How much do you know about your connected devices?

The Digital Product Research (DPR) team at Co-op Digital is exploring new products and services. We’ve been trying out Google Ventures’ Design Sprint, a framework that encourages teams to develop, prototype and test ideas in just 5 days.

Recently, we’ve looked at connected devices; everyday objects that communicate between themselves or with the internet. It’s a running joke that people don’t read terms of service documents, they just dart down the page to the ‘accept’ button so how much do they really understand about what they’ve signed up for?

Many connected devices are doing things people might not expect, like selling your personal data, or they’re vulnerable to malevolent activities, like your baby monitor being hacked. These things don’t seem to be common knowledge yet but when they start getting more coverage we expect there to be a big reaction.

A right to know what connected devices are doing

In the DPR team, we have a stance that the Co-op shouldn’t express an opinion on whether what a device is doing is good or bad. We’re just interested in making the information around it accessible to everyone so that people can decide for themselves.

In our first sprint we looked at how people relate to the connected devices they have in their homes. We found that though the people we interviewed were reluctant to switch them off at first, or to disable the ‘smart’ functionality, they were open to learning about what their devices are doing.

Influencing the buying decision

With that in mind, we looked at an earlier point in the buying process. We mapped the buying journey.

Mapping the buying journey on a whiteboard. Shows customers want to buy a TV. They research products by reading expert reviews, user reviews, looking on retailer websites and asking friends. Then they make a decision.

What if journalists and reviewers of connected devices were encouraged to write about privacy and security issues? Maybe this could satisfy our aim to influence consumers. If manufacturers knew that their terms and conditions would be scrutinised by reviewers and read by potential customers, maybe they’d make them more transparent from the start.

Our prototype

We made a website in a day and named it Legalease. The purpose of the website was to gather research. It was a throwaway prototype that wouldn’t be launched. It wasn’t Co-op branded so we could avoid any preconceptions. The site showed product terms and conditions and made it easy for reviewers to identify privacy and security clauses that could be clearer.

Shows a screenshot of Legalease prototype. The page shows an LG smart TV and highlights some of the T&Cs. Eg, 'please be aware that if your spoken word includes personal or other sensitive info, it will be captured if you use voice-recognition features'. Page shows someone's comment below: 'and then what happens to it? is it transmitted anywhere?'

The product page showed ‘top highlighted’ parts of the privacy policy ranked by votes. Annotations called into question the highlighted passage.

Shows a screenshot of another tab on the same page as first screenshot. This tab shows the T&Cs in full and contributors can highlight and comment on parts.

Another page showed the ‘full text’ – the full privacy policy document with annotations. The idea is that anybody who’s interested in this sort of thing can create an account and contribute. We imagined a community of enthusiasts would swarm around the text and discuss what they found noteworthy. This would become a resource for product reviewers (who in this case were our user research participants) to use in their reviews.

We interviewed reviewers

We spoke to a mixture of journalists and reviewers from publications like the Guardian and BBC and lesser known review sites like rtings.com. We got to understand how they write their stories.

Objectivity versus subjectivity

We found that what they write can be anywhere on the scale of objective to subjective. For example, a reviewer at rtings.com used repeatable machine testing to describe product features while a writer for The Next Web was able to introduce their own personal and political slant in their articles.

Accuracy

We found that the accuracy of their article was important to them. They’d use their personal and professional contacts for corroboration and often go to the source to give them chance to reply.

Sensationalism is winning!

We’re in danger of ‘fake news’. One of our research participants said:

“Now, with everything being on the internet, it’s pretty easy for someone who just has a couple of mates to throw stuff together on a blog and it look very persuasive.”

We found that they used a mixture of analytics and social media to measure their impact. There was no mention of being concerned with the broader impact their articles might have in terms of whether or not people bought the products based on certain aspects of what they wrote about.

Reviewers thoughts on our product

Some of our research participants made comparisons with websites that have similar structure and interactions like Genius and Medium. The annotations on the Legalease prototype highlighted ambiguity in the terms and conditions but our participants didn’t find that useful – they expected more objectivity. They were also concerned about the validity of the people making the annotations and said that lawyers or similar professionals would carry more weight and authority.

How ‘Co-op’ is the idea?

Our participants thought our prototype was open, fair and community-spirited so it reflects Co-op’s values. There were question marks around whether older organisation like Co-op can reinvent themselves in this way, though.

