GN Audio is part of GN Great Nordic, a Danish technology group founded in 1869. GN Audio was founded in 1987 as a spin-off from GN Danavox (the current GN Hearing, former GN ReSound) and is among the leading and fastest growing suppliers of hands-free communications solutions.
From its global headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, GN Audio operates in three regions: the Americas, with headquarters in Lowell, Massachusetts, Europe, Middle East and Africa headquartered in Copenhagen, and Asia-Pacific headquartered in Hong Kong. GN Audio’s research and development is based in Copenhagen, production facilities in China and GN Audio has sales offices in 15 countries.
- Approximately 1,000 employees
- Total revenue: DKK 561 million (EBITA)
- Head office: Ballerup Denmark
The pilot project
The project at GN Audio is categorized as a sales/IT project and is about developing new ways of working with digital sales. By launching a test marketplace by applying the Half Double Methodology, GN Audio will be able to reduce its project lead time and time to market dramatically. Since launching online sales channels, one of GN Audio’s challenges has revolved around a tendency of launches stagnating due to heavy after work to correct errors from previous launches, thus tying up resources that could have been used elsewhere to perfect existing channels and develop new ones.
In order to reach the project’s ambition of reducing GN Audio’s project development lead time from nine to three months, the three pilot project months will outline the foundation of how information flows between technical platforms and, to begin with, a new channel to be ready for launch 1 July 2016. The pilot project outlines how future online sales via multiple channels will take place: each of these channels addresses different marketplaces across geographies.
From the point of departure, the project enjoyed a high degree of top management attention, largely due to its must win battle status in the organization. At that point in time, the highly dedicated project owner had no team and was consequently struggling with finding and allocating resources in the organization. With only three months from project initiation to the final deliverable, the project was an organizational challenge from start.
Local implementation of Impact, Flow and Leadership
The impact case was developed early to set the direction for all stakeholders: The impact case was developed in close collaboration with the project owner and the business project leader with a few iterations during the project start-up. At the first meeting the objective setting (purpose, success criteria and deliverables) was established. At the second meeting, the impact solution design was developed and the objectives were finally set along with the scope of the project. Afterwards in corporation with the project owner, the impact case was broken down into measurable business and behavioral KPIs, which were printed on a poster and placed for all in the co-location room. Lead time and data quality were the main drivers of the impact case.
Impact Solution Design
Shorter Time-to-Market with fewer errors by collaborating better: The foundation for the impact solution was initially designed at the first meeting with the project owner and the business project leader. It was agreed that the time span for the Half Double pilot project was going to be three months. Therefore, the sessions evolved around “what have we achieved after three months?” The answer: A new way of working with projects across business and IT. And, in addition: Successful launch of a critical market, which normally takes up to nine months.
The overall idea of this project is to run a trial for “future implementation of new markets”. This essentially means that the three-month initiation and applying the Half Double Methodology should set the standard for future projects in terms of how to collaborate effectively across departments. The three months were broken down into four sprints of value adding. The positive effect of this process was immense and allowed the team to gain more knowledge about the project and the potential output and outcome.
When the team entered the development phase, it was much easier for them to know exactly what to develop, and therefore they could develop it much faster. Previously this was not the case for similar projects at GN Audio. A developer put it this way during the third sprint (development phase): “I have never previously known so much about what the other people in the team are doing and how that influences my deliverables as I do in this project”.
To follow the gut feeling: Both analog pulse checks and digital pulse checks were established. The analog pulse was conducted every Friday after the sprint meeting. The single question for the pulse check was “Frankly, what is your gut feeling, are we on the right track?” There have been four analog pulse checks so far, and the average score started out with 2.5 and has steadily climbed to 3.5 (on a 5-point scale). The digital pulse check with six questions regarding project performance is conducted at the beginning of each sprint. So far two digital pulse checks have been conducted and the average score was 3.4 and 3.5. Throughout, the pulse check was used as input for dialog with the team and stakeholders on how to adjust the project to increase stakeholder satisfaction.
The fixed project rhythm sets the heartbeat in the project: The business project leader is located in Boston, US, and some of the developers are located in the US as well. The rest of the team, including the IT project leader and the project owner, are located in Ballerup, Denmark.
The team resources (especially from IT) could not be allocated 60% to the project and a pragmatic approach was needed. Instead, two days a week all involved team parties were to work on the project. The other three days were kept free for other matters. This allowed for 20%-30% allocation of resources (which in GN Audio is a lot for a single project). During the two days, daily 30 minute stand-ups are conducted at a fixed time allowing US East Coast project members to join the meeting via Skype. Three questions are in focus: 1) what did I do? 2) what am I going to do? and 3) what stands in my way to complete my tasks? The Half Double team facilitated the first couple of meetings to set a best practice.
After six or seven stand-up meetings, when the pace of the meetings was satisfactory, the facilitation responsibility was handed over to the IT project leader. Today, the stand-up meetings typically last no longer than 20 minutes.
