Roughly one and a half years ago (in August 2020), I spoke about a case study referring to agile transformation at in-tech smart charging GmbH. Now, I would like to tell you the rest of their transformation story...
in-tech smart charging GmbH develops and manufactures charging electronics as well as modules for electric vehicle communication and charging stations. When I started my work back in March 2020, the company was operating at three sites across Germany and employed around 25 people.
Desire for change/objectives
Thomas Wagner, Managing Director of in-tech smart charging, contacted me and said he wanted to check whether a transition to agile working would be the right way for his company. He and his executives wanted to increase transparency and improve communication across the three sites, have a simpler way to prioritize issues, reduce organizational complexity and, for his employees, more fun at work.
From January 2020 to November 2020, I accompanied in-tech smart charging on its path to agile working. Initially, we prepared the transformation carefully by involving the entire management team into the planning stage. We also informed all other people affected and considered their concerns to adjust the original proposal. Then, we established two efficient Scrum teams. Based on clearly separated team backlogs, both teams took care of the further development and new development of various charge controllers. In the period from March to September, I was working very closely with the agile teams – daily at first, then on a weekly basis – and supported them in my role as agile coach in the transformation process. At the end of 2020, I left the project after completing a final retrospective with the planning team (comprising leaders, product owners and scrum masters). Since then, an internal agile coach has continued my efforts in developing an agile organization.
What happened next...
Since early 2021, in-tech smart charging has increased its relevance to the market for charging infrastructure significantly and has expanded its staff considerably. This meant that the issue of scale was added to the agile transformation process. In the meantime, in-tech smart charging is working with four agile teams, rather than two, and a fifth team is currently being established. While the original agile teams continue to work based on bi-weekly sprints, the two new agile teams decided to work based on Kanban. A really interesting aspect is that one of the Kanban teams works without product owner or team leader and relies on genuine self-organization of the team for both “how it is done” and prioritization. And it works!
Any changes remain closely monitored by the internal Scrum Master (Agile Coach), who has taken over my work. Either he solves the challenges through close dialogue with all people involved, or the employees solve the challenges themselves by proactively proposing the change steps. The latter is possible because in-tech smart charging is living a culture of employee empowerment and self-organization. An example for such a change is that cross-functional teams have rather become component teams. The hardware developers, who were originally spread among the Scrum teams, now work in a dedicated hardware team, and they use a Kanban board for self-organization. Accordingly, the original Scrum teams have become genuine software teams. These changes, listed as examples, do not follow a plan that was already drawn up two years ago; they are rather based on on-the-spot insights into what seems right at the time.
Retrospectively, it certainly was right to start with cross-functional teams based on distributed hardware and software expertise. However, after growth of staff and the experience that the employees from different functions within the Scrum teams could not support each other as efficiently as initially assumed, it makes sense from today's perspective to bundle the fields of expertise more strongly again.
The future challenges...
With staff growing by one employee per month, to now around 50 employees, the issue of scale is the most urgent one in terms of organizational development. At the moment, the role of a Chief Product Owner (CPO) is being established. The CPO's task will be to prioritize topics, ideas and requirements together with the product owners of the agile implementation teams, and to distribute these efficiently among the different agile teams. In this case, “efficient” means taking into account the expertise of the teams and keeping the intersections down to a few. This would certainly work well up to a number of around seven teams. However, experience shows that other scaling methods are required if the company continues to grow. One idea would be to subdivide the organization more in line with market areas or customer segments, provided that this can be done without too much overlap. In doing so, there would no longer be one central gateway for the topics, but several, depending on the number of market areas.
In a nutshell:
It pays off to dare to initiate change and to ignite transformation. It doesn't have to happen all at once, and you don't need to have the one big plan of what the ideal organization might look like at the beginning. Deciding on a case-by-case basis and taking one step at a time – just like in-tech smart charging GmbH did – is good enough or even much better than the one big plan. Then, just go for it! As long as all employees are allowed, able and willing to think for themselves – nothing will go wrong.
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here