Skip to main content

Scrum at Lightyear: Using Scrum to Develop Solar Electric Vehicles - Part 1

February 22, 2023

In this episode of the Community Podcast, host Dave West chats with Willem van den Corput, VP Engineering at Lightyear and Michelle Siau, Agile Coach about how Lightyear came about, how they use Scrum to build Solar electric vehicles, coaching and more!



Lindsay Velecina: 0:03
Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West: 0:20
Hello and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO And today I'm very, very excited to have two people to talk to about some very interesting ideas around agility. I'm lucky enough lucky to have with me, Michelle Siau and Willem Van den Korput from Lightyear. Yeah. Michelle is the is an Agile coach at Lightyear. And Willem is the VP of Engineering at Lightyear. Welcome to the podcast. I apologize for your names. I'm not very good at Dutch words.

Michelle Siau: 1:02
No problem. Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Willem van den Corput: 1:05
Thanks for having me. Yes. Good. Good evening for us.

Dave West: 1:09
Yes, actually, the Michelle and Willem are joining us from from Amsterdam on a Friday evening. So if you hear the clinking of glass or the consumption of biteable, in the background, that will be these two, not me. So thanks for joining us. So the reason why I'm so excited to to have this podcast today was I actually met Michelle at agile Amsterdam, and actually spent quite a lot of time actually at a bar, interestingly, talking to Michelle about the wonderful stuff they're doing at light. Yeah. And really, I was struck by her story and wanted to share it with you all. So that's the reason why where we're talking today. Now, before we talk about like, yeah, which is what I really want to get into which an amazing story as spoiler alert for the listeners. Like you're actually building solar paneled cars. How cool is that? I think it's just amazing. Every time I put my hand on a hot roof, in a car park, on a car, I think to myself, why is this energy being wasted? So, so exciting that we're, we're going to be talking about that. But let's before we do that, though, let's take a moment. Really, because our audience is always interested in how you got where you are. So I don't know. Michelle, do you want to just talk a little bit about who you are and how you got to your role as an Agile coach at light? Yeah.

Michelle Siau: 2:40
Yeah, sure. I mean, so yeah, I started while back, just in a shop actually working in a shop at Vodafone. And I was dealing with the customers, and they're my career air quotes kind of started. And I was forever doing stuff that I liked a lot, which was helping other teams and helping other shops as well. And I had my own team back then. And then I was explaining to part timers how they could maybe count the cash register instead of instead of yeah, having them clean the toilets, for example. So I said, Do you want your manager to clean the toilets while you do the cash register? Here's a an instruction manual on that. And this is literally my kind of way of getting autonomy to people. And yeah, basically, I was doing more of the stuff that I really liked, got into changes and projects. And then somebody said, Well, we want to do things a bit faster would that be possible? And I started this team called Happy Feet. We didn't check whether or not wiki is the the words but or the the name, obviously. But it worked. We had in two weeks time with a really good Agile coach, by the way. I don't know if I can shout out. Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah, if Linda rose, she's amazing. So she, she helped me she coached me and she taught me what Agile was. And I was like, This is amazing. And we were able to establish a way of working with in two weeks time how to go from idea to value instead of nine months. And there it just kicked off. So my manager then he said to me, he said look Michelle, I don't care just scale it, you know, just make it successful. And that's what I what I do best so I am I get a lot of energy into something and I love scaling things and I love putting super demos knowledge sharing and getting people enthusiastic about agile and yeah, I was doing that for four years at Vodafone Ziggo. And then I thought, I want something else I don't No yet what I want. And I started my own business as high five coach, because I always give high fives. So when something goes really well, and if you if you give a high fives to something that goes, well, you get more of stuff that goes well. So I like that progressive way of coaching. And yeah, all of a sudden, like, yeah, popped around. And they said, Do you want to join our company? And I was like, What is like, yeah. And then I started looking into what they actually do. And I was like, Oh, my God. You know, that's amazing if I can be part of that. And yeah, I've been here for a year now. And it's been really exciting stuff to be fair.

