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Agility in data-driven organizations PART I

An interview with Prof. Dr. Rer. Nat. Andreas Both

This interview was conducted as part of a Strategic Management research project by Mrs. Lavender Achieng'. of Bunify Consulting. As you read, you need to picture an actual conversation


Q.1. Why do corporates need Agile transformation?

Lots of organizations were led in the past by creating a plan for the whole organization. --- speaking for my Organization, which is a data-driven organization and has, in today's time 7600 people, to organize all of these different teams which are, speaking for the development unit, around about 180 teams. would require a very very large scale plan to intervene between all of the different goals, all of the different products, and so on. Which takes huge amounts of time for progression and for execution and of course this takes too long in today's time. Maybe have many demands which are triggered today and should be accomplished tomorrow. So for data corporations, I think one could say it is required to be more flexible. And the word for "more flexible" is mostly “more Agile”.


Q2. Have you participated before in a specific project towards meeting Agility in an organization?

Yes. When I started in Industry, I was the trainer for all of the IT leaders and IT project leads with regards to Agility or Agile methodology. I had a training program for all of these.... So I was the head of R&D, and in addition, I had an additional role, where I was the trainer of all of these people, which was a specific course in a training program that took about 10 months, one class was thought to be capable of understanding what agility and agile methodology mean. And as well, I was teaching Scrum and Kanban and feature-driven development. So Kanban for smaller teams; teams which are not driven by goals but driven by demands, scrum for product teams, product development teams and feature-driven development which is a large scale approach on agility for teams that have to work with partners and therefore requiring larger packages of functionality which will be implemented by the partner.


In my second position in the industry, I was appointed as head of agile, therefore I was only active there as a coach for some of the leaders in the company to be capable of having someone who was, in a bilateral way available to help them in executing the agile methodology. In my third position, which is my previous position, I was part of a working group that was creating the new agile role model out of a handbook, a developers' handbook, describing what we were expecting, what kind of mindset we are expecting from people. This was done by a working group where I was one of two department heads who were actually involved in this process which was mostly done by one of the senior management, two department heads, and ten people from the ground, actually sent from..., actual scrum masters and so on...


Q3. Did you have to take prior training to take up these positions? Or was it from experience?

No, Actually I started taking Agile methodology during my PhD.time, which is like aaah,.... yeah, I have to confess, it was about 15yrs ago that I started with this. And there was no training in this regard at this point in time, not some well known large scale training available in all places of work. So in this particular time, I started with this coz, for my projects, I had 13 projects during my Ph.D. time, it was required to be capable of managing all of these things, not in a Waterfall manner but rather in an Agile manner because most of these projects are with partners and so I had the requirements for a particular,.., to fulfill their needs, I had seen the requirement {necessity} to have an agile approach. So that’s why as I started my first position, I was actually the most experienced guy at this company, and as always, the reason why people become trainers is; because other people think they are more experienced ones despite the formal training.


Q4. What were some of the best practices that may be guided you through the processes, or what did you look up to in these transformation projects?

In my main transformation projects, I always look up to something that I can manifest in the Social Contract. Do you know the concept of a Social Contract? [No]. A Social Contract is an approach to write down the things which the team defines for itself as the processes, as requirements, like metrics, as mindsets, and so on … So to form this kind of picture not in like…., of course, you always have to talk to people, but to define a goal is to actually have it written down so that everybody can actually agree on something he is reading and of course it should not be too large because mostly I printed on a paper and put it on a wall in one of the offices. Because In my opinion, it is always an excellent practice to actually point to all these things each and every day... if you have a meeting for example in a meeting where people are not following the project and you can always be pointing to this particular paper, say: “look at the paper, here we agreed on something different”.


And this is always my opinion because I see that mostly: after some weeks people tend to adopt here and there, and some things might not be so clear after some time and when there is stress and pressure and so on; some things are removed from the mind and some things are removed from the process, hence I endeavor to always have this kind of anchor such that, always there is something we have defined, and if we defined it, then we have defined it for a reason, We have invested much time to accomplish these things. It is a well-proven tool, in my opinion, to actually train teams because as a trainer of teams, in my particular case I was never a full-time trainer of a team. I've coached so many teams, and I always took a minor role of being a teacher, trainer, or a coach for particular teams, and so it was not that I have seen each and everything; if I had time I got what team and it might be doing this during the set-up meeting, it might also be regular working hours or something like that. So if I saw something, I always try to point it to and connect to the mindset we have defined in the social contract.


The second thing might be something, I'm not sure if you have known of a concept called slicing!... So slicing is the approach and the capability of reducing this large scale costs and goals into small parts [segmentations or something of the sort ?]...Yeah, something like that. more this kind of uuummmh….. so people tend to look at large goals, If you have a product owner, product owners tend to define large goals, and if they are untrained they will always look at large goals, like: “we have to accomplish this functionality”, but this functionality takes like half a year. However, it will be better if we define something that takes like half an hour, Because then people are truly capable of accomplishing something and redo the step, and again redo this step, redo the step; and in this way train the steps for agility. It’s actually easier for team members to train in and perform smaller tasks but it is very hard for product owners and team leads to define these kinds of smaller tasks that require sort of “mathematical knowledge” called slicing. And for this reason, for me, it is always very important to work on the slicing because if you have "slicing", people in the team can actually train this kind of process. If they are not capable of accomplishing something, the whole agile process will collapse, because then you will again have iterations that cost like or go for about half a year. Of course, if you slice it into like two weeks because you have defined it well, you can accomplish something in two weeks. And if you are not accomplishing anything, then you will not be capable to re-aim for the goal, and if you are not re-aiming for the goal then you can not call it Agility. This is something that is very important in my view.


Q5 How can different Agile Methodologies be used in different Organizations: Like we have Organizations with one business module while others with more than 200 Modules. Do you have any preference for which approach works for what organization?

No, I don't have a particular methodology. I worked in smaller companies, my first company was starting with 600 people, after 3 years we had 1900 people so we went through a very intensive growth phase, hence we adopted different approaches, because... well I think it is difficult to define one approach. In my second company, we had 400 people and only 100 in IT so that's why it was like one big team. This is why everyone had one approach but that's due to chance. And in the third company, I was just speaking about, we had roundabout 180 team members with round about 2000 developers. Mostly we used scrum because we are training scrum in our process, but we also make a statement that it does not depend on a particular process but rather the mindset. This is why we allow everybody to follow their own process; and on a larger scale, we started with SAFE (Salable Agile Framework). Basically SAFE as an agile framework aims to create different strategic levels. At the Operational you have the scrum teams, products, and goals and everything in a very detailed way … you can look at my handbook about scrum. At the second level; you have this kind of business unit or product unit orientation. So to split up on different roles, they will actually make a decision like this kind of activity is being committed by this kind of time such that they can reuse the knowledge that they have because if they keep switching between different parts, it would take too long. The third level is the Strategic level where you make decisions like how much resources you would like to spend on a particular product. And on the 4th level, you will create the kinds of Enterprise strategy where you ….. aah … Yeah …. well, of course, you make the big decisions about what’s important and what’s not, where to reduce your investment, where to create new products. (Right) Now we will maybe switch to LeSS (Lean Scalable Scrum ) and think we might switch to, which actually provides, in my opinion, a nicer picture. Because think about it, what exactly will change?. LeSS is a better-organized form of scrum which is why the higher-level manager might be looking at it.


End of Part I of the Interview: Look out for part II and an analysis of the same.