Scaled Agile at BMW – an interview with Marcus Raitner

Marcus Raitner ist Agile Transformation Agent bei der BMW Group IT

Marcus Raitner is the Agile Transformation Agent for BMW Group's IT

It's always exciting to see how a world-renowned corporation moves from its traditional roots towards a more dynamic mindset.  This transition is also valuable and inspirational for other enterprise companies going through their own agile transformations.

For my new book, We Run on Agile, I had the opportunity to speak with Marcus Raitner.  He is the Agile Transformation Agent for the BMW Group's IT department and is responsible for advancing Agile scaling.  Through a more in-depth conversation, he gave me his assessment of and interesting insights into Agile scaling.  The full interview is available on our Infothek.

LeSS: Small scale, scaling!

Like many large companies, BMW has experimented with different ideologies to find the best Agile scaling methods.  As a devoted follower of the framework, Large Scale Scrum - LeSS - Marcus has a clear answer to the question of why LeSS works better in larger corporations:

"It gives you very little structure.  It is essentially about applying Scrum on a larger scale- basically the typical Scrum ideology, just larger.  The idea is to have fewer defined rols and as little framework as possible - which is what LeSS stands for.."

Marcus is very critical of the Scaled Agile Framework: SAFe:

"SAFe is the total opposite of that - meaning as much Framework as possible"

He sees parallels to the traditional waterfall model - the danger being that it's the same old model, but the roles just all have new names.  Everyone will recognize that, and ultimately, everything will go on as before.  Marcus takes a different approach:

"When you want to take the leap towards agility, you have to start with LeSS.  It creates this disruption - but that's exactly what I want to achieve.  [...] This is how you get people to really think and to push them out of their zone in a new direction."

What is convincing about LeSS is that organizations that have adopted this concept start small and grow into something larger.  The first step is to get rid of old dependencies and things that hold them back:

"That's the issue with SAFe, growing too quickly and you only end up managing dependencies.  But I want to get rid of the dependencies.  That means I need a framework that will decouple the dependencies and the systems.

When is SAFe the right choice, and when is it better to use different approaches to reach goals?

Marcus says that SAFe may work well if an organization is developing a large software product - but not in a company that calls their many different IT systems, "one product":

"The concept of a feature team (meaning everyone on the team contributes to the product as a whole) is a great goal - in theory.  However, when I look at our products, that's simply not the case. [...] Although we do have similar specialist processes (otherwise we wouldn't have bundled the systems), not everyone knows each detail of the process, whether on a technical or professional level.  That's why feature teams don't work well enough for us."

However, just like SAFe, LeSS also needs management support.  But this top-down strategy must start small and grow in the big picture.  Otherwise, there are potential dangers::

"Going too large scale too quickly with Scrum will cause issues such as becoming industrialized too fast.  You will end up industrializing Scrum to death."

Scaling concepts that lead to actual change

However, there were no concrete guidelines on how to scale Agile within the Group. The starting point of the transition process at BMW was merely agile product development.  Various IT products were to be bundled into one.  But the question of whether Scrum, Kanban or even a separate Scaled Agile framework would be used remained open.

Marcus Raitner tells us that there have been definitive changes at BMW.  He told us about a department that delivers 50 deployments a day instead of two releases per year:

"Now people have to think of something.  If the boss wants to carry out four releases instead of two, you can still do it manually - like before.  But if they say they want to deploy 50 times a day, then you have to automate that.  [...] Then you have no choice."

IT as a source of inspiration

Marcus also sees his department - IT - in a certain pioneering role with influence throughout the Group.  This, in turn, encourages other departments to move towards a more modern organizational direction.:

"Of course they get their inspiration from the spark that was created there.  I've also been invited to the Marketing department to talk about how they can adopt Agile in their daily work.  You could say that it starts in IT and radiates out into all processes because all processes involve IT.  It forms an interface, so to speak, which is why the idea has caught on. "

But with the strategy of setting up the entire IT department of a company using Agile methodology (and further scaling) provides us with challenges.  Marcus confirms this as he sums up - the pressure to see results is ever-present:

"A top-down commitment from the CIO: 'We do everything agile & we carry out agile product development everywhere.' At first, it's great because it has momentum, but eventually this leads to a certain amount of expectation from the organization.  That means you have to implement it relatively quickly."

These expectations go against the LeSS motto of starting small and learning a lot.  If scaling up is done very quickly and on a large scale, there is the risk that this leads to new processes, rules, and guidelines.  No matter how well-intentioned these things are, they would not have been created if the scaling happened organically. However...:

"That would have taken ten or twenty years instead of just one.  Nevertheless, I would have fought against this impatience more strongly now if we wer to go through this process again."

Again, huge thanks to Marcus Raitner again for the exciting exchange of ideas.  We wish you continued success on your journey with BMW! And as mentioned above, you can read the full interview on our Infothek.


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