Strengthening the third mission: using agile methods

Sandra Speer
University of Applied Sciences RheinMain (Wiesbaden/Rüsselsheim)

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• the main problem addressed and the aims of the project (introduction):
IMPACT RheinMain is a strategic project of the University of Applied Sciences RheinMain (HSRM) strengthening its „third mission“. The project is funded under BMBF/GWK “innovative Hochschule” (2018-2022). IMPACT RheinMain focusses on smart energy, smart home and smart mobility, topics relevant for many researchers from various departments across the HEI and at the same time with an impact in the local and regional level, boosting the role in the regional innovation and the entrepreneurial eco system. IMPACT RheinMain strengthens the HEI’s collaboration and knowledge exchange with industry, the public sector and society, by active involvement in partnerships and relationships with a wide range of stakeholders.
IMPACT RheinMain is based on the following steps to building an enhanced the engagement function with a “relationship-focused” culture including:
o creating new roles dedicated to partnership building (centralized as well as decentralized), e.g transfer scouts, conducting regular focus groups on smart energy/smart home/smart mobility, linking with industry clusters and creating new clusters, creating innovation labs etc.
o creating synergies within the HEI, involving many of the research staff from various departments and organizing interdisciplinary internal networks
o Pursuing new PR and marketing efforts including new topical lecture series etc.
The strategic project consists of twelve sub-projects across the HSRM involves twenty team members led by seven professors and is supply and demand-driven. Some challenges result from the (partly) virtual nature of the team across faculties (five faculties at four location in two different cities).

• the process, i.e. the methods used and/or approach taken:
This contribution highlights a flexible approach using agile methodology for the project management (see official scrum guide; agile manifesto; Ries 2014): Some challenges are determined by the (partly) virtual nature of the team across faculties (five faculties at four locations in two cities). Some of the sub-projects need to hand over contacts and responsibilities. Therefore the process management has to be clearly defined: e.g. from building relationships with industry by addressing the whole spectrum of university-industry collaboration and by defining research questions with/through regular focus groups (transfer agents and fokus smart) to connecting industry with entrepreneurial activities, entrepreneurial activites bringing in new industry contacts, connecting relationships with public administration and civil society, connecting industry with innovationlabs etc. The whole team started out with one full meeting per month. Therefore, standing meeting attributes and the use of a physical scrum boards is not applicable for our (virtual) project team. We use virtual project boards maintained in the cloud and focused agile retrospective meetings. The rest of the meetings are “on-demand” and are between the team members of several sub-projects or with the project management. Team efficiency is improving by using those methods and by helping each other respectively creating synergies. One big advantage using agile methods is the adoption of an agile mentality among the team. At the same time, the responsive and engaging process that links HEI innovation with opportunities and the needs of potential partners in government, industry, national labs and academic sectors gets refined.

• the results and Impact:
IMPACT RheinMain is strengthening the culture to network and build synergies across the faculties. The strategic project is a platform to provide opportunities for active involvement in relationships with stakeholders in the region and identifies opportunities for knowledge exchange that cover a range of disciplines and requires responsive, demand-led cultures. The HSRM is more reaching out to local stakeholders, opening up the HSRM across the institution, encouraging dialogue and sharing of experiences to develop ideas for action and at the same time making it easier for external stakeholders to „reach in“ the complex HEI structures.

• the conclusion, including learning opportunities and future potential:
Building solid, scalable relationships with industry, public administration and civil society organizations takes a lot of patience, and dedication to the big picture. On the one hand, it is crucial to manage the interfaces between the various sub-projects across the HEI: e.g. focus groups organized on one specific topic might continuing with a second focus group for continuing/in-depth or alternatively transfer scouts come in and are responsible for the process of communication between the university and the company. On the other hand, the project team(s) with a strategic mission needs to connect well to the standing organization (HEI).