JET: Transparency and communication are the key to alignment success
Read more by Rochelle
With all corporate action, the company is growing fast. Of course, this is good news, but with those take-overs, you don’t only acquire the company, but its people, systems, data, processes, and platforms as well. That’s why JET has a centralized approach in which the product and tech departments follow a one-platform strategy. We spoke about the role that alignment has in this strategy with Duco Berghuis, Product Team Lead with JET, even though he prefers to call himself a “contributing foreman”.
Berghuis’ team – who refers to themselves as Product Strategy & Operations – is mainly focused on “cross-vertical initiatives within the product department” that, according to Berghuis, are “of strategic importance” to JET. In addition, they’re involved with facilitating and coordinating processes and projects,
like with quarterly planning sessions or platform migrations. What’s noteworthy is that Berghuis doesn’t have a single tech guy or girl on his team. No developers, no designers, no researchers. “That’s why alignment is crucial, we’re highly dependent on other teams and departments,” says Berghuis.
Unambiguous definitions and interpretations
What Berghuis mean by alignment? He laughs, “That’s a good question. To me, alignment means coming to an agreement and providing clarity about the direction we’re going in and making choices.” However, he has an important addition: “To me, alignment also means realizing unambiguous definitions and interpretations of data, for example. It may seem that we’re talking about the same thing, but in reality, it often turns out that we’re not.” In Berghuis’ opinion, alignment is also crucial for assigning value to data sets and measuring results.
Determining what the data is about exactly is also an important part of integrating and migrating an, for example, acquired platform to its own central hub. Berghuis: “That’s our jumping-off point. What is the data about and do we all agree on what that is? We coordinate this from a very early stage and run tests throughout the process to see whether or not the number of records from the old platform matches the number of records from the new one.” To make sure that existing processes are aligned with the new ones and that everybody’s using the same definitions, Berghuis works closely together with researchers and POs from other teams. For this, he likes to organize workshops that are focused on a central theme: “The workshops revolve around features, requirements, a feature gap analysis, etc.,” he explains.
The initiative lifecycle process
JET encourages its employees to share their ideas on a digital ‘whiteboard’, called Jira. Although in practice it appears that it’s only management and other departments that are pitching ideas, each idea/request goes through the initiative lifecycle process, designed by his team. Berghuis: “It’s derived from the value engine model, but customized to our organization and specific projects.” The initiative lifecycle process always contains the same six steps, but how those steps are implemented exactly and how long each phase lasts depends on the bandwidth of the project. The steps that the initiative lifecycle process follows are:
1. idea intake phase – create a transparent list of all the ideas that might add value 2. selection – make a priority-based selection in this ‘backlog’
3. drafting – gain insight into the viability of an idea using analysis
4. hacking – create a minimum measurable version
5. shipping – go live and rollout
7. tuning – make adjustments until an acceptable level of scalability is achieved
After completing these steps, a digital solution is good to go and you can go back to the first step for a new initiative. And so the (initiative life)cycle goes round and round in Berghuis’ department.
You can’t do it by yourself
So far, we’ve mainly discussed how to align processes, data, and systems. What we haven’t discussed yet is how to align teams (i.e. people). Berghuis has a clear vision on this topic as well. For him, in this context, alignment means “communication, plain and simple”. He continues: “I’m convinced that, with an organization like JET, you won’t or hardly get results without alignment. You can’t do it by yourself and if you don’t communicate, you won’t get anywhere in life,” he laughs. Besides transparent communication, Berghuis also highly values involving and informing stakeholders in a timely fashion: “They’re the ones who decide what they want, after all.” To involve and inform those stakeholders, teams, and other interested parties on time, JET organizes a quarterly planning session before each new quarter. During these sessions, the kick-offs of (potential) new initiatives take place. Each team presents them with why, how, what, and when, but doesn’t come up with solutions just yet. That’s what those workshops are for, to collect input from all the different teams.
Aligning all those people, teams, platforms, systems and data may seem like quite the challenge. Not to Berghuis, he only feels limited by one thing: “We’re growing fast. This means that the organization can’t always scale to the same extent, because we don’t always have sufficient resources. Which means having to prioritize or lower your ambitions.”
And even though one would assume that JET has all its alignment ducks in a row, Berghuis indicates: “There’s always room for improvement. It’s a continuous process because with each project you learn something new. Which holds true for everything, each day you learn more as an organization, as a team, and as a person. And don’t forget: you’ll learn most from your mistakes,” he reminds us.
Doing your homework
Berghuis also has a couple of helpful tips for his peers: “Do your homework. You’re a beacon of knowledge and should therefore have all the answers. Additionally, you must be transparent and communicative at all times. In my experience, substantiating your ‘why’ and committing your stakeholders early on, are a recipe for success,”
This interview is part of a blog series about alignment. Here you can read about the importance of strategic alignment in digital product development or download our whitepaper about this topic below.
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