Reviewing security as well as features

Security and privacy are starting to show up more often in:

But after our research we don’t think reviewers would use something like a Legalease site to talk about security and privacy. Some of the journalists we spoke to thought their readers didn’t care about these issues, or that people are resigned to a lack of privacy. One said:

“People tend to approach tech products with blind faith, that they do what they say they do.”

Connecting the abstract with the real world

Our participants told us their readers are bothered by being bombarded by targeted ads and being ‘ripped off’. This leads us to consider exploring how to connect the more abstract issues around data protection and privacy to these real-world manifestations of those issues. Then we should explain why these annoying things keep happening — and in plain, everyday language.

James Rice
Product designer

Mike Bracken: Digital Skills Festival, data principles and welcoming our new CEO

Mike: Hello. It’s the sixth full week of the year. Sorry to miss a week last week due to holidays.

Some big news this week. First thing to say is Co-op has a new CEO. Richard Pennycook, who is the person who has sponsored much of the digital work and the creation of the team, has stepped down. Steve Murrells who is the guy that’s been running and really driving our business, our food business, has stepped up as the new CEO. It’s been a really smooth transition this week and it’s been great to work with Steve and we’ll help him develop the digital vision for the Co-op. Richard won’t be saying goodbye because he’ll still be helping our Group Board and he’ll still be around with other parts of our businesses. So that’s the first thing to say. It’s big news. What does it mean to us? Not much right now. We just keep going and delivering.

So, 5 things to talk about this week. The first is data principles. We published our data principles. If you’re watching this, go to our blog, have a look at them, comment on them and help us improve them. Those principles are about how we deal with member data and how we deal with data in the wider digital economy will be the thing that sets us apart as a co-op in the future.

Some numbers. Our Membership numbers keep growing. The campaign to get new members is only just starting so hopefully we’re well on track for a million new members this year. That’s brilliant.

And closer to home this week we had the Manchester Digital Skills Festival. It was great to see the entire team present and loads of people coming from the region who want to work with and for the Co-op and help us on our digital journey. So a brilliant week, quite a big one but we passed some big milestones.

But I should finish by saying welcome to some new starters. Great to see Adam Warburton to come in and help us on our Membership and we’ve got 2 new outstanding product managers in Anna Goss and Faith Mowbray so we’ll keep announcing new people and we’ll keep bringing great talent to the organisation. Until next week, see you then.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Championing a better way of doing data

Blue background with white text that says 'championing a better way of doing data.'

We want to bring the Co-op difference to data. That means going beyond what is simply required by law, and instead infusing the way we collect and handle data with the Co-op’s values.

Practically, we want the Co-op’s data to be: correct and up to date; secure; available to those who need it within the Group and easy to find, understand, connect and augment. That will help us make decisions based on data. We’ll arrive at better decisions more quickly because the information we need will be easy to find and use. It will also help us spot new opportunities across the business, quickly, creating new opportunities because we are joining the dots. We’ll also be able to build better relationships with our partners because data that is well-maintained and with consistent standards can act as common language between us and them.

So, how do we get there? Well, we all have a role. We’ll need to set common standards and provide tools and ways of working needed: data principles.

As importantly, we need to create a culture at the Co-op that isn’t complacent about data and problems with data, but instead fixes those issues at source. We should think and care about how data is used once it is created. Everybody has a role to play in data. Thinking about data and asking how to use it and why will become a habit.

Some of this isn’t new and many people at the Co-op have been doing good work for a long time. Helping and supporting those people to continue to do their jobs is important. That’s why we’ve been convening and meeting with Data Leaders, and why we’re including colleagues from data teams across the business to work out what values we want to hold our data to from now on.

Data and the Co-op values

To help us think about this, we’ve started to look at how Co-operative values like self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and equity might manifest in data.

We’ve come up with a Data Principles alpha to help colleagues working with data at the Co-op. The principles are based on workshops we’ve had with colleagues, and we’re going to be running more user research sessions to make sure that they are relevant and helpful for colleagues at every level. We’ve done a few versions of data principles, and based on colleague feedback on previous iterations we’re sharing what we’ve learnt publicly.

Important themes

1. Data is part of everything

The data function does not work in isolation. Everyone does their bit to collect and create  good data, which can be used as the basis for making decisions. We are focused on what Co-op members and customers want and need, and respond to that quickly. Colleagues have the necessary tools to do so, and are trained in how to use data and to spot opportunities.

2. Clarity is for everyone

We will communicate how we use and collect data in a way that both specialists and non-specialists can understand. We’ll use consistent terms and standards that are externally recognisable, as well as use plain English to help members meaningfully consent to how the Co-op uses their data.

