Steve Foreshew-Cain: paying £9 million to local causes and hosting our first digital operations show and tell

Steve: Hello and welcome to the weekly Digital update. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will recognise that I’m not Mike Bracken but given that I have shaved my beard off for Easter this week you might also not recognise who I am. So, I’m Steve Foreshew-Cain and I’m the Chief Operating Officer for the Digital group.

As is the tradition in these updates we start with a big number and it’s important big number this week because this week marked the day that we gave away £9 million to our community local causes nominated by our members.

And there’s another big number associated with membership this week which is that we have welcomed 800,000 new members to the Co-op since we launched our renewed membership proposition. An impressive achievement by any standard.

The other important thing to call out for those of you who are interested in the community work that we do is an opportunity to get directly involved in that by joining as a Member Pioneer. The deadline for that, to sign up, for that is the 26th of this month so less than a week away, but if you’re a colleague or if you’re a member of the Co-op you still have an opportunity to join that important work.

Another important activity this week was the first of our digital operations show and tells where we talked about platforms, we talked about service management and we talked about security and how those capabilities form a part of the digital services that we deliver and we operate.

And as is also traditional in our weekly update we say a big hello to new members of the Digital Team to a big shout out to Ian Thomas and Michael Davis who’ve joined our data team and a big hello to Debbie Roycroft who’s joined as a software engineer in our digital engineering practice.

And of those of you who are watching this because you’re interested in the work that we’re doing here at the Co-op as ever the opportunity to come and join us exists so please look at all of the opportunities that we have out there and get in contact.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Digital Chief Operating Officer

The Federation: our plans are progressing

Victoria: Hi, I’m Victoria Howlett and I’m the Federation Manager over at Federation House as part of the Co-op Digital team.

The Federation is a digital community hub. The Co-op Digital team and Co-op have put this together and it’s based on the Co-op’s ethical values.

Federation is going to be home to many different tech and digital businesses. It’s going to have a co-working floor with private offices on that floor which seat from 6 to 8 people. We’re also going to have hot-desking options on that floor so permanent desks, flexible desks, that will be available to book through the website.

We’ve been extremely lucky to be in contact with two wonderful ladies of Nomad Clan who are the artists and you’ll see some fantastic work that they’ve done throughout the north of England. We’ve ask them to look at the history of Manchester way beyond it being a Roman city and they’ve been to the archives of the Co-op and we’re going to combine that to create something really unique and unusual as it will be the first entrance point for the building, so that’s really exciting.

Roughly we’ll have 12, 13 private suites ranging from 3,000 square feet down to 300 square feet, so there’s a lot of difference there, and so were able to be home for lots of different companies and startup businesses.

It’s really exciting actually that we’re welcoming Thought Works into the Federation and they’re taking the whole of the fourth floor which is really exciting.

One thing that Co-op wanted to ensure is that they’re here to nurture, help nurture, businesses so that businesses can grow. This is really going to feel like home and for a lot of businesses and we think that that’s essential for businesses to be comfortable relaxed and grow.

So we’ve gone very neutral pastel colours, very relaxed environment, there’s Chesterfield sofas that are in yellow, there’s hanging wicker baskets that people can go and get some time out in, there’s picnic benches that will be around in the kitchen area just to relax on and then again, we’ll have the spiral staircase that will lead down to the coffee shop floor, so nobody feels closed off. We really do want everyone to feel like they can have a wander around and see see what’s going on and communicate really well with each other.

So very, very excited about the future Federation. Personally, I see Federation just going to go from strength to strength and will be around for a long time helping businesses in Manchester.

Victoria Howlett
Federation Manager

Giving local causes the £9 million our members have earned

Co-op members earn 5% for themselves and 1% for their local cause when they buy Co-op own-brand products. The local cause funds have been building up since we launched our new membership in September and have reached approximately £9 million.

Six months on, we’re now starting to pay that £9 million to the 4000 local causes over the UK.

To celebrate, we worked with director Shane Meadows to show some of the projects our members have been supporting. Here’s his film.

Thank you to our members for helping us make a difference to your local communities. Like George the Poet says in the opening line of the film, “Great things happen when we work together.”

If you haven’t already, join us and become a Co-op member.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

We’ve updated the ‘forms’ bit of our design manual

On 26 January 2017 we posted to say we’d released our design manual so we could start to share design styles, patterns and advice for people building digital services at Co-op.

