Wolfsburg, Berlin, Dresden, Lisbon and Pune: there are now five Software Development Centers (SDC) within Group IT, in which cross-functional teams use agile methods to find strategic and innovative software solutions for customers, dealerships and company departments. Firman Drage from the Wolfsburg SDC explains how well this works.
Product managers, software developers and UX/UI designers always work hand in hand to create software products that are both user-centered and sustainable. To achieve this, they rely on values-based, agile working methods such as scrum, pair and extreme programming. These cooperation models promote discussion, creativity, expertise, fun, and fast results.
“In the SDCs, sustainability and user-centering are not just slogans; they are lived out every day. This means, firstly, that we always focus on the users and their use cases. And secondly, we ensure that applications can be run within the existing system landscape in the long term,” Firman Drage explains. The former developer represents the SDC to the outside world in the role of an “ambassador”, and is therefore the first point of contact for potential applicants and partners. 
Clients include internal departments such as Sales and HR, for example: “Our colleagues here generally require a high-quality software solution in a short time,” explains Drage.

Focusing on the user together

Despite the time pressure, they don’t just start programming: they always begin with intensive “scoping” with the client. The teams from the SDC and the department analyze the challenge together and examine whether a software solution is suitable, and if so, which one. In the process, they also determine which SDC is most appropriate for implementation, since the SDC differ with regard to the choice of methods and the involvement of external partners. Depending on the SDC, the boundary between client and contractor is fluid. “The intensive involvement of the customer begins with the order clarification and the ‘Readiness Check’. In our case, this goes as far as having a product owner as a member of the development team,” explains Firman Drage.

From the project launch, all the participants are therefore lined up as cross-functional product teams. This enables requirements to be translated directly into the desired features of the application – with a continuous mutual exchange of views. “Product owners from departments that have previously worked in a classical way have no need to fear agile working methods. Agile pilots are available to provide methodological guidance if necessary,” says Firman Drage. Even for established IT experts, an SDC can be new terrain in some senses: instead of coding on their own, the programmers here write their code lines together as “pairs”; and designers are not just accessories but an integral part of software development, ensuring the user-friendliness of the application. The precise constellation of the team – the relationship between developers and designers – is determined by the product and the development process. “Here, there are never any off-the-peg solutions,” Firman Drage emphasizes.

“For two software developers to share a workstation in pair programming and work jointly on a code may sound uneconomical at first,” says the ambassador, explaining: “but it has crucial advantages – it removes the high costs of reworking, and there is a continuous exchange of knowledge between the developers.” At the same time, the problem-solving expertise of the entire team increases – which has a positive effect on the product quality.

Not every SDC is the same

The SDCs are divided into three different types, working on different types of projects with different working methods. Type 1 SDCs work mainly with external partners on systems that are generally highly dependent on existing systems. The SCRUM method is applied here.

Type 3 SDCs, such as the ones in Wolfsburg and Berlin, focus on cooperation with internal partners. They work in an agile way, in cross-functional teams consisting of software developers, UX/UI designers, product managers and product owners. The close cooperation between departments and developer teams means that problems can be solved quickly and important decisions can be made jointly. The working methods of project type 3 are extreme and pair programming, as well as test-driven development (TDD).

Type 2 is a hybrid of both types, in which most of the work is done with internal partners, but cooperation with external partners is also possible. In these SDCs the teams also use the scrum method.

The transition to a software-driven company

Since more centers are being created at Audi and Seat the highly motivated product teams are looking to expand their workforce. Educational background is not necessarily of primary importance. Career changers are very welcome. As well as classical computer scientists, there are also mathematicians and media and industry designers, for example, working in the SDCs. Because the product teams work so closely together, the soft skills must fit in addition to expertise and experience. That’s why a multi-stage selection process is used to ensure that the chemistry works from the start. You get to know each other and find out if you are suited to each other. The team decides.

In the product teams, the developers later also have the freedom of selecting the technologies used together. These include tried and tested technologies as well as newer technologies. Sustainability also plays a part: the subsequent maintainability of the product may determine which programming language is chosen by the team.

Dive into the world of software development in the Volkswagen Group

At the WeAreDevelopers congress, you will have the opportunity to get to know our working methods, Firman Drage and the team members of Volkswagen, Audi and Seat. Program with us at one of our Pairing Stations and find out how we tick. We look forward to meeting you at our stand in City Cube Hall A.

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