Schartau: Currently, there is hardly a more polarizing term. Some associate it with a new, relaxed form of working, with post-it notes and bean bags. Others are tired of even hearing the word and are confused or frustrated because no one can tell them what to do – except that everything has to be different. One common misconception is that today everyone has to work agile.
Agility Requires a Change of Perspective
Our working world is changing rapidly: technologically, spatially, organizationally, and communicatively. The experts Thorsten Petersson and Johannes Schartau explain how the adhesive specialist tesa tackles this structural change and whether agile work is the key to the future.
Schartau: First, it is a change of perspective. While traditional work structures aim to optimize efficiency and costs, “agile” revolves around flexibility and adaptability. The essential attitude is: We know very little and therefore need to learn quickly. Continually integrating new information into processes is a crucial agile feature. This also changes the definition of success: It’s not about fulfilling rigid plans but about achieving specific effects.
"Constantly integrating new information into processes is an essential agile feature."
Petersson: That’s certainly true. The German way is more safety-oriented and mostly organized in silos. In agile settings, as part of a small team, the individual employee takes on significantly more responsibility for the process. However, this only works if you’re not involved in 19 other projects.
Schartau: Furthermore, agility requires the joy of experimentation and the courage to make mistakes. In this regard, countries like the USA or the Netherlands are way ahead of us.
Petersson: The topic has been on the agenda for two years. It is reflected above all in our innovation initiative in research and development and our digital strategy. Background: Digitization increases complexity and changes our environment so heavily and continuously that we need to adapt our work practices to remain innovative and competitive. It’s not just about using new methods, but about what attitude, culture, and leadership we need for a forward-oriented working experience. This may then lead back to efficient issues: new room concepts, new software tools or organizational structures, new roles or models for cooperation. Today, this is often summarized under the term: New Work.
Schartau: Exactly, the speed increases via digitization. Everything is networked. You may notice that small companies can achieve significant effects much faster because they are agile. As a big company, I must respond to this potential threat. From my point of view, tesa faces this challenge openly and consciously.
Petersson: In some areas, we’re already strictly working in agile setups, such as web development. In other areas, we approach agile principles and methods within so-called pilots. These are clearly defined experimental rooms where we want to learn when to use which set of processes and which organizational challenges can be solved along the way.
Schartau: Thereby, we might even find out that it’s all about optimizing established products or successful processes. Thus, I don’t have to tear down anything with an agile setting since agility is not an end in itself!
"Digitization increases complexity and changes our environment so heavily and continuously that we need to adapt our work practices in order to remain innovative and competitive."
Digital Development Office tesa SE
Petersson: In some areas, we’re already strictly working in agile setups, for example in web development. In other areas, we approach agile principles and methods within so-called pilots. These are clearly defined experimental rooms where we want to learn when to use which set of methods and which organizational challenges must be solved along the way.
Schartau: Thereby, we might even find out that it’s all about optimizing established products or successful processes. Thus, I don’t have to tear down anything with an agile setting, since agility is not an end in itself!
Petersson: Yes, we’ve made that experience. Generally, it’s about quickly achieving measurable progress and learning more, particularly in situations where you can clearly outline the problem but don’t know much about possible solutions. Furthermore, we see that closer interaction with customers and better internal cross-functional collaboration is needed in terms of product innovation or development. Agile approaches are ideal for these purposes.
Schartau: The most popular framework – also at tesa – is Scrum, followed by Kanban and Lean Startup. Design Thinking works similarly but is not officially an agile method. Our job is to advise teams or departments on selecting the right approach as internal consultants, based on precise problem analysis.
Thank you very much for your time!
Agile working has its origins in the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” (2001). Over time, many methods have been established—an overview of three frequently used methods.
One of the most popular methods is Scrum, which originated in the IT sector. The framework is based on the approach that a project is not entirely pre-planned from A to Z but runs in repeated feedback loops (Sprints). When a Sprint is over, the finished sub-product is delivered, checked, and further developed in the next Sprint.
“to do” – “in progress” – “done”: These are the classic categories of Kanban (Japanese for signal card), a method developed by the car manufacturer Toyota in the 1950s. The goal of the technique – which bases on visualization and is today used far beyond the automobile industry’s limits – is the optimal control of production processes. Thanks to this approach, projects can be easily managed based on the technique’s small steps.
3. Lean Startup
This method revolves around a successful company (inside the company). By bringing the product or service to market early – referred to as Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – this method relies on shorter planning time and learning-by-doing. A prominent example is the creation of the company Dropbox.