Elektronikentwicklung Verbesserung
Interview Agile Coach

"Agile working means reacting proactively to the constantly changing environment around you."

Interview with Marion Siegl, Junior Consultant

How do you move into corporate consulting – and succeed? Marion Siegl used to work in HR for a premium automotive manufacturer, managing change processes. In the summer of 2018, she began a new job as a consultant supporting agile teams in the field of electronics development.

agile development automotive electronics
Fig.: Marion Siegl, Agile Coach

Hello Ms. Siegl. You have a background in human resources and now coach teams of developers in agile methods. Have you been able to apply any of your previous experience to your new job? 

Yes, I have. What I primarily brought with me from my days in HR is a store of factual knowledge. I know the ins and outs of employment law, and I gained a lot of insights into occupational psychology that I can apply now. Numbers play a big role in the world of developers; methods like Scrum are often primarily applied to boost efficiency. Sometimes we lose sight of the importance of human interactions within the team. In such cases, I can approach things from an HR angle and point out that the way a team works together has more of an impact on success than which project methods or digital tools are chosen. In other words, it’s the melody that makes the music.

How did you even come to switch from HR to consulting?

I’ve always wanted to work with people. I think it’s fun helping others make their jobs simpler, more appealing or better. That’s why I chose to work in human resources and joined the HR department of a carmaker. But after a while I noticed I was having to do a lot more admin work than I’d hoped. So I decided to try something different and switched to Kugler Maag. And in fact consulting comes much closer to what I want to do. Working here I can give people pointers and ideas on how to improve their work.

In your thesis you took a deep dive into the management of change processes. Now you’re in the thick of those processes. How well did all the theory prepare you for actual business practice?

Some aspects I still benefit from today. I wrote a bachelor’s thesis on life-long learning and while I was working on it, I spent a lot of time looking at how people actually learn. That’s working to my advantage right now, because my job is to help people learn new things. Not only that, I also learned to look at things from a bird’s eye view. Developers are often deeply involved in their topic so every now and again it helps to have someone say, "Take a step back and look at it again from an outside perspective."

Despite that, I have to admit that although I learned a lot at uni, there were only little bits that prepared me directly for my work. Some of the specifics on leadership and coaching methods – I had to learn those on the job. But that only works if you enjoy what you’re doing. What’s important is you need a lot of empathy and you have to be willing to improvise when things are unfamiliar.

If you look at agile methods and compare how they’re applied to the functional areas of HR versus consulting, do you think they’re based on the same principles or understanding, or are they two completely different worlds? 

There are some big differences in the way people look at it, although it’s not just these two fields – it’s the same on a general level within industries and departments. If you google agile working, you find lots of different definitions. Usually it’s about an organisation or a person in charge of something taking definitions or different methods and cherry-picking the parts that suit them best. But often that means the big idea gets forgotten.

And what do you think the big idea is?

Agile working means reacting proactively to the constantly changing environment around you. This applies to teams, departments or entire corporations. With every plan I create, I also have to be aware that the conditions are constantly changing – so I may soon have to deviate from the plan. Once organisations have internalised this idea, they can continue to work in a calm and focused manner when things get rocky. They don’t have to go straight into red alert mode. This allows them to keep delivering in the long term – without burning out employees and teams.

You place yourself at the service of other teams, but at the same time you’re part of a team yourself – how have your colleagues helped you on the new journey?

The onboarding at Kugler Maag is tailored to each person. At the beginning I was given two direct contacts: an operative manager to ask about administrative issues and a mentor to help me with my consulting work. At the beginning, I always went with my mentor to client meetings. At the same time, I also actually took part in a lot of client training myself – not as a coach, but as a course participant. So that gave me a little training on the methodologies, and I didn’t have to deliver any productive output from day one. That was really good for my professional development.

You say that working at Kugler Maag is different. What does that mean specifically in your everyday work?

That it’s fun to go to work every day. Not only that, there’s a strong concentration of expertise here and we learn a lot from each other. The amount of support you get from colleagues is phenomenal. I’d never experienced that, or not to this degree.

You recently got married – congratulations! How are things looking with the work-life balance?

We all made a conscious decision to pursue a career in consulting. There’s no point in pretending that it doesn’t entail a lot of work and a lot of time away from the office. But on the flip side, we do have a lot of freedom in how we get the job done. We also get to choose hotels and travel options ourselves. I was also allowed to go on my honeymoon during the probationary period. That’s not the sort of thing that happens everywhere.

You’ve run language classes for refugees. What did you learn from that experience?

That we should never underestimate the impact our environment has on our behaviour. We humans are not uniform machines that can be expected to behave in a certain way just because of what’s on the inside. If you change what’s on the outside, what comes out from the inside can be completely different. If something in a team isn’t working properly, it’s often useful to look at the conditions affecting individual members of the team. Maybe the issue is that two of the stronger team members have got some sort of personal problems right now.

I’d also say that my work with refugees taught me something very important: when the things that others do somehow seem inconsistent, it’s usually because you don’t know something about the underlying reason why. The way people behave is usually intrinsically understandable, but always depends on their personal background, the things around them and their beliefs.