3. One version of the truth

Major data sets will have a designated owner and steward, who is in charge of keeping them updated, accurate and complete according to defined goals. All significant data sets will be listed and visible to all staff in a Central Data Catalogue, rather than relying on local duplicate, or inconsistent versions.

4. Co-operating safely

We will use data across the business where appropriate and ethical. We encourage co-operating about data, safely and securely, working together for mutual benefit.

We’re still testing these and we’re keen to hear colleague, customer and member thoughts on them. If you have feedback on these principles, leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

Transforming the Co-op wills service by combining legal expertise and digital skills

I’m James Antoniou, I head up the wills team at Co-op Legal Services. Over the last 10 months or so, me and my team of will writers have been working closely with James Boardwell’s team of digital specialists at Co-op Digital. Both teams wanted to make it simpler and faster to create a legally robust will for Co-op customers and by combining legal expertise and digital skills we’ve done just that.

Joanne Schofield wrote about how making a will can be daunting and how we’re trying to change that and more recently Becky Arrowsmith wrote about how we’ve improved the accessibility in our wills.

This is the first time I’ve worked alongside a digital team but I don’t think it’ll be the last. Here are my thoughts on it.

James: We looked at doing a fully online, end-to-end, digital service. I had a lot of reservations in that, and I think probably most lawyers would do, because they couldn’t see how a computer could be a substitute for 15 years’ worth of experience. So the way we built the service was as a hybrid between being able to take the benefits of the accessibility of starting online, but also making sure that everyone who went through the service took advice to make sure that what they were looking to do was, in fact, having the right legal impact of what they were actually looking to achieve.

So the digital way of working is something that was very new to me. I think as… as a solicitor you are… you’re working in an environment where you’re expected to know the answers, all the time. And coming into the digital environment, it was more about learning, and putting things to users and understanding what they’re telling us, rather than us telling them what they should know.

So, I think legal services and digital; I think it’s… it’s the future. I think it’s the way that legal services are going to be delivered mainstream, over the next sort of probably 5 to 10 years. I think at the moment there is limited routes to that online market. I think that plenty have tried and failed perhaps cos they’ve been offered a wholly digital service as opposed to a service where you get the benefits of the digital channel but it’s also backed up by some robust legal guidance and advice. And I think it’s that hybrid which is where the… the future of legal services lie; because it’s not just about accessibility, it’s about making sure that… that the right advice is being given. And secondly, and probably more importantly, that the customer feels that they are getting the service that’s of value to them and that they’re prepared to pay for it, and they feel that they’re protected, and that it’s something that is going to meet their needs.

Go to coop.co.uk/wills and find out more.

Making it easier to become a member

Last week we announced we’ve reached the 500,000 new member mark since we launched our new Membership in September last year.  

Earlier this year we also said that we want a million new members in 2017 and with that in mind, it’s really important that first-time users can register as easily as possible. That’s why, in our last sprint, the Membership website team focused on improving the user journey and reducing drop-outs.

Completing the online registration

To get an online member account you have to register on the Membership site. If you’re already a member then it’s a case of registering your card (or temporary card) you bought in store.

When we looked at data, only 34% of people who started to sign up as new members, ie those who hadn’t got any kind of membership card from coop.co.uk/membership were completing the journey.

Improving things for this user group is key to achieving our target of a million new members this year. Someone signing up here is potentially a new member that we might never see again if they leave the site at this point.

Something didn’t quite add up

Google Analytics told us that we were losing a significant number of people at the point where we asked new members to pay £1. At first we assumed that paying £1 was too much for some customers. But the 34% successful sign up rate didn’t match well with what we were hearing from users we’d talked to. We found that although some people questioned why we charge £1, their reactions didn’t indicate that a massive 2 out of every 3 of them would be put off by it.

From this, we hypothesised that the poor conversion rate might be down to people who were already members arriving at the £1 payment page. They would have already paid to join, so they could be the ones leaving at this point.

There are over a quarter of a million members with temporary cards who haven’t registered them yet. We know that after 28 days the chances of a card being registered falls dramatically so designing a user journey that helps temporary card holders succeed first time and become ‘active’ is vital.

How we improved the user journey

To solve this we added in another step into the process for anyone wanting to join as a new member. The important interaction change we made was to ask the customer if they had a Co-op card, rather than asking them to remember if they were already members.

screen shot of the 'check if you're a member' page showing the three types of membership card
We included images of the old ‘honeycomb’ card, the new blue card as well as an image of a temporary card as visual prompts. From there, if they have a card we take their membership number and direct them to sign in or register. Now, they don’t see a screen asking them for another £1. We only let people who say they don’t have a card progress further.

