Making better, joined-up decisions with the engineering community

This month, it’s 3 months since we set up our engineering community for software engineers, platform engineers, service managers and quality analysts at the Co-op. It’s early days but it’s already helping move Co-op engineering in the right direction.

Getting together with people who do similar jobs helps us all be more joined up which is really important, especially in a place as big as the Co-op. Without a community, we’d be working in isolation because our day jobs are within Co-op Digital, Co-op Legal Services or Funeralcare.

When we began meeting regularly, we identified the areas we need to work together to develop, including how we support training and development and coming up with development standards.

Picture of our Engineering community of practice

We’ve created infrastructure standards

I was really pleased to see that practices such as Continuous Delivery and Infrastructure as Code were already well established when I joined Co-op Digital 6 months ago. However teams were working in isolation at that point. Lots of them had similar problems and were tackling them in different ways. This meant that getting some of the services we were launching to a point where they were secure, reliable and supported was trickier than it needed to be because there was quite a bit of rework involved.

To make things simpler, we spent time during our community of practice meet-ups to create shared standards for our platform infrastructure. There’s still plenty to do and these things are never really finished of course, but we’re now in a much better shape and future projects will follow a much easier path. Most importantly, teams are more empowered to get on with stuff and do their job.

We’re also working on standards for how we’ll support cloud infrastructure across several teams. This work will sit with our Digital Operations team which is forming steadily.

Making better technology decisions

Out of that also came a clear need to provide better support around making technology decisions. We want teams to be empowered, but at the same time there’s always going to be a limit on how many different technologies we can support and maintain. Our approach has been to try and provide really great guidance so teams can make decisions in context rather than needing meetings to make decisions. It’s all still quite early days so again we’ll hopefully come back again soon and update on how it’s getting on.

We’ve been hiring

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We’ve worked with some great external companies while we’ve been adding gradually to our in-house expertise but we’re at a stage now where we’re looking to bring in a significant number of software and platform engineers. The Co-op Digital team and the wider engineering community of practice is looking forward to new talent joining us. From there, the culture of the team will grow and strengthen.

If you’re interested, take a look at our Work with us page for the roles we currently have open. We’ll be recruiting for engineers for the Funeralcare team shortly.

In the meantime, sign up to the blog and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter.

Rob Bowley
Head of Engineering

The importance of having a safe place to listen and learn

Six months ago, after a workshop with agile coach Emily Webber, we set up a community of practice for the delivery managers here at Co-op Digital. Emily believes that communities of practice help to connect people in organisations that are scaling their agile delivery. They also support individuals and help the group avoid duplication of work.

So a group of us who work on projects including Food, Funerals, Wills and Locations Services, starting putting a couple of hours aside each week to catch up and support each other.

To kick things off, we came up with our mission and manifesto.

blue slide with white text says: our mission is to inspire ourselves and others at Co-op and beyond by setting and continuously improving the standard of agile, collaborative delivery.

white slide says: agile delivery community manifesto. we are committed to developing a community of practice thats sets and improves the standard of agile ways of working in Co-op and beyond. We will do this by: being open and honest, respecting each other and not being judgemental, putting in the effort to help and encourage each other, making time for the community and actively contributing, focus on outcomes and making them happen, setting ourselves up for learning and continuous improvement

We talked about our goals and put everything we’d like to do on a Trello board. We thought about what we’d like to be able to tell people about being an agile delivery manager at Co-op Digital, and how we could influence groups in the wider Co-op by sharing our better practices.

Just for starters

Since then, we’ve tackled a lot of stuff on the list. We’ve:

  • organised digital masterclasses for new colleagues at Co-op Digital. These sessions are an introduction to agile at the Co-op and an overview of what it’s like to be part of a digital product team here
  • introduced a section on agile working to a training course on waterfall. Now Co-op project and portfolio managers will learn about both delivery methods
  • created a place to write about and share our experiences within the community when we try something new; when things go well and when they don’t go well
  • defined which skills a delivery manager at Co-op should have. This will help us see where we need more training and what to focus on when we recruit

Our community’s work is starting to become recognised around the wider business. That’s important because it means more people will have an understanding of what delivery managers do and how we can help teams work more efficiently. It’s good for individual teams and ultimately, it’s good for the business.

Time to reflect in a retrospective

Now we’re 6 months in, in true delivery manager style, we’ve had a retro to find out how each member of the community thought things were going. We talked about what we think has gone well and what we could do better in 2017.

We drew a timeline of the last 6 months and used green post-its to mark significant events. Then we each approached the timeline from a personal perspective and added pink post-its to mark our positives and blue post-its for personal negatives. Then we worked together to come up with actions to try and make sure the bad bits don’t happen again. After that, we each used marker pens to draw our highs and our lows. Here’s Steve in action!

Steve Bruce drawing his highs and lows on the timeline

Making time for meetups

Interestingly, the timeline showed that each community member felt more positive when we’d had regular meetings. So prioritising our meetups became an action. When the workload on your team is mega, it can be tricky to find the time to step away, even for an hour, but we’ve all found that getting together helps us not get bogged down.

The community of practice and me

I’ve learnt a lot from our meetups. They’ve been somewhere to stamp our feet, make new friends, bury ourselves in post-its, support each other by giving and taking advice. Sharing how you feel in a safe environment is invaluable. Especially when you’re with the people who are best-placed to support you with the tricky parts of your job.

I’d encourage everyone to come together with their community and try it. And let us know how useful you find it in the comments.

Kim Morley
Delivery manager