Funeralcare: taking the beta to Edinburgh

Since April 2016, the Funeralcare team at Co-op Digital has been working to make life easier for our colleagues at our funeral homes across the UK. Our aim has always been to reduce the time our colleagues spend juggling and filling in paper forms so that they can spend more time with their clients – people who are grieving for their loved ones.

It’s been awhile since we wrote an update on our work. Back in August Andy Pipes, our Head of Product Management, said that we were rethinking how we deliver our at-need funeral service (an ‘at-need’ service is the immediate assistance someone might needs after reporting a bereavement).

At that point we’d built:

  • a ‘first call’ service that logs details of a death and automatically alerts an ambulance team by SMS to take the deceased into our care
  • a funeral arrangement service which captures the client’s decisions, the costs, and keeps colleagues in various locations from funeral homes and the central care centre updated
  • a hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service
  • a coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range
  • an audit system that captures certain steps in the service

Since then we’ve been busy testing with colleagues and iterating.

We’ve added new features

As we’ve learnt where the gaps are in the service, we’ve added new features. They include a digital mortuary register and a digital belongings log to record possessions.

Deceased can come into our colleagues’ care at any time of the day or night and it’s vital the funeral director knows where that person has been taken. To help, we’ve developed a digital mortuary register so that ambulance staff can book the deceased in and the funeral director can see where the person has been taken.

image shows a screen with the first page of the digital mortuary register. the options are 'booking in' and 'booking out'

Another new feature is a digital belongings log. Often, when someone is brought into our care they’ll have jewellery on them or other personal belongings with them. This means that when a funeral director at a funeral home gets a call from the grieving family to check up on jewellery, they don’t immediately know what the deceased came in with because the paper record is with the deceased at the mortuary. To make this easier and more efficient, we introduced a digital log instead of needing multiple phone calls between different locations.  

Live trial and user testing

We’ve been testing in 2 ways. From September to November we continued to visit funeral homes all over the country to observe how colleagues work but we were also doing usability testing on each of the individual features in the bulleted list above with colleagues in mock labs. We tested and improved each feature separately until we thought we’d built enough of a service to be valuable to colleagues. At that point, in December, we rolled out a beta trial in Bolton.

interaction designer Matt researching which content is most valuable to one of our colleagues with a paper prototype.

We asked colleagues in Bolton to use the service in parallel with their current process which involves whiteboards, post-its, paper diaries, fax machines and the old, often painful-to-use software. Letting them use it for real is the best way to learn what’s working and what’s not. It drew our attention to 3 major things we’d overlooked during usability testing.

  1. We thought we were being helpful by preloading the local churches and crematoriums but we hadn’t given colleagues the option to create new ones.
  2. We found that the calendar couldn’t cope with all day events.
  3. We discovered that colleagues help each other out so having restricted access for specific roles creates a problem if someone is off ill and cover is needed.

Testing the beta with a small number of colleagues helped us catch problems like these before we rolled the service out to more people.

Trialling the service in Edinburgh

We want our service to be useful everywhere but we’ve been told many times by colleagues that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ funeral. They vary from region to region for reasons including local traditions, operational set up, affluence, traffic as well as legislation. Because our aim is to give time back to colleagues so they can spend it with their customers, we need to create something that works for all users not just our colleagues in Bolton. That’s why we are launching our at-need funeral service trial in Edinburgh in March.

We’re still learning

The beta has shown us that funeral arrangements are made up of multiple interactions like choosing flowers, booking venues and signing off obituary notices. Funeral arrangements are iterative with lots of tweaks along the way, so iterating the design is the only way we can cope with all the new things we keep learning.

We know that standard software packages don’t solve every problem. By involving colleagues throughout we’re building something that meets their needs and will improve things for both colleagues and their customers.

We’re transforming the Co-op Funeralcare business but we believe that what we’re doing here will actually help transform the entire industry. To help us do this, Co-op Digital is working towards having a dedicated digital product teams within the Co-op Funeralcare business.

If that sounds like something you’d like to help with we’re looking for an agile delivery manager and a product manager.

You can read more about the agile delivery manager role and more about the product manager role.

Carl Burton
Product lead

Mike Bracken: 600k new members, engagement scores and the All Team


Mike: Hello, welcome to week 7 update of Co-op Digital, lots to get through this week.

Let’s start with a big number: after just 5 months since September 21st last year
we have now passed 600,000 new members who’ve join the Co-op. That is a tremendous achievement well done to our Food colleagues particularly, and particularly our Membership team who are really driving that.

One of the big things happened this week was our engagement scores came in and we looked right across the digital industry outside of the Co-op about how other digital units are working and on 15 measures we are more than 10% up on every single measure across an industry range. For a team that didn’t exist 15 months ago that’s a tremendous achievement.

The team met yesterday and we had great speakers. Particularly good to see our new CEO, Steve Murrells, come to give his full support to the digital agenda, spoke to the team, stayed for 2 hours, watched all the show and tells. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Some of those show and tells: Andrew and his team presented around food waste; we had Anna Dick talking about membership; Ian Drysdale talking about how we enter new markets with new products and services and showing some of those.

I’ll leave that there as a tease because shortly you’ll be able to see all this work on the Renewal part of our blog. So keep looking at the blog and we’ll start talking more about the Renewal work that we’re doing with Rod Bulmer and the team.