Visual planning sets everything out in the open
We started out by building the masterplan for a period of 14 weeks. This was done on a huge whiteboard with post-its; three work streams were identified. After establishing the masterplan, we developed the first sprint. The first step was to identify deliverables for the first sprint. That was done collaboratively with the team present. The sprint was scoped on a sprint poster with post-its. Where the masterplan is divided into three subject categories for the work streams, the sprint plan is developed on an individual level. This means that the Sprint board lists each team member’s name, and each team member has assigned specific tasks to themselves at the sprint planning session.
Due to the geographical distance between core members of the team, we used a digital master and sprint plans to supplement the analog master and sprint plans in the co-location room. For this purpose, a software, which is an exact copy (format and visually) of the analog project plans used in this project, was introduced.
To get everybody in sync and increase efficiency and team spirit: At the very first meeting with the project owner and the business project leader, it was discussed where the team could establish a co-location room. The prerequisites for this room were that it had plenty of space to work in, fresh air, walls to stick posters on and that it was available 24/7. The room we found basically represents a cool industrial atmosphere which fits well with a development project and a creative team like this one.
One of the main challenges for GN Audio was to get people to work efficiently together across departments. Creating the co-location room and setting the fixed heartbeat (Tuesdays and Fridays) in this project have increased the flow across departments significantly. The visual project boards enhanced transparency for all team members and stakeholders. It took some time to acknowledge the value of the room but after the first sprint, an informal culture outlining how to prepare for the visual stand up and what to present (and not present) was established.
Active project ownership is needed to kick in top management doors
From day 1, the project owner was deeply involved in the project. He was present at the first two workshops where the Impact Solution Design was developed, and he has been present at all stand ups (except a few). His tasks are visible to all on the sprint plan, and he is overall responsible for the organizational anchoring work stream. The project owner has the main responsibility for the steering committee dialog and for getting resources allocated to the project. He is a very informal, direct person who goes straight to the decision-makers when needed. His commitment and his determination to get things moving and get line managers to allocate resources to the project has been pivotal for fast and steady project progression.
Skilled collaborative project leaders with shared responsibility
The business project leader is located in Boston (but visits Denmark every 4-6 weeks) and the IT project leader is located in Ballerup, Denmark. It is imperative for project success that the project leaders know their way around the organization – especially in GN Audio. The project owner has a tough job aligning expectations with senior managers and gets them on board – but it is the project leaders’ responsibility to get the project moving and keep the team members engaged and motivated. So far, they have done a great job.
Put people before systems to support each individual in the project
The project team including the project leaders and project owner consists of 12-15 people in each sprint. From day 1 it was communicated that the Half Double Methodology emphasizes a people approach rather than a systems approach. This has been communicated continuously throughout the project. One way of showing this was the active ownership and involvement of everybody in the colocation room – even the “hardcore programmers”. Everybody has defined their own tasks and asked for help from others in the project if needed – also asking for help from other parts of the organization.
The GN Audio governance model is rather complex and to some extent non-transparent. For instance, IT is placed in several departments, and thus IT resources needed in the project must be endorsed from different line managers. Everybody seems to agree that this is a complex governance set-up to work with in projects. But when we all meet in the colocation room – everything appears simpler and solutions are found that fit governance as well as the project.
A few accounts from the pilot project at GN Audio
Are they going to destroy us? The Half Double Methodology immediately created attention at top management level – and not necessarily positive attention. The main reason was that line managers realized that the Half Double Methodology would require them to allocate some of their key resources to the project with a much higher allocation than normally.
Therefore, before the first steering committee meeting, where the Half Double Methodology was to be presented, the project owner was concerned that the committee would disapprove of the project approach. When the meeting came to an end, the project owner, a bit reluctantly, asked the steering committee: “Anything that concerns you about this way of working?” The straightforward answer was “No, why should we be concerned? It is hard to disagree with the approach. We support it; get on with it and we look forward to seeing the results”.
“I am definitely going to apply that frontloading exercise when I initiate my own sprints”. At the beginning of all sprint planning workshops, the core team at GN Audio carried out a frontloading exercise, which basically is about generating a wide array of questions that need to be answered, to be able to finalize the sprint deliverables. The frontloading exercise has repeatedly proven to yield fundamental questions, scoring high on both importance and urgency. One of the external team members expressed his great satisfaction with the exercise and proclaimed that he was definitely going to copy the exercise and apply it as part of his own sprint planning workshops. “The kind of discussion we have, based on these questions, gains more value and enables us to be aligned about what is most important in the next sprint”, he stated at one sprint workshop giving us the feeling that we were on the right track with the flow of the project.
“We never had such a high degree of transparency and cross-organizational alignment in a project”. At each sprint session, Tuesdays and Fridays, all team members; including those not colocated at GN Audio (but work out of the US) walk through their tasks of the week. Because each meeting helps get the project members to share the same vision and clarifies expectations among project members, the cross-organizational knowledge has increased manifold, which one of the project’s core team members positively expressed at the beginning of the third sprint planning workshop. “Throughout this workshop, I finally get to see the huge value of this methodology. I have never before in GN Audio experienced such a deep understanding of what the other team members are doing and how that influences my work. To have this understanding makes it much easier and fun to contribute to the project”.