Agilisation of a company with a long tradition: how Robert Bosch GmbH lives the change

Interview with Anke Dewitz-Grube, Director Lean Agile Consultant, Robert Bosch GmbH

As a company with a long tradition, continuing to create innovations is an important element of the self-image of Robert Bosch GmbH. Anke Dewitz-Grube talks to the editors about how this can be achieved. She is Director Lean Agile Consultant at Robert Bosch GmbH and will speak with Markus Warnke on September 11 about ambidextry in times of disruption and transformation.

mgm: What does digitalization mean for Robert Bosch GmbH?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: Autonomous Driving, Smart Home, Internet of Things, Industry 4.0: Bosch has been on the road for a long time and is one of the leaders in digitization. We understand digital change as a product-oriented, but above all as a cultural change. Digitisation will only be possible if we change our cooperation. What we now need is interdisciplinary, cross-functional and agile work, a different understanding of leadership and a consistent focus on the user.

mgm: A different understanding of leadership: What does it look like?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: In our very large company with a wide variety of challenges, there will be more than ever different forms of leadership side by side. Decisions are shifted more from the hierarchy to the people who are close to the action. Classically, it is the case that decisions are spread over a few shoulders. When fast and agile decisions are needed, the best decisions are made by experts or groups of experts. This shift and the interlocking of different management models is what occupies us.

mgm: This is a challenge both for the management and for the employees. What are the demands in each case?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: A high degree of maturity is required from both sides, i.e. an understanding of where I am at the moment and which task should be solved. There are good reasons for the classic functional management principle in very well-rehearsed processes. This is different in innovative contexts. This is more about coaching, increased self-responsibility and shaping the dialogue between product owners and the line. It is challenging to know these different roles and expectations and to behave according to the context.

mgm: How do you do it in concrete terms? How do you make the other side understand?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: So first of all: a lot of dialogue and learning together.

The way we’ve been doing it so far, we can’t go on.

Many agile consultancies start with the realization among the teams: the way we’ve done it so far, it won’t go on. And then comes the question: How do we do it then? This is an active learning process. For example, we have just set up a network organisation at one point in addition to the line. In the so-called Constitution we have laid down principles on how to regulate the changed coexistence. It was developed in agile mode by four teams in four months. These included managers who are in a classic department manager function, product owners who work in the network, and some team members and colleagues in other functions. The first version is now available and will be tested. The coming months will show whether it fits or whether adjustments should be made.

mgm: What is in such a constitution?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: Very practical topics are clarified here. For example: with which media do we create transparency, what must be transparent and for whom. What are our escalation stages like when things get stuck – ideally directly and quickly resolved themselves. Or how to prioritise issues, how funding works.

mgm: For Bosch as an automotive supplier for combustion engines, there is currently a particular challenge: it is unclear when and to what extent the market will collapse. That means on the one hand you have a deconstruction and on the other hand you still want to be at the front …

Anke Dewitz-Grube: We are talking here about diversifying the powertrain. So drives, such as electromobility, battery electric or with the fuel cell, synthetic fuels and continue to use gasoline and diesel … Our portfolio is expanding. That is of course a challenge – to decide where the resources go in. A question that generations before us have had to answer. However, the number of options has multiplied in the meantime and the high speed of change in the market is aggravating the situation. A challenge that we accept.

We do not have and do not have the right answer to these questions.

But with an agile understanding we have a good method at hand to find solutions – to communicate and think in small steps: Who am I, what is my USP, where am I going? Going forward in a well coordinated way is also a great opportunity, and the agile work helps.

mgm: Bosch is a traditional company with an original Swabian engineering culture, which has been a guarantee of success for a long time. Is that now rather a difficulty, because the transformation requires that one reacts flexibly, that one perhaps no longer has previous securities in such a way that everything can no longer be predicted and calculated as one would like it to be as an engineer?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: What image do you have of an engineer? (Laughs.) The history of Robert Bosch GmbH is a very eventful one. There were always phases in which the company went through major changes. Robert Bosch, the founder, has already achieved the turnaround more than once. Funnily enough, he worked with agile methods during his lifetime to keep his business alive: Collect ideas, prioritize them, and then try out what works in the market. The virtues of engineering do not only refer to constancy and predictability, but also to the desire to discover and to create.

mgm: Bosch is currently strongly focused on combustion engines and the engineers also come from the field. How does Bosch deal with the uncertainty and fears associated with new technologies?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: Engineers in particular love technical challenges. For example, we offer mechanical engineers the opportunity to acquire software and knowledge for electrification in order to subsequently contribute to new business fields. In this way, we create a framework for actively shaping change.
I don’t think the word “fear” fits. There are great changes now, but we are right, but we are not inexperienced in shaping changes. Changes in materials, the technical framework conditions, the demands on the automotive industry with regard to air purity … these are issues that we have been addressing for a long time. Dealing with constantly changing conditions is not an easy task, but it is also not a completely new one.

mgm: How do you and others who are instrumental in this process and have to cope with an unbelievable complexity manage not to be overtaxed?

Anke Dewitz-Grube: The agile work actually has an uncanny potential to help in the situation we are in now. What matters is not that we formulate the solution for tomorrow today, but that we deal with the problems we see now and move forward step by step. And if new challenges arise tomorrow, then this new knowledge or task will be taken into account tomorrow. The agile work, this short-term and highly transparent work with a good error and learning culture: that is pure gold to deal with such a situation. To work in this way gives strength and freedom to design. That’s why I’d much rather talk about opportunities than fears. Because we also have the opportunity to design things for the better. We feel a responsibility to help shape the future and enjoy it. It’s a great time!