A final word for today, we welcome the Digital Working Group of the council to talk about how they can help us and we can help them with the Co-op business through rest of the year. So a huge week, see you next week.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Warning! MVPs may cause discomfort (but they’re worth it)

We recently posted about how Co-op Digital and the Co-op Legal Service (CLS) combined their digital and legal expertise to build a service that makes it simpler to get a Co-op will. Together, we built something that’s both legally robust and easy to understand. In other words, it meets the needs of our customers.

But bringing together 2 contrasting ways of working so we could deliver this was tricky. The challenge was wider than combining the 2 disciplines. It involved building trust in the agile way of working with the wider Co-op business.

We start small

The digital team works in an agile way. Part of being agile is about getting value to your user as soon as you can through a minimum viable product (MVP). This means building the smallest usable thing that might be useful to them. Then, you watch how real users interact with it, listen to what they say about it and iterate and improve quickly based on what we learn from research.

Being perfect’s not the point

Releasing an MVP helps us build something useful at each stage of delivery and it’ll help us build the right thing. The point of working in this way is to avoid building and overspending on something that doesn’t meet user needs. So, releasing an MVP actually makes sound business sense.

But it takes time to learn about the needs of your users which means it takes time to build the best solution. This is a daunting process for anyone who isn’t used to working in this way, because an MVP is very rarely pretty.

In fact as Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn says:

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

A reputation to uphold

When we released our MVP, real Co-op customers were going to be using it to give details about their situation and to book in a call with one of our will writers. It’s understandable that anyone who’s unfamiliar with this way of working would be nervous about releasing a product with known problems. We’re operating in a competitive environment and what if potential customers were put off by a poor user experience? What if they went to a competitor instead? Would releasing an MVP put the Co-op’s wills services’ reputation on the line?

Reaching a compromise

The biggest sticking point was that the digital team wanted to release a very stripped back version that didn’t cater for a whole customer segment. CLS had an assumption that launching such a minimal service without the option to make a ‘mirror will’ (something often used by spouses) would put potential customers off.

As David Bland says in his post Spruce, the corporate minimum viable product:

“The challenge with a minimum viable product is that you decide what’s minimum, but the customer determines if it’s viable.”

The digital team had to trust CLS’s judgement on their customers and release something more developed than we might usually expect an MVP to be. We were happy to do this because we knew we could learn lots from doing things this way.  

Understanding each other better

The more the 2 teams worked together, the more the trust grew. CLS came round to the idea of releasing an MVP (or something close to one) after we explained:

  • it’s possible to iterate to fix any customer concerns in a matter of days
  • we could ‘turn off’ the beta instantly and we could also control the traffic to the online version and only allow access to a small percentage
  • the phone call part of the journey could act as a backup and we could help customers over the phone if they had any problems online part of the service

Data-driven decision making

Once we’d launched there was a mindset shift in the team and the wider business. Together we looked at data and tied that to user research instead of relying on assumptions.

Tracking user behaviour with analytics tools really helped confirm that releasing as early as possible was the right thing to do. It was like having a window to view a customer’s behaviour and we used the data to help make decisions about the product development.

We could see at which points customers were stopping their journey and this helped us prioritise work. For example, we knew that an automatic postcode lookup feature would be useful here. It was coming up in user research regularly as something that would help smooth the user experience. However, when we looked at the data in our analytics we found that the vast majority of people were filling in the address fields manually just fine. So we decided to de-prioritise building postcode lookup. There were other areas that needed attention before this.

Taking a leap of faith was worth it

The metrics tools helped us show stakeholders and the Co-op Legal Service the connection between our product improvements and the bookings and sales. We could also show that the online business is generating a new set of customers that’s not cannibalising the original service. We knew we could potentially scale this up which is really positive from a business point of view.

In the next few weeks the digital part of the team will start transitioning over to Co-op Legal Services who will continue to iterate the product.

Find out more about Co-op wills.

Ben Aldred
Product engineer

Supporting the Manchester Digital Skills Festival

Last week, Co-op Digital sponsored the Manchester Digital Skills Festival, an event that promotes careers and collaboration in tech, digital and design. Students, graduates and educators from local schools and universities had the chance to meet more than 180 digital organisations from across the north west.

Photograph of hall with attendees and speaker inside Manchester Town Hall

Co-op Digital contributed to an experience day where a group of 13-14 year old pupils from a local Co-op Academy came into The Federation; a talent day for students and graduates with an interest in the industry and a conference day aimed at starting conversations between digital organisations and educators.

Getting young people interested in digital

During the festival the need for digital organisations to engage with people at a younger age was flagged (again) as a good way of improving diversity in the industry.  

With this in mind, we invited pupils from a local Co-op Academy into The Federation. We gave them an opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in the tech community by spending time with some of our communities of practiceThey also took part in user research, coding and agile delivery workshops.

Pupils working collaboratively on a lego project

There was a chance for digital organisations to talk to educators from local schools and universities. The 2017 skills audit was a big talking point and Rob Bowley, Head of Engineering, was part of a panel discussing key issues flagged in the report.

Bringing more digital people to the Co-op

Principal Engineer Gemma Cameron talked about the Co-op’s culture and values and how they help us build products and services that meet the needs of our members, customers and communities.

Over the past year and a bit Co-op Digital has attracted loads of fantastic digital talent. People who care about doing the right thing for our Co-op colleagues, members and their communities. We’re looking to encourage diversity in the digital and design community, and we’ll be recruiting more great people throughout 2017.

You can find out more about a career at Co-op Digital and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter.

Matt Eyre

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