Luis Goncalves

5 Reasons Why Agile Does Not Work In Germany And What To Do

by Luís Gonçalves
Why Agile Does Not Work

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.

Summary

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 FrameworkSee the framework below.

Why Agile Does Not Work

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.

ARE YOU AN EXECUTIVE MANAGER WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH AN AGILE TRANSITION? 

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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

http://luis-goncalves.com/

Luis is not simply a consultant, he helps people and businesses grow. He expects to deliver 10 times more value than what you’d actually pay for. As an Agile retrospective expert, customer happiness and client success are his biggest drivers!

Comments

Share your point of view

  1. A bit of steriotyping, I come from India and I see even more challenge if i map the culture and Agile needs.

    But, this in turn provides us a great opportunity to trigger the change and be part of the transformation

  2. I live in Italy and I have never lived and worked in Germany; but reading what you wrote, I find many similarities with some Italian situation, really a lot. I always thought that many of these aspects were due to cultural difference (northern and southern Europe…), but perhaps it is not so… What do you say?

    1. Every culture has different problems 🙂 I am Portuguese and I see many other problems 🙂

      I start to realise that we should take into consideration the culture of the country more than anything else 🙂

      Luis

  3. Great Article..!! That’s why I strongly believe Agile is more of a philosophy and mindset and if there is a problem at the root level it’s difficult to implement. It’s more about culture and cultural mindset change is a major shift.. sometimes a herculean task..!! Thanks for sharing your honest views.

    Frank.

  4. Nice one, thx Luis 🙂

    Curious thing: once I have introduced certain new way of self-check at a team daily meeting.
    That was adopted successfully. After a while I suggested something else…

    And guess what I have got as an answer?

    Exactly what you say: “We always did it like that and it worked for years. No need for change”

    🙂

  5. Good blog. I think this blog is more about the limits of Agile than it is about the culture of Germany. Back in 2004 I started getting in trouble with the Scrum/Agile community for saying that the challenges you mention above can be much more effectively transformed with Lean than with Agile- the result being that I got thrown off the Scrum Development group. Agile is a team based mindset – most organizations do not have team oriented challenges as their main issue. We should not be trying to be or do Agile as much as we should be trying to have effective places to work that create value for their customers and themselves.
    I guess pretty soon I’ll start hearing “we do Scrum, but we do it in Germany.” ;0)

  6. This is not just a Germany issue! I’m in the US working at a company where I would swear you are working at, based on your descriptions. I see a lot of the same issues both from a delivery team member writing software to now the Scrum Master at a different company fighting the same battles all over again. Even in the US everyone wants to be the manager, or nothing can go out the door without a pretty little bow on it.

  7. Really interesting post. It’s always good to learn about other cultures and the impact that can have on their ability to adopt things like agile. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I’ve had conversations with an Italian SW developer friend – he had pretty much the same thing to say about Agile in Italy. Numerous cultural road blocks to true adoption. It is interesting to see the effect that culture has on the workplace. Great article!

  9. As a German agile Coach I only partially agree with you.

    You are completely right if we talk about the it-departments of the big companies from the traditional sectors (automotive, insurance, banking, energy and so on). In many of them you will find everything that you described above. But of course those companies carry the burden of a history of more than 100 years. This age comes with a price – the tendency to be bureaucratic, hierarchical and traditionalist.

    On the other hand there are countless numbers of younger and smaller companies that handle things differently: the start ups of Berlin, the fintechs of Frankfurt, the gaming studios in Hamburg and many others. In them you will often find flat hierarchies, swift responses to change, open-mindedness, lean structures, permanently-beta approaches and all the other parts of an agile mindset.

    Maybe the things you experienced derive not (only) from the German culture and mentality but also from the size and age of the companies you saw? How is this in Finland? Are the bigger companies as agile as the smaller ones, or are they hierarchical and traditionalist as well?

    1. I never worked in the companies that you mentioned sorry, and I do not agree that is related to size… I worked with startups that have exactly the same problem.

  10. Hi Luis,

    If agile does not work in Germany, what is the point of being an agile coach in Germany? If my coach does not believe he can achieve the goal of helping my company becoming agile, why should I hire him?

    I do agree that some of your “stereotypes” might be true, but I do not agree that agile does not work in Germany. Other cultures will have other problems to solve to move to “agile” successfully. I expect that a good coach can adapt to the cultural challenges. With a good approach you can have great agile implementations in German companies with a tremendous mindset shift possible.

