Co-operate: why we prioritised ‘What’s happening’

Co-op is a commercial business and our profits go back into our communities. Our mission is ‘Stronger Co-op, stronger communities’. Earlier this year we wrote a post introducing Co-operate, an online platform aimed at bringing communities closer together. Co-operate will host a ‘suite’ of connected products that make it easier for organisers and volunteers to make things happen in their local community.

What’s happening‘ – a product that lists events and activities that benefit Stretford – is the first product in the suite that we’ve built. This post is about how and why we prioritised this one.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 09.45.26

Understanding the problems

At the start of the year, me and user researcher Simon Hurst gathered, reviewed, grouped and analysed the previous research from agencies, our own Digital Product Research team and other Co-op teams. 

It was clear that if someone wants to make something happen in their community, they need to overcome at least one – often many – of these problems:

  1. Fund raising. 
  2. Recruiting volunteers.
  3. Promotion and raising awareness. 
  4. Finding a location or venue. 
  5. Finding, getting or buying equipment.
  6. Communicating with and co-ordinating volunteers or attendees.

Usually, a digital delivery team would look at all of these problems and use prioritisation techniques to figure out where they could deliver the most value, most easily, before working their way down a list of stories. 

But we didn’t. 

We know there are good digital and non-digital services that adequately solve some of these problems. For example, organisers use Facebook and physical message boards to promote events, and they communicate with their volunteers through Whatsapp groups. But those services aren’t connected, which means users are having to navigate multiple services to make their community event happen.

We knew that if we only tackled one of those problems, our product wouldn’t offer communities anything they couldn’t get from better established ones – we’d actually become part of the problem.

Our over-arching hypothesis

We formed an over-arching hypothesis that has helped frame our strategy for the first 12 to 18 months:

A variety of unconnected digital tools and services aimed at helping people make things happen in their local communities already exist. We believe that offering a range of connected products will make it easier for people to organise and participate in things that benefit their community. We’ll know this is true if people use 2 or more Co-operate products.

Why an events listing is our first Co-operate product

Despite the fact that another place to list events didn’t address the most urgent user need, we prioritised work on Co-operate’s events listing product What’s happening for several reasons:

1.Broad appeal means more value added

What’s happening brings a range of events and activities into one place and we knew that most members of the community would find something of interest to them – it could be a book club or health walk, a martial arts class or knitting group. Starting with What’s happening felt sensible – we knew it would create a buzz because it’s useful to so many organisers and potential attendees. 

screen grab of the stretford what's happening page. shows 6 events.

2.Good for galvanising a new team (and for satisfying stakeholders)

There had been 18 months of stop/start research into communities and deliberation about whether to continue before our current team became involved with the project. Because the Co-op is synonymous with communities, our stakeholders were investing a lot of trust in us to deliver. 

Whilst our natural instinct as a product team is to see user problems for ourselves, it felt wasteful to start again and leap back into another discovery. In the weeks it would have taken for us to complete another discovery, we pulled together as a team and designed prototypes based on what we’d picked up from the research done before. The fact we hadn’t been involved in the initial research perhaps helped us move more quickly because we were less precious about it – we were just desperate to get something into users’ hands and see where we could add value. 

It worked out well for us because we learnt a lot, quickly; the users in Stretford, and the stakeholders. 

3.Technically, it’s relatively simple

From an engineering point of view, this isn’t a challenging product which meant we could design and build something rapidly, get it into people’s hands in Stretford, listen, observe and make improvements frequently and quickly.

4.Build it once, reuse it loads

What’s happening is essentially a searchable, filterable list – a format that we think could ease some of the other problems we’ve seen too. For example, the build could help make it easier to find community spaces in your area; equipment you can borrow; community groups to join or volunteering opportunities. Building this now means it’s likely to speed up other products we build because we’ll reuse and repurpose it and hook in different content.

Thinking ahead and prioritising accordingly

Balancing and satisfying user needs and commercial needs is our top priority in Co-op Digital. But in Co-operate’s case, it was more efficient for us to lay some groundwork first. Choosing to focus on What’s happening as the first product meant we could move quickly and boost team and stakeholder morale, and thinking ahead about what would be sensible and beneficial to us in the future influenced what we built first. Every project is different and has a different backstory, but these were the right product decisions for this product. 

What’s happening with What’s happening

At the moment What’s happening covers 4 communities (Bollington, Sale, Urmston and Stretford) but we’ll soon cover the whole of Trafford. We’re experimenting with ways to measure its impact – for example, is there an increase in participant numbers at the events we feature? This is the common challenge of tracking people as they move from the digital to the physical world. But we like a challenge.

