This speech was written for Telekom TMTM 2019 (Jan 31th/Feb 1st 2019) in the WCCB. 

Thanks everyone for coming to this session.

It’s a big pleasure to be here tonight.

Thanks to all my previous speakers and their great insights they have shared.

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts with some of you and get new insights today and I hope in the following minutes I’m able to also add value to your day

What’s the focus of my session? It’s called from Product manager to Product owner – more than only a word. Leading and to be led in an agile world. Quite a big subject for the next 45 minutes.

Most of the sessions here have a top down view. Why is it so? Because you all here represent the top of the Telekom pyramid. Nevertheless, now it’s the perfect time to learn about the journey of someone down below who by chance has already been thrown into the agile transition.

This will be my practical and personal review of the last years: moving from classical product management to product ownership.

I’ve been working for DT now for over 18 years. When do you think my agile journey started?

In 2016 I came in touch with a job rotation program that allowed to switch fulltime into other projects. And after 7 years of product management in the environment of Fixed Access I was more than ready for something new.

The job offer was called “Product owner Artificial Intelligence” and I was really hooked.

So, I first used the title “Product owner” about 3 years ago. So probably you will say his agile journey started here… Even I thought so in the beginning.

But the truth is, like always, not black and white. There is no absolute or perceptible starting point because it was a smooth transition.

Being agile is not about following a certain framework or using tons of post’ its and boards. The more I learn about agility the more I come to the conclusion, that it really is all about the mindset.

So, some components of my own individual agile spirit were already with me when I joined DT in 2001. For example, the desire of learning as much as I can and being obsessed about what I do.

Others came with experience, projects and people I met. For example, the insight that the more you discuss your thoughts on a topic with peers, the more you gain insights that wouldn’t have come to you on your own. And that working with other people that are obsessed about what they do usually leads to the greatest outcomes.

Other components came with learning about theoretical models like SCRUM, especially the cycle of inspect & adapt. A function to continuously raise the bar of quality.

But of course, the most eye-opening parts of Agile came to me when I had the chance to really work in an agile environment – starting 3 years ago.

So, before we deep dive into the topic, let me give you a short overview about the structure of this session.

First of all, I’ll tell you something about where I’m coming from and where I was going to.

Followed by the key drivers for committing people to the change and finally some practical experiences from my team and insights about the truthfulness of agile leadership.

The simplest explanation of the different worlds between where I’m coming from as a classical Product manager and where I was going to as an agile Product owner can be found in a simple theory described by Douglas McGregor in the Sixties: The Theory X and the Theory Y.

McGregor described two conflicting views on humans within the workforce that lead to totally different management styles.

On the one hand Theory X describes a view on employees without willingness to work, with the tendency to avoid real work at all costs.

Employees that act like believed in theory X prefer to be closely directed, avoid responsibility and have low ambition.

Motivation is something gained by fear or money. That leads to a management style that is characterized by large control mechanisms, supervision, and consequences.

You can observe a harder and a softer management approach in Theory X: The hard approach is about control and command, as can be seen easily.

But there is also the soft approach which is about seeking harmony with the employee to get him or her to do what you The soft approach seems to be better, but in both cases the initiative of getting things done lies with the manager. The employee simply follows orders or requests.

The counterpart is Theory Y – it describes employees as individuals who like to work and do so for reaching goals with great commitment if there is a supposed reward for achieving them.

Most employees seek responsibility and by sharing their imagination, creativity and intelligence they contribute to finding solutions to a problem.

An average person’s intellectual potential is only partially realized yet and has a lot of potential to be developed further.

Employees are motivated by a variety of rewards. Employees choose to be at a special place and do a special task.

This view leads to a management style where managers let employees participate at setting their objectives and give them more authority in decision making.

They care a lot about employee development in order to empower And they set a unique reward system for every employee depending on what motivates the individual employee most.

Of course, both theories X and Y represent more or less extreme views, and I personally never encountered a pure Theory X-Management Style at DT. But if you take a close look, you may be able to detect more elements of Theory X than desirable, especially in the softer approach.

So where can we find elements of Theory X in today’s Telekom?

Let me start with a story.

Some months ago, I had coffee with a close friend of mine. He was on the same journey like me. He wasn’t a Product manager anymore, but instead had been given the title and role of a Product ownerat least in his mail signature.

We sat there together, and he talked about his new product: a lot of issues, a lot of open questions, and a lot of work…

When he wanted to know what I think about his challenges, I tried to give him some advice:

You can address this to your team, you should probably bring that back to the stakeholders, and about the other issue you could ask your SCRUM Master for advice, … you know, advice like this.

He answered that he was not the guy to make decisions. He doesn’t want to lead the team or even drive the agile spirit or any other kind of spirit. Or find the right direction for the team.