We’ve now updated the section about making forms. We’ve done this so that our forms are clear, simple and easy to understand for anyone who wants to use them.

The forms section now includes information about ‘inputs’ (any point that the user gives us data), ‘patterns’ (ways to solve commonly occurring problems) and advice about how to design a good form.

Form inputs and patterns

We’ve updated our form input and pattern guidance with things that the design team has learned over the past 2 months.

You can use the manual to find out why, when and how to:

  • use things like radio buttons, checkboxes and text areas
  • ask people for personal information like their name, address, date of birth and so on
  • tackle recurring patterns like validation messages and ‘progressive reveals’ (showing more information based on a previous answer)

Designing a good form

But, we didn’t want it just to be a pattern library. As Steve Krug said in his foreword to ‘Forms that work‘ by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney:

“[Form design] isn’t just about colons and choosing the right widgets. It’s about the whole process of making good forms, which has a lot more to do with making sure you’re asking the right questions in a way that your users can answer than it does with whether you use a drop-down list or radio buttons.”

So, we’ve included advice about forming, structuring and wording questions to encourage us to consider the effect on the user at every point of the interaction.

What’s next

The next thing we’re going to look at is how we should design tables and data visualisation at Co-op. This will include research about:

  • how words and figures are presented
  • horizontal and vertical space
  • type sizes and weights
  • lines
  • colour
  • basic trends and comparisons

We’ll update you with the things that we learn.

Tell us what you think

Check out our updates to the form section and let us know what you think — you can now send us feedback directly from each page of the manual, without having to email.

Your feedback will make the design manual better.

Joanne Schofield
On behalf of the Design Manual Team

What we’ve learnt since coop.co.uk went live

Users come to coop.co.uk to find whatever Co-op thing they’re looking for. The site’s been live for almost 3 weeks now.

To help us design the new site, we looked at how customers and members were using the old one. For example, we ordered the content so the most popular things appear first. We’ve been looking carefully at the data to monitor traffic and see if any user journeys are broken and so far, everything’s looking good.

Thorough prep paid off

We changed the old site for a few reasons: the content management system was difficult for us to develop and improve; the performance was slow and some sections of the site weren’t responsive.

The old site had been up and running for 8 years and the team that was working on it wasn’t the same as the one that set it up. Over the years, documenting different parts of the site had got messy and complicated but we knew that and planned for the problems we thought we’d face.

Positive results from our biggest change

The biggest change we’ve made is improving the search function. We stopped it searching old content so that it didn’t return results that were out of date and for the first time searches can find food stores.

Since then, we’ve seen the number of searches increase by 28% (admittedly, this could be seen as a positive or negative thing) but the number of search refinements has dropped by 13%. That’s when a user’s first search didn’t return a result they were looking for so they search again using different terms. This means people are finding the results they want, quicker.

We’re still learning though

Five days after we launched we added a feedback box on the search results page. A recurring piece of feedback that we’ve had through it is that users are struggling to add points to their Membership card.

“I went shopping and forgot my Membership card. I’m just trying to add my points. ”

“I forgot to take my Membership card. I have my receipts, can I add my points.”

We’ve now created a ‘Forgotten card. Add your Co-op rewards’ page in response to those comments.

Making things better and quicker

To help make the site quicker and potentially save on server costs we’ve been making improvements to our codebase. We’re halfway through refactoring the backend which should more than double the server response time and add improved resilience under load.

Looking at the analytics

As part of the piece work, we also looked at our old urls. I blogged back in January 2016 about why we got rid of 20 websites to improve the quality of our content. We’ve got rid of lots more since then. We took down 400 pages of information on Co-op estates and we’ve put in lots of redirects from searches. The most notable one is when people search for our funeral homes we direct them to the new Funeralcare branch finder.

Despite the cull, there hasn’t been a massive drop in the number of page views. The blue line is the new site and the orange is the old site.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 15.40.45

All this is just the latest chunk of work we’ve been doing – we know there’s still a long way to go. As always, we want to improve the site so if you have feedback, we’re keen to hear it.

Peter Brumby
Digital Channels Manager

Rufus Olins: recruiting for Member Pioneers and paying £9 million to local causes


Rufus: Hello, I’m Rufus and I’m doing the weekly update this week because Mike’s away. I want to talk to you a bit about Membership and community, because this is a landmark week for us. There are 2 big things that are happening that I’m going to tell you about.

