Accelerating Automotive Innovation: A SAFe Journey with some spices of Flight Levels

Agile Transformation at Continental


Customer: Continental Product Line Human Visualization within the Continental autonomous driving business line

Methods: SAFe Scaled Agile Framework, Flight Levels, Kanban, Scrum

Year: 2022

Industry: Automotive, Software

We supported the relatively new product line in the area of automotive Human Vision to grow into a value stream and cross functional team organization, where each team better understands its purpose and the value it creates, and where the organization has ownership for the whole product, acting as one team.


How can we organize a relatively new and worldwide component organization into a value stream that works in the same direction and is able to deliver value to the customer, in short cycles?


The transformation that took place within the organization resulted in a significant improvement in cooperation and performance. The organization achieved this by working collaboratively to define visions and strategies, and breaking them down into time-bound initiatives. These initiatives were further broken down into quarterly work items, which helped connect the strategy with the actual development. As a result the organization was able to improve transparency and focus on goals.

The organization also adopted the practice of inspecting and adapting at all levels, which helped improve learning and adaptation. 

Cross-functional teams demonstrated working increments of software every iteration, which allowed them to showcase integrated solutions on the PI boundary. Additionally, every feature had a defined owner, which improved coordination for the end-to-end solution, especially when multiple teams were involved.

Each team was clear about its mission and the value it brought to the stream, resulting in ownership of the complete product and better focus. This improved the overall performance of the organization and made it better equipped to take on challenges.

At the end of 2022, a customer project from a global vehicle manufacturer was won, the product line is equipped to take up the challenge!

Unser Vorgehen

Cross functional Transition team with active participation of management

Identify value streams, define Agile Release Trains and create transparency for the flow of work along the value streams

Setup Cross functional teams with E2E responsibility

Support sharpening of vision and transparency for strategy

Strengthen of agile core competencies on all levels in the organization

Use of the 5 Flight Levels activities to keep focus on improving and to help identify next steps on all levels in the organization

This is how our assignment went

In 2020, the Continental ADAS business line initiated a SAFe agile transformation. As part of this initiative, a new product line was set up with a focus on base/platform development for human vision. However, this product line was initially not part of the SAFe transition until the end of 2021. To support the transition in the new product line, improuv got a year-long engagement. The primary goal was to support the organization in changing from a component organization into a value stream and cross-functional team organization. The organization originally worked in a very traditional way. Competent teams were able to provide and demonstrate innovative solutions but varying focus hindered many things to get really finished. Many silo component teams had to plan and coordinate to deliver customer value. These teams were also engaged in other projects outside of the product line. This led to dependencies, resource conflicts and slower progress. It also limited an end-to-end ownership for the implemented features. There were challenges in this relatively new organization but at the same time it had a great team that was open for changes and experiments. This attitude helped the transformation. Within the scope of a transition team the transformation was also greatly supported by a strong ownership from local management. This allowed changes to be implemented and gradually improved. When our engagement started, some steps into a SAFe setup, like initial trainings for leadership and a “proto-SAFe-PI” process, had already been triggered. Some few of the component teams had adopted Scrum even earlier. The focus for the assignment was coaching of leadership on strategy and business agility level. It was also to work tightly together with the Release Train Engineers and the transition team to set up and improve the processes and performance of the Agile Release Train. However, in the scope of a facilitators community of practice, we also got involved in coaching and training of Scrum masters and team coaches.

The initial phase

The initial phase in every transition is to figure out the current state and define goals. In this project we made interviews, conducted assessments, and had workshops to identify visions for products and the transformation. We also initiated a cross functional transformation team that had active involvement from management. This was a key factor for the successful transformation. The initial phase was very important to get a common understanding and common goal for the transformation.

