5 Reasons Why Agile Does Not Work In Germany And What To Do
5 Reasons Why Agile Does Not Work In Germany
I don’t intend to offend anyone who has a different opinion from me, but I do want to share my experience and explain to you Why Agile does not Work in Germany.
Some of you may disagree and think that I’m generalizing as a whole, but nevertheless let me share my experience with you.
I’ve lived in Germany for about 9 years (this was written in 2017), worked, travelled and lived in several different countries so I know the differences. Like everywhere else, culture, mindset and even history plays an important part in the work environment of Germany.
However, it is time for change and Germany seems to be finding it difficult to adapt. The following reasons are my personal opinion on why I think the Agile development won’t be fully implemented into Germany within the next few years.
1) HIERARCHY IS TOO ADAMANT FOR AGILE TO BE UTILIZED PROPERLY
I am Portuguese and it’s been many years since I left Portugal. After leaving, one of the first few countries I lived in was Finland.
In Finland as compared to Germany, companies and businesses have very flat hierarchies and simple work processes. Everyone is empowered, receives reports and plays a vital part in every role.
To me, being a leader by giving direction and empowering others is far more important than managing or controlling them. My experience has shown me that having managers in scrum teams could be destructive!
As the layers of managers increase in an organization, the political aspects and number of work processes increase as well. Due to the increased hierarchy in Germany, not many have the courage to say no to their bosses or managers. Only few can make decisions on their own.
I’ve met many colleagues in Germany who show great potential. Unfortunately due to hierarchy systems and culture they are unable to flourish.
2) THE SOCIETY IS STRUCTURED IN SILOS
I believe Taylorism is present in the German society. Taylorism is a factory management system developed in the late 19th Century for the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing is a traditional industry where people work in functional departments with silos in between. Communication is not their strength.
Due to Taylorism, the control becomes centralized and organization of production is split into different departments. Work becomes task specific and menial as workers are turned into quasi machines.
In the education system of Germany, children are taught of this process when they are young. They are taught to function as individual silos and as they grow up, their mindset gets harder to change.
Most companies that I know of in Germany are matrix organizations which I believe are agile resistant. Matrix organizations create huge internal political problems. You can read more about matrix organizations here.
Unfortunately, the silo mindset is present everywhere. I’ve experienced working in a team where each team member reports to a different manager. It is also common to have front and backend developers instead of single full-stack developers.
3) INFINITE AMOUNT OF PLANNING
In Germany, a lot of companies think that they have agile systems in place, but the reality is they don’t. These companies work with long detailed processes, which feature processes within processes. This is a waterfall system not an agile one.
You will often hear this saying among planners and managers in German companies: “We need to give lots of time to planning to make sure that everything is perfect!”
This is part of the German work culture. They believe that planning in detail will lead to having everything work out as planned. Unfortunately in today’s society, it no longer is this way.
4) EVERYTHING MUST BE PERFECT
Having a perfectionist culture isn’t a bad thing, which is one of the best aspects that the Germans have which made them powerful. However in terms of Agile Software Development, this is a big problem. Companies spend too much time looking for a perfect solution.
The main point of going Agile is to do something small, simple and have it shipped to your client first, then get their feedback and improve on it. The idea is to do things in small increments and gather quick feedback for improvements. This is seldom seen in Germany where everything must be perfect before hitting the market.
Germans are afraid of failure as failure is seen as a disgrace in their country. This leads to them being afraid of releasing something subpar into the market and failing.
Most of us know “FAIL” as “First Attempt In Learning”. However this mindset isn’t present in Germans which is one of the biggest obstacle in the Agile system. They fail to realize that success and innovation starts from the learning of failures.
5) TRADITIONAL SOCIETY
Although I appreciate the quality of life that Germany offers, there is one big existing problem that has been ignored: a very traditional society.
In Finland, processes in life are simple, fast and easy. When you move or leave the country, it takes a day to organize the paperwork but in Germany, it takes 3 months!
Although there is a difference in the size and population of both countries, it isn’t an excuse. Changes should be made in small incremental amounts and the reason why these changes are not seen in Germany is due to the traditional culture that they have.
When I ask around why processes are so tedious and why there is no change, the replies I get are: “This is how we work here, things are great and we don’t need change!”
At work, the common replies you get are: “We always did it like that and it has worked for years. There is no need for change.”
In my honest opinion, the Agile process cannot be taken seriously in a society that refuses change, because they believe things are going well.
So What Needs To Be Done?
After reading my arguments, you may disagree and think I’m a fool. But like I said, I appreciate living in Germany. Germany gives fantastic living conditions for educated people but there is a lot of room for improvement.
Being an organization transformation coach, my job is to help companies improve and implement the Agile process. I have expressed my opinions and communicated my experiences that hinder the huge potential that German companies have.
As these aspects are hard to change, in my opinion Germany is far from being a leader of the Agile system. However on the other hand, I know of many brilliant German Agile coaches who did wonderful jobs. My colleagues and I were also able to successfully transform organizations by adopting the Agile system.
Be careful whom you hire to help you with Agile Implementation
As a leader, you need to understand who would be a good coach to help you with your Agile implementation. The German economy is extremely strong and there is more work (in our area) than the number of consultants available here in Germany
This is the perfect scenario for consultants who do not have much knowledge with Agile implementations. There are many old-school project managers who fall into this category. They undergo an Agile certification course and sell themselves as the perfect Agile consultant.
