projects.

Fast forward, two months later, we were walking through the coffee forests, cupping to select “our” coffee, making a deal with the farmers to import 2 tons and meeting partners to implement our social projects. And in June 2016 our coffee arrived! We chose the roast profile with our maître-torréfacteur and delivered to our first customers. As coffee is a daily treat, we decided to offer a flexible subscription: sustainable coffee freshly roasted, delivered to your mailbox as often as needed, for homes and for offices.

How does being an IP influence your social start-up and how does your social start-up influence your IP-career?

To be free and do the things the way we think makes the most sense, we chose to bootstrap (and we are still self-funded so far). We put all our eggs in one basket, both working 100% for Direct Coffee. That allowed us to focus – but also put us under pressure to create a product that attracts and keeps our customers to generate cash flows. And it worked out: most of our subscribers say they could not imagine getting coffee from somewhere else and word-of-mouth is our first source of new clients. Now that the business is up and running, being an IP allows me to deep dive in other topics, meet and work with other people. Through working with talented people, I get new ideas and challenging discussions regarding my business model and growth strategy. As an IP, I can take a step back from the day-to-day duties in order to come back with fresh ideas and motivation. In addition, it generates extra cash that I can invest to try new products or marketing instruments.

As an IP, your work is leveraged and likely has a larger impact. However, as an entrepreneur, you are responsible for success from A to Z, and you are obliged to find pragmatic solutions focusing on execution. As a social startup, we systematically include business, human and nature in our decisions. I believe that all this affects the way I work with clients as an IP.

What was your best moment since you founded Direct Coffee in 2016?

The time spent in Africa. We were able to organize a professional eye check for 2500 kids and offer them adapted glasses at a subsidized price. Given the frontal chalk-and-talk teaching style in Ethiopia, the students who cannot read the black board are excluded and more likely to drop out of school.

We put a lot of effort in the preparation of these health days, but did not know if the coffee farmers would be willing to pay for eyeglasses, as they did not realize that children might need them. We did not want to provide the glasses for free, as everybody would have taken them. Therefore, we put many efforts upfront in communicating with the community and getting trust leaders to explain the utility for shortsighted kids. When I saw one of the girls with the eyeglasses her father had just bought, it was an incredible relief. I knew that it would work. Finally, all the kids who needed eyeglasses got their parents to buy them. I always come back from Africa with a huge amount of energy, motivation and optimism.

What were the biggest challenges since you founded Direct Coffee in 2016?

Reaching new customers. As we did not have any marketing budget at the beginning, we needed to find creative ways to get our voice heard in the middle of industry giants. Fortunately, it seems that the people liked our open approach to sustainability and felt inspired by our story. We received a lot of engaged support from our customers: some organized a collective coffee purchase to present us to their colleagues; others invited us to do a slideshow cum degustation at their place, or recommended to their bartender friend to contact us.

Another challenge has been to differentiate our communication from our competitors so that people feel a true connection with farmers thousands of kilometers away. For that, I can count on my talented wife and business partner, Marie! We form a good team: I love asking questions and finding out how the things work, while Marie is unbeatable in narration. In addition, through the eyes of our coffee-trip participants, we reach another level of authenticity.

Any advice from one entrepreneurial IP to the others?

I want to motivate all the IPs who feel they have an entrepreneurial spirit who may not have explored it yet: go ahead and do it! A career as an IP offers the perfect balance to launch your venture. Focus on your business when you want to launch new products and partnerships, and then work as an IP to give the business time to develop with a reliable partner.

And last but not the least, are you drinking more or less coffee now?

I am drinking better coffee, but not more coffee. Usually three coffees per day. Two in the morning and one after lunch. I enjoy experimenting with brewing methods such as a Chemex filter, Aeropress or Cold brew. We offer the accessories we prefer in our shop. The only trouble is that I cannot drink coffee from standard office machines anymore… professional bias I guess!


The parallel lives of our IPs #5

1. When you are not working as an IP, what do you do?

I am either buying my very pregnant wife the only food she can currently stomach, Gatorade and bagels, or telling jokes because I am a comedian. I have been fortunate enough to perform around the world, tape a couple of comedy specials, write for CBS, and perform at corporate events for Microsoft, BCG, Wells Fargo, and about a hundred others.

2. How did you personally decide to become a stand-up comedian?

After 5 years of 80-hour weeks at McKinsey, I left to join a small tech company called SPSS as their Head of Strategy, where the hours were also intense. When we sold the company to IBM, I experienced my first sweet taste of corporate hours. I would be done by 7 pm and was astonished to find that normal people do things on a Tuesday night. I decided to use my newfound freedom on comedy and fell in love. Now I float between independent projects and comedy.

