Eurofunk plans, builds and operates control centres and emergency call centres. With the support of Zühlke, the Austrian company introduced the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) a good two years ago. CEO Christian Kappacher and division manager Tobias Kazmierczak describe how the employees deal with the new responsibility and how critics can be convinced.
Tobias Kazmierczak: The reason for this was that we had to deal with what the control centre of the future should look like. Processes and procedures were also a major topic. It was then that I first came across SAFe in a conversation with a colleague. Then a colleague gave me a magazine about agility as holiday reading. After reading it, I wanted to take a closer look at it and took a SAFe course in Zurich.
Kaintantzis: Christian, why did you send Tobias to the Agile course?
Christian Kappacher: For me, agility has many advantages and a lot of charm, especially when it comes to commitment and Power of Small Teams. And it is generally difficult to master complex topics with a large team, to transport the know-how. SAFe is a scaled framework that incorporates a lot of experience that others have gained.
Kaintantzis: What was the reason for you to use agile methods? Were you just very well informed and did you therefore choose SAFe?
Kappacher: When we chose SAFe, we already had several years of experience in the development of different products in the company. We knew how challenging it was to drive large software developments forward. We expected SAFe to give us a better grip on scaling.
Kazmierczak: When I went to the training, we faced the challenge of bringing together different components developed by different teams in different departments and areas. We had introduced a status meeting where we would check progress every two weeks. At one point in time we saw the estimates increasing and the time to completion staying the same. And that was exactly when I took the SAFe course. Then I came back and knew that a change was needed. Instead of querying the status, I wanted to bring people together so they could really talk about the issues they want to implement and coordinate directly. That was actually a first rash PI planning.
“We wanted to get a better handle on the scaling by using SAFe.”
Kaintantzis: I can still remember when you were in my class. You announced back then that you wanted to try PI Planning. And you said that you wanted to convince the management to rely on SAFe. What was the reason why you chose Zühlke back then?
Kazmierczak: The first contact was during the training at Zühlke in Zurich. As I remember, the number of Agile consultants was very small at the time.
Kappacher: Yes, we became aware of you through this first contact, so Tobias gained a very good picture of you and Zühlke.
Kaintantzis: Then Zühlke did a value stream workshop with you, you started the first release train and we did a PI planning together in the canteen. Looking back a good two years or nine PI later, which were the highlights for you?
Kazmierczak: I was fascinated how we kept coming across things that we wanted to change, that everyone really brought in ideas and had the courage to try something new. In the beginning we still had difficulties with prioritization. At the management meeting there was often a lot of heated discussion. Once we even created a new team to finish certain things in time. Today we got better at this, prioritization is clear from the start, people know what they are getting into. We can say much better within which framework we will move.
Kaintantzis: Christian, what were the highlights for you as managing director?
Kappacher: I find several things exciting. On the one hand, we have already started the second release train in our product area and were able to make use of the experience that Tobias and his team have gained. On the other hand, this internal cooperation is already working so well that we didn’t have to change anything in the management view for the second PI Planning. It is also nice to see the willingness to help oneself and to be self-critical in order to develop further. I like that because it’s fertile ground for developing products in an innovative company and bringing together the large teams from different departments. Once, even a team split itself up, which was almost completely unmoderated. People thought for themselves how to position themselves, independent of personal alliances and friendships.
“Applicants and those who start with us appreciate the way we work together.”
Kaintantzis: You are my first client who dared to rely on Self Designing Teams. I’ve prepared a number of workshops for this, but then the customers always got cold feet and gave up. You, on the other hand, did it, I found that admirable. And it seems to pay off: You have just been named Company of the Year 2017. After all, you are one of the first companies in Austria to rely on SAFe. How do customers and applicants react, do they break your door down?
Kappacher: You can never have enough good people (laughs). Applicants and those who start working with us appreciate the way we work together, the premises and the very positive environment. The processes are also part of it.
Kaintantzis: How did the long-standing employees react to SAFe and agility?
Kappacher: Quite differently. We have pretty much the whole spectrum from open to new things to those who wonder if that solves all our problems now. It doesn’t, but it is a building block. I believe the most difficult thing is not to map the development process with SAFe, but rather to fit it into my overall business model. You have to bundle the know-how in the right place and not create bottlenecks. We are now in a phase in which, from my point of view, this works. Now we want to go one step further in order to make the portfolio strategically controllable in the long term and at the same time keep it flexible in the short term.
Kaintantzis: What kind of tips would you give the readers? What would you do differently if you had the chance?
Kazmierczak: First of all, focus on functioning building blocks, get the release train rolling, generate a self-understanding. Then you have to think about how to really assess strategic and short-term issues fairly, who the real stakeholders are and how to get them on board. This requires a certain degree of maturity and commitment at top management level.
