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About our Interviewee

NameMichael Frey


CompanyDeutsche Telekom
RoleHead of department (IT: ITIL)

Martin Seibert, Managing Director of Seibert Media, is currently writing a book: We Run on AgileIt will be published, in English, online and will be freely accessible. It's about scaling Agile with SAFe and Agile Hivewhich is what brought him to interview Michael Frey. 

When a company with 140,000 employees begins to transform work processes, it can prove to be a daunting task.

Michael Frey is the head of department "IT: ITIL" at Deutsche Telekom IT and is responsible for the entire change process.  They sat down to talk about what it means for a giant like Telekom to become more agile.

Seibert: Michael, you are a head of department at Deutsche Telekom IT.  Tell us a little about what you do there in your role.
Frey: My department is responsible for part of the ITIL service management practices here at Telekom IT: ITIL stands for Incident, Problem and Change Management, and Continuous Service Improvement. This means that Telekom IT provides applications, services, and IT operations for Deutsche Telekom.

For example, all customer touchpoints, i.e., apps, web portals, and the call centers for our customers are managed here. My department provides an end-to-end view of all services, including error analyses and solutions. Everything that is offered to the customer first must also work afterward. Since Peter Leukert became the CIO of Telekom, we have been in the process of transformation to become more agile.  Deutsche Telekom wants to become more agile and react faster to market requirements. Deutsche Telekom IT is naturally involved as an IT subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

Seibert: How many people are involved?
Frey: The entire Telekom IT department wants to carry out an agile transformation. We have to become faster on the market. We must also be able to react to unexpected challenges quickly. That means all 10,000 people from Telekom IT are directly involved, and at least 60,000 of the 140,000 employees of the entire Telekom are involved in the process somehow.

Seibert: And you're using SAFe as a framework?
Frey: Yes, we want to implement SAFe here at Telekom. As a whole, many things are interesting, but the transformation is not that easy: It's labored. That's why it's very convenient for me to exchange ideas with you now since you are experts on the SAFe framework.

Seibert: Exactly. With Agile Hive Scaled Agile, we are partners of the German SAFe expert Kegon and have many large customers. I am currently writing a book, and I am writing it, especially for people like you. On the one hand, it is about how to deal with it when it feels  strenuous, but it is also about other companies' experiences.
Frey: I think many people are looking for a book about SAFe, which shares how others have gone through it. It's incredibly difficult to deal with the fact that certain situations don't change as quickly as you would like them to. Some things run differently and occasionally, even more slowly.

Seibert: What would you say is the current status of agile transformation at Deutsche Telekom, and how would you describe it?
Frey: Right in the middle of it! Well, we've started.  Our old organizational framework is on the way out. We're carrying out a skill and chapter-based migration. The previous hierarchical management structures are being abandoned in favor of functional ones. We are giving our new structures n a matrix-like, disciplinary organization. This is precisely the point where we realized that there are certain roles and tasks that we didn't consider in the new process organization. 

An example of this is local responsibilities. We are more of a compliance-, governance-driven organization. Cloud-based applications have more freedom, but we will still need some on-premise share.

Seibert: So, what were the biggest stumbling blocks adopting agile thinking for a more traditionally organized company, such as yourselves?  And what continues to create challenges still?
Frey: For us, the lack of sufficient blueprints to carry out the implementation was challenging. Somehow it reminds me a bit of the beginning of the IT era. IT was a big new topic, but nobody knew what it was and what it was supposed to achieve. There are just not enough good examples of successful SAFe implementations at companies of our size.

Seibert: Are there areas that you deliberately left out of the agile transformation process? Was that for tactical reasons, is it permanent or because it just doesn't fit?
Frey: Well, we have a few so-called enabling functions in SAFe, for example, finance, but also human resources. You can carry out a transformation well if you have your own validation processes. Where there are a lot of legal requirements, this can limit the overall process. Nevertheless, we are examining all areas to see whether certain agile methods can be applied there as well. Finance and HR are on hold for now, but are still under consideration.

Seibert: What your thoughts or perhaps questions you have regarding agile transformations, methods, and tools?
Frey: There's a level of uncertainty: Are we doing it right? And if we're doing this right, is it suitable for what we are implementing here now? Something we also thought about is that Agile work also needs tools that support agile work. So, we asked ourselves if we are backing the wrong horse here.

Seibert: Okay, so does that mean that you don't currently have any SAFe software that supports you in this?
Frey: That's right; we don't.

Seibert: Then, you need to look into Agile Hive.
Frey: Exactly.

Seibert: One last question: Which agile scaling frameworks have you actively worked with, and what experience have you gained?
Frey: Well, we use SAFe. We haven't looked at another framework. I would say that the deeper we get, the more we learn, and the more understandable some SAFe roles become.

Things we said at the beginning, which we couldn't do, are becoming gradually more plausible. One such initial difficulty was to correctly assign the processes at the appropriate level. Suddenly you realize that if you are right, then the SAFe roles will fit! Yes, that is a good framework. But it takes time until you have the maturity to understand it yourself.

Seibert: Many thanks for the interview!

I would love to stay in touch. Please contact me.

About the book

This is a work in progress book project. All research and preparations are public. Learn more.

About the author

Martin Seibert

Martin Seibert is the CEO of Seibert Media in Germany. He has written German books on Enterprise Wikis (2011) and Intranets (2020). This is going to be his third book.

Follow him on TwitterLinkedInFacebook.

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