3. Where do you get your material? How does working as an IP help you get material?

I tend to find humor in the way people interact with each other. Therefore, in a work setting that is often seeing the comedy in interviews, conference calls, and of course “feedback sessions”.

4. What are the secrets for telling everyday jokes in order to get the biggest laughs?

It is as simple as writing it down. Everybody has a bunch of funny thoughts and interactions every day, but they soon forget about them. If you are noting them, as “This interaction with this bank teller is a great story for the next time I am talking to someone about customer service” you have a funny story that is appropriate in the context of consulting. As far as the techniques to telling jokes well, the best advice I can give is to end on the funny party. For example, the first joke I ever told on stage was about my divorce. It was, “It’s not bad being a divorcee, but I’d rather be a widower”. The funny part is “widower” so I end there and people know to laugh there. It would not work as well if I said, “When comparing divorcees and widowers, being a widower would be better”. People would not know where to laugh and they might think you are just kind of a sociopath.

5. What advice would you give new comedians just starting out?

First piece of advice: They say you should get a laugh every 15 seconds. Second piece of advice: If you can think of doing anything else, do it, because living your life being judged by a room full of people every 15 seconds is a pretty weird way to live.

6. Where can our readers come to see you for a good laugh?

I perform all over so if they go to my website,, they can just sign up to be notified when I am in their town. Alternatively, they can bring me in to perform at their corporate, charity, college or private events.

7. What is the hardest part of being a comedian?

The travelling. I perform in 15-20 countries a year, which is fun, but not so much when your wife is pregnant and low on Gatorade and bagels.

8. What does the world of comedy need more of today?

Older voices. In comedy, most people start out young and either are one of the few to make it big or they get out. I would love to see a better path for people who are later in life to come and share their stories.

Designing an effective presentation for your next project

Consulting is as much about visual communication as it is about the core management expertise. One cannot exist without the other. There are several tools available today that help consultants in communicating their next big business strategy to their clients. However, many consultants face a variety of challenges that hinder them from creating meaningful presentations that convey their recommendations in the most effective way. Some of these challenges are listed below:

  • Lack of time
  • Not an expert of the tool used
  • Reduced utilization of core consulting skills
  • Big part of the day is spent on analyzing and developing storyline
  • Communicating to a non-technical audience

Thomas R. Hahn, a fellow a-connect IP and a long-term independent consultant has generously shared some of his wisdom to help all a-connect IPs learn (or refresh) and apply some of the best practices for slide design, and become even more effective with client presentations. Below are four key takeaways that you could immediately apply to your next project. 

1. Minto’s Pyramid Principle of Top-Down Storytelling

1. Key Message

2. Key Line: Raises logical questions (How? Why? How do you know?)

3. Key Line Answers: Address questions in the Key Line

4. Supporting Answers: Address questions raised by key line answers

The pyramid principle is a top-down approach to storytelling, primarily used in business documents and presentations. The principle is a technique for writing clear and compelling documents that produce action. Some over-arching guidelines include; state major ideas before minor supporting details, group like ideas together, and order ideas to show relationship. In the pyramid, ideas relate horizontally either by GROUPING (often inductive argument) or ARGUMENT (often deductive). Grouping is best used when you present a list of “equivalent” items, list reasons or actions, and/or when you have a receptive audience. Argument is best used to provide detailed reasoning, explain need for action, and/or when you have a resistant audience.

2. Introducing Your Story

The pyramid can easily be transformed into linear structure which would be made of three sections: Introduction, Body of the Pyramid, and Wrap-Up. The goal is to structure your introduction to effectively captivate different audiences. Typically the introduction would include the situation, complication, and questions. However, there are other ways to structure the introduction as listed below:

  • Answer: (Solution – Situation – Complication). Provide your audience with the answer or recommendation first, followed by the situation and the problem. This approach works with audience that likes to get straight to the point.
  • Appeal:  Call your audience’s attention to values, emotions, or visions that are important to them.
  • Chronology: (Complication – Situation – Question). Start with the problem statement and situation, and end with a thought provoking question that is answered in your following slides. This approach is used to create a sense of urgency.
  • Shock Tactics: (Situation – Question – Solution). Describe situation by using shocking facts or numbers that immediately grab the attention of resistant audiences.
  • Story: Use a relevant, short, and clear storyline (personal, business, fictional, etc.) that will draw your audience into your subject. This allows to build rapport with the audience and gain their interest.