Dave West: 5:44
Excellent. I want to hear more about that exciting stuff in a minute, but let's well, um, tell me a little bit about your VP of engineering. How did you get to where you're at? And then get to like, yeah,

Willem van den Corput: 5:56
yeah, yeah, thanks for that. And also, it was a big journey, because I'm maybe maybe less interesting with Michelle. So how she told me but I'm really and a cow a twosie has already from from a young boy. And I studied guy mechanics starting being a bachelor also in automotive expert experience in automotive expertise. And then I got into got in touch how develop stuff for cars. And that's what I like to create something I just recently showed you that I also made an applause machine in the past, with friends, that's also creating nice moveable things that yeah, that brought me finally via different steps at tier one suppliers that move and make products for for OEMs. Like sunrooms, I made gearboxes lighting for OEMs. And I sold them all actually in Europe, from the big ones to the smaller ones. And as finally, I was working as a gearbox supplier in the Netherlands. And I came in touch with an old colleague that started at Lightyear. And I saw already on the new software that he launched. Aranda about a car. And that's five new five guys from the Technical University, NATO. He had the idea to start a new car in the Netherlands. So there's something unique. And I always said to my dad, when I was little, I want to do something special when I when I grow up and went once once to make some expansions. And then this came along, and I was there for a day. And it was actually just now five years ago, to brainstorm how we would build a car with a team of 15 at that point. So if you would have a spot for me, I will join I think couple of months later, they joined them as an architect, interior system architects for the life zero personality we launched. And we did there and I loved it. So it was a small team working together, making things failing fast. And I didn't manage Mac's match that yet on to like that yet with agile but I think that we were coming to it to the point. Three years ago, I started managing the engineering team growing and it's been six forward till till date that growth of engineers, and I love it every day. It's a startup scale up as we call it, now. It's hard work. But it's it brings energy. I think that's the most important thing about it.

Dave West: 8:31
And I love that. I love that, William, Thanks for Thanks for sharing and obviously you and I could geek out a lot. I'm a big car enthusiast myself and we could spend hours talking about gearboxes actually, I've read I've managed to spend a lot of time trying to fix a few transmissions in my time and never as successful as I wish I was. I don't have my hands are small enough. I think that's my issue but anyway, but tell me a little bit and well I'm you know, you've been there five years. Tell me a little bit about lightyear tell. Tell the audience what light is all about solar paneled cast sounds a bit insane. Tell me Tell me a little bit about light. Yeah.

Willem van den Corput: 9:12
Yeah, that's that's a nice story. Because the company is founded in 2016. It's, I think next week is six years 11 anniversary. Yeah. And it actually comes from, from the students from the Tech University. And it goes back to 2011 where the current CEO and some people are around him at the moment and some foreigners and also some colleagues, they went to the profs in the US university, and I want to join the Solar Challenge races in Australia. Yeah, already since the 80s 90s. has started to raise solar vehicles. I think 95 was a first explorer that went there. But finally they as a city Students as 1718 years old, they they got a team of 2025 people together. And they said, Okay, let's let's try to do something. Let's try to make a vehicle and it's in the cruiser class to, to bring as much persons from, from Adelaide to Darwin in a trees are 3000 kilometers. So the more people you can bring, the more efficient you are. And sometimes you have had wind, so you need to take people out because you know, you need more energy. And that's then the balance. But they made a so efficient car. And the efficiency of the car comes from the system engineering, so making sure that it's holistic, and everything is connected, that they want to actually the World Championship with 100% advantage on number two already in 2013. And they did it again with a new team two years later, even though it's a full new team, so they just hand over the knowledge and it started over with a new car again, but I hand over the knowledge how they did it. 25th 15 Day one again, 17 One again, and it said, Okay, we have something special. So it is even possible, because they had at a point as well, during the race, a car that was driving 70 kph, wow, with five persons in there, and net zero energy. So yes, it was possible to drive a car on solar power. And as was a race car as for savings formula, it's always good for honest kilos, people will have cooling vests on they're not. That's the start of a new, new thing. And that made them think and that finally led to the founding of lychee. With a small bag of money, they just started getting more funding and step by step growing, as from from that one to create a car that is not only about solar energy, because if you would put Yeah, if you put a solar panel with Tesla, it doesn't doesn't work for now, because it's not part of the system, it's not part of that design. We started solar energy efficiency, we worked on the motors to bring in the wheels. So in wheel motors are less less drag less reduction. And the system and efficiency of the hole is actually the key of the of the of the light chain. So and solar FVb have an effective and efficient system, then the solar panel makes makes sense. So we have five square meters now on the full guidelines zero. And we will even we will indeed make more than 600 miles on in within a couple of charges. So within charges, if you would drive all the way one, so you do get it within 400 miles. But if you do just need to be traveled between work and home, you will manage 600 miles on more than 1000 kilometers between charges.