    Kai

    1. You are confusing the things 🙂

      One thing is the country another thing is the company…

      If you read my blog you can see that for example HolidayCheck is implementing Agile like very few companies in Germany…

      I believe we can make a difference and thats why I started my own company, but if you cannot recognise the pattern in the country I cannot do much about it.

      I worked with some companies in Germany I truly believe we can make fantastic stuff but the country is what it is…

      And on top of it, I work with management that understands what is Agile, so that I do not waste my time 😉

      Luis

  11. I live in south africa and we also experience similar issues with Agile adoption. We started off with sending everyone on an agile bootcamp just to give everyone the same foundation. We let them apply the techniques in teams. It has been an amazing journey and 5 yrs later… We are still continually improving our process. I did experience hesitance to adopt agile principles from colleagues who did not understand the principles. It takes time to show the value of Agile but once understood…you reap huge benefits. Regarding job satisfaction, coming to work suddenly got more interesting and rewarding. You feel part of something …. As important as any other role and this is very empowering. I guess in a nut shell… Give it time. The value exposes itself to each individual at sometimes different times. Its our jobs to make sure people understand flow and value.

  12. I’m German. And I’m working in the IT department of a medium sized, but very traditional, German company. And … yes! You are right. I don’t think either that we will ever be able to fully adopt the Agile mindset. At least not with this generation of people. But possibly never, because actually the youngsters don’t show any signs of a more innovative mindset. It actually might be, that – because of our traditional image – we are only attracting people that seek this kind of workplace.

    1. Thanks Dirk 🙂

      I am a bit more positive 🙂 I believe the market will change and companies will be forced to change 🙂

      It might take some years but I believe it will change,
      Luis

  13. Hi Luis, you start your post saying “many people will accuse me of generalising” and actually I don’t like generalisations!!!
    From my personal experience, I would say that I’ve seen Agile (even scaling it with big organisations and products) implemented and working very well also in Germany. Actually in Berlin, where probably teams and management are multi-national, but I’ve also seen it working with German-German Teams and Managers. And probably I haven’t seen anywhere else Teams and Organisation so deeply Agile as in some companies in Berlin.
    There are people saying me that in Spain Agile can’t work very well, mainly for the same reasons you’re considering, related to the hierarchical culture. And I had negative experiences as well. And the same for other countries. But I’m sure that even in Spain you can find a lot of Agile-Agile companies.
    What is true is that everything anyway depends on people and on how far developers and also manager deeply understand the Agile Values.

    1. Of course you find couple of companies in Berlin and every where… But the country has THOUSANDS of companies not few companies…

      What you are talking is the exception and not the rule sorry.

      Cheers,
      Luis

  14. I’m sorry to say that I think is a terrible mis-attribution of corporate behavior to a specific country and it’s culture.

    1) Being German myself, I would be the first to say that I believe that there are lots of people around here which feel very comfortable when they get told what to do. But there are probably as many people which will happily use any decision power you give them. That’s the reason why you had to climb the hierarchy ladder in a traditional organization: to gain decision power. But today there are also quite a lot of companies with flat hierarchies which try to enable people by other means and also some of the older, more traditional companies are trying to cut down the trees. Sure enough, when a company I worked for was taken over by an (originally American) entirely global company, things only started to get way worse due to the hierarchical culture there.

    2) Matrix organization is still a thing in the PMBOK (https://4squareviews.com/2013/01/22/5th-edition-pmbok-guide-chapter-2-organizational-structures/). I think, PMBOK is still seen as one of the definite resources on project management world-wide, nothing specifically German here.

    3+4) If there is one point where I would potentially agree, it’s 4) which to me is a natural explanation for 3). That being said, people are changing the ways in which they strive for perfection, by small scale experiments etc. However, quite a lot of German companies work in areas with quite strict regulations which might involve lots of paper work etc. Again, for any other company outside Germany in the same business (e.g. banks, pharmaceuticals) similar regulations need to be obeyed. There are ways to deal with regulations in agile approaches (Boris Gloger, I think, has written about Scrum in Medicine, e.g. https://blog.borisgloger.com/2014/10/27/user-storys-in-der-entwicklung-medizintechnischer-produkte/ , apparently by somebody working with him), but still the need for perfection might require adaptation of your standard Scrum approach.