I underwent the SAFE certification training and these type of people I described were in the class together with me. Most of them they do not know anything about Agile, they simply utilize the knowledge they learned many years ago at the Project Management Institute.
What is worrying me is that many companies hire these guys unknowingly, to help them with the Agile transformation just because they have a certificate. But in reality, they don´t have any experience or knowledge in Agile.
Another issue I see often is contracting big consulting companies like Deloitte, McKinsey, Accenture or KPMG for Agile implementations. Although they may be good and credible in many areas, speaking from personal experience, Agile implementation is not one of them.
Typically, the majority of these companies or consultants do not know much about Agile. They apply old methods in your organization and in many cases I’ve seen, give you more problems than before.
When you’ve decided to implement Agile, be sure to get a trustworthy consultant.
The Leadership team must spend 1 to 2 days in training to understand Agile and its impacts
Many executive managers believe the Agile transformation does not impact their job. This is far from reality – Your leadership style changes drastically and it will not be easy.
It will be difficult for you. But after all if you’re a very successful person, you will understand that your style of leadership has brought you to where you are now. You will also understand that times and society has changed and being able to adapt is what made you successful, not resistant to change.
Society is not the only problem here, I’m sure you’ve heard about the millennial generation. They are a very different breed of humans from the previous generations. They are much harder to lead and they need to be managed in a completely different way.
There are a lot to be understood when you go Agile. Make sure that you choose the right consultant and give them a reasonable amount of time to implement a system which fits your organization. This brings me to my next point.
Train everyone in your organisation with Management 3.o
Jurgen Appelo started a new training program called Management 3.0. Simply put, this program trains managers to manage the company that wants to adopt the Agile process. If you would like to implement the Agile process in your company, be sure to send your managers for this training.
Treat everything as an Experiment
Instead of creating long-term plans, there are two things that you should do. Firstly, establish a culture or mindset in your company where everything done is an experiment.
Innovation comes from mistakes. If you don’t give people the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, it will be harder for you to drive innovation in your company.
Jason Little developed a training called “Lean Change Management” that is used to enable changes within the organization. It is a method that uses lots of experimentation to drive changes. If you transition into Agile, I recommend you and everyone responsible for the transition to undergo this training.
Now, this is what you should do…
Agile Portfolio Management
In the Agile environment, you do not create long-term plans. Instead, you should be mapping your strategies for daily operations. This is known as Agile Portfolio Management. One possible way is to develop six-month strategy initiatives that are broken down into quarter year milestones, which are defined into features and stories.
Every 3 months you should pause and see what is being delivered from a business point of view. Of course, you should reflect whether the milestones deliver the right values. I see many companies establishing goals and targets with OKRs, but they always forget a small piece of the puzzle.
Companies often forget to ask themselves: “Did we deliver what we committed ourselves to?”
They tend to focus too much on ticking off the objectives that come from key result indicators, but they never fully understand what the business impact of their actions were.
I coach companies who want to implement Agile Portfolio Management to reflect on the business impact of the value that they deliver. In a way, I teach them to not only learn how to operate and get into a car; I make sure they know that they are going the right direction on the road.
Incentivize Communities Of Practice To Create Learning Organizations
Our society’s speed can be a challenge for many companies. As the number of start-up companies emerge with their innovative methods, the current ones in the market who try to stay original and innovate have a lot of work to do.
They must find new ways to improve their current offer and delight their customers. They need to create “learning organizations”. These learning organizations are able to acquire knowledge and innovate fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.
Learning organizations contain structures that facilitate learning with features such as crossing boundaries and openness. This is exactly what I do together with my clients – I gather a group of people who are interested in creating a learning organization, so that people can continue to expand their capacity to achieve the results they truly desire.
Get the Human Resources department involved
From my experience, 99% of the companies that went Agile didn’t include the Human Resources (HR) department, which could be a costly mistake. In my opinion, the HR department is one of the biggest barriers preventing companies from going Agile.
Calling my bluff? Think about the term “Human Resources”.
The last time I looked into the mirror, I was a human being, not a resource. The word “resource” is a term from the previous century. Another huge problem in organizations are the performance reviews which are enforced by HR departments with the excuse that people are motivated by only goals, targets and bonuses.
If you want to learn more, you can find lots of information in a book that I’m writing here.
Nowadays when I help a company undergo the Agile transformation, a couple of pioneers who are specialized in Agile HR will be with me to help with the transition. I strongly believe that this is a crucial step and I highly recommend that you do the same if you’re starting a transition.
We help companies understand the factors mentioned here which will impact the implementation of Agile. It is our duty to guide the executive managers in understanding the consequences of going Agile and the impact it will have on their daily work and within their organizations.
To aid my clients’ easier understanding, I created the Learning Organisation Framework. See the framework below.
I use this framework with companies with a staff count of up to 500. We are able to achieve good results with a company of this size. If you’re an executive manager of a similar sized company, as a certified SAFe Consultant I am able to assist you with the implementation of Agile.
I hope you enjoyed reading the article. Sometimes it isn’t easy to talk about problems and I certainly hope you as a reader, do not take any offence from this. I hope that this will instead assist you on your journey of achieving an efficient and highly performing organization.
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