Dave West: 13:04
It's just insane. And you know, the the solar panels generate about 40 miles of charge, right. So mostly, most in most commutes. Certainly less than that so lightly as zero is out. Right? Is that right? The first car almost

Willem van den Corput: 13:25
lost sweat and tears on the on the side of production. So the end of the year. The first customer is, is is really almost.

Dave West: 13:36
That's just amazing. And I apologize. I'm holding you from the from the from the engineering lab to talk but that that sounds great. All right. So excellent kind of context. Thank you for sharing. Michelle. Well, I'm so Michelle, tell me a little bit about agile, because this is a technical engineering driven bunch of passionate as Willem embodies really geeky engineers who are trying to build cars is agile, agile. So how does that fit? What have you been doing from an agile point of view at light? Yeah.

Michelle Siau: 14:10
Yesterday, it was really funny because when I joined the company, I literally just started exploring, okay, what's there? What does the company you know, Jive on for me? When, when I enter as a you know, for to guide the trans transition, you always look at okay, what's the mindset? What do they recruit for? So you always focus on HR, you focus on procurement, to make sure that you have that. Exactly with systems engineering, you've got it with systemic coaching as well. You need to take it end to end. And the funny thing was, what I found, actually was really funny because there were already organization design principles. Are these principles much like the values that we have within the Agile Manifesto? They were set up the same way that so they were set up like systems thinking over silos and transparency over Anita knew, and setting setting big goals and achieving them incrementally, you know, those kind of things. So instead of setting small goals, they set big goals, but they achieve them incrementally instead of in one big blow. So I was like, okay, okay, that's already there. And so I look to the recruitment part, you know, because at least we want to, you know, recruit for agile mindset. So we close that tap of, you know, all mindset or thinkers. And I'll go to the recruitment page, and now I see, oh, we have a organization, we've got a value that binds us that a player mentality, and I'll look at it and there are five values. And it was literally thinking dependently be bold, delivered a change, put people first and take responsibility. And I was like, Okay, I can't argue with that. That's pretty agile. They literally recruit everybody on that mindset. And they do. It's funny, literally, everybody has the last talk, which is 15 minutes with Lex himself, Alexa, who's the who's the CEO, and he literally checks in 15 minutes, you've got the mindset or not, if you've not got the mindset, you're not an A player, you're not coming in doesn't matter how great you are. We want that mindset. And that was I mean, for me, I mean, it was like, okay, don't need a coach on that mindset. And then I saw the organization was also set up in a value stream. So there were products are at the heart of the actual value stream. So each circle, that's the department, each circle, which is from holacracy, has all their own role and responsibility on contributing to that value. So from idea until consumed value until the customer actually has it and can drive it and it's very happy with it. And it's maintained. Everybody has their own specific role in that. And that was described already. So I looked at Willem and I was like, Willem, what do you need me for? Like, what am I doing? So I thought, okay, okay, maybe we just need to set something up to sustain it. So that's literally what I did. I grabbed everything that was so beautiful, put it on a slide, and basically said, Okay, we have a assessment, which is going to assess the teams on autonomy, alignment, and like your values. So I put there, you know, do you do contribute to the mission, and I mean, the mission from lightyear is amazing, right. So everybody knows exactly what they're contributing to. So for me as an Agile coach, it's a dream, really. And then I had that team scan that team assessment. So we were able to use that as a tool in the teams to coach the teams to help them, etc. And then obviously, you know, setting up a company cadence, but yeah, I don't know if maybe we've got a bit more time for that later. In any scaling.

Dave West: 18:49
So let me see if I got this right. Yeah, I yeah, definitely like to talk about scaling as you are growing. Incredibly, and it's gonna go mad when the cars hit the street, because everybody's going to want them and then it's going to just go, it'll just explode. Right. But so we'll definitely come back to the scaling. So I just want to sort of just go through all the things that you said, ultimately, it was a very agile organization that you came into, they'd already got a very clear alignment of values, a very clear alignment to the customer and the mission, very clear alignment to people and autonomy. So they've got this fantastic situation, and which is so rare in our world. Right. So you came in. I got a question to you, though, William. Why did you these things were obviously mindfully created, but you didn't look at sort of agile or you just sort of they just seemed sort of stood out. Were the most sensible ways of building an organization that you wanted to work at.