The first is we’ve started recruiting for Member Pioneers. We launched on Friday, a big campaign so that we’ve got 50 pioneers at the Co-op in time for the AGM, and we’re building to 1,500 pioneers.

That is a huge moment for us as we reinvent our concept of pioneers from what they were in 1844 to a 21st century version, where we have someone connecting people in every community in the UK, and improving people’s lives.

So, we got off to a great start and we’ve already had, on the first day, 40 applications or expressions of interest in the role. And that’s just the beginning. The applications are open until April 10th and we want a really high calibre of committed people that have got an appetite to make their communities better. So if you know anybody, or would like to do it yourself, please don’t hesitate to go online and fill out the form. It’s a really easy process.

The second initiative I want to talk to you about is the pay out that we’re giving to local causes. On April 19th we’re going to be paying out £9 million to 4,000 local causes. It’s a huge milestone event for the Co-op and signifies a moment where the world can see that we’re moving from being about financial transactions, which are important, to really participating and supporting those causes in our local communities.

We’re doing a social media campaign, there’s going to be celebrations in every store throughout the UK, and we’ve highlighted 46 beacon stores which are really special and will be great examples of what the best really looks like. If you can go and support your local store and get a taste of what’s going on and develop a relationship with the local cause, that’s what we’d like to see so please look out for it on April 19th and do what you can to take part.

Rufus Olins
Chief Membership Officer

Our Co-op Architecture Principles

Before Christmas we started working on our architecture principles; a set of principles to empower and guide all colleagues who design, build or buy technology for the Co-op. We put together a team from across the Co-op Group to create the principles in line with Co-op values.

Since then, our architects who put them together have improved them, shortened them and have tested them with some of the people who’ll be using them.

It’s important to show and to share

We knew that the best way to get meaningful feedback would be to test the principles with real users. We asked our colleagues across different projects and business units to test them so we could get a better idea of how well they might work in the wider Co-op. Colleagues told us they wanted the principles to have more clarity, direction and include pointers on how to use them. So we’ve made changes based on their feedback.

Here’s a shorter version of the latest version of our 10 Architecture Principles. Note: this is just that: a latest version, and we anticipate this will change (probably shorten) in the future.

  1. Understand what people need

We find out who all the real users are and how to meet their needs in order to define what a service should do and who else is it impacts. Technical and design decisions should come from what people need and not from organisational structures or silos.

  1. Act based on context

Context includes our environment, the wider Co-op, the value chain, the changing market, and the problem we’re trying to solve. Technology quickly becomes uncompetitive as the industry moves on. We need to look beyond the industries we know well for examples of ways we could do things better.

  1. It’s not just about the technology

Coming up with a technology ‘solution’ before we’ve understood the problem could mean we waste significant time and money on a project that goes wrong. We understand problems well when we test how a technology fits with users needs, processes, people and data.

  1. Working together makes things better

When we work in silos we usually only see things from one perspective. That means we’re less likely to spot problems that will come up later on in a project so having conversations early on will lead to a better outcome.

  1. Trusted, reliable and secure

We need to consider how well a technology needs to work (as opposed to what it does) so that it’s trusted, reliable, easy to support and secure. If we don’t do this, the technology won’t meet user needs and will cost a lot of time and money to fix. We need to take time to ensure the technology is secure, reliable, supportable and that it handles data responsibly.

  1. Prove it works

Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work here. If we haven’t proven that something actually meets real user needs before committing, we might find ourselves making compromises later on.

  1. Balance cost, value and risk

We should make decisions based on a good understanding of cost, value and risk and how they impact each other. For example, choosing a solution because it’s the cheapest to deliver doesn’t mean it’s going to be the cheapest to run, manage or provide the same amount of value.

  1. Scope and ownership will change

We can’t assume everything will stay the same. Things will change but we don’t always know what when we’re designing something. Smaller things are easier to change so we need to look for opportunities to break down problems and choose the right technology for each component.  

  1. Make things so that they work with other things

If our technology limits our access to data, is difficult to use with other things, or doesn’t work with other technologies, we’re going to have very little flexibility in the future. We can create value we didn’t expect through appropriate sharing and reusing of services and information while respecting data protection, privacy and security requirements.

  1. Do the hard work to keep it simple

Thinking ahead is important. If we’re replacing something, we should make sure we completely remove the old thing first. We need to leave things in a better condition than how we found them.

Next up: governance

We’re going to start work on a new governance model that will sit alongside and complement the principles. We’ll talk about our progress on that soon.
The Co-op architecture community