First-hand professional experience and real-world applications are things you don’t often find in the classroom. That is why, as a semi-recent graduate from the University of Wyoming’s MBA exchange program, I was thrilled to return to my alma mater and share my experiences and insights with implementing agile methodologies within MANN+HUMMEL’s new digital business unit.
Every year, for one week, the University of Wyoming (UW) makes the voyage across the continental United States to Germany as a part of their international exposure experience. During this time, the students have the opportunity to meet and interact with several German companies. This is made possible through an exchange program with Hochschule Pforzheim. During this most recent trip it was my privilege to lead the university’s visit with an Agile workshop at MANN+HUMMEL headquarters in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
How it all began: Introduction to MANN+HUMMEL through Design Thinking workshop
In 2012 I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in Management and a minor in entrepreneurship, and eventually found myself working in the oil and gas industry.
During one of my rotations off, I visited my undergraduate university and had a chance to speak to Steve Farkas, the Director of the MBA program at the University of Wyoming. During his time as Director, Steve had initiated an exchange program with Hochschule Pforzheim and was looking for students to join the program. We spoke about the program and I expressed interest in exploring the opportunity. Three months later, I was attending my first semester at UW’s MBA program.
The first year of my MBA in Wyoming was focused on business interaction and networking. Steve is an accomplished networker and believes that exposure is the best way to garner the skills and mindsets that MBA candidates need to succeed in the real world. The MBA program embodies this belief by giving students the opportunity to interact with executives from various companies every week in a Friday Speaker series.
In the third semester, I transferred to Germany to attend Hochschule Pforzheim. During my time there, I attended the Design Thinking Workshop organized by MANN+HUMMEL. I found the presentations on potential IoT-based, digital solutions both inspiring and fascinating. So much so, that I took an internship opportunity with MANN+HUMMEL to write my master’s thesis regarding the Monetization of IoT and Digital Goods at the North Carolina Innovation Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was from this interaction that I learned of the Senzit program and eventually gained the opportunity to take on the Product Owner role.
Real World Applications: Agile at MANN+HUMMEL
With the recent push for MANN+HUMMEL to start utilizing agile frameworks and methodologies, the Senzit program has taken up the challenge and started to work in an agile framework known as scrum. Scum emphasizes teamwork, accountability and iterative progress toward a well-defined goal. The framework begins with a simple premise: Start with what can be seen or known. After that, track the progress and tweak as necessary. This framework, while although new to MANN+HUMMEL, was designed and developed for software. Agile works exceptionally well for software development as it encourages rapid iterations and smaller releases, however, agile’s true strength is its customer focus. This focus fits well with MANN+HUMMEL’s dedication to “customer obsession”. The customer is at the center of the development cycle, and the Product Owner’s (PO) job is to represent the “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) in the development cycle.
The only downside, until joining MANN+HUMMEL and the Senzit team, I had never not heard of agile or scrum. In my mind, project management and the waterfall were the industry standards and the only way for teams work.
While the learning curve was steep, the advantages of agile were immediate and a clear, sustainable solution for product development. As I progressed with my role, and MANN+HUMMEL progressed in its push for agile, I found that there were others within the organization that were looking to pick up the agile mindset and turn from Project Managers into Product Owners.
Better Together: Agile Workshop and Wyoming Week
After experiencing, first-hand, the benefits of scrum, MANN+HUMMEL’s drive towards digital transformation, and UW’s dedication to graduate emersion programs it was only natural to bring everyone together to discover the world of agile. A workshop of this nature would give students a brief introduction into the agile mindset, and, at the same time help MANN+HUMMEl’s new product owners succeed in their roles.
The workshop would also provide an environment for PO’s to refine their skill sets and, more importantly, practice being the voice of the customer. With the help of the student’s, POs could practice forming and interacting with a customer advisory board, and the students could represent a real-life focus group for upcoming products.
After receiving support from Chris Sturgess and Andreas Lawrenz, and many months of planning, on November 13th 2018 our first Agile Workshop with an academic institution took place. This event furthered the University of Wyoming’s target of bridging the gap between the classroom and the corporate world, enabling students to experience a real-world application of a methodology being adopted by businesses around the world. In the end, whether you were a MANN+HUMMEL product owner or an impending graduate, understanding the agile framework and learning how to build a scrum team is an invaluable skill set each participant will utilize for years to come.