"Agile methods help us to become customer-centric"
Dominique Feurich on agility at team and business level.
Is Scrum the answer to everything? Why does cooperation need a fixed framework? What does agility have to do with change? As Head of Organizational Transformation and Agility Coach, Dominique Feurich has an overview of what agile approaches can achieve in a company. After all, thyssenkrupp Materials Services has been using methods from the agile toolbox for about two years – even at the highest level. In this interview, she provides insights into a learning process that is still in its infancy.
thyssenkrupp Materials Services is a large company with established hierarchies. Agility, on the other hand, is associated with small, flexible teams. How does that fit together?
When it comes to new tasks, agile methods are often a good choice: They specify how we can approach a problem and find a solution – without anticipating the outcome. For a company like ours that is undergoing a transformation, this is an important addition. But that doesn't mean that hierarchies are therefore abolished, because they are not a bad thing in the first place. When an organization is a certain size, collaboration doesn't work without a certain framework and order.
Agility for us always has two sides: the team level and the organizational level. As soon as more than one team is working on a topic using different methods, there has to be an exchange. Then we are already at the enterprise level. That's why we're also focusing on business agility at the moment – this is about a company's ability to deal with change, drive digital business forward, and enable innovation. To do this, we work closely with the Executive Board and give decision-making a firm framework.
What are common goals when teams adopt agile working methods, and how do they go about it?
Team agility is much more tangible to most than business agility. Nevertheless, knowledge about agile methods is not particularly widespread. Many people first think of Scrum – yet agile opens up a whole toolbox!
When a team wants to work agile, we usually start from the problem, not the method. Common causes are, for example, challenges in "time-to-market", but also poor quality or processes that are not running efficiently enough. Then we look at: Can the problem even be addressed with agile methods? How exactly do I know the requirements that we or our customers have for a solution? Then we can make a hypothesis about the needs and see in regular iterations whether the customer can do something with the solution.
What are the advantages of agile methods?
One well-known benefit is the self-organization of the team, which is in constant exchange, distributes tasks, creates transparency and thus reduces bottlenecks. But we also see another important benefit: the exchange with customers. Those who gather customer feedback while the solution is still being developed have a much higher success rate. These teams can correct their course early on and move in the right direction. That's why agile methods help us enormously in customer centricity.
What hurdles and challenges are faced by teams that are new to agile methods?
That quickly brings us back to the organizational level. Because agile methods not only change the way teams work together, but also, for example, leadership tasks. Technical decisions are handed over to the team and managers have to learn to let go. In return, they now have more time for the further development of competencies and skills in the team and for working on the framework conditions that teams find themselves in. Our Agile Coaches are therefore on different levels: They support teams in finding their own solutions and often work in parallel with the managers. It is also noticeable that the structure of departments changes when agility is introduced.
Customer centricity, openness and cross-disciplinary teams are not only typical of agile methods, but also characteristics of our innovation process Sherlock. What points of contact are there?
The common denominator of innovation processes and agile frameworks is that people learn quickly in short rhythms. Very clear rules and steps provide a framework within which to operate: while this doesn't influence the content, it does influence the way we work together. In addition, there is a smooth transition, at least in our company: the Sherlock innovation process usually starts openly with ideation and design thinking. At a certain level of maturity, the project can then transition to a Scrum process.
Where is the development of agility heading?
Agility is part of our transformation process because we have recognized: We won't solve any of the problems of today or tomorrow with the methods of the past. However, there is no planned development or end vision in the strict sense. To give everyone interested the opportunity to get to grips with agile principles, we offer learning formats so that everyone can get to grips with when agility makes sense and when it does not. Around 600 colleagues have already completed this!
For the future, I would like all units to at least know what agility is all about. But we don't want to ensure that everyone works with Scrum across the board, for example. The basic question is rather: What problem do you want to solve? And then we take it from there.