A young man in jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt jumps behind one of the huge beanbag chairs in the room and takes cover. A battle of Nerf toy guns, and a second man follows him in pursuit. A couple more join in the game. Afterward the office looks completely destroyed. Last but not least, someone throws a small plastic cow. Caught! “That means you have to clean up,” laughs Christian Zingg, head of the X-Lab at RIO. The X-Lab is RIO’s innovation incubator. This is where cutting-edge ideas are developed in the newest TRATON brand. RIO itself is a cloud-based platform that connects the entire logistics chain, bundling and preparing all the information for customers. This gives customers an overview of the entire logistics ecosystem at a glance so they can manage their fleet in the best way possible.
Nerf battles and a foosball table: That sounds more like fun and a typical startup cliché, but the men and women at X-Lab do so much more. All of a sudden, everyone is extremely focused at the start of a sprint. The results from the previous sprint are presented in the sprint review, the first of four parts. A customer joins via a videoconference and follows along with the rest of the team as specific applications are presented onscreen by a single developer. The developers are clearly proud of what they have achieved in the last two weeks—that’s how long each sprint lasts at RIO.
After the sprint review comes the retrospective. This is where the team reflects on what went well in the last sprint and what they can do better next time. However, that only addresses interpersonal collaboration, not the development work itself. Here every team member gives open and honest criticism, something both impressive and to some extent unthinkable in traditional meetings. “That’s because of the excellent work done by our scrum master, Sina, who is responsible for this part of the sprint start. She’s like a fairy godmother, showing plenty of empathy so every employee feels like they’re taken seriously,” explains Christian. In addition, a variety of different interactive methods are employed so no one gets bored and the meeting feels more like a workshop.
“We’re trying to preserve our startup spirit even though we’re growing so quickly. And working here really is a lot of fun.”Christian Zingg
After lunch comes the important question of who wants to play a round of foosball. To make things cozier, one of the colleagues brought a cake—probably because he forgot to lock his computer. The penalty for that is baking a cake. After the short break comes Sprint Planning I, where they decide which stories will be carried over to the next sprint. Stories are the functions requested by customers that the team needs to develop. A story can range from very short to very comprehensive. The product owner prioritizes it and proposes it to the team. During Planning Poker, the team estimates the size and complexity of a story, then they vote on whether a story should be carried over to the next sprint. According to Christian, product owners play the strongest role, acting more or less as the product’s CEO, giving direction and taking care of stakeholders and financing. Tillman Rödle and Lars Kübler are the product owners at X-Lab. Tillman explains the importance of the estimate as follows: “Imagine that I tell you I’m going to give you a bike tomorrow. You might imagine a modern electric bike, and tomorrow I show up with an old women’s bike. Then you’re disappointed because we might have had different bikes in mind.”
To ensure that everyone has the same understanding of the tasks that need to be accomplished, the team estimates and discusses until everyone agrees. It’s democracy in action, because the team can only move on when everyone comes to an agreement. The product owners themselves do not decide anything. “My job as chief product owner is to create a good working environment here so that the team gets into the flow and can develop a good product,” notes Christian. Self-organization is the secret to success. That also applies to the fourth and final step, Sprint Planning II. This is where the team breaks the story down into many different individual steps, also called tasks. Every task should be designed in a way that means that a developer can complete it within a day. This ensures clear structures, quick successes and visible progress, which, in turn, are highly motivating. Another unique feature is that employees each decide for themselves which tasks they would like to take on because the methodology embraces the pull principle, where team members each pull a task from the system rather than having it assigned to them by a supervisor. When the team is done breaking down the sprint into smaller tasks, the sprint begins and the work for the next two weeks is launched. During this time, the team gets together every day for a 15-minute daily meeting. “You can see in these meetings whether the team is working well. The product owner or scrum master doesn’t even necessarily have to be there,” explains Christian.
Thanks to the specific definition of all the individual tasks at the start of the sprint, developers can work on them quickly without major interruptions. The reason working with a scrum is considered agile becomes clear when we think of the frequency of the sprints: The goals and tasks are redefined every two weeks. That way products can be continually adapted to new requirements, and it prevents employees from working on something for weeks that ends up being scrapped. The X-Lab team also uses other modern work methods like those employed at Google in its day-to-day operations. One of those is pair programming, where two developers work on a single task at the same time. One writes while the other reads along and can correct errors directly or make changes as needed. Meanwhile, the next social event is already being planned in a different department. Christian notes: “We’re trying to preserve our startup spirit even though we’re growing so quickly. And working here really is a lot of fun.” RIO currently has around 150 employees. And they all just want one thing: getting the flow on the road. That’s why people there are saying: Are you ready for the next sprint? Ready, set, go!