Works councils and agile working

Agile methods are being applied by a large number of companies, or their application is at least being considered or prepared. Agile approaches are intended to accelerate work and make it more flexible. Constant improvement, flexibilization and acceleration are necessary to keep up with growing market pressure and competition. Not only production, product development or project management should be fast. The executive floors also have to change and become more agile. This in turn also means that works councils have to follow the same development in order to continue to negotiate the best working conditions for their members. Bernd Spengler and Markus Ettlinger reflected on this topic in one of the issues of "Arbeitsrecht im Betrieb," which has been exacerbated by the drastic changes in working conditions brought about by the covid pandemic. Below, we summarize the article for you.
The picture shows a group of people in an office discussing at a table.

Agile methods take hold

Agile methods first made their way into software development. This trend has long since spread to almost all industries, in some this has been faster, in others a little slower. Agile work is first of all project-based teamwork, where small groups proceed step by step in a project. After each stage, there is an evaluation of the results and a decision on whether and how to proceed. Another central point of agile working methods is the close cooperation with the customer. From the very beginning, the customer is involved in the development process as closely as possible and is involved in all stages of the work. Agile working not only means a restructuring in the company, a change in hierarchies and a redistribution of responsibility, but also, associated with this, a drastic intervention in the working conditions of each individual. Many more positions of responsibility are created and tasks are reallocated. Often, agile working also means an increase in deadline pressure, because agile methods are always applied in small quick steps. Therefore, every works council should deal with the topic and take a close look at what changes are coming to the employees in the company.

Example Scrum

If you search for methods for agile working in an internet search engine, you will quickly come across the term Scrum, among others. If you then search further for a definition of Scrum, people often try to explain Scrum using the small building blocks of the Danish toy manufacturer Lego. Scrum actually follows a similar approach. As with Lego, projects are divided into smaller sections and sub-projects to be assembled into a large work of art at the end. The basic assumption of the method is that most projects today have become so complex that it is hardly possible to depict them in a single fully comprehensive plan. In addition, a certain (often even high) proportion of the requirements for the final product is not yet known at the beginning of the process. Here we deviate again somewhat from the Lego building block analogy, because after all, with Lego there is usually a fairly precise idea of what the end product should look like. In order to gradually eliminate these ambiguities that accompany the project on its first stages, Scrum offers the solution that an intermediate result is created after each stage, which determines the further course of the respective project.

Works councils and Scrum

Many works councils initially resist the introduction of new methods. Many battles have already been fought and many victories won when it came to negotiating advantages and more humane working conditions for the employees of a company. Now the bosses come and want to turn everything upside down by changing the way of working. This idea can be scary. And agile working is not always the solution to all operational problems and the key to competitiveness, even if it is touted as such in thousands of seminars. Sometimes the switch to agile methods is not even a step in the right direction. So, first of all, the works council is right to take a close look at the planned changes to see what they bring to working conditions. But in many companies and industries, agile working is now the future, and the works council will also come to the conclusion that the change in working methodology is inevitable in the long term in order for the company to survive and remain competitive. Of course, the change must be critically scrutinized and actively supported by the works council. This can even be extremely beneficial for the acceptance of agile change.


In fact, the legal situation provides for the involvement of the works council. In Germany, for example, the general right to information is anchored in § 80 BetrVG and in § 90 para. 1 no. 3 BetrVG. If Scrum is to be introduced in a company, the works council must be informed at an early planning stage so that it can still influence the decision if necessary. The introduction of agile methods such as Scrum is equivalent to a so-called "change in operations requiring the reconciliation of interests". In a company that works on a project basis and has to respond very individually to customer requirements, this development towards agile structures is only logical and is usually supported by a large majority of the workforce, because agile working is simply much better tailored to project work in these cases, the projects run more successfully and frustration thus decreases and motivation increases. It therefore makes sense for the works council to be involved from the very beginning and to understand right away how the new methodology will benefit the employees, because the agile model simply fits the company.

What do you need to pay attention to?

Works councils must always keep an eye on personnel resources in this process. Agile methods bring with them the aspect that the personnel requirements of a project can only really be estimated "on the go" due to the unclear requirements, which makes planning more difficult. It is therefore important to look at the weekly working hours and the available resources with regard to personnel planning in relation to § 92 BetrVG. Agile methods, just like traditional methods, must have their limits, for example at 10 hours maximum working time per day. Here, the works council is asked to participate in the design of the new models, especially with regard to the way in which the various limits are recorded and documented when they are exceeded. The flexibilization of working hours or time accounts could be possible solutions here, which are already being used in other industries.
Author: IAPM internal 

Keywords: Project management, Agile project management, Works council, Scrum, Agile processes

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