Lean Agile Hardwaredevelopment with Scrum at MAN Truck & Bus SE

Photo of Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

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12 Minutes

In a way, today's 3rd interview is also about a popular training example from the field of agile hardware development. My interview partner is a long-standing lean consulting expert from MAN Truck & Bus SE. - And they were, yes, again, a case study of ours from 2018.

So together with Mongi Ben Hamdane, I want to talk today about agile development, "lean" principles and the automotive industry in general.

Scrum Academy
Dear Mongi, before I introduce you further, why don't you do it yourself? Who are you, what do you do and why MAN?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
Hi Helen, my name is Mongi Ben Hamdane. As my name suggests, I am a true Bavarian, the proud father of three children and currently responsible for Simplifying MAN, Lean in the administrative areas, at MAN Consulting. Before that, I worked for a long time in procurement in various functions, including 3 years in Sweden at our sister company SCANIA.

One of the reasons I came to MAN was because it was important to me to work in a company that produces products that I can see and touch at the end of the day. And I think every one of us has seen one of our trucks or ridden in one of our buses.

Scrum Academy
MAN has been operating the MAN Future Workshop in Munich since 2017, where innovations are to be favored. The agile e-truck project in which some of our trainers were involved also started back in 2016. How agile do you consider MAN to be by now and how does the Future Workshop affect the other departments?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
In my view, the MAN Future Workshop is just one tool among many to simplify communication, especially within the team. In addition, many departments have been inspired by it with regard to the space and collaboration concept. For me, however, that alone does not have much to do with agility.

I have a hard time evaluating MAN's agility. I think we still have a long way to go, even if more and more agile methods and collaboration models are being used, especially in the pre-project phase. I would say we have embarked on the journey, but are still a long way from reaching our destination, if there is an end point at all.

MAN Truck & Bus SE

Scrum Academy
About the MAN Truck & Bus SE project, Wirtschaftswoche wrote an article in 2019 that says, among other things, "German companies are not very good at working fast and market-oriented."
Do you think this is still true 1.5 years later, and, if it has changed somehow due to COVID-19 last year?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
To be honest, I don't see it quite so negatively. German products are still in demand from my point of view. If they were not market and therefore customer oriented they would not be bought and we would export so much.

On the subject of speed, I would agree. I think we definitely still have potential for action there.

Scrum Academy
We all received the book "No Rules Rules Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention" by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer as a Christmas present. A book that was definitely one of his top 3 books in 2020. It's all about culture. A sustainable successful and innovative corporate culture through freedom, responsibility and flexibility.
Are those three points where MAN has changed since you've been there?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
Well, when I look at my areas of activity, I can at least say for myself that I had freedom, responsibility and flexibility. But I am also aware that this is perhaps not the case everywhere in our company.
In my opinion, dealing with freedom and responsibility in particular depends on an interplay of three points... being able, wanting, being allowed.

For me, empowerment or freedom and responsibility go hand in hand with enabling. I can't simply give people responsibility for certain topics without having taught them the skillset at the same time. This is why the topic of teaching problem-solving skills is so important in the lean context. A central task of leadership is to accompany the problem-solving process and to specifically develop this competence in employees.

When we come to the topic of "wanting" I have to say that I am skeptical whether we can directly influence what people want. Motivation and motives regarding our work are very different for each of us. However, people are guided by priorities in the work environment and even if there are no clearly specified priorities, managers give tasks an individual and usually situational priority. So we needn't be surprised that day-to-day operations win out at the end of the day if we only ask for improvements once a quarter.

Last point "may". If we are really serious about Lean then for a manager it means that he should not give instructions but lead with an open mind to solutions. The manager should, however, question the methodical procedure according to the motto: "Show me your evidence, your derivation. If this is logical, you can of course implement your solution." When we lead people and teams in a solution-open manner, it promotes self-responsibility and, above all, self-determination, and self-determination is the trigger for self-motivation.

