How to Achieve Stability in a Dynamic Environment
Project-based environments constantly change as the projects evolve through their respective phases. New projects start whilst others are about to finish up, some run ahead of schedule, and some (read most) don’t. Some go according to plan and some, well, we all have experiences of our own. This makes for an environment that is not exactly predictable, and that is rather unfortunate.
That is because there is good reason to claim that predictability is the greatest competitive advantage of them all. In this article, it is explained why that is the case and how predictability can be achieved. To do so one of BlinkLane’s clients, the Grid Control department of Siemens Grid Software, is introduced, who has been kind enough to share some insights on their journey.
The context: Grid Control of Siemens Grid Software
First, let’s start by introducing the client: The Grid Control department within the Grid Software business of Siemens Smart Infrastructure (In the following Siemens Grid Control). This department oversees the creation of software products for TSOs (Transmission System Operators) and DSOs (Distribution System Operators) all over the world. They ensure that the customers’ systems operate in an optimal manner, providing us the electricity we need. They do so in a customer-centric manner, where the goal is to create software that is tailored to their customers’ needs. Naturally, this contributes to the complexity of their environment and is therefore not a great stimulator of predictability. To ensure that they can deal with this, Grid Control’s intention is to remain flexible. They therefore have a progressive vision of becoming an agile company and have gone to great lengths over the past years to achieve this. The vision is to move away from a fixed mindset and take the customer with them during the development of their software. This enables the customer to continuously test, steer and adjust during the development of the software, resulting in something that is fit for purpose and exactly complies with the customer’s wishes.
‘‘Agility gives our customers the possibility to collaborate even closer with us and access the products faster than before. In the end, we can provide them with the best possible product.’’
Frank Grunert, Global Business Segment Lead – Siemens Grid Control Solutions
Predictability as a prerequisite for success
To be able to do this, however, one must be predictable. The customer must know when they can anticipate the next batch of the software products so that it can be tested and adjusted where needed. The customer must also know the current state of the product so that one can foresee potential risks and act upon them, and the customer must be able to know when they should have resources available to dedicate to these efforts. So how does one get to this state? How to start with becoming more predictable in delivery?
First things first, Siemens Grid Control started by having a clear vision that everybody recognized. They committed to the ambition and put energy in getting there. This resulted in a shared goal to transform the delivery organization to achieve more transparency; the first and most important step in achieving predictability. This transformation can be achieved by a variety of changes, such as creating stable teams, working in a synchronized cadence, introducing methodology for implementing agile at scale or even all the above.
The customer is king
Introducing these changes can be relatively easy if you work on software development internally (without implying it will be easy, just relatively so). In such a situation, you use your customers to consult on the quality and practicality of your products, but you don’t co-develop or collaborate intensively. Therefore, making changes to your internal organization will not directly impact your customers, hence the suggestion that it will be relatively easy. However, if an organization – like Siemens Grid Control – works with many different customer requests at the same time, it might be a bit more challenging. This is because some customers might opt for this agile approach, whilst other would rather keep it like the olden days. This directly prevents the organization from utilizing parts of the suggested steps above, as having a synchronized cadence and stable teams might clash with the waterfall schedules of your non-agile customers. So how can you marry these two worlds in one organization?
‘‘Agile can serve both worlds, as it is a mindset that can be applied to waterfall projects as well. We also handle waterfall projects internally in an agile way.’’
Rima D’Costa, Global Head of Delivery – Siemens Grid Control Solutions
A dynamic approach to stability
Ideally, in complex environments that revolve around change, one wants to work with true stable and multidisciplinary teams that pull in prioritized work. However, when this is not possible, the lessons of Siemens Grid Control come in. They found themselves in this exact situation and experienced that the implementation of stable teams obstructed their progress towards becoming a fully agile organization. To give an answer to this challenge, they demonstrated a truly agile mindset (that is in the most fundamental sense: iterate and focus on a valuable outcome).
For obvious reasons, Siemens Grid Control wanted to create some sort of stability in the teams, a stable core to say so. This enables the desired close contact with customers and brings the stability they need. However, it has shown to be valuable to have a flexible shell surrounding the core that can bring the expertise the core needs in certain stages of the projects (and use their expertise on other projects when they don’t). This thought resulted in creating Project Core Teams (PCTs) and Domain Teams.
The PCT consists of the ‘core members’ of the project. These members dedicate ≥80% of their time to the project and are tasked to set the direction for the project and plan the work that must be executed by the Domain Teams. The Domain Teams exists of domain experts who are grouped by their domain-specific expertise. They then act as the flexible shell for multiple PCTs with their respective assignments. Apart from planning reasons, this also greatly stimulates innovation and the sharing of knowledge among experts.
Making this distinction in team set-up brings various other advantages too. First and foremost, it ensures stability and close collaboration with the customer. Together with the customers, PCT’s plan for the project with Early Value Targets (EVTs) as key milestones. These EVTs are used as checkpoints, where they check if the developed solution works as planned and if it brings the desired value for their customer. Based on these EVTs, they can keep adjusting the plan and hence steer the project. The timing of the EVTs for the projects are synchronized with each other, bringing structure and cadence to the organization. For instance: each project works in the same monthly rhythm towards their own project’s EVTs, which are set at the last day of the month for every team. This way, Siemens Grid Control can A) check if you are still on the right track, and B) bring structure to the demand and planning of the capacity of the Domain Teams.
Three take-aways to make this work
So how did Siemens Grid Control pull this off? And how did they keep the store open whilst it was being renovated?
- They started small. They got together in a room with colleagues from different positions in the company, and ask themselves: where would this make sense and where would it not? Keep in mind that these setups are not set in stone. Just as the projects itself, keep iterating and regularly check if this is still the right thing to do and whether it would make sense to move towards a more ‘mature’ phase where the stable part of the team increases.
- Make sure everyone has a deep understanding of the vision and design that the organization has created and ensure that all contributors are confident with the outcome.
- If you have managed to do so, focus on training. Knowledge on the agile mindset, its implications, and the rituals that one can use is key. This guided Siemens Grid Control in the design of the right structure for the organization and helped to find the optimal balance between efficiency, effectiveness, and overhead. From here, keep iterating and improving and trust the process.
‘‘The journey might be tough, but absolutely worth the effort. Everything starts with the dream of one or more colleagues, and combined with committed management belief and support, everything is possible!’’
Christoph Wurzinger - Agile Coach Grid Control Hub Germany
The Siemens Grid Control story is a great one and it is not over yet. They are amid their transformation and well on their way to finding their optimal combination of stability and flexibility. Siemens Grid Control proofs that one can indeed find stability in a dynamic environment. They show that determination to do better and iterating on improvements will get you where you want to be; both for your customers as well as your own organization.
Keen on learning more about this inspiring case? We would be happy to get in touch with you.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
- Bronté Verhoeven is a consultant at BlinkLane Consulting, a Highberg Company
- Max van Haarlem is a consultant at BlinkLane Consulting, a Highberg Company
- Christopher Wurzinger is Agile Coach at the Siemens Grid Control Hub Germany
- Our thanks go out to those that shared their views with us