Willem van den Corput: 19:52
I think that just happened naturally. And I think there was a there was a mindset on the idea. I think that that had started that was already Yeah, from the beginning, and talking to Michelle. And also when, four or five months ago, we prepare a presentation, we had a keynote over there. And also during that preparation said, okay, but actually, we started from scratch already agile. When I started the first year, I was doing the interior of the car. And ergonomics is, for example, how you sit in the car is a key thing because you shape it around the customer. So we didn't have a lot of money to buy cars or to make prototypes, because I think we only we only survived in the first year I guess. So we bought, we bought wooden plank so that the wire Why do itself shop, we had cut it, we made great Serbia, we put a put a seat on there where we got some scrap yard. And that sounds we adopted, we created a car and shapes are imagined in our Cid systems or CAD systems would be relevant, and then we just test it out. And it was actually already agile with that day, but it'd be great. And of course, it'd be a great need to be empty afterwards. But that's part of the startup of a WS at. So we were there with a small team and you're aligned much faster. And currently in the last two years. Yeah, hyper growth there, then then it starts to, yeah, the growing pains, we can start to keep it and then adding more people to keep the culture that was the that's, that's still the journey. So that is a challenge. And now the next step is kicking off a production. So you call me an operation mode that you need to constantly live quality, that the organization wise usually is really traditional usually, to make it happen constantly. And then we will probably will end up in a jewel operation mode, also where he talked about later in previous one. But that would be the best fit. And yet

Dave West: 22:02
it's it's super interesting, because obviously empiricism is at the heart of everything you do, you're empirically your process emerges that the outcomes emerge, you learn you inspect and adapt and you improve is built around small autonomous teams that almost have the enough skills to deliver the value. So they're beg borrowing and stealing, you know, going to Home Depot, I guess that's not in the Netherlands, but the equivalent, and like stealing ideas, meeting people for lunch that have ideas and stealing all their ideas, and then making them pay, which is obviously what most startups do, obviously, so and then but the challenge is growth. So I just want to explore a little bit about about that. And gosh, I could talk for hours about this. But I'm, I'm really curious, because the people that you're bringing in as you're growing, obviously mindset is important. But you're also going to need people that have done it that have built supply chains that have managed service contracts with how do you balance that mindset with that proven track record? Because many of these people they've been working for Bosch their bit not there's anything wrong with Bosch, or some organization have been working with these big traditional OEMs. They've been working with these traditional sort of like, not very agile automotive organizations. Fantastic. And I, you know, I love you know, I love cars. So they've done an amazing job, but they're not how do you balance that kind of like hiring for mindset, but also experience? I don't know if either of you want to want to take that? Yeah,

Willem van den Corput: 23:36
that's a tricky one, of course, if your dog is felon ladies. And yes, sir, you need market experience, you need experienced people to help out. And on the other side, you need clever people just come up with a clever idea. So that needs to be the balance. While we what we try to do and keep keep up with is at least onboarding people in the right way as fast as possible. Get a kickstart meeting where at least people start already having a warm start. We've developed over the last couple of last year, actually more training tools and making sure that we get we up in there. We do internally more feedback sessions. And you also can feedback one on one on people if if you see that behavior, there's not agile, if it's at that, at least you can talk about instead of going to the manager, the manager goes back in there. That's the old fashioned way. If you have a problem, somebody just connect and in the in, even in the beginning of Lightyear, and we, as managers were trying to get it up. We had a 24 hour rule. So if somebody can't game game and complained to me, I said okay, about somebody else. You have 24 hours to talk to them. And I will check in 24 hours with that person if you check in with them and give them the feedback in order to keep them Quick and also learn on that Sanjay Jha Allah. So if people have the ability to give feedback, we as Dutch are really direct. I think we are the difference in the world in that sense for ourselves. But we are really direct and even operators and everybody in the in the field, every engineers can even go to the CEO. To me, there's open door policy that sends, chat and also looking remote. To keep the discussion going, I think that's the most important thing.

Dave West: 25:38
So ultimately, onboarding new people, instilling these virtues walk, you obviously will walk the talk or talk the walk or whatever the expression is, I guess, walk the talk. Yeah. Which is, which is super, super important. And then Michelle, obviously, you've been heavily involved in trying to scale these practices, and talk a little bit about that sort of culture fit and how you help these new hires as to become more agile or to adopt this this mindset.