Now I have gone a bit far, but at this point it is only important for me to note that we cannot make a corporate culture regardless of the values on which it is based. Culture is the pattern of action and thinking of the sum of the individuals in an organization. The more synchronous these are, the more we speak of culture. Patterns of action and thinking of employees are influenced by leadership patterns or leadership behavior. So if we want to work on culture, that is also an essential part of leadership.

I see corporate culture as extremely important. It is often seen as a "soft factor". In the future, however, culture in particular will become the hard success factor of an organization, as it provides its employees with orientation in a world that is turning ever faster and becoming ever more complex.

We have also been working on these issues at MAN in recent years. All in all, however, I would like to see an even stronger focus here.

Stacey Matrix

Scrum Academy
You are a Lean Consultant, what exactly does that encompass and why is "lean" so important to you in today's business world?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
MAN's brand promise is Simplifying Business. We want to make our customers' business or lives simpler. I believe we can only keep this brand promise if we also work just as hard on internal structures, processes, ways of acting and thinking, and simplify them and make them more "timely". What I like about Lean is that it is an employee-centric approach. As an organization, we will only survive in the future if we use the knowledge and creativity potential of each individual. Ideas are one thing, however. The other is to give employees the freedom to implement these ideas and learn from them. If this does not happen, such initiatives quickly peter out.

Generalizing, one can say that Lean focuses on three central questions:

How do I create a flow-oriented and thus customer-oriented organization?
How do I create transparency in an organization, from goals and strategy to processes?
How do I create a daily learning organization?

All three questions were important in the past, still are today and will be in the future.

Therefore a clear YES...Lean is important in today's world.

Scrum Academy
In his book "The Lean Startup" Eric Ries describes the "build-measure-learn" cycle and what makes it so important in innovation. This cycle is often supplemented by Build (Product) - Measure (data) - Learn (ideas). I always think to myself that it suggests that if you have learned something, new ideas (or innovations) will automatically arise, which, if we look at the sentence from WiWo again, is rather rare in German companies. What do you think "ails" German entrepreneurship the most? Where are the starting points for most companies when it comes to 'lean' principles?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
Behind "build-measure-learn" or "The Lean Startup" is Deming's PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, the foundation of the lean approach.

I see the difficulty in this cycle perhaps in the following places: As Germans in particular, we stand for reliability, structuredness and quality, especially abroad. We like to plan. In a world where complexity is increasing and the ability to plan is decreasing at the same time, the gap between the two is widening.
We can no longer always think everything through to the end in detail. On the other hand, perhaps in the German cultural context, we find it difficult to deal with mistakes and failures. And last but not least, reflecting and ultimately learning often comes up short. All in all, the cycle sounds very simple, but it is not.

A good starting point is to encourage and promote experimentation in an organization. This means, for example, recording the number of experiments in key figures. The number of experiments determines how many promising ideas we will find in the end. However, experimenting does not mean simply doing something and then seeing what comes out of it. An experiment starts with a clear goal, clear measures of success and ends with a reflection of the results. As I said, that often comes up short.

But experimenting also means that many things will not work. The more often we go through this process, the more comfortable we will feel with it or deal with it when something doesn't work. It is important to understand that learning from failure is a value.

And it's also about enabling employees who experiment to do so properly through empowerment/training.

Scrum Academy
What distinguishes a company like Tesla from MAN or other carmakers in Germany? Where is the most potential being wasted and how does that happen?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
I don't know Tesla and can't say too much about it. I believe that Tesla still ticks very much like a young start-up company and is strongly project-driven. This is of course connected with the resulting advantages and problems.

The wasted potential I see in many companies is around the issue of bureaucracy, which has built up over time and ultimately hinders organizations from being able to react quickly to change and fully exploit the creative potential of the organization. I think this is a very large and important area for action, where there is a lot of potential for creativity and productivity. We have to actively address the question of whether the operating system of our organization, i.e., how we make decisions, distribute budgets, deal with knowledge, etc., for example, is still the right operating system for the current environment. I don't think so.

At this point, we should also not always look at our industry and our competitors such as Toyota or Tesla. There are a number of companies in other industries that are actively working on these issues and their success underscores the importance of working on this operating system. But again...there are no best practices that we can simply transfer to our company. We have to put our own brainpower into it and come up with our own, appropriate solution.

