PTV Insights: Staying perfectly flexible thanks to Donuts

How to make perfect donuts? The PTV agile coaches Anna Baumann(l.) and Silke Notheis tell us all about it.

Every now and then, our canteen offers a selection of donuts. But in a way, they are omnipresent throughout our company.  Because: At PTV, our Agile teams, that work on new, innovative products and releases for traffic, transport and logistics, are called “Donuts”. In the interview, our two agile coaches Anna Baumann and Silke Notheis tell us what “Agile” means to PTV and why it is so important to remain flexible. 

Compass: Agile Management is now a sort of hot topic in modern companies. Why is this so?

Anna Baumann: We live in a world that is becoming faster and more complex. Technologies and markets change at an incredible pace. What is current today may be obsolete tomorrow. To keep pace with this development, you have to remain flexible.

Silke Notheis: We at PTV aim at responding to market changes quickly and flexibly, while pressing ahead with quality and innovation. The best way of doing this is to use the intelligence of every single staff member in their respective field of expertise instead of relying on a few decision-makers.

Anna Baumann: A maximum transfer of knowledge is based on the interaction between colleagues from different areas. This approach enables us to develop the best solutions for our customers.

Compass: So, would you say that our donuts are cross-functional teams?

Anna Baumann: That’s right, in our donut teams, we try to combine a wide range of skills. Start-ups do so quite frequently. This means our donuts include members from Sales and Marketing as well as Product Management, Corporate Marketing, Documentation and of course Software Development. Ideally, we thus cover all aspects required to launch a new product or service.

Silke Notheis: The advantage of this approach: There are short lines of communication and it’s easy to set up a network. For example, the Sales teams always provide us with current input about what the market wants. The “Donut” team works independently, all are equal and do their best to achieve their goal.

Compass: What is your role as Agile Coach?

Silke Notheis: We assist the teams in creating self-organized teams. Together with the teams, we choose the right tools and roles from the agile toolbox. We help them solve problems and remove obstacles that could hinder the teams from making progress.

Anna Baumann: The mindset is another crucial element. For example, it’s essential to establish a culture of error tolerance. Of course, it’s great if everything is perfect. But errors are part of the game and it is important that they are tolerated. That’s the only way that one can really advance. Or to live by the motto of “done is better than perfect“ and to have the courage to show your customer first results at an early stage of the project. In general, we want to base our approach on the principles of the Agile Manifesto.

Silke Notheis: Moreover, it is important to be open to change. It’s no longer the case that processes remain the same over a period of 20 years. A lot is happening within a very short period of time, especially within the donuts. And when you realize that something does not fit, it needs to be changed.

Compass: Is Scrum the catchword?

Anna Baumann: Scrum, i.e. the iterative, gradual approach to software development, is an important method. But agility and Scrum are not the same. There is a variety of methods and tools, such as XP, Kanban or Scrumban. Each team decides what frameworks, i.e. tools, are best for their specific issue. If necessary, we help them find the right methodology and refine it, according to the motto “inspect and adapt“.

Compass: How does one become an Agile Coach?

Silke Notheis: There is no standard roadmap to becoming an agile coach – agile coaches find their way through various stopovers. I’m a software developer and I always enjoyed solving problems and making processes more efficient. Being able to see the big picture, the meaning and purpose of a thing, is now very helpful for me.

Anna Baumann: Further important skills include curiosity, openness towards other opinions and the ability to ask the right questions. You must have the natural desire to learn something new and to progress together with the team. In addition, you should of course bring appropriate expertise and methodological skills, including presentation, mediation and coaching techniques. And not to forget: empathy and a good sense of humour.

Compass: Why are the cross-functional teams called donuts?

Anna Baumann: In an initial workshop, we discussed who should participate in the cross-functional teams.  The whole thing was captured on a poster and we painted circles around some names. In order to define the roles more clearly, further circles were drawn.  Then someone said: “That looks like a donut – so that’s how the term was coined.

Compass: What thematic areas are covered by the agile teams?

Silke Notheis: Currently, there are six donuts involved in the development of different products and services. Two more are in the starting blocks. One of the hot topics is mobility as a service. This is where we support mobility service providers, car makers and city administrations in providing new services for the mobility of the future.

Compass: And how do you create new donuts?

Anna Baumann: In principle, anyone can present his idea for a donut. The so-called Steering Committee filters all proposals and ideas through a sort of funnel process and prioritizes them in order to set the company’s strategic direction. The donuts are then presented at the PTV Campus where all employees have the opportunity to express their interest in joining the agile team.

Compass: So it sounds as if PTV were well positioned in terms of agility?

Silke Notheis: Yes, I think we are on the right track. It is incredibly exciting to experience the change within the company and to help shape this process of change.

Anna Baumann: It’s great fun to work at PTV because there are so many opportunities for us to shape things here. Everyone who takes initiative at work can move things forward. Employees and managers are completely self-motivated. That makes the work for us as Agile coaches so exciting. PTV provides a great environment, allowing us to shape the future and develop great products.