Michelle Siau: 26:10
Yeah, because I think it is a valid point, you know, I mean, if you get experience, or those, or those years of experience in a different company, people come in the company, and they just do their job, they don't think about, I have a certain way of communicating, they don't think about, I have a certain way of working. Now. I'm just literally, I'm just doing my job, and I'm doing exactly what I've been doing. And you hired me on that same position. So so that, that makes that you need to be very transparent on those, that mindset on those principles, because I think those organization design principles, those, you know, organizing around that value stream, I mean, we do have projects, you know, and we're not organized around the value stream in those projects, always. So there is a project for the lighthouse zero. But not everybody was in that. So what was my contribution, then, obviously, you know, making that very transparent and saying, Guys, we're missing these guys in here, put them in there, or, you know, if you have a problem with something, here, people out when they are seeing things, and they're very communicative, very verbal in asking for help. But it wasn't always, when there's so much happening, it doesn't always kind of sink in. So I was like checking with people going, like, I just heard you say that. But reading between the lines, I assume that you're not going to make it is that true? You know, so for me, as a coach, I would be focused on what's being said, and what's not being said. Also, like, Okay, I heard you say this thing now for the past two, three weeks. But what are we going to do about it? And asking those kind of questions and making everybody aware of that? That's, yeah, that's been been the most important thing, basically.

Dave West: 28:23
So I think that the sort of key takeaways and we're hitting time, and I Gosh, this is so such an interesting, there's so many more topics. And hopefully, I better get you both on another podcast to talk about some of those topics, particularly around scale, around, you know, deep discipline skills, how you bring this together, but, but hopefully, we can have some time to talk about those things another time. But just just summarize the, the importance of transparency, the importance of an open culture. I mean, you sort of laughed about being Dutch. But frankly, you know, I would say that Netherlands is one of the most agile places in the world, not only the way it's going to have more trainers there per capita than any other place in the world. But everybody if you were a scrum Teesha in the Netherlands, you will be talking to loads of people in the coffee shops and in the bars, because everybody everybody does it. So I think that directness, that transparency, that sort of that open culture is important. But I think Michelle, you said something that was really interesting is having agile coaches in place to ensure that transparency continues, because you're really busy. Everybody's very much focused on the outcome, and making sure that things don't get missed as as we progress is a is a key element to all of that. I think it's really really, really interesting.

Michelle Siau: 29:45
Yeah, for sure. And one, one thing that I do notice, and that's I think, if anybody's listening from engineering, be aware that engineers they want things work, if it doesn't work, like literally, if you can't throw a bomb on it, and it will not actually break, they will not go to release with it. So you need to, you really need to coach on MVP, you really need to coach on getting that visibility, getting that transparency so they can inspect and adapt. So it's yeah, it's indeed, yeah, we've got a lot. We've got still a lot that we can cover with you, I think, yeah,

Dave West: 30:28
we should. Definitely. I mean, the the, the idea of it's about frame with respect to engineers, and perfection, if you frame appropriately, it's about learning and about feedback, as opposed to building a perfect device. You can you everybody wants to deliver to get learning. If you're framing it around the device, then obviously, that's a very different story. Toyota have learned a lot about that from Toyota production system that we can probably talk about in the podcast. So I just wanted to sort of kick this off. I think it's been a really interesting story. I'm so excited to hear what happens next with light. Yeah, I think that, you know, that I, you know, I just, I didn't get chance to share these quotes. And I really want to, you know, Forbes why lightyear could be the most game changing car company on the planet technique, the essence of automotive digital disruption, CNET wild, wild light, year, zero goes 44 miles just on solar panels. autotrader lightyear has started a range of more, has started with a range of over 600 miles before charges. That's a game changer. You know, I think those ideas that you're delivering on though that that vision is ultimately driven by the people that are part of light. Yeah. And I think the culture and the values, and dare I say agility is a fundamental part of that. So thank you for spending the time on this Friday evening, sharing the start of this story. You heard it here listeners, they they said they'd come back so we can talk more about some of these things so they won't let you down. I promise. So thank you, Michelle, and Willem for taking the time. Thank you. Thank you listeners for listening. And obviously if you're interested in in Lightyear, go to the website. There's some really cool stuff there. And if you're into cars like me, you can end up down the internet rabbit hole that will take you for days to get out of but just wanted to share this story. My name is Dave West, host of the community podcast. Thank you for joining us and, and hopefully there'll be a second a second podcast coming on this topic. Thanks, everybody.

What did you think about this content?