Scrum Academy
Do you think the automotive industry will have to redefine itself in 2021 in order to operate successfully in the future and compete against overseas competitors?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
Yes I do, and not just in 2021. I think everyone is aware of that by now as well. But again...we should not always look at our overseas competitors but at ourselves. The German automotive industry is still strong and innovative and we shouldn't always talk everything down. What may sometimes get in our way is our understanding of tradition and sticking to the tried and true.

Scrum Academy
COVID has set things in motion that were previously unthinkable. In addition to remote work (see also interview 1) or decentralized work, the use of my own car has changed a lot for me personally. In the meantime, I hardly ever use my car (I live in the center of Cologne) and only use it to go shopping when I know I'm going to have to do a bit more.
Currently, a motor home for weekend trips would probably be more profitable for me than a 180 hp gasoline engine. 
Do you think these are universal changes that should be responded to? And what role do e-cars play in a digital remote working world for you?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
I can confirm that for us as well. We have two cars and they are both currently just parked in front of the house most of the time.

From my point of view, COVID-19 has helped to establish working from the home office as a normality. It has also made us more familiar with tools like MS Teams, MIRO, etc. Personally, though, I have to say that I miss the working hours in the office and also the direct contact with colleagues. Remote working is a good addition to increase flexibility, but for me it is not a substitute for direct, personal contact.

Electric cars and digitalization are two different things for me. For me, the development of digitalization doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the future drive type of vehicles. However, when we talk about changing business models, such as no longer owning a car and only paying for the transport service, that's something different. This is where digitization will play a crucial role. The same applies, of course, to the networking of vehicles, autonomous driving, or new business models based on the use of vehicle data, such as "preventive maintenance." In my view, these are developments that would and have taken place with and without Covid-19.

Scrum Academy
Do you think COVID-19 has changed mobility, and if so, is the automotive industry responding appropriately?

Mongi Ben Hamdane
To be honest, I am not sure if our mobility behavior has changed permanently because of Corona. I can very well imagine that in the post-Corona era, many of us will want to travel again and will catch up.

The issue of sustainability has come to the forefront with customers and therefore companies in the last 10 years. From my perspective, this is not a matter of either or. I believe we need to find "both/and" solutions that, on the one hand, meet customers' desire for mobility and, at the same time, are sustainable for our environment. And by sustainable, I mean the entire value chain.

In the entire automotive industry, but also in many other sectors, you can see that a lot of money is being invested in working on sustainable solutions. I think that's right and important!

I see the VW Group on a good path here despite, or perhaps even because of, the diesel scandal. It's just not that easy to break away from a currently profitable business model or product and actively substitute it with one that is perhaps less profitable to begin with. That is one major business challenge. Another is certainly that we can't start on a greenfield site. The company has many employees and locations and also a great responsibility for them. The VW Group needs other competence profiles and is of course now also facing the challenge of building these up internally. But here, too, I see that a lot is happening in the VW Group, including the establishment of its own software organization. These are just two of the many challenges facing such an industry giant. Compared to the other established companies, I see us in the VW Group on a good path, although of course the pressure from the new competitors such as Tesla or BYD from China is increasing immensely and will demand even more in terms of speed of change.

Scrum Academy
If you could build a lean-agile company, what would you look for in the people? (In terms of mindset, characteristics, talents,...).

Mongi Ben Hamdane
A saying of John Shook (Lean-Guru) comes to mind: "Hire for character, teach for skill". It is important that the fundamentals of collaboration, values, rules and sharing the same passion for the company or project fit. At the same time, diversity in the team and bringing different perspectives to solve a problem is important. But diversity is always easy to say, because diversity also means that it can be very exhausting because of the different perspectives. But if the fundamentals fit, then you can fight over content, but then look each other in the eye again and deliver a better result at the end of the day.

Scrum Academy
That sounds exciting. Dear Mongi, thank you for this exciting interview.

Mongi Ben Hamdane
Thank you very much.

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