“At the height of success, you have to think about innovation.”
Vera Schneevoigt, Chief Digital Officer of the Bosch Building Technologies division, in an interview on the topic of agility.
Ms. Schneevoigt, what do you wish to gain by introducing agile methods at Bosch?
Ms. Schneevoigt: Agility and digital transformation are not ends in themselves. Modern technology enables us to address customers in a different manner, to become faster and also more efficient. But that doesn’t help if I don’t have a goal. Ideally, this goal is derived from the corporate strategy. At Bosch, a major automotive supplier and consumer goods manufacturer, we started thinking years ago, at the height of our success, about what comes next. When you’re successful, you have to think about innovation – because that’s when you have enough time and money – not when you’re struggling. Transformation is not a question of technology. When we introduce agile working methods, it’s primarily a question of cultural change. This particularly applies to leadership behavior. It is then a matter of breaking away from certain things that have become dear to us. That is perhaps the greatest challenge of all.
How were the previous processes aligned and what have you changed?
In the past, it was often the case that someone thought they knew what the market wanted. Whereupon they specified, developed and brought to market. And sometimes the customer would say, “That’s not what I want at all.” We now focus much more on customer benefit, on the maximum added value for the customer. In my opinion, agility is very much about interacting with the customer. We use co-creation or co-innovation workshops for this purpose. But actually, we haven’t changed our approach that much, because our founder Robert Bosch already said: “The integrity of my promises, the belief in the value of my products and of my word of honor have always had a higher priority to me than a transitory profit.” Even today – after 130 years – this is still our spirit. We’re just taking a different approach now.
Do you now adopt more of a “let’s just do it” mentality?
Personally, that would suit me well. But given our awareness of quality and our great responsibility for safety, we can’t just say, “Let’s just do it.” One of my key tasks is to find a middle ground. Where does it make sense to continue using traditional methods that are well established? At the same time, I question whether we really need the old ways. On the other hand, we also proceed more frequently by the 80/20 rule and get started even if we don’t yet have all the information.
Who are the trailblazers and who put on the brakes? Do they have certain characteristics?
I acted rather intuitively in setting up the agility team. During the get-to-know-you meetings, I realized quickly who I considered to be the right team players. Then I tried to identify at least one person in every part of the value chain, or a few key players, whose voices carry a lot of weight and who don’t mind causing a stir. Those were the ones I tried to involve. In doing so, we would occasionally meet outside of work and engage in activities as a way to get to know each other better. And then I realized that I already knew all of them, but they didn’t know each other. This shows: before, there were frictions and well-nursed sensitivities. Subsequently, they grew into a really good working group that dubbed itself the “Digi Gang”, a name which is still used today.
Does it help to bring in staff from outside – also in order to change the culture and to add further skills?It is illusory to try to get all the skills you want from the market. You need to identify those in the company who want to change and who can be mouthpieces into the organization to inspire others. It is important to have the right mix of external and internal staff to inspire everyone. Current incentives are a big problem. Often, they are statically oriented to the current situation. We also need a different measure of success in finance and a new product performance statement for agile working.
Did you also experience setbacks?
Today, I know that precise stakeholder mapping is essential: who has something to gain, who has something to lose? How can I tailor my approach to this, who can I win over early on? Many people are at first irritated by changes. It is important to always keep these atmospheric currents in mind.
Vera Schneevoigt has held the newly created position of Chief Digital Officer and Head of Development at the Bosch Building Technologies division since April 2019.
Her task in this role is to drive forward the digital transformation of the business and the development strategy towards holistic, networked solutions combining hardware, software and services.
Before joining Bosch, Ms. Schneevoigt was responsible for development, production, logistics and purchasing for Fujitsu’s product business outside Japan for five years. In this position, her focus included the development and introduction of new technologies against the backdrop of advancing digitalization. Previously, she was Managing Director at Siemens Enterprise Communications (Unify), responsible for plants and logistics.
Ms. Schneevoigt advises policymakers on the federal and state levels on issues relating to the influence of digitalization on the working world and attaches great importance to promoting women – especially in digital professions. In 2018, she was among the winners of the “25 Frauen” Award of the German Edition F business platform for women.