Deutsche Bahn
Railway System Digitization
Digitalisierung und Agilität
Developing the railway system of the future is a highly complex task. It requires creativity, flexibility and an organizational system with clear, decentralized responsibilities and fast decision-making pathways, a system that sees uncertainty and constant change as a benefit.
The challenge

The railway system in Germany needs to be digitized and made fit for the future. Technological innovations based on new digital technologies are a major lever for this. Integrating these new digital technologies into the railway system is the task of the Railway System Digitization department within the Digital Rail Germany program.

Even though the department’s team started the process with a clear goal and a well thought-out process for developing the digital railway system, there is no blueprint for the railway system of the future: it needs to be redesigned from scratch. Generating the necessary innovative capacity for this requires lots of experts to be brought around the table to self-organized discuss their ideas, using flat hierarchies, quick decision-making pathways and fast prototyping to generate results.

Holistic, culturally transformative
and innovation-promoting
The approach

From the moment he started putting the department together, the head of Railway System Digitization was aware that the complex challenges could not be overcome with a traditional, statically-structured organization. So, ever since the project launched in 2017, we’ve been helping the team develop a self-organized Loop Approach structure.
Back then, the team was very small, but was intended to grow quickly. So it was particularly important for the organization to have healthy, sustainable structures from the outset which could be scaled up later.

The process

We initially accompanied the first three teams and the leadership group on their Loop Journey through the three modules of Clarity, Outcomes and Evolution, enabling all the team members to experience the seven habits of effective organizations. Alongside this, facilitation courses and nonviolent communication classes were conducted with several staff, helping to develop a healthy feedback system.

Next, we worked together to develop a Loop Onboarding process, which has now been revised and refined, to help the increasing number of staff find their feet in the team’s new agile way of working.

Today, an established “Loop Circle”, part of Organizational and Employee Development, ensures that the now 200-strong unit develops its self-organizational operating system as needed. This, after all, is the core competency of self-organized teams and companies: being able to continuously develop themselves, change rules, supplement roles and make responsibilities transparent.

Dr. Moritz Heimes, Railway System Digitization (Digital Rail Germany, Deutsche Bahn)

“Nobody can tell us what the path to the railway system of the future looks like in practice. So it’s all the more important that we bring together experts who pool innovative thinking in their own way. Flat hierarchies, clear responsibilities and fast decision-making pathways are essential for this. The Loop Approach has helped us develop this culture.”

The outcome

Today, the now 200-strong Railway System Digitization department works entirely according to the Loop Principles of self-organization tailored to their organization.

Like every team that organizes itself according to the Loop Principles, the Railway System Digitization team has found its very own form of collaboration. For them, it’s particularly important that self-organization doesn’t mean completely doing away with hierarchies and responsibilities. Quite the opposite: individual responsibilities are made explicitly clear for everyone through governance processes and role definitions. The difference is that a specialist hierarchy is formed where one person has the best skills for the current project phase. Self-organized hierarchies are skills-based, which helps the team ensure its work always aligns with the overarching mission: developing a future-proof railway system.

In figures


staff working in a self-organized fashion based on the Loop Approach


Loop Onboarding appointments scheduled by the Loop Circle have helped new staff find their feet in the existing self-organized structures


clear-the-air training sessions held


Circle Lead training sessions held

Frederik Fleischmann, TheDive Project Lead, Railway System Digitization (Digital Rail Germany, Deutsche Bahn)

“From the start, the management team took the approach that what was tried and tested could stay, and that we would find new solutions for areas where there had been problems in the past. This is truly pioneering work, and not just in a technological sense: it’s also pioneering for the organizational and social railway systems of the future.”

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