    5) Germany had a tendency for bureaucracy which is still quite alive, yes. But Germany’s society has changed quite dramatically throughout the last > 40 years. What you describe reads to me like the very fundamental resistance to change that you’re going to encounter everywhere. Also, I think that “change” is not a value in itself. If you go to a company that has been around for quite some time and you meet resistance to change, I think the people have the right to question if the new thing will actually bring an improvement. Experiencing continuous improvement is a way better argument than preaching it. If up to now it was “good enough”, what’s the reason to “go agile” in the first place? Just because everybody does it? IMHO you need to address real needs and pain points, otherwise the change process, coming with a huge cost of it’s own, is probably not worth it. Again, that’s just good business practice to adapt only to what you need. Of course, figuring out when you need to change and how can be very difficult, but nothing specifically German here — see e.g. https://www.aei.org/publication/fortune-500-firms-in-1955-vs-2014-89-are-gone-and-were-all-better-off-because-of-that-dynamic-creative-destruction/ on how many prior fortune 500 companies went down the drain.

  15. hi Luis, this is an important topic indeed, and usally it’s underestimated. Actually I discussed this matter with a collegue last week. As an agile coach it’s pretty important to keep this in mind. Maybe one day we will be able to address it directly and maybe some approaches / techniques can be found to start “solving” it.

  16. Luis – I think there is a fair chance you’re over generalizing based on your experience with one company and the comments of your friends. Depending on how I survey Canada I could find results that match yours item by item; or I could find results that contradict. Since there are a number of German Coaches, Trainers etc I know that there are many places that are making successful change.

    Perhaps the German culture adds a layer of complexity, but so do corporate cultures.

    The glass is either half full or half empty. You decide.

    Cheers
    Mark Levison – who is drinking from a full glass

  17. I think one of the biggest points you missed in this analysis of Germany is the work council prohibition against any data used to track personal achievements. So the transparency we seek in Agile, that is, the ability to speak in daily scrums at the task level and track hours in a burndown chart, along with tracking work items such as user stories and features to a release, are under scrutinization by the work council, becasue they fear this data will be used against the employees as a reason to penalize workers. For example, “Johan, why did it take you 4 hours to complete this task when it took your colleague only 2 hours.” That is their fear with transparency. I have experience with this. Some workers flat out refuse to participate. But like any culture, globalizaton will change everything. Move on or get run over. Cheers!

  18. An interesting post indeed. I am from Latvia and as any other place, also we do have different companies. Always consider the context. I like the classical value-principles-practices iceberg view. I think we should always understand and help people we work with understand their core values and look at reasons those are such. Only when this is clear, we can start laying out strategy of change in the particular context.
    I believe that core Agile values (4 of them) can be practiced in so much different ways, than at first you might think it ain’t Agile at all. For example, individuals can interact in their own special way, acceptable only to that specific group yet satisfying the needs. Customer collaboration as well, can happen in a special way that fits the specific context only.
    In this regard, I would like to mention one interesting article about feedback loops. Short is not always the best. Appropriate and acceptable by all involved parties is the best length of the feedback loop at any specific context.
    I guess we are in front of a “new wave” – listening to what people say about how they work and understand why it is so before implementing anything new.

  19. I strong recommend you reading the book “Reinventing Organizations”. this will help you understanding that it’s actually not a typically german phenomenon.

  20. Hi! I am not an agile coach, but software tester. Also foreigner and living in Germany for a long time. For last few years I see the same – no agile in Germany. Yes, manager culture is very strong. It is shame to call somebody as a simple tester, it has to be at least QA. In fact I never worked in real agile team. Projects where I worked and was called “agile” had just some elements e.g. only daily, or sprints which meant that there will be kind of shipping in 2 week cycles. Agile is new sexy, the silver bullet which will save us from terrible waterfall method. Change of mindset? Training for the team? No necessary! Our team is unique and can do agile just like that. they are professionals!

  21. I start to hate you agile coach guys. Why don’t you just start hands-on working with the teams, then you will see that agile is really working, walls will break down and you get better insight in how the teams work.

    1. I am sure you can teach me a lot of things how to implement Agile in the team level…

      After all I have been hearing so many great things about Avira, I am sure you had huge influence on it 😉

      And of course as you know Gitte, came from our network so we know how to support you the best 😉

      Luis

  22. Great Article, always grateful to read other coaches experiments and challenges. I would use their culture as you mentioned here “Germany is a perfectionist culture” as a way to convey the message that change is always welcomed. I would point out to them what a great culture would be without allowing to experiment new things and evolve to even a better one and building on top of that. I am sure you have many more tools in your toolset.