We’re continuously iterating the product in response to user feedback. If you have some for us, use the ‘share your feedback’ link at the bottom of each community page in What’s happening.

Ben Rieveley
Product lead

Lessons learnt: starting out as a product manager

I came to Co-op Digital as an agile business analyst and relatively speaking, I’m pretty new to product management.

I wanted to take on a product manager (PM) role after working with some inspiring people – Anna Goss, Lawrence Kitson and Charlotte King to name a few. I saw each of these people lead teams to meet user and business needs with design and technical solutions. And I wanted to do the same.

Since then, I’ve had to learn a lot of stuff. And quickly.

The other week at Product Camp Manchester, I gave a talk at on the advice I’d give my less experienced self. This post is about what I know now with the power of hindsight.

1.Context is everything

Yes, it’s the dream to get something in the hands of your users within a couple of months – weeks even – and that might be possible if you’re a product manager in a start-up.

But Co-op isn’t a start-up. It’s a huge, traditional organisation and for the vast majority of stakeholders, the pace digital teams move at can be scary. I understand that worry. Of course, it can take longer to get digital products and services out there when you’re working in an organisation going through digital transformation. And I’ve learnt that that’s ok: you need to take into account the time it takes to communicate what you’re doing clearly, and convincingly, to the right people. That way, you get the credibility to continue.

2.What you work on affects your learning

Many new PMs choose to work on ‘safe’ products or services. I didn’t. Instead, I prioritised working on the most interesting product. I pushed for my first product to be one of Co-op’s new ventures because I was really interested in lean product techniques and working on something new felt like a good way to test them out.

However, there have been times when having more experience would have been useful with a product like this. With experience comes confidence and with that comes the willingness to make decisions more quickly (granted, not always better ones). With the power of hindsight I’d be in a better position to be able to weigh up working on something that has more structure because it already exists and the challenge of shaping and influencing the direction of a product from inception.

Although I’m glad I stuck with the product, having the right people in place (an excellent community of practice and a supportive team) has been essential.

3.Influence team morale

Part of a PM’s role is to be in tune with the team’s morale, and sometimes to influence it. I’ve found that keeping these 3 things in mind is helpful.

‘Failing’ is just part of the process

Occasionally, things won’t go to plan. That’s unavoidable. We’ll make the wrong assumptions; we’ll test the wrong thing; a user will interact with a prototype in a completely different way to how we expected, and there’ll be times when we don’t do everything we set out to in a sprint.

As a PM you need to make sure the team knows that all of those things are ok and that making mistakes is fine as long as we’re learning. Letting them know gives each person autonomy, it shows you support them to get on with their job and that you trust their expertise.

The best bad decision is better than no decision

Sometimes, you won’t have enough information to make an informed decision. In those instances, accepting a sensible amount of risk, taking a punt and learning is more beneficial for the team because it keeps things moving. It’s always a good idea to explain a ‘best bad’ decision and the options to the team.

Hand-drawn doodle. A man standing in front of a sign post choosing to go in the direction of 'bad decision' rather than 'badder decision'

Any compromise warrants a thank you

You’re undoubtedly working with some very skilled and knowledgeable people and sometimes you’ll be in a position where you need them to compromise in the name of progress. Nobody likes compromise so if someone does it, showing your gratitude is essential.

4.Learn from doing, not just reading about doing

So much of the role is about how you interact with people, how cooperative they are and how much confidence they have in you – a lot of this can only be learnt through experience, through doing the job. You can read as many PM books as you like but the only way to learn properly is practically, by being on a team. Applying theory to deliver something valuable is the hard part.

5.Empower the team by being clear on your mission

Teams always say they want autonomy. But, if a team has complete autonomy but no mission they might end up building something super impressive and, unfortunately, completely useless to the problem they’re trying to solve.

They might end up building a rocket and not know why.

Hand-drawn doodle of 3 people looking at a very impressive rocket. One says: We built a rocket! Another says: Why?

Autonomy only works if the team is aligned. Creating a mission and communicating it to the whole team will give a clear purpose and empower each person to get on with delivery.

I’ve learnt a lot in a really short time. And as long as there are problems to solve, the learning won’t stop. We’ll be hiring product managers again very soon. Keep an eye on our jobs page and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter to stay in the loop.

