At the new IT centre in Lisbon, experts work on the same code together, minimising the margin for error.
Leo Dias and Tiago Mendes work in the new software development centre that the Volkswagen Group has opened in Lisbon, and talk to each other continuously throughout the day. The two young software developers sit in front of their own huge screen, but they deal with the same information: lines of colourful code against a black background, which they both work on simultaneously. While one of them is typing new lines of code and saying his thoughts out loud, the other is commenting on, correcting and supporting his colleague's work. This goes on for a few hours, then they switch roles, following the extreme programming protocol. Working in pairs makes it easier to write better, nearly bug-free software.
Better software, fewer bugs
“Working like this makes us faster. We do have fun as well”, explains Tom George, one of the two managers at the Lisbon SDC, and previously head of the one in Wolfsburg. “As a result, the quality of the software is so high that we don’t have to spend much time on fixing bugs”, adds Stefan Gotthardt, the other manager and founder of the Digital:Lab in Berlin. Together, they have exported this new software development procedure to the Portuguese capital.
Extreme programming is an approach which firstly came to life in Silicon Valley. “We examined what the successful software companies makethere, such as Pivotal in Palo Alto,”, says Martin Hofmann, the CIO of the Volkswagen Group. The use of pairing, for instance, keeps the mind elastic and prevents “brain monopolies” from forming, as well as helping colleagues share their knowledge and ideas. Another key aspect of this approach is the independence enjoyed by the teams. Each team is composed of two project managers, two designers and four to eight developers. Each morning, the team decides who will work on which project and which pairs will be responsible for the task of development.
According to the Volkswagen Group, the Lisbon SDC is a milestone in its digitisation strategy, thanks to which a number of strategic partnerships with cutting-edge technology companies is still being defined. In addition, the Group is rapidly building up its own software expertise. “We’re adding the knowledge we need locally”, Hofmann adds. “To attract the best people, we have to go to the places where the best people are”. Lisbon is the third SDC of its kind, following in the footsteps of Wolfsburg and Berlin, and it will soon employ a total of 300 IT specialists.
The hiring process is also rather innovative, with decisions made not by the HR department, but rather by each individual development team. As a first step, job candidates participate in a Skype interview and take a programming test. If they pass it, they will then spend a day working in the SDC as a regular team member in order to assess their ability to communicate, formulate ideas and ask questions to their team members in a proactive manner. Candidates can thus immediately tell whether this is a working style that suits to them and whether they comply with the team’s strict rules: no e-mail and web browsing during working hours, no flexible work schedules and no home working.
Like a start-up
Working without distractions means that each team starts working together at 8:30 a.m., has lunch at the same time and leaves work at 5:30 p.m. This allows to make space for the private sphere despite the high demands. The building which houses the Lisbon SDC has been completely renovated , and the atmosphere makes them feel like a family-type start-up. The employees, who currently hail from five countries, meet in a large kitchen area both for the stand-up meetings and meals. There is also an auditorium for longer meetings.
Source: Volkswagen AG