Judith Braun


Agility needs humor and sufficient altitude

I am sitting in the large conference room at Deutsche Telekom in Bonn and don't know the man sitting next to me. However, we don’t engage in the typical small talk to break the ice. After just two minutes, I already know that his name is Bernd and that he has personal insights from his work environment: "For traditional managers, the fact that the old mantra of 100% utilization of all employees actually isn't optimal is a catastrophe." It's like driving on the freeway – if you drive into Bonn in the morning, you know what to expect: traffic jams that bring you to a standstill.

Bernd is one of the many external participants from other companies who, together with many Deutsche Telekom employees, have inquisitively followed the invitation from Florian Junglas and Lukas Schmidt. These two colleagues not only lead the successful internal Mayflower community together; they have also followed and supported the ideas of Dr. Klaus Leopold for many years. Sharing this knowledge at an event on magenta grounds, together with Klaus (agile network meetings are always on a first-name basis) and the agile community, has always been their dream.

Laurent Donnay, SVP for Agile Transformation at Deutsche Telekom IT, also declares inspiration and "learning a lot" together as a network as the motto for the evening.

Agility on teams isn't the same as agility in business

It's easy to learn from Klaus, who mixes humorous stories with his useful information.

He draws on a huge trove of experience, which he has gained from advising global companies on the introduction of agile working methods*, the associated change processes, and the optimization of their value creation. Accordingly, he enjoys a sterling reputation among the agile scene, which is intimately familiar with his books on kanban and business agility.

Business agility is also the subject of his presentation this evening. What's the difference between agility and business agility? I'd be happy to answer, but let's follow the logic of the entertaining presentation:

It starts by following a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions."

And the "agile transformation" that is making inroads at companies worldwide certainly has manifold problems. Klaus describes them based on a specific example:

Are companies investing millions just to make everything worse?

Klaus outlines a typical model company, based on all his consultations. It prepared extensively for its agile journey: there are cross-functional teams that appear daily in front of their colorful Post-Its, which they use to visualize their tasks. They examine their team collaboration in retrospectives. The correct agile mindset is taught in day workshops.

Knowing chuckles can be heard from the audience as he lists each element. Humor is the necessary balm for the oft-maltreated agile soul.

"What can possibly go wrong?" Klaus asks the audience mischievously.

The statistics show: a lot of things can go wrong. They wanted to create the products much more quickly. Get the products to market much more quickly. But often, the opposite occurs, although the companies have dedicated large budgets to hiring expensive consulting firms, to supply the workforce with comprehensive concepts and training for the entire company.

How is that possible?

During one of the many buzz groups (a method for promoting interaction at events, in which the participants form small groups to discuss the current questions for several minutes), the event attendees formed hypotheses. "Maybe the coach who is supporting the agile methods is still too inexperienced." "The agile teams probably can't handle the new freedoms to organize their own work yet."

Yet the cause isn't the team itself – a fact that surprised many.

Even agile, high-performing teams do one thing above all: wait

Klaus points out where the difficulty lies: no matter how much you perfect an individual team, if the dependencies between the teams aren't coordinated – if there isn't a targeted exchange of information between the teams – then the result is more likely to be a standstill than added value.

The solution: think of agile work as a company sport, not a team sport

Zoom out from the team level! Examine the company level, together with management, to decide how product portfolios and strategies can be linked sensibly. No matter what the level (Klaus calls them "flight levels"), the right team has to work on the right thing at the right time. It sounds like a truism, but in fact, steering, coordination, and communication pose major challenges.

Business agility refers specifically to this "company sport": examining the whole enterprise and not just the team level. Only then can agility really generate added value – and that's the only thing that counts for the customer.

Klaus Leopold's homepage with in-depth information about his *overall approach.

Manifesto of Agile Work.

Manifesto of Agile Work

Telekom adopts "Manifesto of Agile Work" with Group Works Council.