In mid-August 2020, the Hamburg shipping register started regular digital operation. Since then, changes and new entries at the local court have been implemented exclusively in the web-based “SchiR” system, which mgm technology partners implemented together with Dataport on behalf of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. All parties involved agree: The agile project approach was a decisive factor for the successful implementation.

Short & concise

  • Project “digital shipping register Hamburg” shows once again: Agile procedures are also possible in public authorities.
  • Agile software development forces the involvement of the specialist users – a guarantee of success for suitable software and acceptance.
  • Hamburg’s “Project Knowledge Centre” provides guidelines for procedures and personnel for IT projects.

“The overall objective of the project is to modernise the administration of the shipping register and to bring it up to a modern or future-proof standard”, the project description briefly states. What sounds simple had in practice some complexity in terms of the legal bases, processes and requirements of the various stakeholders, from the contracting authorities (economic authority, authority for justice and consumer protection, district court) to applicants and employees of the ship register. Nevertheless, the team of more than 20 people from various departments and trades has succeeded in digitising Germany’s largest shipping register with about 6200 registered seagoing and inland waterway vessels almost according to plan in about two years. See also the corresponding blog entry.

SCRUM as basis for success for short project duration

This was the only sensible and promising approach for us as an authority. – Tim Schneider

Tim Schneider, IT project manager at the Authority for Justice and Consumer Protection, is pleased that the agile process model SCRUM was chosen from the outset in 2018. “This was the only sensible and promising approach for us as an authority,” he says. He himself only joined the project at half time. Schneider knows, however, that André Basten, head of IT at the authority, and Nils Bredow, head of the IT applications unit at the authority, have contributed their positive experiences with an agile approach from other administrative projects at the shipping register.

With a classic agile structure consisting of Scrum Master, Product Owner, a Business Analyst and – very important – a direct anchorage in the department, the project started in mid-2018. Of course, also with the reviews every fortnight to present the achieved implementations. Also present was Berit Pamperin-Herbst, who has been a judicial officer at the shipping register for over 15 years. “I always found the reviews positive, we were all able to see the project status at all times, everyone from the specialist department was able to express themselves and speak out”, she reports, “This is 1000 times better than when the specialist users are presented with a finished program”.

It is also important, however, that the cooperation of the business users in the project and change process can take place in a structured way. Thus Berit Pamperin-Herbst was officially allocated a few hours for the project. An agile IT project cannot be fully implemented in the specialist departments alongside the usual tasks. The 14-day review calls, testing and approvals need reliable time.

Objections against agile project procedures: pretexts!

The cooperation and feedback of the specialist users is inherent in the agile approach. – Christian Thomsen

“Agile project management in the public sector is a very good approach, especially because of the specifications and guidelines of the many different specialist procedures,” sums up Christian Thomsen, development manager of the project at mgm. Because without the experts in the specialist departments, no application can work in the end. “The cooperation and feedback of the specialist users is inherent in the agile approach. So it is almost never the case that only half of the functions and processes actually match reality, as in a classic process. Thomsen is certain: “Without an agile approach, this project would have failed.” This was also confirmed by the large majority of participants from all areas in lessons learned workshops at the end of the project.

Tim Schneider at the Authority for Justice and Consumer Protection is pleased about this. But he also says: “Agility is not a easy sledding, especially in the world of public authorities”. Often one hears and reads about administrations all over the country arguments like ‘We cannot be agile because our employees are not agile’. The involvement of the specialist departments is indispensable in this context, he said, and there were various participation and feedback formats in the shipping register. “The vast majority of them actively helped shape the project,” says Schneider happily. “Here we have a way and a special setup of Scrum Master, Product Owner and Project Manager with whom we successfully brought a combined IT and organisation project together and made it ready for connection in the authority line”.

Official project management support for Hamburg authorities

In his opinion, the “Project Knowledge Centre” of Hamburg, which is located at the tax authority, also played a major role. In several years of work, a group of experts has developed extensive standards and regulations on how projects should be implemented in Hamburg authorities and what requirements must be met. In the meantime, the Knowledge Centre functions as a project management office (PMO). The planned procedure, roles and qualifications of the planned persons in the digital ship register were also checked in advance.

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Photo: Mediaserver Hamburg / Geheimtipp Hamburg