The power of the Working Agreement

Mechatronic products are almost always developed in a team. The composition of the members is interdisciplinary and changes throughout the product development process. This dynamic often causes efficiency losses, for example due to too high or too low utilisation of individual employees, unless it is properly controlled. In addition, every team needs clearly defined rules for cooperation in order to have a basis for producing good results reliably and on time. But how does a team manage to maintain the necessary clarity for working together under changing conditions? An important contribution to this can be a working agreement that is adapted in stages.

A coordinated capacity planning

One of the most important issues is capacity planning. Of course, the team cannot decide this part of the working agreement completely on its own. It requires coordination with the managers. The procedure is that the team first estimates which capacity contribution is required from which team member in the next planning phase - we like to speak of a stage here. With this assessment, the respective team member approaches the supervisor and clarifies whether the desired capacity is available in line with other projects to be worked on.

This clarification can have different contents. It may simply be that an employee, for example, is needed in the team with 70% of the working time and the manager must control the workload for this person in such a way that the tasks outside the team require a maximum of 30% capacity. In addition, people may be needed for certain tasks, but their names have not yet been defined. In this case, someone from the team - in agile teams the Scrum Master, in traditional teams usually the project manager - approaches the affected area and agrees on who can take over the tasks.

As this is a two-step process - first the team clarifies the capacity needs and then these are agreed with the managers - it is ideally agreed in two joint rounds held in quick succession. Of course, the result of the coordination can also be that the team has a capacity need that the manager cannot fulfil due to restrictions. Then there is at least clarity for all involved that this is the case. The effects of this will at least be reflected in the schedule. Often this also leads to constructive discussions about alternative solutions, such as possible outsourcing.

The internal organisation of the team

In addition to this agreed capacity framework, however, there are other important topics on which a team must reach agreements in the Working Agreement. Among other things, joint teamwork must be organised. In agile teams, this concerns the organisation of events and backlog refinements. In non-agile or partially agile teams, it must first be clarified which regular, joint meetings are to be scheduled and when they will take place.

In view of the capacity planning mentioned above, the team should also determine who takes part in which meetings or events. Of course, it does not make sense that a team member who only works 30% for an agile team takes part in all events - which, as we know, take up about 20% of the working time. Here, the team has to organise who participates where and how those who do not participate can take part in the flow of information. In practice, this is usually less complicated than one might think.

When we speak of ONE team in this chapter, we have omitted a step that is not infrequently necessary in the development of mechatronic products for reasons of simplification. Often more people are involved in the development than can reasonably work together in a team. The limit here is about 11 people. If more people (firmly) work together in a team, the work should be divided into two or more teams. In the agile environment, this is called scaling, but there are also similar approaches in classic teams.

This process can be relatively complex. Here it is advantageous for less experienced teams to get support from an external consultant. The goal is always to define teams with a maximum of 11 members that can act largely independently and have few interfaces with low complexity to the other teams. This definition is also made in the Working Agreement. There are often numerous ways to divide a large team into several smaller teams. Each form of division has advantages and disadvantages. In this case, it is important that all concerned understand why the chosen structure is being used. The buy-in of the individual team members is an important success factor here.

Decision making in the team

After the capacity issues have been clarified and the team has organised its cooperation, agreements should be reached on a few more issues. One area is the question of how decisions are made in the team. This concerns agile teams in particular, as they usually act largely independently. But non-agile teams should also define which decisions are made in the team and how they are made. It is important to create clarity in this regard in order to strengthen the team members' sense of responsibility. Only those who know where they contribute to decisions and in what form will be fully committed.

Further topics in the working agreement

Finally, especially for agile teams, there may be other topics on which agreements need to be made. For example, how the DoD (definition of done) or the DoR (definition of ready) is determined. Whether it is necessary to reach an agreement on this is best decided by the team.

But it can also be a question of whether the team has a common workspace and when work is done in it. In practice, there are often constellations where a work team changes its workplace on certain days of the week in order to work together in a common area (co-located) that was created especially for the team. Whether this makes sense and is possible can also be decided in a working agreement.

Little effort, high benefit

In addition to the above-mentioned topics, the team is free to determine for itself what it wants to make agreements about. The important thing is to put the team in a position to act on its own responsibility and to make binding decisions. This creates a high level of reliability among each other. This is called a high commitment.

It is amazing what power can be contained in a working agreement. The clarity and commitment achieved with this agreement always has a positive effect on the efficiency of the team. In order to achieve a good result, it is advisable, especially if you have never concluded a working agreement before, to have the process moderated by an experienced consultant (agile coach). The effort is not high, but the benefit can be a significant success factor for the whole project.

Our CO Improve consultants have many years of experience from numerous agile transformations and can also bring this expertise to your change process. It pays to take the right steps in new territory, especially at the beginning. We are happy to support you in selecting a suitable agile pilot, setting up your team as well as in the subsequent implementation.

Your benefit

  • A working agreement brings clarity in the team and is a "real" efficiency driver
  • Capacity planning is a key to high commitment
  • Decision-making in the team strengthens the sense of responsibility.
  • Start-up support from an experienced agile coach pays off