Kaintantzis: What would be the most important advice to yourself if you look back at the beginning of the process two years ago?
Kappacher: Without giving out self-praise, I think we did a good job. We had the openness to bring all those affected on board. We also brought in external consultants like Zühlke, which gave us a certain surefootedness. And only if the managers are really convinced in their hearts that it works is the change contagious. The positive spirit and the openness to undo a change if something doesn’t fit are key factors.
“You have to pay a lot of attention to your own needs.”
Kaintantzis: You already mentioned the other moves and the portfolio level. When did you start the second train? And when did you get to grips with the portfolio?
Kappacher: We started the second train after one and a half years. And the next one will start in a few weeks. So there’s only one PI between the second and third train. Because of corresponding suggestions and our experience we always do this PI one week later. And now we will find out whether this was a good decision or not. (Editor’s note: Since the interview the third train has started, the procedure has proven itself.)
Kaintantzis: In early summer last year we did the portfolio workshop together. How are you doing with it?
Kappacher: I think we started a little too early with the portfolio topic. We only had one train at the time, and it was difficult to vote only for it.
Kaintantzis: Then your advice would be to start several moves first and then look at the portfolio level?
Kazmierczak: I think you have to pay a lot of attention to your own needs. What needs emerge from the developments in order to manage something comprehensively or to distribute know-how? And then pass that on to the development of the trains.
Kaintantzis: Are there things at portfolio level that have made things easier?
Kappacher: We’re on it, the conversational level and the images assimilate. There, too, we certainly have a different wealth of experience. And this is precisely where the valuable decisions are made, which both support what is new and take the historical wealth of experience with them. I find this level of discussion incredibly valuable in order to come into sync in terms of leadership or product design.
“You just have to have the guts to try things.”
Kaintantzis: As a Release Train Engineer (RTE) and division manager, how do you see the portfolio level?
Kazmierczak: I think it provides a valuable overview of what we are currently dealing with. We first tried Kanban with a lot of items, which made the overview more difficult. We then agreed that we need an overview to see things that are important and make the right decisions. The portfolio level offers opportunities for this. But the closer you get to the question of what PI and the portfolio look like, the more dialogue and experience you need. And you have to have the courage to simply try things out, to
Kappacher: The challenge at the portfolio level is that you have relatively few clues in SAFe, because at this level you have to find a language that is understood throughout the company. If you can do that, then you get to a communication level where everyone speaks the same language, whether you make SAFe or not. We’ve learned that Kanban is the wrong tool for us when it comes to roadmap because it doesn’t work for our business. Such an experience has to be made first.
Kaintantzis: How has your everyday working life changed in the two years since you have SAFe in use?
Kappacher: I find it exciting and great to be part of this active development management in a business context. Thanks to PI Planings, every ten weeks I have the opportunity to talk to the development teams about what is changing in one direction or another in our customer environment. I’m always looking forward to that, because I always get questions or feedback. I think my colleagues really appreciate being there. It also gives me a better feeling as to where our performance lies, what we achieve and what we don’t achieve, where we overheat or where we are at the right pace.
Kazmierczak: The last two years have been a very intensive time for me because I was able to accompany the train as it grew and had different hats on. On the one hand I can really respond to the people, accompany them through the change and have personal conversations again and again, which is a very important factor to really take them with me. On the other hand, as an RTE, I give the whole thing a framework. I am fascinated by how independent people have become in the meantime. I cancelled my last PI planning at short notice, but still everything went as usual. I can give up responsibilities and eliminate bottlenecks in order to give room to the existing momentum.
Kaintantzis: Where exactly is the journey going now? How will Eurofunk change in the next few years?
Kappacher: I think we will always notice for ourselves where we have weaknesses, what things we have to change. Sometimes you only see a problem after you have solved another. And so it always remains exciting.
Kazmierczak: I’m simply looking forward to continuing on the journey and to making our product portfolio even more innovative and market-driven. We have great ideas and the methods to implement them.
Christian Kappacher has been Chairman of the Management Board and CEO of Eurofunk Kappacher for over ten years. His roots lie in software development and communications technology. For him, a modern IT company needs optimal framework conditions as an essential building block for a creative and personal corporate culture in which people and the “we” are at the forefront.
Tobias Kazmierczak is division manager at Eurofunk Kappacher. After several years of experience in hardware and software development, he accompanied a small development team on the path of scaling up to five agile teams in an agile release train. He is enthusiastic about lean agile leadership, self-organization and personal responsibility.
Nikolaos Kaintantzis at Zühlke works as a trainer, consultant and coach in agile projects for customers. Based on his experience in the conception and development of complex software solutions, he has dealt with the topic of scaling at an early stage. Kaintantzis was one of the first SAFe experts in Switzerland; among other things, he is a certified SPC (SAFe Program Consultant) and Certified LeSS Executive.