Instead he said: I want to talk to my boss every week for an hour, talk about my problems and get a solution. I want answers from him and not look for them by myself.

Could this be an example that Theory X is not as wrong as it sounded a few moments ago? Let me tell you, it is quite a perfect example for people’s behavior in Theory X.

Because it really is the other way around: Because employees who are met with distrust and extensive command & control mechanisms will become like explained by theory X.

They will resign, will show a very low desire to take responsibility and are unlikely to commit.

Let me tell you what I realized while talking to my friend, whom I adore for his technical knowledge and his backbone and being a very smart guy. He surely is a real asset for DT.

Nobody prepared him for the change of paradigms. Nobody helped him to trust in making his own decisions.

So, what he feels now is a sense of wrongness, he feels insecure and uncomfortable. In sum, our talk really showed me the need for help to navigate this change to an agile company. Because – and this I am convinced of – if he will learn to step out of his Theory X-adaptation of work and into the agile world and truly understand, which benefits are in it for him. Then not only he will gain profit from it. Also for our company he will be able to create so much more value than he already does today.

This isn’t the only example – As a Product manager I was in the X-Zone for a long time: Fixed Access is a massive business in this company and there are a lot of people involved. A field of such massive responsibility creates a massive machinery of people, processes and boards. The effect often is, that some quite simple decisions have to be signed by several people from different levels, different departments and take like forever.

I think we all can think of many examples for this.

Let’s start – again – with a story:

Let’s go back to 2016 when I joined the AI-project as Product owner. This was when AI was on a totally different level within DT and also within the market than today.

Today everything seems powered by algorithms – and Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are important buzzwords to give your product value. Back in 2016, this was still a futuristic and a sheer mystical product category.

In my first meeting with the project lead I was informed that we all will work agile and that the structure is based on the Spotify model.

What? The Spotify model?! I thought this was a playlist of management podcasts on Spotify! 😀

Nevertheless – I joined the team and I met a bunch of people with a different mindset. They were all in this project because they had chosen to be there, they all proactively applied to join the team. They all were literally on fire.

They made a decision to leave their former topic to work on something completely new to them. Something they had no experience in. And I was one of them, we all were driven by the puzzling promise that artificial Intelligence gave us.

I started to learn, not only about AI, but also about agile work. I got my certificate as SCRUM Master and became a Product owner. I filed my backlog, made my dailies, ran through my retros. And in 2017 I was promoted to be a Squad Lead.

In the Y Zone you’ll find these postmodern and pluralistic teams, they feel like a family and empower every member of it. They live in a culture in which value is the most important asset. This was a marvelous time and it opened my eyes again and again.

Instead of avoiding responsibility we embraced responsibility!

Instead of searching for strong leadership we lived strong leadership!

I’ve always been a guy who wanted to do things right away. I don’t like to wait for things to happen, I want to make them happen. You could say I have a strong hands-on-mentality.

And after all the many changes and transformations I went through during my time at DT, I finally felt that working in the agile world fitted my mindset best.

In the AI project, there was a special guy. I’m happy to call him a friend today. He is quite a role model to me and a living example of the employee as seen in Theory Y. He has a massive imagination that helps him to solve any complex problem, he is ambitious and he breathes responsibility for what he does.

It was his purpose as a person to be exactly at this place. The title they chose for him in the project was “Chief Action Driver” and that is exactly what he was. Whenever I came to him, he was full of advice for me, always one step ahead. His mantra was that he wanted to become redundant. He said: Martin, in perfect agility, I’m not needed anymore.

So, what did I learn regarding the change from an environment that had certain elements of Theory X into a very Y-styled environment? That people have to see the benefits of the transition. It has to be their own decision to change. If you are not able to get their commitment to change, you will not be able to harvest the benefits of the agile world.

The 3 key drivers to transform to an agile environment and get a buy-in from people

Give access to knowledge.

Empower them.

Create an atmosphere of willingness.

Let’s start with Giving access to Knowledge. Do you know what a “Manteltechniker” is?

It is a German word and a possible translation could be a ‘technician in a coat’. Let me try to explain what this ‘Manteltechniker’ stands for: In the old days we had analog phone connections. A massive amount of technology. Each and every connection had big hardware mounted in endless racks in big halls. And there were teams in these halls only to take care of this technology.

They had a very strict structure and organization not only based on knowledge but also based on age and experience.

If you were one of the old experienced guys, you were allowed to wear one of the blue coats. Wearing a blue coat was not only a sign of your rank, it was also a tool to hold this rank because you could hide what you were doing. Unexperienced Teammembers are not able to learn by copying.

You were able to keep knowledge as an artefact of power and influence. As you can imagine, being a ‘Manteltechniker’ is totally anti-agile.

