We brought together 50 Co-op colleagues with different skill sets and expertise and challenged teams to work out how we could make better use of the data we have available to us.
Here’s what happened.
We brought together 50 Co-op colleagues with different skill sets and expertise and challenged teams to work out how we could make better use of the data we have available to us.
Here’s what happened.
The communities still exist today but, 3 years on, Co-op Digital has expanded significantly: our communities are much bigger, we’re working across more projects and we’re facing different challenges. It’s important that our communities of practice change with the organisation so that we, as communities and as individuals, get the support we need in ways that suit us.
Around 6 months ago, the delivery managers shook up the way we ran our weekly community of practice meetings.
The delivery community of practice meets weekly in a meeting room in Federation House. An hour each week feels right for us. We’ve built it into our weekly schedules and we’ve found that this is short enough for us to stay focussed (it doesn’t feel like a team social), and it’s regular enough so that problems don’t build to the stage where the whole session needs to be used to solve them.
Here are some of the things the delivery team has been doing recently in our community of practice meetings.
In July 2017 we agreed on what the delivery managers’ objective should be. We decided our aim was:
Find better ways for Digital teams to work with their stakeholders, so we gain a common understanding of how we’re working and what we’re planning to deliver.
Having a clear objective that we’d reached together meant that each delivery manager was more invested in our vision than they would be if the objective had been dictated, top down, by one person.
Collaborating to get buy in isn’t a new idea, we know that.
But this is a great example of how it’s worked well: the attendance at our meetups has been consistently high, people have been enthusiastic and have wanted to be a part of a community.
We don’t always have an agenda for our meetups but when we do, we make sure we choose topics that don’t exclude anyone. Nobody feels like they can’t or shouldn’t contribute.
Like with all communities in Co-op Digital, stakeholders are something every delivery manager has in common so we’ve often made them the focus of our meetings. We’ve interviewed some of them and used our time together to feed back what they’ve said. We’ve then talked about what we can do from a delivery point of view to meet stakeholder needs better, for example, how best to share what we’re working on regularly with them so they can be as involved as they need to be. We found that what works for one team and its stakeholders often doesn’t work for another.
A huge part of our roles as delivery managers is to facilitate sessions. This could be agile ceremonies such as sprint planning, retros, and show and tells but it also includes one-off workshops intended to help the team with setting direction or clarifying longer-term priorities. Because all teams and individuals are different, a technique that works superbly in one scenario may work less well in another so sharing and comparing ways to get to the same point has been really beneficial for our community.
As with all disciplines, it’s important to look outside our immediate community. It keeps us relevant and engaged. Sometimes, we talk about things we’ve read, tweets we’ve seen, arguments we’ve heard from the delivery community outside of Co-op. We’ve recently discussed Sebastian Deterding’s video on Hacking Shyness: Designing Social Interaction and Why Commitment Culture Wins by Damian Hughes.
Every 4 to 6 weeks we hold a meet-up where there’s no agenda. Instead, everyone is given a post it note and writes either a problem, a triumph, a question or a comment on it. We dot vote on what we’d like to discuss and we talk through each topic for 5 minutes starting with whichever got the highest vote.
For us, being part of a community of practice is more than attending a weekly hour-long meetup. It’s about having a support network of people who are best-placed to listen, understand and advise when we need it. Each delivery manager is also part of a group of 3 people who face similar challenges, for example, they’re working with more then 1 team. On a day-to-day basis, that smaller group is the first point of contact.
Since we’ve been running these meetups, I’ve been saving links, quotes, tweets, tips, guidelines and notes I’ve taken in our meetings – anything I think I’ll revisit. It’s my toolbox: it’s full of the knowledge and practical advice that’s been shared with me and I feel better-equipped to deliver products and services with it.
You don’t have to work in a digital team to get value from a community of practice. As social learning consultants, Etienne Wenger-Trayer and Beverly Wenger-Trayer said:
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like help setting up a community, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Digital skills principal
When we create new products and services it’s easy to become emotionally invested in them. We’re understandably proud of what we’re creating and often attach adjectives like ‘simple’, ‘quick’ or ‘exciting’ to our descriptions of them. But the way we talk about our work in a team is not always how we should talk about it to others. To create respectful and inclusive services we must put our feelings aside, be humble and focus persistently on the experience of our users.
Organisations often proclaim that a service is ‘good’ or ‘convenient’, that a task is ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ to do, that an update to a service is ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’. This might be to:
The use of these terms reminds me of a quote by author Laura Amy Schlitz:
‘Good’ is an approximate term. A second-grader once asked me for ‘a really, really good book’ and I asked him what he considered a good book. He eyed me with thinly veiled impatience and replied, ‘Medium-long with poisonous snakes’.
Just as the definition of good may differ depending on who you ask, so too will people’s experience of a Co-op service or process.
When we created the Co-op Wills digital service, we did what we could to make a traditionally complex process, less complex. Through regular research we made the service as easy as we could for people to use – clean and clear design with plain English explanations of legal terminology. But users did not always find it easy.
