Bosch Automotive Electronics, with their headquarters in Reutlingen, Germany, is worldwide one of the most important suppliers and development partners for the automobile industry, but also for other fields of application. The microelectronic products like semiconductors and sensors are used in braking systems, as well as in consumer products like electronic bicycles. Starting with Germany, Bosch Automotive Electronics, with the support of Kanban, wants to become a learning organization, encompassing their locations in China, the USA, India and Hungary. I conducted an interview for my book Practical Kanban with Hans-Oliver Ruoß and Andreas Haugeneder from the Engineering Efficiency team about the challenges of this project and how we dealt with them.
Klaus: Some time ago, Bosch Automotive Electronics (AE) started the program “Engineering Efficiency @ AE 2.0” (EE@AE 2.0). What is it going about, what is the goal of this program?
Andreas/Oliver: After a very successful three-year classical efficiency program, just like our mission statement says, “We push the limits!”, we wanted to push our boundaries further. We wanted to be continuously better—with what we do and how we do it. The goal is to be a learning organization. The growing complexity and fast pace of the markets require continuous learning at all level. Our customers are very clearly our focus.
Klaus: This program was first limited to Germany. How many employees were included in the transformation to learning organization?
Andreas/Oliver: For this transformation, we first invited all the development managers and employees in Germany. This included around 2,000 developers, who started down the path at an appropriate pace for each of their areas. We wanted to take everyone with us. Nobody should be left behind.
Klaus: We came into contact because I initiated Kanban in a different area of Bosch. You were interested in this and found Kanban a suitable approach for Bosch AE to become a learning organization. What exactly about Kanban interested you as EE@AE 2.0 team and seemed appropriate for achieving your goals?
Andreas/Oliver: In terms of the transformation: Using Kanban for development, especially the Kanban boards, is one tool moving us towards becoming a learning organization. We place great value on transparency at all levels. In the first step, it was going about visualizing what is otherwise invisible in knowledge work. Linked Kanban boards were the second step for transparency in the decision-making process and steered us towards what was most important: The customer is our focus and our effectivity increased. Using Kanban, a sustainable increase in efficiency can be achieved without additional effort from each individual. Quite the opposite, in fact: Part of the goal is to reduce local overloads. Continuous improvement is a part of the method.
Klaus: In our preliminary discussions, we came to the conclusion that you cannot implement a push-principle on a pull-principle based method like Kanban. That meant, however, that you first needed to learn the method of how to be able to use the Kanban method, correct? Does the EE@AE 2.0 team also work with Kanban?
Andreas/Oliver: Yes, it was very important to us to not turn the Kanban implementation into a circus. Instead, we wanted to invite everyone to join in on the transformation. Implementing the method with a method similar to what we were used to seemed to be the best concept for success. Following our motto that “everyone learns”, the EE@AE 2.0 team also joined the transformation and didn’t shy away from making small course corrections when it was necessary. In this sense, our approach is iterative and adaptive—not a classical roll-out. Our own Kanban board made the next steps transparent and the retrospectives helped us to stay on the right path.
Klaus: Now all of the employees in Germany, as we said around 2,000, are involved in the Kanban initiative and you pursued the conversion to the pull-principle. How did the conversion occur, how did you proceed?
Andreas/Oliver: With the help of Early Adopters, we demonstrated the usefulness and the advantages of the approach. In addition, we offered support to the team, in the form of coaching, to help with their unique challenges. In this sense, the employees and management are our customers. We must offer a good product, otherwise nobody will “buy” it. Specifically, this meant that we, together with you, in the Trainings-Module 1 very clearly demonstrated opportunities provided by Kanban. In Module 2, the Kanban boards to the individual requirements of the teams were created. The teams were coached intensively from the EE@AE 2.0 team for the preparation and follow-up.
Klaus: Kanban for knowledge work has its roots in software development, but as part of your initiative the engineering teams, most notably, chose Kanban. Do you receive any feedback about what appeals to the engineers about this work method?
Andreas/Oliver: The challenges are similar: constantly changing requirements, many parallel tasks, continuous re-prioritization, resource shortages and the demand for shorter processing times. The engineers want to deliver the customers excellent result despite the challenging circumstances. Just like the motto “stop starting, start finishing” states, it helped to finish work, avoid multitasking, as well as recognize and remedy bottlenecks and blockades.
Klaus: Again and again, I see Kanban initiatives that start off brilliantly and then gradually fizzle out. At Bosch, quite the opposite occurs: The modules we offer are constantly booked out, the number of participants steadily increases and remains high. Why do the employees have a passion for Kanban and how do you as the EE@AE 2.0 Team make sure the processes established in the organization are sustainable?
Andreas/Oliver: The incentives for starting are important. We meet our colleagues in their real working environment and offer solutions for their completely unique challenges. Adapting Kanban principles is completely voluntary, nobody is forced to do it. After a successful start, it’s essential to not leave the Kanban newbies alone. We offer support not only through personal coaching, but also through a type of hotline. However, the method is not the priority, rather it’s “developers helping developers”. This is achieved through technical expertise combined with substantial knowledge of the method. After about six months of operational experience, the teams are further challenged and nurtured in the next training module—the so-called “Large Retrospective”—with your support, Klaus. “We want to continuously improve” is the motto for this step. Additional success factors reside in Leading Change, in the communication, as well as the fact that everyone learns together—over many levels of the hierarchy.
Klaus: In the meantime, I have been able to support you with the extension of the Kanban initiative to China, and locations in the USA, India and Hungary should follow. Completely different cultures are now coming into play. What are you watching out for? Which differences are there between Kanban in Germany and Kanban in China?
Andreas/Oliver: We will also stay true to the pull-principle in the regions you mentioned. It does, however, require adjusting the “advertising strategy” of the method for the respective cultures. The benefit aspect, especially the personal benefit aspect in China, is key. This can be seen as the similarity between cultures. In contrast, transparency, and more precisely the decision-making transparency as I described it for Germany earlier, is not a sales argument for the Kanban method in China. The large authority gap, as well as the associated decision-making authority for management, remains untouched. On the other hand, the willingness to change and the eagerness to experiment is much pronounced that in our cultural sphere.
Klaus: When you look back over the last few months: What effects have established themselves in the organization?
Andreas/Oliver: We have already achieved some of the goals we defined at the beginning. We really learn together at all levels. Also, the decision-making transparency has increased in many areas for every individual employee. The result is that we have increased our cooperation in order to fulfill the customer’s needs as best as possible. We have taken the first steps towards becoming a learning organization—for our benefit and for the benefit of our customers.
Dr.-Ing. Hans-Oliver Ruoß has been working since 1989 in various positions of responsibility for the Robert Bosch GmbH company. From 2001 till 2006, he was in the Research and Advance Development area as manager of “High-frequency technology, EMV and EMVU”, from 2006 till 2007 as group manager in Gasoline Systems/Motor Control, and 2007 till 2013 as Department Manager of Automotive Electronics, in addition to being head of the Bosch Center of Excellence for “Electromagnetic Tolerance”. Since 2014, he has led the project “Engineering Efficiency at Automotive Electronics”.
Dr. Andreas Haugeneder has more than 15 years of practical experience in the development of automobile electronics. After various management positions in development and purchasing, he has devoted himself in the past several years to the advancement of worldwide distributed and networked teams, especially with the principles of Kanban for knowledge work.
This interview is part of my book Practical Kanban.
A detailed case study of Bosch AE’s journey towards a learning organization with the help of Kanban will be part in the 3rd edition of my German book Kanban in der IT.