I think we all have met one or more ‘Manteltechniker’ along our way in the DT. A modern version of a ‘Manteltechniker’ might not hide his knowledge behind his coat, but in e-mails, private talks, hidden agendas

In one of my very early retrospectives I got the feedback from my newly assembled team that I was acting very intransparent to them. This was the team’s main problem with me. 4 people and they all had the same issue with me? This was very serious and let me add: it was a painful retro. I could not believe it, they kind of called me a ‘Manteltechniker’. What had happened before?

At the beginning I only shared with every member of the team what I thought this person needed to know. Not because I wanted to hide something, but I thought I was being more efficient that way. What I did not understand until this said retro took place, was that I did not share the bigger picture, I did not share the vision for the product with the team.

Without having the intention, I was holding back the reason why and that was really demotivating for them. From then on, I communicated with the team as a whole. And I asked them to call on me, whenever they got the impression that I forgot to share something important with them.

Let me add: I learnt not to hide my weaknesses and not to hide my mistakes but to share them with the team. With this trust the whole team is enabled to increase knowledge, to share and to complement each other.

Empower them. Often in my career I came to situations where I was not allowed to do certain things that made really sense to me.

I reached a lot of borders and walls. The end of my responsibility. The beginning of the responsibility of another person.

In our old world with quite some elements of Theory X we had even divided classical Product manager tasks. Think about the 4 “P”s: Product, Placement, Pricing, Promotion … They were divided up on different rolles… Whereas I defined products in process I couldn’t have a say in placing or promoting them.

In consequence I always had the feeling of being disconnected from my own product.

In contrast to this the role of a Product owner is so much more. It even mirrors in the word itself. You own. Not in the way a customer can own it. You design it, you breathe it, you master it. You experience it like nobody else. Hopefully you will deeply fall in love with your product.

Create an atmosphere of Willingness. When I read “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey I was impressed by one simple single sentence: Only if people sign the contract of change with their heart, you will really succeed. To me, this proved definitely to be true. Think about what I told you about the spirit of the AI project where every single participant joined on own initiative. And then think about my friend who was thrown into an agile transition without being asked or understanding what this transition meant for him. It’s essential for everyone to learn about the consequences before the transformation will happen. These learnings will be followed by the right decisions about place and task and fire up the readiness and the will to take part in the change.

So – Ramp up! Knowledge, empowerment and willingness are the main drivers in a transformation from X to Y.

Building a new agile mindset in my current team.

I’m blessed to serve currently as a Product owner for a wonderful and promising Smart City product – it’s a DT build air quality measurement system for the MFGs, the grey boxes you can see everywhere along the streets.

We are a growing team of quite different personalities. Each of us is unique in terms of technical know-how and together we are able to build something that will change the market now and forever. But one of the team’s strongest problems in the beginning was that they didn’t see the bigger picture.

One day I was out in the field to see how the installation of one of the first measurement devices will work. And I asked one of the guys: “What are you doing?” … He answered “We are testing how deep we have to drill the holes for these screws!”.

For sure an important and central question, and I don’t want to underrate this information. But if we want to be one of these next generation teams, the answer could have been quite different. For example:

In general “I’m building the most advanced air measurement system on the planet!”

Or “I’m providing a solution to help Cities to improve their air quality with data!”

Or “This is a small hole for this screw, but a giant leap for Deutsche Telekom!”

So to help my team to transform into one of these fully agile Teams, I have to act as a role model for them. To do so I developed an action Plan for myself:

I’m very sensitive about the word “I”. I try to never use the word I. When I refer to the team I always say “We” or “We, as a team” to talk about us and our mission as an entity.

I try to form a culture of emotional transparency: Why are we doing something? And does this feel right to us? What are we feeling in certain situations? Not only asking “what are we doing today?” but asking “and how are we feeling about it?”.

The product is not only a thing that is based on customer and market demands, or management requests, it’s a personal and even individual output of our team to achieve higher value for the customer and therefore for the company. I want them to perceive their product as part of their own individual journey.

Bring entity into the team spirit, live transparency beyond business and show that you sign goals with your heart by giving emotional transparency.

What kind of goals or values should you and your team sign with your hearts?

I learned that one of the most important directives should be customer obsession.

Customer obsession is more than customer centricity and putting your customer into the center of your actions. The center of what? In the worst case and with the wrong reasons, mindset and processes you probably even put the customer into the center of something wrong.

So instead I learned to be obsessed with everything the customer does and everything the customer wants.

As said before, with the air monitoring solution, we’re currently learning what is challenging our future customer: the mayors, the environmental commissions, the responsible persons for air quality in the cities, and at the end the citizens: Every one of us. For example: the Diesel driving ban is a very hot topic in Germany right now and it is getting more and more political.

