Article about Volvo in "Chef." magazine

Link to the original article in Chef. magazine >>
Susanna Almgren

Team efficiency
increased by 50%

Kanban, trial-and-error method, retrospective meeting. Many managers don’t even know these words, but for Susanna Almgren they mean success.

International teamwork research is clear: An enormous amount of time is wasted waiting. Staff waiting for decisions from above, waiting for answers, meetings or deliveries. Susanna Almgren works with IT for the Volvo group in Gothenburg. When she analysed her team’s efficiency, she was shocked by the results:

"We only used 7% of the working day to actually build new data systems. 93% of our working day was wasted waiting for other departments to finish their part, and straighten out misunderstandings."

She heads two so called transition teams. They work according to the Scrum concept, building Java systems. The result of the alarming analysis was a re-organization of her department, building autonomous, multi-disciplinary teams.

Susanna says: ‘In the past we had several groups of technicians for Linux, databases, networks and so on, working independently. When we developed an IT-system, the project went in a chain from station to station. It worked reasonably well as long as things were moving forward, but when we had to go back and localize an error, delivery times where immediately affected.’

How are your teams working today?

Susanna Almgren explains: ‘There are nine members of every team. I am head product owner and responsible for the project as a whole, together with product owners taking on and preparing new projects, and a Scrum master focusing on technical solutions and facilitating the work. Our Java technicians come from USA, India, France and Sweden.’

However, the transition to a multi-disciplinary way of working was not without its hurdles.

Susanna: "When we first started working like this, the technicians worried about losing their extensive know-how when they were not sitting with “their own” people on a daily basis. But the result has been the exact opposite. The broader multi-disciplinary perspective and a “creative friction” meant many developed an unparalleled excellence."

How do you go about starting a new project in the team??

Susanna Almgren: ‘The product owner invites the client. If the order doesn’t fit our standard solutions, the whole team is called in. Everyone participate in building solutions on a theoretical level and trying to identify problems from the start, much like alpine skiers close their eyes before start, visualizing the gates in their head and with their hands."

Describe a typical day with your team

"09.30 the team gathers in a semicircle in front of a large screen with our Kanban board. Here everybody gets an overview of the 10-15 orders we are working on at any given time. This is our daily stand up meeting, and we spend no more than 15 minutes. What happened yesterday, what are we doing today? If someone has a problem, they sit down with another team member and try to find a solution in pairs."

When do you have to step in and make decisions for the team?

"Rarely", Susanna explains. ‘The team works independently. As an example, I trust everybody to remove unnecessary stages without asking my permission. Naturally we have to work within certain parameters put up by Volvo, but sometimes we get new ideas that challenge those parameters. When this happens we have a conversation with the management."

How do you know your clients are happy?

Susanna: "Every three months we have retrospective meetings when we look back at what we have accomplished. What was good and bad? What can we improve? Once every six months we invite our biggest customers and ask for feedback. We are never better than our clients’ and colleagues’ opinions of us."

How have the results been so far?

Susanna Almgren explains: "After three months our delivery times had been reduced by 80%. The efficiency increased by 50%, both for individuals and for the team as a whole. According to client surveys, the quality rose from 4 to 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. But the biggest gain, which I think is the key to the other results, was how much happier the staff was. I could see the difference just by looking at them. Working with the whole product created a new, positive spirit in everyone."

Per-Magnus Skoogh, author of Agile for Managers, is of the opinion that teams need to be a mini-company within the company, and responsible for their own profitability.

‘The tempo in business is so high today; it’s difficult to keep management responsible for profitability. The teams need to take responsibility for this. A manager can find it difficult to delegate the overall picture of a deal to a team, to allow experimentation and to accept an amount of uncertainty when starting a new project. But it has turned out to be very profitable.’
His studies have shown an increase in productivity of up to 400% when a multi-disciplinary team replace a serial system. But what characterize fast working, dynamic and over-achieving teams? Per-Magnus Skoogh lists six things:

Diversity

In a multi-disciplinary team you find all required competence for sales, specifications of requirements, production, budget, delivery and profitability. When different perspectives on delivery meet, you can find new, better ways of working. Diversity is more than functional knowledge profiles. A multi-disciplinary team is an excellent foundation, providing a greater span of age, gender, ethnicity, experience etc.

New manager roles

The traditional project manager role is divided into a product owner (responsible for content and value) and a Scrum master (responsible for getting the job done). With this parallel focus you avoid conflicts between the client’s interest and the way the team carry out the work.

Transparency

The company management has to provide the team with all available information and the vision for the project when a new project is started. But transparency is a two way street: The team must be equally open in its reports to the management.

New ways of looking at decisions

The team acts without asking questions. Instead it keeps the management informed about the work on a regular basis. There is no traditional hierarchy for decisions within the team (decision A results in decision B etc.). Big decisions are replaced by several smaller, quick decisions, together with experimentation in a trial-and-error fashion.

Measure-ability

Teams working with knowledge also need to be able to measure their work effort and identify trends. By determining baselines in different areas you have something to compare yourself to.

Self-organization

In the past, the manager had studied at Harvard. Today the team members have. Business today is complex and deals are made in fast changing and sometimes confusing markets. Both recruiting and network-building are better done by the team than the management.

Written by: Dan-Marcus Pethrus

This text is a collaboration between HR system developer Workday and the Chef magazine. Workday gives you better tools helping you make smarter choices and quicker decisions in your HR work.