Anthony Wilson
Product manager

Illustrations by Maisie Platts

 

 

Co-op Membership after 2 weeks

It’s been over 2 weeks since we launched our new Co-op Membership. During this time over 2,000 members have given us feedback on how they’re finding Membership and in particular using the Membership website.

Picture of our new Co-op Membership card.

As a product manager working on Membership, feedback from our Members is really important. We’re using this, along with analytics. The analytics show us general user behaviour which we’re using to help to determine the areas to prioritise. As a direct result of this we’re making lots of changes to the service.

Derek Harvie
Derek Harvie – product manager – Membership

Some members said that they weren’t sure how to carry out some self-service tasks, such as updating their address or ordering a replacement card. So, we made the labels of the links clearer. This is important to get right because the majority of calls to our contact centre and questions on social media are about tasks just like these.

Some new members joining our Co-op for the first time said that it wasn’t clear what would happen after registration. Were they fully registered? Would they get a new card? So, we have updated the registration “flow” on the membership website to include a full welcome email that gives information about when their new card will be posted, and confirm their account has been fully registered.

Thank you to every member who’s taken the time to feedback already. Hopefully you’ll see that we are listening to this and you can see the changes we’re making to make Membership better for everyone.

Derek Harvie
Product Manager

 

Product management

Hello, I’m Andy Pipes and I’ve been working as a product manager here at the Co-op for nine months. During that time I’ve been helping Funeralcare rethink how we deliver our service to clients when a death has occurred.

Picture of Andy Pipes
Andy Pipes

I’m starting to take on some other responsibilities now and one is hiring more product managers to come and work with Co-op Digital on other amazing projects. This has given me chance to reflect on what kinds of product leaders might be required at a place like the Co-op.

Often, when I explain to people that I’m a digital product manager, I’m greeted with bewilderment (“Wow sounds complicated!”) or ignorance (“Oh, so you’re in IT then?”). It’s not surprising – the job title isn’t the clearest. Most people understand that products are designed, made, tested and used. But managed?

‘Product manager’ has gradually emerged in the past decade as the title to describe the person charged with fully understanding the problems that a product or service is meant to solve. But that’s not their only function.

As high-tech companies began to adopt Agile software development practices, the role of ‘product owner’ (the person responsible for making and prioritising the backlog of work in an agile team) started to be rolled into the product manager’s job profile. To complicate matters further, some organisations threw in design or technical skills into the “competencies” a typical product manager was asked to bring to the table.

It’s no wonder there are so many flavours of product manager these days. And also no surprise many of them describe themselves as “all rounders”.

The types of people who I think are perfect for product leadership roles come from all walks of life. Some might have been working as a “product manager” for some time but not have the job title to reflect it. Others may excel at an engineering, design or business positions and been asked to take on more general responsibilities. There is no one right “track” to becoming a product manager.

What’s most important is having the right mindset and attitude. (I’ve written about this before.)  When interviewing for a product manager role, I listen for people who just love to talk about real people, struggling with real problems that they want to solve. This is a good sign they’ve got a well of curiosity unlikely to run dry. And that they’ll have the energy to keep at it until the right solution is found.

These people tend to be straight talkers, too. They know business-speak or technical jargon gets in the way of understanding and empathising when explaining a user’s problems to a team whose job is to try and solve them.

The team often turns to the product manager for decisions, leadership and assurance. But it’s a fine balancing act. Keeping a multi-disciplinary team motivated and productive does not mean dictating answers. Nor does it mean an equal voice to every member of the team in every situation. Sometimes, you need to guide the discussion with a firm grasp of the “why”. Other times you’ll need to keep the team exploring new options until they get unblocked.

I’m not sure there’s a typical day in the life of a product manager. One morning you might be describing the problems a user has to a designer or developer. In the afternoon, you might be presenting a new opportunity to explore in your market to an executive. You could be called on to analyse some data that could provide evidence for a particular approach. Or sketch out for a stakeholder how you plan to tackle an upcoming theme of work. You try to keep your team energised, and motivated with clear, worthwhile goals. You talk a lot. You listen more.

Picture of Andy Pipes

What the product manager helps their team to achieve day-to-day will also depend on the type of project they’re tasked with leading. The Co-op has all sorts of projects – big and structured, all the way through to loose and lean. Large transformation programmes need product managers with strong communication skills and the ability to build solid stakeholder relationships. Service design projects like Online Wills need a clear product vision, and attention to detail and delivery. Experiments like Paperfree are in the earlier stages of development, and need its leaders to be more comfortable with some of the more nebulous problems they are trying to discover, and validate.

