Case Study - Transformation to Agile Working at in-tech smart charging


in-tech smart charging GmbH develops and manufactures powerline communication modules as well as modules for electric vehicle communication and charging stations. At the outset of my work, the company was operating at three sites in Germany (today it has four sites) and employed around 25 people. 

Desire for change / objectives

Managing Director Thomas Wagner contacted me and said he wanted to check whether a transition to agile working (see link below as regards Scrum-based working) for his company would be the right way. 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. Moreover, working methods should be harmonized across the historically developed structures and customer relations be improved. The overriding goal was to make the organization, i. e. in-tech smart charging, even more adaptable to future developments in the market.

Our approach

After the Managing Director and I had defined the engagement in detail, we established a planning team in March. It consisted of five, and later seven, managers and team leaders of in-tech smart charging and me as the supporting coach. Together, we analyzed how to transfer the project work to one or more agile teams. Initial considerations clearly showed that two Scrum teams should be established. We evaluated which employees could take on the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner. We also prepared a suggestion how to allocate hardware and software developers as well as testers to the two teams across the sites. Then, we allocated the product and maintenance issues – previously reflected via projects – to two team backlogs. Within the context of the planning sessions, we openly discussed which roles and tasks would eventually become obsolete following the potential introduction of Scrum. These detailed planning efforts covered a period of roughly one month, thus giving sufficient time for all those involved to become familiar with the issue. Thomas Wagner, Managing Director of in-tech smart charging, says: “It was the right way to involve the managers from the outset by establishing the planning team.”

In my view, the most important step was what followed afterwards: After the carefully drafted proposal was presented to the entire staff by Thomas Wagner, I moderated sessions for the purpose of integrating objections (based on the objection integration procedure by Bernd Oestereich and Claudia Schröder). Visualizations were made and discussions held in small groups of up to five people where every single participant could raise his or her concerns and how these concerns could be mitigated. The most relevant objections for the top-level proposal were the following: 

  • important unpredictable support issues that should be mapped via a fastlane; and
  • collaboration across Scrum teams which should be considered through regular meetings of the Product Owners and a community of practice of the hardware developers across the two Scrum teams.

The proposal was modified to take into account the objections and was then re-presented to the employees at the beginning of May. A test run of working under Scrum consisting of three sprints was arranged.
We decided to spend nearly one additional month to prepare the two team backlogs as preparatory work at the start of Scrum. This work was done by the two Product Owners in the background and also by means of Backlog Refinement meetings, together with the relevant implementation team. 
The time had come in early June: the first sprint was ready to get underway. Firstly, I moderated all Scrum meetings such as Backlog Refinement, Planning, Review, Retrospective and Dailies, the respective Scrum Masters were simply observers. We reversed the procedure starting with the second Sprint: the respective Scrum Master moderated the meetings on his own and I had the role of the observer, with the option to give feedback after the meetings. 
We deliberately had decided not to carry out extensive training sessions beforehand because we thought a “learning by doing” approach would be more effective for all people involved.
As agreed upon at the start of the transformation process, all of the employees were requested to state – on an anonymous basis – whether Scrum was a success in their view. The result could hardly be any clearer: 75% of the respondents wanted to continue working using Scrum. The result was even clearer for the implementation teams where 85% voted in favor of Scrum. The comments section included statements by the employees such as:

  • Cross-functional working has improved, colleagues can learn something ‘new’ and enhance their know-how.
  • The common goal has become clearer for us as employees, and we are able to work with better focus.
  • Tasks and responsibilities have become more transparent than prior to agile working.
  • Support issues are put up for discussion into the teams in a more orderly way and their urgency is more carefully assessed than before.
  • Communication has improved overall.
  • It becomes apparent that members of the implementation teams are happy that their work is appreciated during the Review Meetings by the participating stakeholders.
  • A common team spirit across sites has emerged only after the multi-location Scrum teams were established.
  • Customer relations have become closer. (I would like to highlight here that one of the teams already invited customers to attend the third Review Meeting. The customer’s feedback was: “The Review Meeting led to higher transparency and has strengthened the trusted relationship between us.”)

At the moment (mid-August), I am gradually leaving my position as agile coach. One of the three Scrum Masters who participated in my trainings has taken over the company-wide role of Agile Coach and I am convinced that he will continue to advance agility at in-tech smart charging GmbH in future and without my support.

In a nutshell:

Needless to say: not everything went well. Introducing Scrum is always a radical change. Not all members are willing to directly embark on this journey. One of the Scrum Masters had difficulties to solely fill the role of a moderator without contributing his technical expertise. We are currently discussing whether he is sufficiently content with this role to really breathe life into it. The burden is especially large for the Product Owners who are solely responsibility for prioritizing the issues and thus hold commercial responsibility to an extent previously not seen. Both Product Owners are currently coached by both their supervisors and me in order to assist them in growing into their new role. At the beginning, one of the two Scrum implementation teams that consisted of relatively young developers was not very familiar with the topic of “self-commitment”. The responsible Scrum Master is currently helping the employees to grow into the field of self-commitment. 
To me, it is remarkable that this transformation process during the coronavirus pandemic has taken place, and currently is taking place, entirely remote and online. This means that all meetings are held online, all boards such as team and sprint backlogs exist only in electronic form. Of course, the gathering of data during the Retrospective phase is made via digital whiteboards. And it works! Even well!

In summary, I would like to note that we started the initial planning phase in March, we started the first sprint in June and now, in mid-August, we can look back on a largely completed transformation. I believe that in-tech smart charging GmbH has mastered the transformation in an excellent way. Planning was undertaken very carefully; the employees’ concerns were taken seriously at all time, not least due to the fact that the roles of the Scrum Masters were filled with excellent people. The roles of Product Owner were given to robust employees who are able to withstand initial teething troubles. There are developers who are extremely eager to learn and who take on the challenge of working in a cross-functional environment, and there is a Managing Director who initiated this transformation process and who has shown courage to take on the additional uncertainty of a new working method, despite the uncertain development of the pandemic.

Supplementary comment of the Managing Director Thomas Wagner

“The methodological approach initiated by Andrea – as detailed above – was very much to our liking. Moreover, I believe Andrea’s combination of consistent application of the Scrum rules on the one hand and her pragmatic attitude on the other was extremely helpful in achieving our objectives.”

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading and watching:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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