„Creating an agile learning experience for managers“ – presentation and workshop at #XP2017 conference in Cologne

The agile transition of DATEV‘s product development organization has started.

DATEV was founded in 1966 by a visionary tax consultant as a common IT backbone for himself and his colleagues. The then recently emerged mainframe computers promised to solve their common need for correct calculation in a world of increasingly complicated and ever-growing legislation. – This bold idea transformed the initial startup into a constantly growing company in form of a cooperative – the main customers are also the owners of DATEV, therefore it is called “DATEV eG” in German.  Today,  40 000 tax consultants in Germany are DATEV members. 12 million employees get their monthly pay slip via DATEV software. The members use DATEV’s financial accounting software on behalf of 2.5 million small and medium sized companies. DATEV’s own financial numbers have been in the black every single year since its foundation.

The customer feedback has been positive over many years, with software solutions which are not always easy to use but contain the correct implementation of complex legislation. Now we need to evolve towards new web based products which will support the digitalization and automation of the members’ daily workflows, as well as providing faster customer and market feedback cycles. So the purpose of the agile transition should be clear, yet it is not at all easy to create a sense of urgency among the middle management considering the success story that is still true today.

In 2016, we created a learning event for the approximately 200 middle managers. We designed a two day event with two main goals:

  1. The managers should understand the challenge of DATEV’s digitalization strategy
  2. They should learn that an agile transformation is needed in order to support this strategy and that they would play an active role in it

The methods we used for this event were a combination of:

  • Very short speeches by the top management supporting these goals
  • An information market where the first projects in which prototypes of new digital products had been created were presented in a self-organized way by team members of these projects
  • The managers selected the most important obstacles these projects were facing, to be solved by themselves, and started working 
  • A retrospective-like setting in which the managers analyzed and started to develop solutions to these problems
  • The whole event was facilitated by team members who were recruited from the company’s in-house agile community

The outcomes of this first event were three working groups working on the most important obstacles according to the voting of the managers, and a quite positive feedback.

The overall concept of the two-day event was rated between very helpful and not helpful at all – in 6 steps. More than 80% of the participants chose the two best ratings. They were especially pleased with how well the event was facilitated by the team members.

One feedback given during the event to the top management was that direct communication with the team members must take place more rapidly.  The top management promptly put this into practice on the second day of the event by  finding and announcing a date for an information event for all 1800 team members.
All three work groups working on the top three problems developed results in the following weeks, which were presented and discussed in a second event. The third group working on “goals, metrics and a master plan for a complete agile transition” initiated a thorough analysis of the situation, resulted in the top management forming an agile transition team and calling everybody to action during the second event. There all sub-organizations started their own agile transition teams and plans.

Still the development organization as a whole is overburdened with work due to a big upfront planning process in which all of the work for one calendar year has been defined and estimated and committed by the management until July of the previous year. This was the fourth problem addressed by top management itself. A team worked on this process during the next couple of months, with the goal to rely on rough roadmaps instead and to introduce three-monthly portfolio planning cycles. Now in a third event end of April 2017, we have worked with the managers on this topic in order to get everybody into re-defining their current product development goals so that they can be measured and sliced down into smaller sub-goals which result in deliverable slices of products. 

Interested? You can here more about it on Thursday May 25th  in my „Creating an agile learning experience for 200 managers“ presentation and workshop with Christina Busch at XP2017 conference in Cologne.

A great audiovisual 15 min training on Product Ownership

Yesterday a friend sent me the link to a great audiovisual mini-training on Product Ownership, that Henrik Kniberg just published on the CRISP blog http://blog.crisp.se/2012/10/25/henrikkniberg/agile-product-ownership-in-a-nutshell.

It is amazing. It does not only explain important aspects of the Product Owner role is an easy to understand way, but also visualizes central aspects of agile software development like fast feedback, velocity, and release forecast. And all of this in only 15 min!

The technique used reminds me of the famous „RSA Animate“ 10 min science videos. One of the most remarkable maybe the one explaining Dan Pink’s research about what motivates us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Well done, Henrik!

Great places to work: learning from SEMCO

A couple of weeks ago in Karmakonsum, a German blog for eco fair life style and economy, I came across Ricardo Semler and SEMCO – the incredibly successful Brazilian company that is directed mostly by its workers and employees since the 1980es. How did I not discover it earlier? Now that I have read Semler´s book „Maverick“ from 1993, I have found a lot of good things to learn for companies who want to get really agile and lean beyond software development departments.

At SEMCO they have proven it is possible to get rid of basically all kind of bureaucracy, if you start treating your employees as adults.
Written down process manuals are replaced by common sense, expanded knowledge, plus motivation to do your work in the best possible way to make your company succeed. Control and the needed to ask for permission for all kind of small things can be reduced to a minimum, from travel expenses to lunch invitations – if you just ask everybody to employ common sense, and have transparency on the numbers. Transparency is an important part of the SEMCO miracle. All employees and workers have full knowledge of revenue and expenses. This allows them to take meaningful decisions in factory committees, about what to change to get more efficient and make the customers happier. They are also fixing their own wages and hiring their managers. Hey, managers, getting scared now?

Of course such a company also needs leaders. But being leader there is not a question of status and privileges. They do not expect big personal offices and secretaries, but are just full of new ideas and ask nasty questions.

One important human organization principle that the company leaders adopted is keeping the units small: one plant or sub-company should not be bigger than 150 people. Pretty interesting, that Dave Snowdon gave the same number in his ALE2011 keynote asan evolution-built-in human constant for the size of a group a human will be able to identify with.

Democracy and open communication define the SEMCO identity rather than saying they agree in this or that business. There is a lot we can learn from them, if we are brave and fearless. Starting at a huge company may not be as easy, as there are politics around on many levels, and dragons.
What seems more promising to me is starting at a small or mid sized company, where the existing amount of process is not so overwhelming. First I would inspire lean and Agile principles. Software developers are often open to democratic principles, and shop floor workers often already know and apply a few lean methods nowadays. If we then start to engage teams of software and hardware developers, scientists, workers and sales people in how to build better products for the customers, our how to make design or production more efficient, they will sparkle with new ideas.
As people are learning together and get a broader view on the company’s goals and the boundary conditions, they can make good improvement proposals. Then step by step some of them will learn to see the whole, at least to have a bigger interest in the company’s business, and feel responsible for making their work more efficient.

Another book I have read recently is „Delivering Happiness“ from Tony Hsieh, which will get its own blog post: learning how to really, really have company values and use them in daily life.

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