  23. Fuck! Now everything makes perfect sense!
    I worked many years for big American corporations (lot of processes for everything, legal present in all moves) which I got used to, then a Korean company (to agile for my taste, lot’s of silos and no testing at all, clients were the quality phase… Not working for Asian corporations EVER AGAIN) and now a German corporation (which this article describes 90% of my struggles) with a combination of Agile in Sw dev and traditional waterfall. I’ll try to adapt according this ideas… I also have a Portuguese temper not being afraid of saying no to boss… 😉

  24. Hi Luis, I think it’s a great article and for many things you nailed it. However, there are more things why it’s difficult to establish Agile in Germany and German companies in particular. Some of those are here (And I’m German so I think I can say that):
    – Germans (not only but in particular) believe in methods, certifications and all kinds of “measured proofs” that express ones capability. They believe that, when you have it, you understood it, so you can do it! So, the energy is spend more around the discussion about the method/framework/approach you name it instead of really getting the work done.
    – A lot of Germans (in particular the ones in the corporate world) believe in plans and that a plan is made to be valid for the next 200 years because it has been discussed long enough with people they trust. This is 100% perfect then and will stay perfect because of that.
    – A lot of Germans believe in machines, engines, technology but not in Human Beings! The power of the ‘collective brain’ but also of the ‘individual’ is far too often ignored or not even taken into consideration as the main factor.
    – For Germans (again: exceptions will proof the rule!) it’s not usual to Stand Up and Speak Out when something is wrong, or is about to fail…. There is a mix of ‘following authority’ or ‘lack of interest’ that i found out in many conversations that I had with Germans about this.

    There is one question that I haven’t been able to get an answer for but this might be a fundamental problem: Is Germany as a country and as an economy still doing too well? Don’t we have enough pain to really see the necessity to change?
    That would be also interesting to investigate on in order to get better insights to answer your question of this blog post. In any case you managed to to kick-off an interesting discussion.

  25. In my opinion you can reduce points 1, 2 and 3 to a direct consequence of point 4: Everything must be perfect.

    The more detailed a plan is, the more premises you assume to be true, the better you can justify (for yourself as well as before your boss) that it didn’t work out: one of the premises suddently and unexpectedly turned out to be wrong with no way to know in advance. However, this planning anti-pattern is called “analysis paralysis” and is quite common, not only in Germany.

    About the hierarchy thing: Let’s forget cases where bosses or managers suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder. If you got your boss’s permission or approval for something and then it turns out to be the wrong approach, you don’t need to feel that you failed: If your boss didn’t see it coming either, it couldn’t possibly have been that obvious…

    The distinction between front end and backend developers etc. arises from the illusion of some managers that you need experts for everything they don’t understand. Managers who cannot even imagine what developers actually do think in categories like “front end development expert” and “back end developer expert” because expert sounds good. They think these so called “experts” will deliver perfect results in the area they call them “expert” in. Again something perfect.

  26. Hi Luis. Completely agree. Also, from first hand experience – as my children go to a German School. Very or extremely difficult even to make them understand that the world has different ways to do maths – a little different but with same results – and then I got shouted at by the angry teachers !!!! My point here is that the children are “brain washed” – and work like robots – later. To the Germans – Economic Security and stability is a huge mental block and hence once you have a job, they will be in there for ages. Risk is not a word in that Mentality. Mentality is a huge problem and so are the discussions. I work within PMO/Project Management and know how difficult it is to raise a issue/risk and get it changed. We will have discussions after discussions without an end product. (My girlfriend is German – Agile is all about mobility (design, draft delivery, feedback, continuous improvement) and to change a country, just to The Netherlands took me 6 months to convince her !!!!)

  27. Luis, if there is something I have learned in 45 years living and working as a foreigner in 6 countries, is that you never should try to implement a feature which some culture was/ is successful with in an other, very different culture. So, maybe, agile (which) I also live in my daily work is an interesting point of view. But also, the peculiarities of local culture must be taken into consideration for joint success. Germans do have their weaknesses, but, they still are a very successful country! Going against local mentality is last option for me. There is a saying: If you can not beat them, try to join them! Being “one of them” you can start your contribution; this is meant like a Troja Horse-strategy.

  28. Hi Louis,
    thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts! I did never really think about it that way but being a German and a perfectionist I have to admit that you are probably right in many aspects. 😉 However, I think a social media manager or digital marketing job prevents you from becoming too inflexible, so this is ok with me. 😉 I am currently reading a lot on Agile Marketing an took the opportunity to write on your assumptions in a markting context. So thanks again for your thought-provoking impulse!