 3. Insightful Data Visualization Tools

With the enormous amount of data generated every day by businesses around the world; capturing, analyzing, structuring, and presenting this data in a meaningful way has become more important than ever before. One of the most important benefits of visualization is that it allows us visual access to huge amounts of data in easily digestible visuals. Well designed data graphics are usually the simplest and at the same time, the most powerful. Storytelling with data visualization creates an impactful response from the user with numbers to back it up. Consider the below chart types to expand your current portfolio of data visualization tools.

4. Key Components of a Well Organized Slide

Often times when consultants are designing slides for a presentation, they are very close to the data and hence fall in the trap of packing too much information on a single slide. In the process, some of the key components that make the presentation visually appealing, are overlooked. Here are some of the basic guidelines for a well-designed slide that helps make it a stand-alone document.


  • Good Composition: Use visual frameworks, view slide as an image, not only text, use appealing arrangements
  • Clear Message: One key message per slide, message aligned with slide content, have a crisp action title
  • Uniform Style: Stick to an overall style guide, similar visualizations should be formatted the same way.
  • Recognizable Authorship (BRAND): Create a unique identification/brand for yourself and your team through unique slide design elements.


Do you have everything covered?

As you begin to wrap-up and finalize your presentation which may have 10, 50, or even 100 slides, it is critical to make sure you have covered everything. To help you get to that stage of complete satisfaction with the end-product, for which you worked hard and put in several hours, here is a comprehensive checklist to ensure your slides are in the best possible shape.

Remember, a great slide is

Beautiful: well-designed, aesthetically pleasing, state-of-the-craft

Enlightening: reduces complexity, easy to understand

Truthful: best data, not misleading 

Insightful: enables audience to draw conclusions

Actionable: provides solid guidance on immediate actions and next steps


About Thomas

Thomas R. Hahn has been an IP with a-connect for the last 10 years and has completed 19 projects focused mainly on Life Sciences. An ex-McKinsey consultant, Thomas is currently an independent consultant and professor of applied physics at University of Miami. His expertise is with clients in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, healthcare providers and healthcare payers industries. He is also a trained pilot with several flying hours under his belt.

Through several years of experience as a consultant, Thomas has created best practices for preparing an effective client presentation. Here we share some of the key tips and tricks that will help you deliver your hard work in the best possible way.

AGILE – The art of adapting to change and innovation

Today’s world of work is a fast-paced race in a complex and uncertain global field. Companies around the world are facing new competitive threats, changing market dynamics, technological disruption and the ever-changing needs of empowered customers. The pressure is on for companies to adapt to change and more quickly deliver better products and services to customer. Traditional leadership thinking and practices are failing to meet today’s challenges. Leaders must more effectively engage employees, foster creativity, speed up delivery and mitigate risks to outpace the competition.

Until recently, Agile was seen as a set of management practices relevant only to software development. That’s because Agile’s initial advocates were software developers and its foundational document was the 2001 Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Agile’s emergence as a global movement extending beyond software is driven by the discovery that the only way for organizations to cope with today’s turbulent, customer-driven marketplace is to become Agile. Agile enables organizations to master continuous change. It permits firms to flourish in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Since its inception, Agile has been used across industries to develop software, hardware, networks of interacting functions, autonomous vehicles, schools, hospitals, governments and marketing, and to manage the operations of organizations and almost everything we use in our daily lives.

Today, Agile methodologies are widely used for:

  • The development of products and services
  • Strategic planning activities
  • Supply chain management and management of the parent organizations

Conditions are ripe for Agile teams in any situation where problems are complex, solutions are at first unclear, project requirements are likely to change, close collaboration with end users is feasible, and creative teams will outperform command-and-control groups.


What is Agile?

The fundamental essence of Agile processes is adaptivity

The word ‘agile’ means ‘the ability to move, think and understand very quickly’. It generally signifies a highly skilled behavior, in both life and business contexts. In fact, the term ‘agile’ has a reputation for being overused and used incorrectly not always in the way it was meant to.

Agile is a collective concept that includes different techniques that provide the ability to adapt quickly to new conditions. Agile methodology focuses on delivering the features that have the greatest business value first, and then communicating with customers in real time to enable direct feedback from them. Agile also requires strict management of the cost, time and scope of projects.

Coming back to its origins, Agile reflects the view of visionary software developers who believed that “uncovering better ways of developing software” would require a reversal of some fundamental assumptions of 20th-century management. They valued “individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation and responding to change over following a plan.”

As Agile is increasingly applied to large-scale projects, the gains that become possible at firms are dramatic, particularly the ability to deliver instant, frictionless, personalized responsiveness at scale, such as Spotify’s Discover Weekly.