Some people needed to talk to their partners before completing the form, others were reminded of frustrating events in their past, others found it distressing. Different parts of the process had different emotional triggers for people and each user’s experience was unique to their circumstance. It would not have been appropriate for us to talk about our ‘easy’ and ‘simple’ service because, although we’d removed what complexity we could, the process was not always an easy thing for people to get through.
This is true of all services, not just those services that deal with sensitive subject matters. Personal circumstances will dictate how people feel about them. People may not experience them as we intend if they:
What’s easy for some may be hard for others. The service we’re offering, or the changes we’ve made to a service, may unintentionally make things harder, more complicated or slower for some people. So, conveying the organisation’s internal excitement, pride or thoughts, can not only be inappropriate it can be also be arrogant, disrespectful and offensive.
Our perception of terms like ‘simple’ or ‘exciting’ are inherently biased. Our job as designers is to create things that we believe to be simple to use, easy to understand, and that people enjoy (or at the very least, don’t dread) using. To do this we build a comprehensive and thorough understanding of the service we’re working on. We can end up being so knowledgeable about the service that we’re unable to fully appreciate the difficulties our users may experience. When talking about mental models, research-based user experience group Neilson Norman say:
Users’ mental models of the UI (user interface) are likely to be somewhat more deficient [than designer’s mental models], making it more likely for users to make mistakes and find the design much more difficult to use.
Being so absorbed in the work can make it hard for us to stay objective. The level of knowledge we gain, and our emotional attachment to a service, becomes disproportionate to that of our users.
To maintain perspective we must keep the user in mind, always.
The internet has raised expectations. People expect online services to be easy and straightforward. Having to declare that that’s what they are can raise suspicion and cause mistrust. As customer experience speaker Gerry McGovern says in his post If Google wanted to get found in Google:
If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple…
The most effective way to give services the impression of ease, speed or convenience is to make them so. We cannot do this without considering the concerns of our users, and being sensitive to their emotional, physical and cognitive states.
The most effective content appreciates that people may be coming to it with their own apprehensions, insecurities and struggles. It makes no assumptions. It’s objective and neutral.
To create services that people want to use, we must make a deliberate effort to remove our emotional attachment to the things we’re creating and let our users decide how to experience them. By appreciating that we are not our users, and being considerate of their circumstances, we create services that are tactful, inclusive and respectful.
The Co-op is an organisation made up of several business areas. There’s Food, Insurance, Funeralcare, Electricals, Ventures and Legal and at the moment each one has its own website that sits separately to the rest of the organisation. Historically, this has worked because each site serves a very different purpose, but as the Co-op changes we’re finding this inefficient as well as expensive.
At the moment, our sites are maintained and hosted by various external companies. Moving them onto one platform that we manage ourselves makes sense financially and it also gives us more autonomy to maintain and update content which will be better for our customers and members.
Bringing the businesses together on to one, internally-maintained platform will mean there are more visual similarities too. Each business area will use our Co-op design system which will reinforce the Co-op feel – something that’s difficult to do when each site is looked after by external companies.
Co-op Digital’s role has always been to make things simpler, faster, more efficient for our users (that’s our customers, members and our colleagues too). We spoke to users to find out if we can improve their online experience with us and find out what their expectations might be. Expectations and needs can, of course, be very different.
The research told us that members expect to see all their interactions with the Co-op in one place. For example, if they’d visited our Membership site to find out about their rewards, there’s no easy way to move from there to another Co-op service. At the moment, users tend to leave whichever one of our sites they came to, to go search again for another one of our sites. Users felt that having everything in one place would improve their online experience with us.
It also makes sense from a business point of view. Unsurprisingly, analytics tells us we only see 1% of traffic from our Food site go through to our Electrical business, however, having everything together gives us more of a presence and helps remind customers we do more than just the thing they came to the site for.
This is a big job and it’ll take a significant amount of time to bring everything together. We’ll be checking in with our users along the way and testing what we’ve built with them to make sure the information architecture works for them.
As always, we’ve started small. Coop.co.uk is the homepage for the Co-op and today we’ve put Co-op recipes live under the coop.co.uk/recipes url. The recipes used to live on dinner4tonight.com – but taking ownership of the content under a url that’s more obviously related to us is important.
Co-op Digital has been working alongside subject matter experts from different business areas. Without their knowledge and expertise, it’d be impossible to design and build the right things for our customers.
As the team’s got bigger, we’ve split into 4 streams to focus our work. They are:
We’re now working on adding wines and Christmas products to the site in a similar way we did recipes. They’re just a small part of what the Co-op offers but we need to bring everything together gradually while we test our work with users to check we’re making customer-centred decisions.
Over the next year, we hope to bring more of the Co-op businesses under the same same coop.co.uk/ url.
Lead product designer
I wanted to write this post to explain what service design is at the Co-op. Service design helps build more inclusive teams as well as products and services that meet user and business needs.
