Lessons learnt by a non-digital colleague: the benefits of agile ways of working

Last month we introduced ‘Visit’ to 55 Co-op Food stores. Visit allows store visitors to efficiently, and independently, check in and check out on store tablets or customer till screens.

We began designing Visit in October 2018. Below is a photo of me setting up an early alpha test in store.

Photograph of Nick, middle-aged man wearing a smart coat and shirt holding a paper sign saying 'Visits' above a tablet with the Visit product on there.

Visit is in beta right now meaning that our research and testing are ongoing and we’re making small improvements regularly. We’re hopeful that we can roll it out to all Food stores by autumn and that it will save time and solve efficiency problems.

But this post isn’t really about how we went about researching and prototyping a new product. It’s about the processes and practices associated with agile – a way of working that was unfamiliar to me and many of my immediate colleagues. It’s about the benefits of working in this way and why non-digital teams should be collaborative, open-minded and committed to learning about, and designing for, their user.

The problem: a long, old process

I work in the Risk team. Visits to a store are frequent and essential, and as part of my role I saw a lot of inefficiency when it came to signing in store visitors. The process would often be:

  • ask a colleague at the till for the visitor book and a pen
  • fill in your details
  • listen to the colleague to explain the store fire process
  • wait for a manager to take you to the back office
  • sign on to the PC
  • read the asbestos report
  • sign a paper acknowledgement of the report in the health and safety folder

It shouldn’t have so many steps in the process. It shouldn’t take this long. It shouldn’t involve so many people.

Our Field risk team regularly visit stores to train management on health and safety controls. As a result of the complicated, long-winded visitor flow, this was one of the least followed processes. There was also a lack of visibility around who has visited, so on occasions third parties have claimed to have visited a site but there is no evidence they have been.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to improve this process.

Learning new skills and different ways of working

At this point, my knowledge of digital design was limited. I knew that digital product Shifts was co-designed for Co-op Food colleagues, and that other pieces of the Leading the way work relied on expertise from Digital, Food colleagues at support centre as well as Food colleagues in stores. I was aware that this coming together of specialists had been successful within the Co-op before.

I signed up for the Digital masterclass, a half-day training session that helps colleagues whose skills are outside digital understand how the Co-op Digital team works (more information at the end of the post). Richard Sullivan who ran the training introduced me to the benefits of agile ways of working.

Getting support

I’d identified the problem around checking visitors in and out but to fix it I needed expertise from the engineers from Retail IT as well as the Digital team including delivery managers Lee Connnolly and user researcher Rachel Hand.

Together, we started to learn more about the problem.

Putting theory into practice and learning more

Working on this project in an agile way, in a multidisciplinary team was very different to how traditional teams would tackle it. That includes the Risk team I’ve been part of. It was a sharp learning curve.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1.Testing over requirements

I’d been used to handing over a list of requirements to a technology team and asking them to find or create a piece of software that might fix a problem. For Visit, we put paper prototypes in front of store colleagues as soon as we knew enough about the problem. Their feedback helped shape the design meaning the product was tailored to their specific needs rather than it being an off-the-shelf solution.

2.Questions over assumptions

I approached the problem (the process of checking visitors in and out is inefficient), with a solution (so we’ll put software on store tablets to make it better). It seemed such an obvious solution to me (and in the end this is in fact our solution) but the Digital team showed me the dangers of assuming rather than questioning. We did an ‘assumption mapping’ session which helped us see if or where we were making assumptions about the desirability, feasibility of the product. Identifying assumptions reduces risk.

Photograph of a whiteboard with many yellow post it notes of notes arranged across a grid. This is an example of assumption mapping. 

3.Build in team time

I’d never worked in a team where we’d schedule regular time to reflect on our progress and our team health. This is what retrospectives are for. Until now, praise and problems were private – not something a team could be part of together. I didn’t realise how essential I’d begun to consider retros until we had to cancel one.

Progress through collaboration and thinking differently

Despite this being my very first digital product, I feel I can say with confidence that when Visits rolls out to all Food stores later this year, it will solve problems and meet our store colleagues’ needs. This is because the product is design-led. We were never tied to a solution, we changed our minds as we learnt more and our understanding of what store colleagues need improves.  

If you recognise opportunities for operational improvement, no matter which team you’re in, you can speak to Chris Ward, Product manager for Operational Innovation Store. You can also email Richard Sullivan to arrange a place on the Digital masterclass.  

Nick Bullough
Product owner

One thought on “Lessons learnt by a non-digital colleague: the benefits of agile ways of working

  1. Kevin April 10, 2019 / 9:22 pm

    Trialling visit in my store in Harpenden. Easily the best thing introduced this year in terms of effiecency.

    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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