So in order to build the best air monitoring solution on the market right now I’m learning a lot about wind and how the sun heats up the air. What happens if a mountain is close to a city and the sun is heating up the air on the mountainside and hoovers all the air out of the city because of circulation. How this reduces pollution in the city and how we could measure it and draw it into a graph. We are even able to predict effects of this in the close future. We can then recommend suspending the driving ban for the Diesels for a special time or area. Things that are impossible with todays measurement units.

So what exactly is the difference between Centricity and Obsession? Customer Centricity is not really about being nice to your customers. It is not a philosophy. It is not something that can be fostered through a company handbook or mission statement. Customer centricity is a strategy to fundamentally align a company’s products and services with the wants and needs of its most valuable customers in order to make more profits. So everything you create will first and foremost have to answer the question: how much profit will this product make?

Customer Obsession starts with the customer and goes then backwards to the design of products. It is all about creating value for the customer. And by doing so – if the value is big enough – the profit will follow. And what it really does is, it gives your people the much needed reason why.

The fuel of your team is to solve the problems of their customer. Be obsessed by these is the core value of a successful team.

In the last part of my session let me talk about what it is like to be led in an agile environment

I will give you my perspective on a true and inspiring agile leader!

To me, a true and inspiring leader needs 3 things: Trust, Emotional transparency and Connection

Let’s start with Trust. Without trust from above and trust through the organization as a whole, you won’t be able to create trust within your teams. The agile cycle of inspect & adapt only exists if mistakes are allowed to happen. Only if mistakes are seen as something valuable it is possible to truly live the often quoted “fail often, but quick and finally succeed”.

And not only will all team members have to trust that they are allowed to make mistakes. In order to become high performance teams, they have to entrust each other with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. And this has to start with the agile leader.

If the agile leader earns his teams’ trust by being sensitive and positive about weaknesses (even his own!) and leading a true culture where mistakes are embraced as a chance to learn, trust within the teams is able to push the organization forward as a whole.

Second, Emotional Transparency. You know what we’ve come to learn over decades in business? It is not professional to show emotions. It is simply not businesslike.

How can any employee be passionate about what he or she does when it is unprofessional to invest with all of his heart?

How can any employee sign a contract with his or her heart without being emotional about it?

This is a massive contradiction. So, let’s stop pretending that we could or even should separate emotions from business. They should go hand in hand.

From my perspective we all should be transparent about what drives us, what is really important to us and yes, even what makes us really angry or sad. I think it is apparent that it is highly probable that people will hold back with passion and emotional commitment if they feel that their leaders hold back. Since I want to be passionate about what I do, I wish to be led by someone who is fueled up with the same passion.

Third, Connection. I joined a great project some years ago. And there was a coincidence that the team made their yearly offsite just a week after I had joined. Of course I was invited. About 50 new people which all knew each other well while I still had my problems to get all the names right. On the one hand a big chance for me, on the other hand it made me feel insecure.…

They had a trainer with them doing all the funny team games everyone does. The trainer had built a maze out of sheets of paper and said there was only one way to get through. We did the trial and error thing to find the right way, each of us had to go through.

When it was my turn the trainer changed the situation. Please Martin, take the blindfold and do it without seeing and let the team lead you. Wow! I already felt uncomfortable and now I had to trust people I didn’t know? I felt weak and embarrassed. I stood there and waited for the team to shout directions at me. But they didn’t. It was silent.

I made my first step and then I heard the voice of the Project lead: “Yeah, correct way. Your next step should be to the left”. I succeeded and with his help I found my way through.

What happened here?

The whole team trusted our Leader already. They already decided that this man could be trusted to do the right things. They didn’t need to yell directions at me because they knew that I – as their new team member – would find my way through with the help of our project lead.

They already had the connection with him and signed this connection with their hearts. And so did I after pulling off the blindfold. Of course, this is a great example of trust, but what else did I learn?

Only real situations will connect you and build a personal trust. Now, whenever I meet a new member of my team that I will have to lead in any form, I’m looking for similar moments. A situation that allows me to give an offer to the other person: an offer of trust and transparence combined with the question: will my advice lead you through our challenges? And my perspective on a great agile leader is that he or she will also watch out for opportunities to connect with people.

Trust is the most powerful foundation for a leadership relation. Show me who you are and what you feel. Connect with the people you are entrusted to lead.

You can learn a lot about agile work – And I hope I was a small part of your learning process – most of your learnings will implicate that agile is a ruleset.

The truth is that all the rules, processes and guidelines are only an umbrella, the top of the iceberg! Agile is a mindset, it’s a culture and people have to sign everything in it with their hearts.

Bringing honest agile mindset in every corner of Deutsche Telekom is a monumental task. It is more than just a new orgchart and a new set of processes. It’s a change in every one of us.

Thank you and Goodnight.