To understand what service design is, we need to understand what a service is. A ‘service’ is something that helps someone complete a task, like finding information or getting something done.
At the Co-op we help our customers do lots of things, for example, we help them:
We also help our colleagues. For example, we help:
These are just some of the services within the Co-op. Some of them are customer-facing, some are colleague-facing, some include elements of both. Some tasks can only be completed online, some can be done entirely offline, but most will include a mix of both.
And that’s what service design is at the Co-op: it’s designing the sequence of interactions a user has with us. It’s a holistic approach which considers the end-to-end experience, online and offline.
A Co-op service begins the first time a potential customer interacts with us (whether that be online or coming into one of our stores), or at the point a colleague is asked to sign up to one of our online services. The service goes right through to them achieving what they set out to do.
In Co-op Digital we refer to service design constantly, but we don’t own it.
Service design includes colleagues from all around the organisation – those from legal teams, marketing teams, colleagues in customer-facing roles, as well as those who speak with customers from our call centre. And everyone in between too.
We cannot design good services that meet the need of our users without the expertise from around the organisation.
When we design or iterate a service, we map out each interaction, by each type of user, chronologically. This is service mapping.
We try to understand a customer’s mindset when they come to use a service. What task do they want to complete? For us to design an experience that meets their needs we need to know where they’ve come from, why they’re here, and what they’re here to do.
We have walls dedicated to service mapping which we update to reflect anything that has an impact on the service, like if we’ve learnt something new in user research or if the business strategy changes. We map services openly like this so that everyone can see what’s been worked on.
Service maps help teams work better because they:
This photo shows our pharmacy ‘blueprint’ (a type of service map) created by Louise Nicholas and Derek Harvie. It maps the stages of the service, and customer interactions and operational touch points.
This is Jack Fletcher’s Membership storyboard which illustrates customer interactions throughout the service, online and offline.
User research helps us identify problems. Highlighting them on a service map within the context of a user journey gives us a visual prompt about where we should focus our efforts. Being able to see problems, clearly, helps us prioritise what we need to improve.
Service design also helps us see where operational inefficiencies are and therefore where we can prioritise commercial gain – business goals are as important as user needs.
We use service maps to make better decisions because they help us:
Here’s the Food business’s ‘Store Hub’ service map designed by Kathryn Grace. It shows the reality of how colleagues in stores use systems and processes.
For it to be effective, the whole team should participate in service design. At least initially, a designer will lead the work, but the whole team needs to contribute for it to work. In a discovery, service design will shape how your service needs to work. In later phases, it should inform iterations and strategic direction.
For anyone working at Co-op, the research, content and design teams will be hosting a showcase of our ways of working on Monday 10 December. Come along if you’re interested in finding out more about service design, all welcome. Location to be announced.
Head of Design
We recently added 4 user research guides to our Co-op design system. The guides cover:
We’re committed to user-centred design. We start small, we test for user value and we work iteratively – research and reacting to feedback is vitally important to us.
But it’s not easy to do good research and by ‘good’ we mean using the appropriate method and ensuring the way we do it is planned, thorough and unbiased.
You need skilled researchers.
We have a superb small team of researchers at Co-op Digital. We have varying background, skills and strengths which means asking for advice on how to tackle something is always interesting and useful. But we can’t cover all our projects, at all product phases, all the time. There aren’t enough of us.
So in a few cases, we set the direction and encourage teams to do their own research, with us there as support.
The idea came while I was writing a research strategy for a team working on a particular scope of work. I realised the strategy could be adapted into more of a ‘how to do research at the Co-op’ guide. For years, in an unofficial, internal-channels-only type way, several researchers had been writing guides on things like ‘how to recruit users / gather informed consent / write a survey’. It made sense to pull this useful work together and make it open and available in our design system.
Presenting guidance in this way means that instead of individual researchers writing a strategy for a team now and then, we can give more general advice.We want to make sure people are doing good, useful research in the right way and we can now add value to any digital team by giving them a ‘best practice’ resource.
As always, the plan is to iterate and add more guidance as we go. We’ve been looking towards the GDS service manual as an excellent, detailed resource for planning research.
As we come across a method that we don’t have a guide for, we’ll write one up. For example, the next time one of our researchers needs to conduct a diary study they’ll write that up.
We know we need to improve how we help people choose the appropriate method so that people don’t just fall back on conducting usability testing in a lab or face-to-face interviews. As Vicki Riley says in her post, matching our research approach to the project is really important.
We’d like your feedback on it too so if you have any, leave a comment.
Lead user researcher
We’ve recently launched local.co.uk – a marketplace that connects independent businesses to customers across the UK. We’re doing this because we want to give small businesses a fairer way to trade and help make communities across the UK stronger.
We built the service in 13 weeks and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But we know it’s far from perfect – there are parts of the service that could be smoother and features that we want to improve and introduce.
We launched it when we did so that we could learn quickly from real users and make the service valuable for them.
We’ve done a lot and learnt a lot.
This video shows how we created local.co.uk (2 minutes 26 seconds)