With agile management, the Allwetterzoo Münster brings momentum to its projects

Zoo Director Dr. Simone Schehka in an interview with nc360°

// Agility, Corporate Culture, Digitization

Traditional methods of hierarchical leadership are increasingly less suitable in companies and institutions to deal with the complexity and confusion that have to be managed on a daily basis in the digital age.  Self-organisation and agility are replacing the "top-down principle" and unfolding an inspiring dynamic in organisation and operation. The management of the Allwetterzoos Münster is also agile today after Advanced Training in "agile project management". The change management consultants from noventum consulting opened up the goal and methodology of agile management in an intensive workshop.

Agile self-organisation as the key to overcoming the complexity trap

In 1875, the Zoological Garden opened its gates in Münster and has since been a well-known attraction far beyond the borders of the region. Rebuilt in 1974 at a new location as an all-weather zoo, the zoo today houses over 2,500 animals and attracts more than half a million visitors annually (over 600,000 in 2021). In addition to the extensive routine work in animal care and visitor support, there are always small and large projects that shape the daily work of the almost 170 employees. Whether it is the construction of the "Meranti Hall" or a spontaneous benefit evening for the refugees from Ukraine, a lot is organised and implemented every day at the zoo. In order to cope with the increasing complexity, zoo director Dr Simone Schehka engaged the management consultancy noventum to train her top management in agile project management. Uwe Rotermund, noventum managing director and culture change expert, led the zoo management through the workshop with noventum consultant Rabea Wolters and was available for individual coaching afterwards.

In the nc360° interview, Dr Schehka reports on the lasting impact of the training on the day-to-day management of the all-weather zoo.

If the agile coach takes his task seriously, "there is no escape".

nc360°: How has the work of your management team changed after the agile project management workshop?

Dr. Schehka: They have actually managed to bring much more structure to our work and make us more agile at the same time. All the complexity has become more tangible and implementable. Sometimes, with the diversity of our tasks, it is a real challenge to always adhere to the agile rules. But our agile coach takes his job very seriously and so there is no escape. They have managed to bring about a lasting change in the way we work together in the management team. We have become more efficient, more organised and, through the "consensus process", differently binding. In the past, when we met, we had different opinions, talked about them and left with different views. That is different today. The reviews also help to make the complexity more tangible.

nc360°:Which topics do you approach differently today?

Dr. Schehka: We have big tasks ahead of us and whether through Corona or the master project - everyone is always sitting on different chairs again and we had to move and could no longer continue to work in the old structures. After the intensive 2-day workshop, we are more agile and efficient today.

nc360°: A zoo certainly has many standard tasks that can be considered set. Who are the people who are (able to be) more agile today at the Allwetterzoo Münster?

Dr. Schehka: Specifically, we are talking about the extended management. These are the technical director, the commercial director, the senior trustee and of course me as the managing director. What surprised me, however, was that it is already having an impact on the departments. For example, today even our department heads work with Microsoft 365 and teams. It starts in the management and breaks down into the individual departments.

When all agile roles are distributed, things proceed in a more structured way

nc360°: In terms of weighting, how should I imagine the relationship between project work and standard tasks at the zoo?

Dr. Schehka: Sure, we all have our everyday and routine jobs, e.g. the tiger has to be fed or the watering trough has to be repaired and visitors also have to be let into the zoo. Everyday life makes up maybe 30% or 40%. But what keeps us busy are many and extensive projects. Our events for the zoo public alone, new animals coming in, facilities being built or rebuilt. And these projects almost always involve all departments. Since we have learned to see these tasks as projects with project management, project control, reporting structures and all the other roles, we are more structured and make better progress.

nc360°: How is the agile project organisation received by your employees?

Dr. Schehka: In some respects we are still at the beginning. But we can see an encouraging development. For example, in animal care we have 6 department heads who now clarify among themselves how staff deployment is to be regulated across departments in case of special needs. In the past, such plans came "from above", now the colleagues sort it out among themselves. That means responsibility, but it also brings joy and confirmation. And of course it is a question of trust in the management. Today we talk to each other more at eye level and in a goal-oriented way.

nc360°: Can you imagine including your "customers" in the agile process in the future, perhaps the zoo visitors?

Dr. Schehka: We are already doing that in the early stages. The idea of our future customer relationship management envisages a considerably stronger customer orientation. This starts with barrier-free parking systems, check-in via app and not at the counter and, in the future, perhaps also cashless payment of our annual pass guests with their zoo card. We have also moved closer together with the zoo association, work directly together on some projects and now also have a direct link to our respective homepages. Or with the operator of the "Solaaris" - the sailing school Overschmidt - who takes our customers directly by boat to the zoo's own harbour. Of course, it always depends on the other party how agile you are in working with each other.

Flexible working hours at the Allwetterzoo

nc360°: Do you know of other zoos that have set similar agile processes in motion?

Dr Schehka: It is always difficult to make statements about other zoos. For our size, however, we are very modern, mobile and agile, and we also get feedback from colleagues. We are leading the way in terms of digitalisation and are sometimes asked to contribute to this topic.

And we also want to take the next step: flexible working hours. I know of only a few zoos that have already implemented this in all areas. And we want to do that, again under the responsibility and self-organisation of our division heads. I hope and wish that the Allwetterzoo Münster has made a quantum leap forward.

nc360°: Have you managed to swim free in the agile process to such an extent that you have reached your goal? Or are reviews and critical feedback by neutral observers from outside still on the agenda?

Dr. Schehka: Hopefully we will never get that far! Then we would be operationally blind. That was also an aha moment in the cooperation with Uwe Rotermund. Often we thought at the end of a clarification process: "Why didn't we see that? It's obvious!" But you are in too deep for that and need neutral support from outside.

I am convinced that learning never stops. If you keep realigning your requirements and re-setting your goals, you will always have a need to adjust the process.

nc360°: Thank you very much for the interview!

noventum consulting

Dr. Matthias Rensing


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