It’s working

Our latest data shows that 58% people who are routed to join follow this journey successfully: they pay £1 and become members. That’s a significant increase. Those we now redirect automatically to register are completing their journeys successfully too – which in its own way is important.

As an aside we’ve also reduced the risk of members duplicating their membership by joining online when they already have a membership number. This reduces the burden on our call centre, which currently is the only way members can link their accounts if they have more than one.

What we’ll be working on next

Our next improvement is looking at the sign in journey.

So if you haven’t done it yet it’s now even easier to join us!

Derek Harvie
Product manager

Building what’s useful: governance and agile delivery

I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues in the Co-op about working in agile ways. A concern that comes up often is: how do you make sure costs don’t run away with you when you’re working in an agile way? Another one is: how do you do governance if you’re working in this way? (They’re actually pretty similar questions).

It makes sense to have a piece of internet that I could point to which explains how to do governance when you’re doing agile delivery. That’s what this blog post is about.

goverance-as-blocker-jpg

 

Governance is about so much more than ‘stage gates’

What do we *really* mean when we say “governance”? We mean that we’re doing the right things, and in the right way.

Organisations that adopt agile ways of working have a better chance of doing this. Why’s that? Firstly because agile teams are used to having to adapt and change direction quickly, because what they’re going to do isn’t set in stone before they start working. They work closely with people who are actually going to use what they build, which is a faster way of delivering and testing services than working in a waterfall way. And because the teams organise themselves around continuous improvement, and put their products and services in front of real users regularly, they’re better at responding to any feedback they get.

Teams often talk about being agile not doing agile. The implication is that agile is more of a mindset than a set of defined processes. It’s also an acknowledgement that no 2 teams work in exactly the same way.

For the past year, I’ve been running masterclasses on agile ways of working. These are the main things I share for how you do governance in an agile team:

 

agile_gov_v2_ol

A lot of this will sound familiar to people who have seen the National Audit Office’s governance principles, or the Government Digital Service’s governance principles. I’ve been inspired by them. That’s not just because I think they’re good and because my most recent job was in government. It’s also because government is one of the few big organisation that talks about how it does governance.

I think the Co-op should too.

1. Outcomes are better than deliverables

What does the product or service you’re building do? Orient your team around that. What it does should make sense in terms of the company or organisation’s mission. Leaders should help teams define mid and long-term goals. They should be easy to measure and everyone working on the project should be committed to fulfilling them. Instead of specifying the solution beforehand, give the teams space to learn what works, by building things quickly and failing fast. Be open about how things are going, and trust that everyone is good at what they do and working as hard as they can.

Examples:

2. Measure the right things at the right time

Picking the right things to measure, at the right time helps motivate and focus the team. Trust teams to monitor their own performance. Make sure what you’re measuring can be verified independently. This helps build trust and confidence in what the team is doing.

Everyone should:

  • agree early on measuring a few quantitative things
  • make these metrics visible to everyone and independently verifiable
  • review these often to make sure that what you’re measuring is useful

Example:

3. Teams are the units of delivery

A team is in charge of how it delivers products and services. There’s no hierarchy within teams, even though they contain people from all levels of the organisation.

Organisations that want to be agile should:

  • ensure teams are multidisciplinary to include a mix of people to design, deliver and operate a thing
  • let teams experiment, fail fast, learn quickly and improve how they work
  • allow teams to decide if, when and how to grow  
  • make sure teams are planning and prioritising their work in the order they see fit
  • focus on flow and momentum over false certainties

4. Network of teams beats hierarchy

Organisations that are set up to work in an agile way have a network of small self-directed teams. Dependencies between teams are kept to a minimum. Strict hierarchies, where too many decisions need senior-level approval, make it difficult for teams to do their jobs and gets in the way of delivery.

Organisations should ensure that:

  • teams use data to prioritise what and when to deliver
  • they’re set up to support agile teams
  • they encourage teams to talk to each other
  • remove blockers

Examples:

5. Quality is everyone’s responsibility

Everyone involved needs to understand what good looks like, because everyone is responsible for delivering that. Quality assurance isn’t a ‘gate’, title or a role. It’s what agile teams do every day.