We need all these types of product managers for projects happening right now at the Co-op. Think you’ve got the mindset? Take a look here for all the details.

Andy Pipes
Head of product management

 

Co-op Finder Alpha Update

In my previous post I talked about the work we’re doing to improve our store and branch locator. We’ve continued to improve our new Co-op Finder Alpha and added a page for each store.

All the updates have come from:

  • user feedback from the form on the page
  • user research sessions
  • comments on the blog
  • messages on Twitter

So, if you gave us some feedback, thanks very much. You’ve helped to shape our service for colleagues, members and customers.

Design

Here’s a couple of the design changes we made.

We improved the text input box and how we show the ‘use my location’ option. This was because our users were confused when we tested it out:

image 1

We have reduced the space taken up by the list and map tabs. It was pushing the most important information too far down the screen:

image-2

Local pages

Users asked us to show facilities and services for each store. We’ve added a link to more information that goes to a page about each store. These pages are essential for helping people find stores more easily on search sites. They give us a great opportunity to test new features about a store and its local community.

Information accuracy

Most of the feedback we received was about:

  • opening hours
  • the accuracy of where the pin appears on the map 
  • the need to quickly update information about stores that have closed or changed ownership

The good news is that we’ve improved the accuracy of the location coordinates from 17% to around 88%. That’s around 3,500 stores now with an accurate pin on the map.

There are lots more improvements in the pipeline and we’ll keep you updated here.

Our show and tell is every Wednesday, 10th Floor, 1 Angel Square in Manchester at 10.15-10.45. All colleagues and Member Council members are welcome.

Ben Rieveley
Product Manager, Location Services

Co-op Finder Alpha

Co-op-Finder-Alpha
Co-op Finder Alpha – list results view

We’ve made live our Co-op Finder Alpha. Have a look https://alpha.coop.co.uk/finder.

If you’ve ever used our old store locator, you’ll see there are lots of things that aren’t in the new one. There’s a reason for that. We don’t know whether it was useful or not, in fact there’s a lot we don’t know. 

We’ll use our Co-op Finder Alpha to learn more.

We do know a lot of people choose to come to our website to use our store locator to see whether we are open, usually around those times when opening hours in general are not obvious, like Sunday evenings and national holidays.

We also know that the next most common thing customers need, is to know where the nearest Co-op is to a specific location. 

We’ve kept a few obvious elements, like telephone numbers and links to get directions, but other than that we’ve removed anything that we don’t have an evidenced user need for.

There are two opportunities for users to provide feedback on the experience itself and whether the information is correct, through this and further user research we will understand better what needs to be there.

We’ve already learnt a lot and have some solid improvements in the pipeline that we’ll make live shortly.

Our show & tell is part of the coop.co.uk session every Wednesday, 10th Floor, 10.15-10.45 – all colleagues and Council members welcome.

Please let us know what you think.

Ben Rieveley
Product Manager

coop.co.uk

You’ve probably already read about our re-brand – here’s a reminder just in case. As Mike said we’re committed to radical transparency, so in that spirit, I’m going to talk about the work we’ve done so far on the Co-op website.

You may have noticed the changes that we’ve made already to the website. We’ve changed the font, logo, plus have introduced a new url structure that matches our new name – coop.co.uk. But we aren’t going to stop there.

We’re going to deliver a new service on coop.co.uk. I’m the product manager on the team that’s tasked with delivery of the new service. We’ll deliver a distinctive new service, slowly retiring the existing one from view.

Mock up of mobile version of coop.co.uk

Our vision for coop.co.uk

“Coop.co.uk ruthlessly focusses on better meeting the needs of customers, members and colleagues.

It’s supported by a range of tools and ways of working that gives Co-op the ability to respond fast to changing user needs and opportunities.”

Our first deliverable, an Alpha version of the corporate site (that’s the bit of the website that has lots of information about who we are, where we are, what we do, careers, press information etc), is coming soon. We’ll write about it here, so keep an eye on the blog. We’ll then iterate to both improve the service and expand its capability.

Getting to this point is a significant achievement by the new team:

  • We’re focussing on user needs throughout the design and build process.
  • We’ve explored processes and introduced tools required to publish content from across the business.
  • We’ve built an environment that allows us to continually deploy new versions.

True to ‘lean’ principals, we’re also incorporating metrics, to help us gauge how the service is performing. This will give us the ability to react and make changes when necessary. We’re always after feedback, so do let us know what you think.

Nick Gallon