Digital Transformation & Business Agility / Customer Story

Agile culture change at Nikhef leads to more transparency and efficiency

Nikhef has made great strides in optimizing processes related to large, mostly international partner projects. By implementing Agile principles, the company has brought the coordination and aggregation of competencies to perform these projects to the desired levels. Greater transparency exposes the root of issues and enables employees to solve problems themselves.

Nikhef is a Dutch institute that provides instruments for research into subatomic physics. CERN is a major partner, as are other large-scale initiatives such as the KM3NeT neutrino detector in the Mediterranean. Nikhef is located at Amsterdam Science Park. The office houses large departments for developing and producing mechanical technology, computing facilities, and electronics.



Keeping a grip on large international projects through transparency


Guided implementation of relevant Agile principles and tools


Supervision and support from management and project leaders

Fun and transparency

Nikhef successfully carries out global projects that often have a lead time of between three and twenty years. The downside of highly competent employees is that they tend to go too far in the pursuit of perfection. This would often lead to delayed schedules, a budget overrun, frustrated employees, inefficiencies, and peaks in workload followed by idle periods. The challenge is to keep a grip on these projects.

Increased job satisfaction and greater transparency within the projects were needed for more efficiency and effectiveness. For example, truly recognizing people's expertise by allowing them to make more decisions themselves.

Due to the long lead time of processes, a product may be outdated upon delivery. Iteratively working based on Agile principles makes it possible to incorporate new insights and developments progressively. Also, those involved can more easily adhere to agreements made so that not everything always has to be iterated.

Nikhef needed expert knowledge. Theo Gerrits, Agile Consultant at Xebia, introduced himself as a driving instructor. While Nikhef took the wheel, Theo guided the institute throughout the journey and provided feedback frequently.


"We carefully started trying Agile ourselves. That provided the necessary inspiration. We soon decided that we needed help, and contacted Xebia."

Pieter van Braam van Vloten, Head HR Nikhef.

Agile: guiding principles

Supported by the right software, Nikhef started to implement Agile within several projects. When drawing up the project plans, the teams' required competencies were determined based on a matrix structure. This approach has been further developed, and now teams handle most projects in short cycles.

Nikhef did not adopt any standard method. Instead, Theo introduced the company to Agile principles, and Scrum components were applied in a specific situation or context. "Transparency, for instance, ensures that information is always available to everyone. Which is essential for a successful project meeting."

A guiding coalition of project leaders open to change and modernization supervised the changes. People from this transition group constantly exerted positive pressure by sharing the project's progress or results, which enticed people to participate. The transition group is still active today.


100% Transparency

Continues learning & development

Collaboration has greatly improved

Great strides

Nikhef has made great strides in changing work processes and using Jira as standard software. This enables the company to bring the coordination and aggregation of resources to the desired levels. Workspaces have been redesigned to support collaboration and knowledge sharing.

"Transparency has increased. It is easier to spot the root of any issue, and people are better equipped to solve problems step by step. For instance, by unraveling the process and dividing it into smaller, manageable sub-projects." - Stan Bentvelsen, Director Nikhef.

 HR manager Pieter van Braam van Vloten is proud that improvements have been realized bottom-up. "As soon as the pilot-projects proved a success, we used them as showcases for the rest of the organization. By demonstrating the benefits, we invited our project leaders to apply the principles themselves."

Director Stan Bentvelsen is pleased that Nikhef’s way of working has changed. "When you give people a little more room to initiate or decide things themselves, they will do so."

As his work at Nikhef has come to an end, Theo Gerrits looks back on a fruitful collaboration. A new way of working is secured. "Increasing transparency within the project meetings was not easy but desperately needed. Collaboration has greatly improved. People spontaneously started helping and training each other and replacing each other during their leave. In the past, all of that had to be arranged by the management."

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