VanMoof: ‘Alignment is not an afterthought’  

By 6 February 2022Innovatie

VanMoof: ‘Alignment is not an afterthought’  

When you think of The Netherlands, you think of bikes. With more bicycles than people, the Netherlands is a cycling country beyond any other. We were one of the first countries in the world that completely adapted our infrastructure and road network to accommodate cyclists. With its smart, city-proof and tough-as- nails e-bikes, VanMoof targets a younger audience, breaking the stereotype of what an e-bike should look like and who should ride it. And they’re doing it well, because the company is growing fast. “The sales have tripled in the last year,” says Martijn Hazelaar, Head of Digital at VanMoof, pride in his voice. Of course, this rapid growth requires alignment of processes, data and platforms, so we sat down with Hazelaar for a chat.

A platform for everything

First of all, we’d like to know where VanMoof stands when it comes to digital development. Hazelaar explains: “We’re a young company, so we usually look for the digital solution right away. We started out with two digital platforms, but now there are seven or eight.” There’s a platform for B2C sales, one for B2B subscriptions, a planning tool for repairs and test rides, a platform that ensures that both bicycles and repairs can be paid for in-store, platforms for financing and accounting, and of course MyVanMoof where users can manage their own bicycle. Apart from these platforms – this actually falls under R&D – there’s the Rider app, that controls the bike and makes sure that you can find it when it gets stolen. “For the Rider app we work together with Apple FindMy, which allows us to pinpoint the exact location of stolen bicycles,” says Hazelaar.

FixIt

The latest platform that Hazelaar and his team (together with INFO) are working on, is the FixIt platform. This FixIt platform was created to serve the certified workshops and their bike doctors, to get them up to speed quickly and to improve communication with the customer during repairs. FixIt is currently managed by INFO, but Hazelaar has already hired people who will take over its management in the coming year. And this is where the topic of alignment first enters our conversation. Hazelaar: “I prefer to have the majority of my team working in-house, even though we have a good partner in INFO. It provides us with direct access to the certified workshops, to the Operations team and to the bike doctors. After all, they know best how the repair flow works. That has everything to do with alignment.”

Transparency is everything

And what is alignment, according to Hazelaar? “Cooperation?” he wonders out loud at first. “Usually, the focus is on the Development team and what they’re building. But the real work is looking at what we need, what can be tested, checking with our users whether we’re building what they’re expecting, whether they know what’s coming and how this all aligns with our stakeholders’ expectations,” he explains. So, it’s really all about transparent communication. That everyone knows where they stand and based on that, up their support or develop extra functionalities.

“Transparency is everything!” he laughs. He adds that in order to keep everyone aligned, “you actually have to communicate more than feels natural. You need a fixed pattern, to instill some kind of rhythm”.

Alignment on the go

When it comes to aligning processes and people, Hazelaar kills two birds with one stone: “To align the processes, it’s important to involve all users, stakeholders and developers from the beginning.” Hazelaar starts every project with the largest possible scope and even though “it always changes, it’s a good jumping-off point for alignment,” he feels. For example, during the development of the FixIt platform, he (or a team member) visits the bike doctors every two weeks, since they’re the end users. He also has weekly meetings with the POs of the different teams involved. They discuss the development of the platform and also, for example, who will own what by the time it’s finished. Alignment of the teams (in this specific case) actually goes pretty smoothly: “First, we ensure that all internal stakeholders are present during the demo. And when the demos and the releases that follow are presented to the certified workshops, we ensure that people from the Development and Operations teams are present to support where needed. To visit our certified workshops, we drive all across the Netherlands and the EU, so often upon return, we get out of the car fully aligned,” he laughs. After those visits, a lot of time is spent on relaying the feedback they’ve received from the workshops, so that the people who weren’t there also know what’s up.

Dedicated Data team

All the different platforms that VanMoof uses collect a considerable amount of data. But how do they ensure that all the data is aligned, transparent
and available for the entire organization? First of all, they have one central, dedicated Data team. Each team has a data analyst with their own dashboard, who ensures that all new data coming in is easier to read. The Data team collects the data and comes up with ways to include the data in a system. Then the team feeds the data through a BI tool, so that it can be used by different teams. Hazelaar: “With data, it’s useful to have a company- wide strategy and a dedicated team. This ensures the data can be managed, is used properly and is communicated to the people who need or want to use it.”

No MVPs

One of the most interesting things Hazelaar shared with us during our conversation, is the fact that he doesn’t believe in MVPs: “I stopped using MVPs. With MVPs you run the risk of building something that may not work or doesn’t meet the needs of the users. Depending on the complexity, it’s much better to come up with something within a week or two, that can be tested immediately by the users and then used as a basis for further development, like we did with the FixIt platform. We just want to deliver strong functionalities as quickly as possible, the so-called earliest testable product.”

Service hub VanMoof

Challenging growth

When asked about obstacles he experiences when
working towards alignment, his answer is brief: “I don’t think we have many obstacles, we mainly have challenges.” One of the challenges Hazelaar faces is the explosive growth of the workforce. To illustrate, seventy new people joined the team last month alone: “It’s a fulltime job to involve and align new people and departments. With
so many people, it can be hard to figure out who the stakeholders are. Besides, it’s a challenge to ensure that your priorities remain the same as new people, departments and processes are added all the time. It can be difficult to guarantee the quality of alignment with so many people joining and moving through the organization.” Fortunately, Hazelaar can count on the support of the various program and project managers who are fully dedicated to creating alignment within the organization.

Alignment is not an afterthought

Finally, Hazelaar shares some useful tips for other fast- growing companies and people in similar positions: “Alignment and processes aren’t an afterthought. They both need time and attention. That’s why there must be a dedicated team member who continuously monitors the process.” He emphasizes the importance of transparent communication once again (“Often people don’t catch on until the third time you say something.”). He also believes alignment should be integrated from the start, by involving all beneficiaries at the beginning of the project. “Make them part of the process and make it easy for them, so that even non-techies can understand and follow the process. That way, it’s more fun for everyone,” he concludes.

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