„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.

Large Scale Agile at XP2013 Vienna – exchanging knowledge at a great conference!

From my perspective, the 14th International Conference on Agile Software Development XP2013 in Vienna was a great success. It took me to another level of confidence about what is needed to create and sustain a large scale agile organization.

The XP conferences are traditionally about programming and testing in an agile – XP – way, and organizing the team so that it supports XP practices. But they have grown into a conference that also covers  product ownership and design, leading agile teams and organizations, and even extending agile to the rest of the organization – this is agile real life in the industry.  What I like very much at XP conferences in general is the good mixture of experienced agile people from industry, some very well known consultants, and a lot of academic researchers who also are working close to industry about agile topics.

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(Photo: Hubert Baumeister)

On the first day I got absorbed by the Executives & Managers Track with firsthand experience from four different companies: ABB, Ericsson, Johnson Controls and Nokia. Most valuable! The managers were speaking openly about what it takes to get agile, how their company transformation programs took one step after the other to establish agile on all levels. And this is still an unfinished journey, but it has a clear north. An important point from the talk of Hendrik Esser, who is Head of Portfolio and Technology Management at Ericsson, is

To embrace change, you have to change 3 things together
· Culture
· Practices and process
· Structure

You should never see agile as a process only, this will inevitably lead to failure. The most important cultural foundation for the agile transformation is building trust, and on top of the trust you can build transparency.

These three important transformations were mentioned by Per Branger from ABB in Sweden, but are basically identical to what Ericsson is doing:
· Continuous Portfolio Management
· Continuous Release Management
· Continuous Development

When they noticed at ABB that they are really a big software developing company, coming from a background of electrical engineering, they launched a massive knowledge and skills improvement program. The remarkable thing is that they measure progress by self-assessment of every developer against description of expected skills, and that the training comes in small portions and by self-assignment as well. Wiki based knowledge bases and Q&A tools that remind a bit of the famous stackoverflow website support the learning as well.  “Carrots, no sticks” opens also the path to using common tools.

Gregory Yon is Agile Coach at Johnson Controls and talked about how he is extending agile into the rest of the organization, to the non-development teams as well as convincing different levels of management from the agile values and needs. From him as well as from the other managers I learned that we can never communicate too much to higher management about the advantages of agile, and that we need  to measure things and compare with previous projects to show how we have advanced since the old times of waterfall.

Jorgen Hesselberg, Senior Manager, Enterprise Agile Transformation, Nokia (Chicago US) explained how they are using on all levels Agile Working Groups, mixed from management and project roles, to start and sustain agile transitions at each Business Unit, and keep them up and to extend agile to the whole company. The positive results of agile on the results as well as on the employee motivation are impressive.

My own presentation on our Distributed Product Owner Team for an Agile Medical Development was on the second day, and I loved the discussion with a couple of other speakers and participants about the needed knowledge and skills for this role, and the needs for communication in the PO team and with teams and customers. I have also learned that there is actually an open group of experts from industry and research with the goal to foster software product management excellence across industries, the International Software Product Management Association (ISPMA) , who are interested in collecting such practical experience, and are creating resources for professional software product management training.

At the academic track, I found a couple of presentations on the last day very interesting: A research paper by Jeanette Heidenberg, Max Weijola, Kirsi Mikkonen, and Ivan Porres – A Metrics Model to Measure the Impact of an Agile Transformation in Large Software Development Organizations asks whether an agile transformation was worth the effort. For this, they were looking for metrics that support agile values, focus on the whole organization, not individual or teams, and are applicable to both waterfall and agile projects. Also they should be feasible to collect for past and ongoing projects, in any size of project, and be objective and clear. They did an iterative approach with first formulating the goal, then ask practitioners for metrics used, compare them against their values and goals, and finally select a collection of metrics. They have some really helpful metrics that we can apply to learn how much we have already improved through agile, at least in some aspects.

The paper Continuous Release Planning in a Large-Scale Scrum Development Organization at Ericsson by Ville Heikkilä, Maria Paasivaara, Casper Lassenius, and Christian Engblom was complementing very well with the talk of Hendrik Esser, as they are exactly describing how the release planning for individual features works, and which experiences people at Ericsson had with this method.

Of course there were also great keynote speakers at XP2013 in Vienna, a helpful Open Space, a wonderful conference reception, and great conversations in the breaks.

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As always, thank you very much for the photos, Hubert Baumeister.

The next XP conference will take place in May 2014 in Rome, which is also a nice place to go to.  I will convince some of our colleagues and managers of submitting a talk and participating – we have a lot of experience we can share!

Best Regards
Andrea