BMW Group’s chief information officer, Klaus Straub, explains how agile processes work in practice.

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Klaus Straub has been CIO of BMW Group since 2014 (Photo: BMW)

BMW is betting heavily on agility and, in the process, is changing the way it runs all aspects of its IT. Across the company, mixed teams of developers from business and operational divisions are working hand in hand with software engineers from the IT department. BMW Group CIO Klaus Straub assesses his experience with the new methods so far.

automotiveIT: Mr. Straub, why is the establishment of an agile organizational structure so crucial to the transformation of the BMW Group?

Klaus Straub: It doesn’t work anymore today when a business division defines the technical requirements of an IT system and puts them together in a word or powerpoint document three years before implementation. Too much time passes in the meantime and, when systems are implemented, their functionality no longer meets the requirements, which will have changed. That’s why we are focusing on short development cycles and we request feedback from our clients after two-week sprints. Early on we already get business use from the step-by-step creation and delivery of our products. The focus is the business use and the value-added for our end customers. We no longer follow rigid project plans.

You need a higher degree of freedom within your organization to assure that you can increase agility in your projects. Are all teams able to handle that?

We are no longer speaking about IT projects. We consistently define IT products with a product owner, a product budget and an end-to-end responsibility for the team. Let me explain: Agile doesn’t mean that everyone can do what he wants. On the contrary: The personal responsibility that each team member has is substantially greater than under the traditional waterfall model.

Whether an agile project succeeds or fails depends to a major extent on the discipline of the team. All players must have a seat at the table and it is imperative that communication routes are short, the working model is agile, decisions can be made quickly and that end-to-end responsibility lies with the team. That’s the only way to ask the right questions that will make progress possible and lead to the right decisions.

One more thing is important: You have to lead the way to implement an agile culture. That’s why the BMW Group IT management team already thinks and works in user stories and sprints. We have essentially done away with traditional management meetings and, instead, work with refinement, planning and review sessions. Our organizational landscape also is totally geared to the new world and new targets are set every two weeks.

Can you give some examples of concrete results from the new IT approach?

We already have lighthouse projects in almost all divisions and all processes; development, logistics, finance, HR, purchasing. We want to create a framework across the company. In our prototyping unit, for example, we could reduce the number of tickets in our test parts logistics by 72 pc in three months with the help of a DevOps approach.

We used to have two software updates a year, but are now planning release trains that are deployed continuously in short cycles. If a piece of code is ready and the business division is willing to take the risk, the software is activated immediately. We are moving faster than planned and, in 2017, we more than met our agility targets. But it was clear from the start that we would need two to three years to convert all projects and reach a 90-95 pc agility rate by 2020.