  29. Hi Luis,

    Thank you for your article. Your view is focussed on software development in Germany.

    There is a flaw in your thesis: German products *must be* perfect before shipping. “Perfect products” include planes (Airbus, EuroFighter), Cars, high-speed trains, Ships, Submarines, Robots, Machine Tools, Chips for Computers and some very successful software (SAP -a company’s ledger and production planning must be perfect).

    That being said, many of these “perfect”/cannot fail/German products are increasingly dependent on software to remain successful in their markets. Software, especially with agile teams, is produced in cycles that hardware changes cannot physically keep up with.

    Our challenge is to optimize traditional organizations appropriately, without destroying the house cards.

  30. Hi Luis – when I first read the article I just thought something like “wow, what a stupid crap” … but I gave it more time and read it again and again and tried to understand… now I understand it a bit better and even if I think that you made some good points I think in a way Mark Levison wrote:

    “I think there is a fair chance you’re over generalizing based on your experience”

    I think it’s a more general problem not something special in Germany, even if it could be very big in Germany cause of Germanies success in the past by following this ideas and values.

    There are many places that are making successful change and I am sure that you have been part of doing this changes for seven years too.

    German culture adds a layer of complexity for sure, but so do corporate cultures. And as you said: it’s about starting small and simple – it’s the same with change and it will end in a changing culture of teams, companies and maybe countries.

    The culture is not the Problem, it’s just the shadow of behavior and as long as this behaviour of people in companies ends in personal success it’s understandable and complexity grown by the doing of people not by some kind of culture … it’s a lot of work out there in almost every country and in many companies I guess…

  31. I gotta say: I love Germany (I’m Dutch) – and cannot believe they would have a problem with getting to grips with something as productive as Agile. I understand the reasons you’ve presented, but on a logical and emotional level this doesn’t work. I have German friends who even get lazy in an organized, perfect and productive (!) way 😀 Really. On the other hand, I have to agree, there are more than enough reasons why agile sometimes just doesn’t work out – in my experience it’s always the people’s anticipation of the result that causes the crash. There is a good list of general reasons why this happens here: http://kanbantool.com/blog/agile-implementation-problems – take a look. And what I really wanted to say was: even if Germans don’t use agile methods at all, they will still be of a great economic capacity (as a nation), honest to god.

    1. Thanks 🙂 like everything if they do not change they will die…

      For sure they are one of the best now, but for sure they will not continue without change.

      All the best,
      Luis

  32. Dear Luis
    I have been following you for some years now because you approach your topics in an appealing manner and somehow because I do feel a common affinity of ideas (Seelenverwandschaft). It might come from the fact that I am, as you are, an expatriate within the EU, believe in agility and always tried to force new ideas wherever I was working.
    I think you are right to tell what you think, what you experienced and feel with your non German background. People should try to understand and reflect… the only way to improve in life 🙂

    In your blog post you address two topics that are very special in my eyes:
    • The working mentality in Germany (hierarchy, rigidity towards processes…)
    • The importance of culture vs the implementation of scrum

    I have worked in Germany myself, and now live in Austria. I have been working with Germans for decades now and, like you do, I am still enjoying working with Germans! I am working in an international company and have, besides German, French, and of course Austrian, many different international colleagues (English, North American, South American, Finnish, Belgian..:).
    Based on my experience I would like to illustrate these 2 issues
    Working mentality in Germany
    I come originally from France and I can tell you that German management was a great relief for me after working a few years in France. Rigidity towards processes is stronger in Germany than in France, knowledge is both very good in both countries but hierarchy is much more draconic in France than in Germany. This comes from the higher education which trains future managers to act that way. The German universities allow their students a certain freedom of mind, which is in management schools in France not the case. I was always able to talk directly without filters to my former German managers … I have always been listened to and treated with respect. When I tried to do the same with my new French manager few years ago, I got simply fired!. I just want to tell you that fairness is the most important character trait… There are black sheep everywhere but Germany is definitely a positive terrain and a reason why Germany is so successful (what most of the Germans are not aware of is that their success does not come from their strong hierarchy or perfect processes but from their willing to give the best in their jobs). If given, you have to adapt to the context in which you are evolving and keep on applying your influence, at your own scale (with your company you might be able to enlarge this scale 😉
    Culture differences and scrum
    I have experienced in my company a great and painful failure in implementing scrum for international and multidisciplinary teams because the different cultures were simply ignored. For most of the people in a development environment, culture difference is just a matter of language. We all speak English, so what? This led to a full misunderstanding between team members, between teams. Instead of bringing people together this made people of different geographic locations compete against each other. The French against the Austrian, the Austrian against the German, the German against the Belgians, the Belgians against the French, the North American against the rest of the world…
    Culture difference is a gift for who can make the best out of it. Ignoring differences is leading nowhere…
    In your new enterprise you will have to take the culture differences into account. You will not change the German mentality but you might find the ways to use them in an agile environment… there is surely compatibility somewhere, but of course you know this already, otherwise you would never start this great adventure.
    Good luck!

