ComAp transformation – Through the eyes of Head of R&D

We'd like to bring you the Agile transformation of ComAp from different perspectives, so we decided to create a series of articles interviewing people in key positions. First up was Marek Novotny, head of R&D.

For more than two years, on and off, we have been guiding the people of ComAp through the Agile Transformation. We would like to introduce it to you from different perspectives. That’s why we decided to create a series of articles in which we interview one key person involved in this transformation at a time.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ComAp or want to get a balcony view of the entire transformation before reading, visit the summary first.

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The main driver of the ComAp change on our side was Honza Krchňák, who rolled up his sleeves and interviewed the head of R&D Marek Novotný.

Marek, what was the original problem that you were dealing with at the time?

We were primarily solving the problem that we have a lot of projects, the projects are growing, it’s messy, and no one really knows what everyone is working on. Two years ago, we started experimenting with the Spotify model – we split teams into Tribes that were responsible for part of the product portfolio. We were looking for more answers in the SAFe methodology and I was looking for someone to help us with that. And that’s how the collaboration started – I approached Roman Šmiřák from RainFellows that we needed help with these frameworks. I was intrigued by the fact that Roman didn’t offer a specific framework, but said that we could discuss how ComAp works, and based on that we could figure out what would be suitable for us.

With what expectations did you start the collaboration?

I started with the expectation that we’d get into practice: that we’d train the management in R&D, agree on some Agile methodology, and go through the Agile and Lean game. Mainly to show some concrete examples and implement them together with the product management people. That was the main motivation.

Is that what really happened? Did it meet your expectations?

It did happen. We’re using examples that were in the game. So, for example, we were dealing with Product Management about production or prioritizing things. And a lot of people said – yeah, that’s actually kind of the “red car” that was hard to do correctly in the game. And we started comparing the whole problem and solutions to the Lean game.
The second example was the analogy at a particular discussion with Product Management – “it’s like drawing those arrows in that other game” – whether we were doing extra unnecessary things. It helps tremendously, both games have given us a common vocabulary. Also since then, the workshop attendees have started meeting regularly. We feel that this group belongs more together, and R&D and Product people are more collaborative.

How did it continue?

Next, we tried a pilot project – to help apply these methods and approaches to one specific product. Using Agile within that team, prioritizing the backlog, and being able to report progress. Where I see it as a success is that we soon learned the pace of that team, and suddenly we knew clearly – let’s say thirty percent into the project – that we were looking at completely different dates.  

So it’s great news for management to be able to decide whether we’re going to go ahead. Because it used to happen before – but we were 80-90 percent done and then it’s hard not to do the rest of it because there’s so much money already invested in it that everybody says, “Let’s do it, we have to.”

What else have you done besides the pilot?

Another workshop was on the topic of “Twice as much for half the cost” – how to deliver more value with less effort. It showed that not all features are beneficial in a given product. This had a good response, knowing what customers really use and what they don’t. The Product Management took it a bit personally, they saw it as their failure – they gave a specification that nobody uses much and it was hard for them to admit it. 

What is the result compared to the original expectations? What is the outcome of the collaboration for you?

For me, the outcome is much more alignment between R&D and Product Management, we also do have a framework of shared architecture and organization. The need for a Head of Architecture and the Agile Roadmap process also came out of this. For me, it’s a great output and I think we have it well fleshed out and communicated. I like that it’s not just in my head, but that we’re addressing it continuously with Product Management. 

If you had to rate the whole change from zero to ten, 10 being the best, what would it be? 

I would give something between an 8 and a 9. And what’s missing… I would expect us to be further along by now. Maybe if we’d done that last “twice as much in half” workshop or pilot earlier… But we couldn’t have known that at the time.

What next steps do you see ahead?

Set up a process around the new leadership architecture. Selecting a candidate and actually setting up the whole process. That means how the architecture team will work within our ecosystem and how we will work with the roadmap. The product keeps pushing a five-year plan, it doesn’t make sense to me. There are already steps in place for how we want to plan this together in an Agile way. Estimates on projects, working out the unknowns, and so on. Just how to work with a lot of uncertainty.

Who is Marek Novotný?

Marek Novotný studied automation and instrumentation technology at university, not only in Prague, but also in Tampere, Finland. Then he worked for 10 years at CM Technologies before joining ComAp 8 years ago. For the last 5 years he has been R&D Director, Head of Supply Chain.

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