Scaled Agile and SAFe at Deutsche Telekom IT – An Interview with Michael Frey

SAFe und Scaled Agile - Michael Frey Telekom ITWhen a company with 140,000 employees begins to transform work processes, it can prove a daunting task.  This is the challenge that Deutsche Telekom is currently facing.

For my new book: We Run on Agile.  I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Frey. He is the head of the department "IT: ITIL" at Deutsche Telekom IT and is responsible for the entire change process.  He gave me a few fascinating insights into the situation and process that I'd like to share with you.

The Challenges of Agile Scaling

Michael Frey spoke to us about why Deutsche Telekom is undergoing this transition:

"We have to become faster on the market. We must also be able to react to unexpected challenges quickly."

All 10,000 people from Telekom IT are directly involved, and at least 60,000 of the 140,000 employees of the entire Telekom are engaged in the process somehow.

SAFe was chosen as the preferred scaling model because it offers many interesting tools to support such an extensive transformation.  However, Frey also sees the project's challenges realistically:

"The transformation isn't easy - it's labored. The lack of sufficient blueprints to carry out the implementation was challenging. Somehow it reminds me a bit of the beginning of the IT era. IT was a big new topic, but nobody knew what it was and what it was supposed to achieve. "

Also, there are just not enough good examples of successful SAFe implementations at companies of our size.

"There's a level of uncertainty: Are we doing it right? And if we're doing this right, is it suitable for what we are implementing here now? Something we also thought about is that Agile work also needs tools that support agile work. So, we asked ourselves if we are backing the wrong horse here?"

What has been their experience with SAFe so far?

Despite the challenges, the experience with SAFe has been good.  Frey is enthusiastic about how the framework has started to provide results  - they see the benefits of the implementation as it develops.

"The deeper we get, the more we learn, and the more understandable some SAFe roles become. Things we said we couldn't do at the beginning, are becoming gradually more plausible.."

One such initial difficulty was to correctly assign the processes at the appropriate level. The real inspiration comes from those "Aha!" moments and where you realize you've learned a lot over time.  Suddenly you know that if you are right, then the SAFe roles will fit! Yes, that is a useful framework. But it takes time until you have the maturity to understand it yourself.

Current status of the transformation

Of course, I was curious as to how far the transition has progressed in the meantime, and what the current status is.

"Right in the middle of it!" says Frey.  They've embarked on their SAFe journey, and their old organizational framework is on the way out. They're carrying out a skill and chapter-based migration. The previous hierarchical management structures are being abandoned in favor of functional ones. They are giving our new structures n a matrix-like, disciplinary organization.

"This is precisely the point where we realized that there are certain roles and tasks that we didn't consider in the new process organization.  An example of this is local responsibilities. We are more of a compliance-, governance-driven organization. Cloud-based applications have more freedom, but we will still need some on-premise share."

At the end of the day, a project of this magnitude and scope requires patience:

"It's incredibly difficult to deal with the fact that certain situations don't change as quickly as you would like them to. Some things run differently and occasionally, even more slowly."

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for the enlightening conversation! The full interview is available in our Infothek, so be sure to go over and check that out!

Other posts you might be interested in:

-Scaling Agile with SAFe & Agile Hive: An interview with Dr. Thorsten Janning from Kegon
- Jan Einfach: Agile and Atlassian explained | A short introduction to "Agile Hive – SAFe with Atlassian Tools."
- SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner
- Remote PI planning with Agile Hive



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