Sponsors, key stakeholders and teams should:

  • agree what quality means and how to measure it
  • understand what ‘done’ means 
  • ensure that user feedback validates the delivery of business value
  • organise so that external assessors (for example, auditors or security) and subject experts are integral to the team, not gatekeepers

Example:

6. Assure as you go

Assurance isn’t a one-off in agile delivery. Quality, business value and compliance are regularly demonstrated. These have been agreed together with the teams and are part of continuously improving the products and services.

The assurance framework should:

  • turn governance into engagement
  • have external assessors and subject experts be part of the team
  • hold regular, short and challenging forums with the right people
  • make sure that improvement is continuous, baked into the ways of working
  • understand the implementation details of continuous integration and test-driven development
  • ensure that the team regularly seeks and acts on user feedback
  • seek to avoid stop-start and promote the flow of value delivery
  • promote the use of standards over box-ticking exercises

Example:

7. Behaviours matter more than documents

Documents exist and they’re important but typically agile teams produce less long-form documentation. Progress is recorded in user research notes, blog posts, weeknotes, test harnesses, release notes, verifiable metrics.

By regularly observing team behaviours an assessor should:

  • witness and understand how the team collaborates
  • regularly see demo’s of working, valuable products and services
  • witness motivated individuals, driven to deliver the right thing
  • see how a team responds to feedback and how that impacts improvements
  • see that a network of relationships exists with other teams, groups, communities
  • ensure that the team is multidisciplinary and has the skills it needs
  • make sure the subject experts and business are embedded and engaged
  • understand the inner workings of the team’s quality controls
  • stakeholders are involved and providing intelligent challenge
  • hear the team talk about risks and how they are dealing with them
  • see how blockers are communicated and removed

8. See delivery for yourself

Teams should talk about work in progress by showing work in progress every week or fortnight. These events are usually called ‘show and tells’ or ‘showcases’. For sponsors, stakeholders and assessors this is a time to see the thing take shape, raise any questions, and support the team. A team’s ‘Show and Tell’ is an essential part of their rhythm and is a key governance moment.

Everyone committed to achieving an outcome should:

  • attend and promote show and tells
  • regularly see user research sessions
  • be able to see working software, product or service
  • not be afraid to challenge
  • offer support and remove blockers
  • use the thing – especially sponsors
  • not expect a status report because you cannot make it
  • walk the team walls

Jamie Arnold
Head of agile delivery

The Federation: a new space for the northern tech community

In October last year our Co-op Digital product teams moved out of Angel Square and down the road into The Federation, an old Co-op building on Balloon Street. Since then, our teams have been working on floors 5 and 6 but we’ve recently signed the lease to take over and transform the other floors too.

The Federation on Balloon Street, Manchester.

Now we’re working on our plans to create an open community of digital businesses and innovators in Manchester city centre. It’s great because the north has so much tech, digital and design talent. We’re opening up The Federation to attract businesses who share the Co-op’s ethical values: social responsibility, openness, honesty and caring for others.

Two people working at their computers and two people discussing something in the background inside Federation House

Kim Morley working and smiling at her computer in Federation House

A nod to the mothership

When they began working on the branding for our new home, our design partners Magnetic North delved into the Co-op archives for inspiration. They came across 6 commercial ships that were owned and operated by the Co-operative Wholesale Society in the late 1860s. One of the ships was called SS Federation and because our building is called Federation House it felt like serendipity.

It’s also fitting because a ‘federation’ is exactly what we’re trying to achieve: a group of organisations with a common interest working together. Our logo echoes the letter F that was proudly displayed on the ship’s mast.

A sense of community

So here’s what our plans look like so far.

The first 2 floors will be meeting rooms, events space and a coffee shop. In the spring we’ll be opening the second floor for community use. It’ll have desks and office space so that digital specialists can work, meet and share ideas. We’ll be launching the website in a few weeks to take bookings.

A tech firm will be using the the fourth floor and on the third floor there’ll be 3 larger spaces available for lease to ‘friends of The Federation’. We’re talking to interested companies and organisations right now.

Choosing friends of The Federation

If you’d like to be considered for one of the spaces on the third floor, your business will need to have similar values to the ones we have at the Co-op. We want to create a community that wants to work in the right way for the benefit of many. We’re still working out the criteria for how we’re going to choose who’ll share the space but our decisions will be based on the Co-op Ethical Decision Making Tool which asks:

  • what would our members think?
  • does it create social and commercial value for them?
  • what is the community impact?
  • would our members understand what we’ve done and why?

We’ll keep you posted on our progress as the building fills with talent from the north west. You you can follow The Federation on Twitter. And if you’d like to find out more, email me on emer.coleman@coopdigital.co.uk

Emer Coleman
Technology engagement