An Interview with Adrian Wohlfarth, Project Manager and Scrum Coach of MCON China, for an Automotive Finance Customer. Adrian, originally from Austria, has spent his last ten years working and studying in seven different countries (Netherlands, Poland, UK, Spain, France, China and of course Austria). During that time, he has obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science as well as a master’s degree in international management. Started with an e-commerce start-up, he got hands-on experience on helping Chinese clients to sell food in European market. Afterwards he moved to a marketing role in a F&B company and now as an agile project manager in MCON. Outside of work, he is a big skier and a disciplined Mandarin learner.
Adrian, what brought you to China? Driven by your job?
I am fascinated by its constant changes and I think China has the right fertile soil for agile practices enabling you to be ahead with new methods.
Chinese language is a magnet. It works in such a different way with the European ones. Hard to learn but this innate desire is within me to improve my Chinese speaking.
How would you define your role in the project?
Initially I was assigned to be Scrum Master; over the time I led test automation process and finally I developed into a Scrum Coach to support the development of our client’s team.
In general I need to answer all critical questions from our client to ensure that the requirements are data driven instead of opinion founded. Internally, I protect my scrum team from business pressure. Let the developer focus on their coding tasks and achieve the state of flow.
Engineering practice on German quality is what makes MCON at the forefront. My job is to ensure that the latest CI practices are implemented, keep track of the code coverage, confirm code-reviews, complete documentation and fix server side issues.
Could you briefly introduce us the project and main challenges amid this automotive financing agile project?
It is a project to launch an online sales channel for finance products. This channel allows customers to apply for automobile loans, get an approval result of the application and, ultimately, send the applications to selected dealers to finalize customer details and car handover.
One major challenge is to establish agility and speed in a slow paced multinational enterprise. At the moment, most of major OEM clients are still operating in a waterfall-oriented way for their IT structure. Waterfall model delivers in scope, however not in time. The problem of delivering in scope is what you are planning now might not be relevant in 2 years when the project is supposed to be completed. With agile, you will not necessarily deliver on scope, but you will deliver in time. So it means you have a pre-defined go-live day, and it can be live on that day. The challenge comes from the fact that a lot of the processes are not yet defined, we have to create these new processes for our clients and have their faith in our agile approach.
Inter-dependencies with other systems is another challenge. It’s important to ensure communication is streamlined and key information is in transcript. We introduced new tools to facilitate the communication flow, and added bi-weekly meetings with the important decision makers to solve the impediments which cannot be solved by IT.
Having agile at the beginning for the customer could have been quite a shock or simply a change management process. What do you think is the driver for the customer to accept this agile methodology and what was the feedback?
The key driver originated from the fact that most waterfall projects have not delivered the value which was originally intended to deliver and at the same time have gone over budget. So the urgency of change was quite aware at client side. But there’s no certainty which alternative could be beneficial. Agile is not the silver bullet but is a must to have for those who want to keep pace with the market changes focus on continuous releases and continuous feedback incorporation. Very often agile is misunderstood as laissez faire, a method of no documenting and free of guidelines, which is not true. Agile vitalizes the response to change and we have every valuable document in record. Setting expectations with customer is a key and slowly crystallize the continuous improvement is important. That means you don’t start with a way and keep it. You are trying to find what has been wasted and what you have not been doing very well in the previous sprint. In that way, continuous improvement is implemented in every new sprint. We see people in the team openly voice out their criticism to improve the product and process. High trust and good spirit within the team is our cornerstone.
How other clients or projects could benefit from this agile experience?
I think an important note is that you have to make it clear to the client where you are adding value. You need to teach the client how to use agile. Coach POs on design thinking and how to use it on the ground with dealers for example. Another principle is, if it’s important but painful, do it often (business process documents). The deployment was a painful process, a frequent to-do every 4 months. So we encouraged the team and client to do it more often, and eventually we became good at it. Now we are down to 2 weeks between deployments.
Like all giant OEM, our client’s testing requirements are rigid. With efforts on the development release cycle, the time spent on testing is phenomenally shortened to half an hour. 350 end-to-end tests are kept in running 20 times a day to prevent any potential fires. Unit test coverage is fulfilled at 90% at back end and 85% at front end (both higher than average). This high quality of unit testing implementation made up the resource shortage from OEM on UAT testing. Now the quality first mindset was well-established by our ATDD/BDD practice.
You said earlier most of the clients were operating in a waterfall way. While by facilitating collaboration on agile, you ensured the scope of work is delivered at the end with exact relevancy and accuracy. This sounds like a very nice promise to the client. Does it come with additional cost or resources?
There’s no additional costs but you need to be ready to empower people in terms of responsibility. When it comes with change management, people are more important. We hire the best and never the cheapest.
It seems that you are young but you have clear idea of what you do and what you want. How do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years? Do you want to grow and become an expert on scrum? Or would you also like to experience different roles in an organization?
There’s beauty of being an agile project manager and Scrum Master as you can combine both and you do not necessarily have to lean on one way. I love this multi-tasking role as there’re always new challenges.
How did the client like this project?
We’re proud to be partnering with them in China and share their ambition of delivering breakthrough financing platform that elevates the brand’s service to new heights in this market. Quoted from an external agile development coach hired by the OEM: this is one of the best agile projects he has seen at a multinational company of that size. We also earned a TOP TEAM 2017 supplier award for completely delivering the agile project regarding the OEM’s car financing service for the first time ever.