Earlier the organization was formed of many silo component teams that operated in a project-based structure without clear definition of value streams. In a series of workshops, the transformation was initiated and a single development value stream and Agile Release Train (ART) was identified and agreed upon. The product owners and managers from the component teams together agreed team-level guard rails and defined prototypes for the cross functional teams. Finally, the development teams were defined in a self-designing workshop, where the team members in several rounds assigned themselves to teams. Although there was some friction in setting up the new teams, they were able to start working just before the first 'real' PI planning event. The collective definition of the ART, which was carried out by the people who actually would work in it, achieved a better buy-in and helped in the roll out. Six months later a nervous coach ran a review with all the teams to get feedback on the new setup. The review was based on ideas from team topologies. The result was very encouraging. Some issues with dependencies and missing skills were identified but all teams were happy with the new way of working; with reduced dependencies, more learning and responsibility and with an end-to-end feature responsibility.


Visions, Strategy and Outcome

In the early phases of the new product line, strategy and desired outcomes were not transparent for the teams. Based on ideas from the Flight Levels model a flight level 3 board was defined, where strategy was broken down into initiatives (< one year) and outcomes (< three months). Based on the outcomes, features for the next PI were defined as work items. This tool was a great help in prioritization and strategy planning and gave a good view for all of us for the “why” for the next PI planning.

Flight Levels is regarded as a thinking model that can help an organization to achieve business agility, regardless of the current situation or applied Agile framework. It can help you to find out where in your organization you need to do what to achieve the results you want to achieve. You do this with five activities on three levels. The three flight levels are the team, the coordination and strategy levels. The five activities can be applied in any transformation or organization to act as a structure and as trigger for curiosity for how things could or should be. On every flight level in the organization and on a daily basis you can use the activities as guidelines to help identify good next steps.

  • Visualize the situation: To understand the current situation, we ensured all levels were visualized, also the strategy and Portfolio level, and ensured all levels were connected transparently. The goal was for everyone in the organization to be able to understand the purpose and impact the items we were working on. On the strategy level we e.g. used a board that connected vision and strategy with the features we worked for the next PI.
  • Create focus: To allow us to deliver we strived to create focus every day on ALL flight levels (focus is really tricky and may hurt, you must strive every day). This means focus on the strategy level to reduce strategic initiatives we work on in parallel. Focus on the end-to-end coordination by limiting the number of features in parallel work and down to focusing on the “focus” in the daily scrum standup meeting. Make it a mantra “Stop Starting, Start Finishing”.  We also introduced rules like that each feature has one team with end-to-end ownership, even if multiple teams contributed. This improved coordination and resolution of items. 
  • Establish Agile interactions: To ensure our meetings are valuable and that all required Agile interactions are covered we reviewed all the meetings and ensured that each meeting had a purpose and outcome documented. We often ran mini retros after meetings to check if purpose and outcome were met and to allow us to learn and optimize. We even tried to implement mad rules like “Though shalt not participate in a meeting if purpose and outcome are not clear… well that was perhaps a fairly tough one…
  • Measure progress: To see if we are progressing in the right direction, we identified areas needing change or improvement and how to measure it: define the goals, clarify the goals with questions and find the metrics that can answer the questions. Areas we looked at were e.g. progress of improvement of skills and processes, which were measured with assessments. Satisfaction in development teams, which was measured with regular reviews. Flow in development, which was measured via Kanban metrics like lead time, work in progress and throughput.   
  • Operate and Improve:  To support learning and continuous improvement we ensure to have learning cycles on ALL levels, including the level 3 and also for the leadership community. Not only at sprint or PI end but also often as a natural part in our regular meetings.

Use of flight levels model

Introduction of Kanban

For one of the teams in the product line, that still was occupied in a customer project, we made an experiment to introduce Kanban. It gave surprisingly positive results and turned out to be a considerable improvement in performance and satisfaction for both customers and team.

Key Learnings

Take everyone along on the journey

Explain the “why”, learn together and make sure people have possibility to influence.

Invest in the "Spirit"

Let the people know they are part of something special and remember to get feedback for the wins.

Inspect and adapt

Remember this is an experiment, we can and will improve continuously on ALL levels – we aim to be a learning organization.

Agility is a journey

Keep taking small steps – we’ll never reach a final goal.

Lead Coach

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