  33. Dear Luis,
    After 30 years working and living in Germany, I suggest you try something completly different: learn German.
    best regards,
    Almudena

  34. Hello Luis, excellent post, very concise and deep analysis. Not sure about Finland, but in USA my impression is that what matters is technical expertise, being able to network in the company and motivation for improvement, while in general in Europe – but especially in Germany/Switzerland – what matters more is to adhere to RULES, no matter if they make any more sense (maybe they were established 100 years ago!) or not. Stick to the rules and you will be fine; if you question the rules and the status-quo, you are considered with suspicion and will go through a lot of frustration and pain. As for the historical/economical reason for this personality pattern, I don’t have enough knowledge to explain myself.

    The good thing is that there are rules, and if you respect them you are fine. Since I like the salary I stick to this world, even if I admit it’s boring.

    1. Thank you for your nice answer 😉 fully agree with you… And one thing to add, if you stick to the rules you will never be fired, you might destroy the company but who cares right? What matters is that you follow the rule!!!

  35. agile is not the recipe for all deceases. As a software user I need a software at least in a certain state of errorless working. otherwise I am more on errors than on using the software. Your job as developer may than be great, but mine isn’t. Putting may be some more german culture into agile structures would also do some good to agile.

    1. Thanks for your comment but from what I see you havent been working with Agile but with companies that use “Agile” as an excuse to release shitty software. Its a huge different, its sad but most of the people do not understand that 😉

      Luis

  36. Your observations match my experience of working in a large, very traditional German company EXACTLY. The longer-established the business unit or product line the more rigidly hierarchical are the tempate zombies and process automatons that staff it.

    But….. we’re rapidly changing it. I believe that the key to gaining Agility is to reinvent the culture by pulling people out of the old hierarchy into new, small, cross-functional teams (or teams of teams) that think, act and are treated as autonomously as start-ups. Don’t bother to try and change the hierarchy, just let it wither on the vine.

    I thoroughly enjoy working in Germany. Most colleagues have become friends. Germans are trustworthy (and trusting), open-hearted, caring and very human. They love to laugh – even at my jokes. I have immense respect for them. That’s a good social culture to start with even if it is a bit starchy and hierarchical until you get past the formality.

    Underneath people are just people and some persuasion and demonstration of a different way of working yields excellent results. Germans take huge pride in doing a great job. We just have to open peoples’ eyes a bit and we can leverage this to make something really special. It’s about unlearning the past as much as learning the future

    My experience in Scandinavia (Sweden) is similar to yours, by the way – and even different parts of Germany are culturally very different.

    Drop by for a beer sometime if you’re in Munich or the Ruhrgebiet

  37. the discussion should not be about why implementing agile in Germany does not work, but why does Germany need agile at all?
    All I can tell so far is, Germany and its inventions are one of the most successful worldwide. Even with their strong hierarchy, powerful managers and waterfall developing; apparently these are components of every day work which made them so successful. Why would anyone want to change that?
    Maybe someone who is not used to the German way of working. Taking orders from managers (who btw. take full responsibility for their deeds). Why should a whole successful culture change only so that foreigners can adapt better in their work environments? Everyone keeps telling the Germans that if they don’t change they won’t keep up with the rest of the world. So far I haven’t seen another culture that has overtaken the Germans in fields of work they have always been leading at. Never change a running team. Germans know what they do. Start adapting and working with them – or go back to well-known but less successful structures.

  38. Honestly Luis I am shocked by the article. It is a very superficial perception combined with simple and stereotypical conclusions.

    Reading your article I get the feeling that you are trying to play a blame game. “It is not working or I am not capable to make it work? Let’s blame the general culture.” Where is the point, if you are not able to deal with environment to conclude a culture is responsible? Many German companies work in an excellent way with agility. Company cultures are different, department cultures are different. You took the indicator most far away, do not look at it in a profound way and conclude reasons why agile does not work.

  39. In Germany we still have a long way to go, but a german saying is “Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein” (constant dripping wears the stone).

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