Additionally, as software itself becomes a critical driver in almost all businesses, Agile is now spreading to many kinds of organizations and functions, as recognized in 2016 by Harvard Business Review in the article ‘Embracing Agile’.


How does Agile work?

Mindset & individuals over tools & processes

There are several Agile methodologies that can be used to manage a project – Scrum being the most widely used and the one that we will explain further.

Agile methodologies, particularly Scrum, are based on a set of values, principles, team roles, events (meetings) and artifacts, and the rules that bind them together. Agile methodologies are alternatives to command-and-control management styles. The essence of Scrum is a small, self-governing team (a Scrum Team) of 4–9 people, which is highly flexible, adaptive and cross-functional. Scrum uses the concept of timeboxing to define the amount of time the team should allocate for each event. The Scrum team members should have all the knowledge and skills they need to achieve the agreed goals. The teams autonomously decide the priorities and resource allocations, and are designed to stay close to the customers and adapt quickly to changing conditions.

Here are some of the main components of Agile methodology implementation:

  • A Scrum Team – with a Product Owner, Development Team and Scrum Master – is set up and empowered by leadership to take decisions
  • The Scrum Team follows three principles: 1) transparency (the work must be visible at all times); 2) inspection (the Scrum team must frequently inspect the work and progress towards the sprint goal to detect undesirable variances); and 3) adaptation (if one or more aspects deviate outside unacceptable limits, an adjustment must be done as soon as possible to minimize further deviation)
  • The team completes the following Scrum events: the Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective (all these events are timeboxed, so the team knows the maximum duration of each meeting)
  • The Scrum Team completes small intervals (Sprints) of active cooperation. These Sprints should not exceed four weeks and should have a specific goal. During these intervals, the Scrum Team should complete daily status meetings (Daily Scrums) of no more than 15 minutes
  • At the end of each Sprint, the customer receives the result (in the Sprint Review), which is already suitable to use in their business. The Scrum Team’s processes and ways of working are then analyzed for improvement (in the Sprint Retrospective)
  • The Scrum Team works closely with the customer throughout the development process and delivers all the work agreed to accomplish the Sprint goal
  • The team is always ready to review and adapt at any stage of the project, and can easily implement changes to improve the final product

Unlike classic project management methods, Scrum focuses more on personal responsibility. The individuals that are performing the tasks are the ones taking ownership and estimating the completion times.

With the right, competent approach to the implementation of the system, the development of any project – even the most complex and energy-consuming project – can turn into a well-functioning mechanism and real collaborative work.


What are the advantages of Agile?

Scrum improves how we work in several ways:

  • It produces higher product quality, due to constant testing and continuous improvement as small increments of the work are performed
  • It results in higher customer satisfaction, as a result of the constant demonstration of improvements to customers, and the fact that customers are kept engaged with the project
  • It offers increased project control – for example, with the Daily Scrum meetings
  • There are reduced risks because of the short Sprints, the brief time between feature development, and the constant adaption to the client’s/customer’s needs and preferences throughout the development process
  • It provides faster ROI because it focuses on business value, allows the client/customer to determine the priority of features, and creates a functional, ready-to-market product with just a few iterations


How can you implement Agile? And in what situations can you use Agile methodology?

Start small and let the word spread

Large companies typically launch change programs as massive efforts. However, the most successful introductions of Agile usually start small. They often begin in IT, where software developers are likely to be familiar with the principles. Agile might then spread to another function, with the original practitioners acting as coaches. Success achieved in one or more departments tends to create a group of passionate evangelists who can hardly wait to tell others in the organization how well Agile works.

Successful Agile implementation requires a mindset change, real commitment from teams and leadership, and perseverance to remove the potential bottlenecks that will occur due to the existing organizational structure, which has several layers of management and bureaucracy.

The top three factors that are most helpful in scaling Agile are: 1) internal Agile coaches; 2) executive sponsorship; and 3) training programs provided by the company.



Scrum can create a safe environment that enables teams to experiment and, most importantly, learn from their test results and continuously improve. Instead of doing an extensive phase of planning at the beginning and only testing at the end (like the waterfall approach), Scrum simply provides the space for teams to try, test and innovate faster based on repetitive cycles of input from the customer. The team plans just enough to have a reasonable hypothesis of what may work and goes with it.

