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„Agile journey“ at Vorwerk

Why Change Processes are Like Tender Little Plants at the Start.

At an ever increasing pace, digitalization and the associated advances in technology are confronting us with new challenges and a complexity amidst which classic approaches to product development reach their limits. Alternatively, agile work methods and especially scrum as a framework offer better concepts for coming up with new solutions. In 2016 at Vorwerk, we first introduced agile work in a small design team and in this manner acquainted the organization with the subject. Afterwards, we let agility begin to take root in product development via advanced engineering. I have summarized some of the important lessons we have learned and challenges we have faced since then:

An “agile basis” exists in nearly all companies.

When it comes to introducing agile work methods, the difficulties that arise during a corporate transition are often emphasized. Of course: Change processes that involve developing something that was previously unknown always meet with skepticism on the part of some individuals. However, my experience at Vorwerk showed me this: There were already several approaches in our teams on which our "Agile Journey" could be founded. What’s more, I am convinced that this basis also exists in most other companies. Many of our colleagues were used to working in team rooms and had already dealt among other things with optimization of prototyping and iterative approaches. When summarized and strategically implemented, all these approaches are, in manner of speaking, all brought under one roof and become more powerful.

Agile frameworks like scrum don’t work as a “roll-out”.

However, it is important to begin the “agile journey” with the actual status quo of the organization. Of course you need the support and backing of management, but not just that. An agile setup – i.e., how and with what tools you ultimately want to work – must be developed together with the employees. A framework like scrum doesn’t work as a “roll-out”, let alone as a “roll-over”! You need patience on the part of everyone involved and the will to learn from one’s own experiences.

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The first “followers” must be motivated and brought along.

Whether “bottom-up” or “top-down”: in the end, it doesn’t matter where the initiative to introduce agile methods came from if you are able find “first followers” and continue to motivate them. As a new department head in design, I did provide the impetus for the topic of scrum. In the person of one of my team leaders, however, straight away I had an enthusiastic ally on my side in whom both the development team and management have a great deal of confidence. This made it easier to foster enthusiasm for the topic in other colleagues. The fact that a lot of importance was attached to transparency and improved prioritization of tasks in the first scrum team also influenced neighboring interfaces. In this way, the “agile journey” grows out of and is strongly shaped by the organization.

There is a critical phase that requires sensitivity and improvisation.

One of the biggest challenges on this “agile journey" thus far was the phase in which we had to train our own agile coaches or scrum masters. We had no trouble finding suitable candidates within the company. On the contrary: We were quickly able to identify the first colleagues who wanted to undergo the corresponding training. However, as long as these experts were still missing, for us as an organization, it was a matter of improvising and being especially sensitive to little hindrances. In such early or transitional phases, there is indeed a risk that the initial euphoria is damped by lack of a sense of achievement or because that which has been achieved is not appreciated enough. In this regard, we had luck, or, to be more precise, momentum on our side, because all the important positions were occupied by employees who were motivated to work on the processes and communication within the company in addition to the actual project business.

Change processes are like tender little plants

Thus my personal conclusion is: if you are able to secure the support of “first followers” and use the momentum of the early phase in order to promote a topic together, then the “agile Journey” is unstoppable in almost any company – always provided that you are able to get through the initial critical phase together. Change processes are like tender little plants: if they are not well cared for at this decisive moment, they quickly wither again.

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Holger Löffler 

is Head of Design at Vorwerk Elektrowerke. Since joining the company in April 2016, the mechanical engineer has been promoting “agile work” at Vorwerk Engineering. After initial small-scale testing, today numerous projects are already being implemented in scrum development teams.