Mercedes-Benz builds a bridge between business and technology has been saved
Cover image by: Jim Slatton
At Mercedes-Benz, one of the most renowned automakers in the world, IT teams are taking a fresh approach to bridging the gaps between business and technology teams. According to Bernd Rumscheid, who leads digital solutions and data in Mercedes-Benz’s finance division and IT functions, the people in IT often felt disconnected from the business impacts and benefits of their work. “Within finance, we piloted an Agile transformation to bring business and IT closer together, which is now scaling throughout the organization,” says Rumscheid.1
Rumscheid’s team was accustomed to a project-based model, often driven by conversations around delivery dates, timing, and budgets, and characterized by separation of functions in a traditional waterfall method. Their ambitious transformation shifted the organization to a more product-centric operating model. This involved implementing a Scaled Agile Framework for workflows, standardizing the toolchain, and bringing business and IT talent together in the same teams. According to Rumscheid, the difference was remarkable: “Customer-centricity helps our teams become cross-functional, work value-oriented toward joint targets, and have closer discussions.”
The shift to product-based teams also allows increased flexibility for the company’s employees. Previously, reassigning talent to different roles within the company required a significant administrative lift, such as talking to several managers and a works council, which hampered adaptability. “People were asking for change. They don’t want to do the same job for many years—they want to develop,” says Rumscheid. To address this, he organized his workforce into broad capability sets instead of traditional, narrowly defined jobs. Within a capability set, workers have flexibility to move across products and teams to sharpen their skills. As new products are created or peaks in demand arise, Rumscheid can now shift resources in a nimble manner. Employee engagement, client satisfaction, and time to market improved.
According to Rumscheid, the shift to a product-oriented mindset required a great deal of change management. His team invested a lot in explaining the purpose, or the why, before moving on to explain what would change through the transformation and how. “If you truly want to transform, you have to pay attention to people before technology,” says Rumscheid. Being tangible about the transformation was also key to managing expectations. Once the first pilot was implemented, newly appointed product owners were able to speak authentically to their experiences and help others grow comfortable with the impending changes.
As Mercedes-Benz continues to scale its Agile transformation and product-based mindset, the company wants to continue bridging the gap between technology and business. According to Rumscheid, technology people should understand the impact of their solutions, while business people should understand the demands on technology workers. Looking forward, the difference in these roles may begin to disappear. Says Rumscheid, “We need people who are bilingual in business and technology—we will need more and more of those profiles in the near future.”