We have recently gone through the Scrum Alliance certification experience, which included attending a live training session. Although many of the concepts, rules, thinking and methods we have learned can be easily understood from the Scrum Guide, we have found it valuable to simulate a Sprint. The main insights for us were:

  • It takes time for teams to internalize the concept of self-governing teams, where your title and seniority within an organization no longer matters – just the work you deliver
  • In the beginning, you get the feeling that everything is chaotic and that you are losing control, so you can imagine how this might be one of the blockers for implementation
  • Scrum is easy to understand but takes time to master, and a test-and-learn mindset is as critical as being open to failing fast and then improving
  • Constant feedback is one of the core elements of Scrum and that is why being transparent is so important
  • For Scrum to work, leadership needs to be onboard and support and understand the process during implementation. It should empower the Scrum Team and not overturn team decisions or add review layers and controls to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated. Failure should be a part of the process. With the best of intentions, such interventions erode the benefits that Agile innovation can deliver

Implementing Agile can be a step forward. It involves a lot of work, and emotions and passions run high as people and processes collide. Hiring an Agile coach may help companies maneuver these challenges but not without effort from the entire organization – from the executives and senior management to the programmers. As with any good harvest, the yield from Agile depends on the efforts that go into implementation. 

If you are interested in getting a Scrum certification, here are some suggestions (non-exhaustive list):


Fad-Free Strategy:

It has become fashionable in some circles to dismiss business strategy design as a relic. Such circles argue the importance of ‘strategy as learning’ and say that detailed strategizing has become pointIess in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. They also argue that there is a ‘strategy-execution gap’, and that failures of strategy are primarily due to poor execution, not weak design.

Both of these arguments have some merit. However, from our combined 50+ years’ experience of advising mainstream companies and teaching executive MBA students at Harvard University and Hult International Business School, we find that such attitudes tend to overlook one important shortcoming: that many managers possess a lack of rigor when assessing the feasibility and financial effects of their strategic choices before pushing the ‘commit now’ button. Decision-makers should be more demanding about revenue (R) estimates – that is, the product volumes or quantities (Q) a company is likely to sell to its customers at various price levels (P). While most managers recognize the R = P x Q formula, many believe that real-world business does not lend itself to a rigorous approach. They think that it is easier and/or more desirable to apply good business judgment, guided by past experience, stretch goals and simple arithmetic.

In Fad-Free Strategy, we explain a rigorous yet practical approach that decision-makers can take to achieve vastly more reliable revenue estimates. Instead of moving straight from Grand Strategy design to Grand Strategy execution, managers should insert an Operational Strategy step. Grand Strategy is the upstream process through which a company defines its vision and determines the product-market combinations with which it aspires to realize that vision. There is nothing wrong with developing a Grand Strategy, provided one fundamental limitation is accepted: as the outcome of the Grand Strategy is based on averages and guesstimates (e.g. the average growth rate and profitability of a market, the overall attainable market share, and the assumed competitive advantages), it must be considered a hypothesis that subsequently must be validated, adapted and detailed, or possibly even rejected. This rigorous, evidence-based process of validation, adaptation and detailing prior to execution is what we call Operational Strategy.

Operational Strategy is based on modeling methods from decision sciences and microeconomic utility theory, which have been around for over half a century. In practice, it applies a number of irrefutable first principles that, unfortunately, some strategists tend to forget. These principles are that:

  • Customer demand drives revenues. Revenues are linked to customer demand for a particular product at different price points – not to the vision and ambitions pronounced by the management team during an offsite.
  • A customer goes for the best deal. When faced with a number of alternatives, a customer will pick the option that gives them the best deal; that is, the option that has the largest difference between what the customer is willing to pay and the price they have to pay for it.
  • A customer’s preferences need to be extracted. Customers often can’t express their preferences directly or don’t even want to reveal them. Customers need help with crafting and discovering their own preferences.

By applying these principles and methods, far less shareholder value and fewer career prospects would be destroyed, whether the strategy is about entering a new market, defending one’s own market against aggressive new entrants, or gaining share in commodity markets where customers only seem to care about price.

Fad-Free Strategy is endorsed by leading academics (from Harvard University, Duke University, NYU Stern School of Business, etc.) and CEOs (from Unilever, Allianz, CNH Industrial, etc.). It is published by Routledge – the world’s leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences space. You can find a Q&A, videoclips, tutorials, speeches, articles and reviews at


About Herman

Herman is part of the a-connect independent professionals network, focusing on strategy and organization assignments, primarily in Europe and the Middle East. He became an independent consultant in 2012, after 26 years at consulting firm Arthur D. Little, of which he spent 19 as a partner. He writes regularly in journals, such as the Harvard Business Review, Strategy & Leadership and MIT Sloan Management Review.