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

500,000 new members since September

We’ve passed the 500,000 new member mark since we launched our new Membership in September last year.

With the additional 500,000 members (531,000 is the latest figure) we have 4.16 million active members. This is fantastic because it means that there are now 4.16 million people who are earning 5% for themselves and 1% for their local cause when they buy Co-op branded products.

Celebrating 4,000 local causes with films

There are now 4,000 local causes which members can choose to give their 1% to and we were lucky enough to work with Shane Meadows on a series of films about some of them. On Monday we held a screening of the director’s cut – a combination of all the films in the series. We invited some of the people Shane featured in the films as well as local Co-op colleagues and Co-op Council members.

photograph of people watching the join us film at the screening

Hard work is paying off

I’d like to thank the whole team for their hard work making things better for our members and the local causes our members support. Of course, we’re not finished yet. We’ve already said  we want a million new members in 2017 and Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow is one of the 90,000 members who joined us since 1 January.

Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow holding up his Co-op membership card next to a Co-op colleague

You can keep an eye on our progress on our Membership data page.

If you haven’t already, sign up to become a member. Join us.

Rufus Olins
Chief Membership Officer

What we mean when we talk about a ‘minimum viable product’

Co-op Digital is helping the wider Co-op transform its business by building digital products and services. We know some of our readers have an interest in how technology and digital skills can help businesses but if they’re not part of that digital and design community they’re unlikely to be familiar with some of the terms we use in our blog posts. Soon, we’ll be publishing a post from the wills team on their ‘minimum viable product’ so it’s worth explaining this particular term now.

‘Minimum viable product’ or ‘MVP’ means slightly different things to different people and organisations but here’s what we mean when we talk about MVPs.

Defining ‘MVP’

At Co-op Digital we work in an ‘agile’ way to deliver software because we believe it’s important to give the user value, quickly. Part of working in an agile way is releasing an MVP to help us learn what’s working and what isn’t so that we can improve products quickly, cost-effectively and without needless risk or waste.

An MVP isn’t the first release of a big concept made up of smaller features. It doesn’t come with a plan to add more features in the next iteration whilst also trying to fix features that don’t work. It’s not the final product either.

To us at Co-op Digital, an MVP is the first attempt to solve our users’ problems. It’s an experiment. It’s the smallest ‘thing’ we think could be valuable to our members, our customers or other users. We then grow that thing based on the feedback we get from real use, by real people.

What’s the ‘minimum’ bit?

We want the most meaningful feedback and to do that, the product that users see must be real. But if we release loads of features at the same time it becomes difficult to work out which part of what we built was useful and which bits weren’t.

Des Traynor uses this graphic (adapted from a Peter Merholz presentation) to explain MVPs on the Intercom blog. It’s a good analogy to help explain.

image split into two parts. part 1 shows a cake base, cake filling and icing. part 2 shows a cupcake, a cake and a wedding cake

If our end goal was making a new kind of wedding cake, we might first test with a simple cupcake. We’d include just enough features to maximise our learning. We could get it into people’s hands so they could taste it and we could check the flavours and uncover any problems in our factory. With the feedback we’d get, we could then iterate quickly, safe in the knowledge we have the right ingredients and that our oven works, and so on. At each iteration we are providing value to the customer (cake to eat) and value to the business (cake to sell). We’d do that rather than try to build the wedding cake straight away.

In other words, building an MVP is about doing the least to learn the most.

Quick feedback, efficient improvement

Starting small means we can get a tangible product in front of users quickly, and start to observe, analyse and measure quantitatively and qualitatively. Getting started as soon as possible helps us quickly create a feedback loop that can prove or disprove our ideas for how to improve the product.

Starting with an MVP is a proven way to make the best use of an organisation’s effort and maximises the value for members, customers and other users. Best of all we’ll know the thing we’ve done works, before we invest in building it.

Ben Aldred, product software engineer

Join us! We want a million new members in 2017

In 2017 we want to recruit 1 million new members to our Co-op. That’s a million more people who can join us in making a difference to causes in local communities.  

Picking up where we left off

We made big changes last year. Our return to a brand identity rooted in the Co-op’s history meant we went back to being Co-op’. We also went back to putting our members and their communities at the heart of everything we do. Since we launched the new Membership in September, our members have already earned around £16m for them and £3m for local causes. We update the figures each week on our Membership Data page.

Nothing made up

If you become a Co-op member you get 5% back on anything you spend on Co-op branded products as well as 1% to put towards a cause in your local community. In 2017 we’ll be spreading the word so more people know about the difference that choosing Co-op can make and more people will want to join us. To achieve this we’re changing the way we’re communicating with our members and potential new members.

‘Nothing made up’ is one of our communication principles and that means we show real people in real communities who can benefit from becoming a Co-op member. It made sense then to make the people who keep the local causes going in communities the stars of the show.

A young man in a wheelchair playing basketball in a sports hall.

We also wanted to strip back the gloss of advertising and make something unembellished and emotive and show people being completely natural in front of the camera. We were thrilled to work with director Shane Meadows who does all those things superbly. He also shares our values.  

Real people. Real communities. Real causes

So Shane has created a series of short films that show some of the 4266 causes (at last count) that are being supported every day by Co-op members. You can see the films on our Youtube channel.

Here’s the director’s cut which will be shown in cinemas across the UK from 20 January.  

This is just the start. 2017 marks a new way of advertising our Co-op. We offer value with values and we’re going to shout about it.

You can keep an eye on our progress towards the 1 million new members on the Co-op Membership Data page.

Join us. Sign up to become a member.

Helen Carroll
Head of Brand