undconsorten LLP

“Focus and move things“
As a leading Telcoplayer, Vodafone is pioneering the digital infrastructure. Together with undconsorten, Vodafone Germany has developed a Digital Accelerator for the business segment and introduced agile working approaches. In an interview, Martin Grabowski, Head of Products, Marketing and Partner Management Business, provides insights into Vodafone's agile transformation.

How did the Digital Accelerator come about?

Martin Grabowski
Vodafone Germany

Martin Grabowski: You can't just ignore certain trends. That's why we've been thinking repeatedly about what Agile can mean for us in B2B. The majority of our work here is project business and therefore not simply standardized. We wanted to use the Accelerator to better implement existing or upcoming new projects – through modern and agile working methods, new organizational setups, new role profiles, governance models and project flow structures. On the one hand, this should create new motivation for our people and, on the other hand, of course accelerate our time-to-market.

Martin Grabowski
Vodafone Deutschland

The Accelerator was launched a year ago with several product teams. How would you rate the experiences so far?

Martin Grabowski: This can already be described as a great success. I see it in three dimensions:

  • We have enabled the new working approaches in the company to become better known and more established. Until a year ago, hardly anyone in B2B dealt with the topics of Scrum, Kanban, Design Thinking, and all the other buzzwords in this environment.

  • We have loosened up and dissolved established organizations, processes and situations. Through years of project work, there were miscommunications between the teams, which led to failures and misunderstandings due to unclear responsibilities. The agile approaches have led to a strong dynamic. Suddenly things became clear: Someone from the team was specifically named for the project, the topic or the solution to the task. That's what made you pull together again. Even seemingly simple things like sitting together as a team contributed to this.

  • Last but not least, you can of course see real progress in the projects when you look at the stand-ups and reviews. For example, we have achieved the first very good results with our 5G project with eGO and therefore decided to include new topics.

Can you think of a situation or story where you noticed that things were done differently?

Martin Grabowski: There were examples of how we could lead the projects to a successful end that stagnated because teams were frustrated, relationships were lost, budgets and roles were unclear. In addition, there were changes in the management team, which meant that many no longer knew exactly who was ultimately responsible for what.

With the transition to agile approaches, we have mobilized something in this regard. It is easy to see how Agile has helped to reduce the risk of overall loss in large cross-functional projects. The division into sub-projects with individual milestones, short-term successes and sprints has led to a special dynamic. In the old project, the team's thoughts were full of pressure and frustration: "We still have 12-18 months left, and then we have to deliver the whole Klops, we'll never be able to do that". However, with the new approach, there is on the one hand the perspective "We want to have achieved this in about a year", but on the other also the many small successes in between. An MVP is created, it is tested, there are new findings that lead to new work packages. Small success messages are delivered, and teams see progress.

“To be fair, it also takes quite a while to redesign the projects in this way.”

It was a lot of work from you as supporters, but also from the project teams and established resources. In onboarding, we had to do a lot of going door to door, provide resources, reach out to people and discuss issues that hadn't come up before.

What challenges have you faced?

Martin Grabowski: The biggest challenge was certainly to coordinate the whole thing with Group procedures, guidelines and approval processes. There is still work to be done in this regard: The squads are sometimes faster than the organization. How do you define flexibilities and budgets? Who decides and who is informed? Challenges arise when you install an agile island in a traditional organizational structure. But we have managed to introduce Agile, secure broad support and as a result have several successful parallel projects.

“You also need new people with the right skills; you can't get them overnight, and they are rare on the market.”

And you can see that we have a limited number of specialists with the right skills required for individual features. Therefore, we have to broaden our knowledge so that the teams are not slowed down or the colleagues have work on too many aspects that are still being ironed out.

In your opinion, what is an agile success factor from an employee perspective?

Martin Grabowski: I believe that as in sport, close cooperation and team building create a dynamic. You have success, you feel a sense of belonging, you identify with it, you have clear, but not overly ambitious goals. It simply motivates you. If you set that right, you have a sense of achievement and esteem, and that inspires you. It's not so fictitious, following the motto: "I don't care if I keep the sprint goal, I'll do it next week". The team members take responsibility. You stand in front of the board in the morning and you see that it is going on everywhere, but you have not fulfilled your tasks and now we hang as a team. That sounds trivial, but dynamics help a company to remain clear and focused.

How do you experience the change in leadership?

Martin Grabowski: The main topic is to create an awareness of the fact that in the end, even in a company, speed, results, flexibility and time-to-market are the winning factors – from PowerPoint to execution. The project is not the goal. It's not about being happy about a permit and managing a waterfall project for three years with an X million budget. Leadership is also naturally about results, speed and agility, because the environment around you is also changing.

“Of course, our young employees and talents in particular have been completely responsive to Agile and have a lot of fun. However, the "old hands" were also mobilized and shaken up.”

The Senior Leadership Boards, for example: There came new topics and new people who presented. They talk about the last sprint and what problems there were –the management then had to start addressing this in order to clear the obstacles.

Agile is good, but not everywhere. Where would you say, it makes the most sense to you?

Martin Grabowski: Agile has proven to be very effective for us when cross-functional teams have to implement a project, product or idea within a manageable period of time – often with difficult governance. The model has the advantage that you have a dedicated team to address, observe and focus on – focus is always very difficult in such a large corporation. Of course, there is always a team that meets somewhere with regular set appointments. Of course, X people are working on the Power Points, but everyone is also juggling 15 other balls and has to take care of daily business and other stakeholders, in other words, plenty of conflicting goals. It is therefore important to define a clear task in advance – but nothing more! In our context, we must not turn the squad into a permanent institution that replaces a line.

What advice would you give to other companies?

Martin Grabowski: The most important thing is to consider at the very beginning where agile work makes sense and where it doesn't make sense, and then to work out their specific solution. We also watched Best Practice in our first sessions, but we still have to say with common sense: Let's see exactly where our problems and our business are.

Another point is, you have to take people with you. You have to be careful not to approach it with the motto: "There is a new hip group now ... and there are the others". I have always involved all managers, although I knew that squads or agile approaches had not been introduced everywhere. We did not say that we only involve the employees who work in these groups, but all of them: the effect was that fears and prejudices subsided and barriers were dismantled.

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Felix Kroh