How the Shifts team is responding to emerging user needs

Two years ago we launched Shifts – a web app that allows Co-op Food store colleagues to view their work schedules and information about their pay and holiday entitlement. We’ve been developing it ever since, but the past few weeks have been especially challenging because we’ve been responding quickly to meet emerging needs of our store colleagues – they are our front-line key workers.

5,000 extra store colleagues

On 19 March, we used Shifts to send out a message asking Food store colleagues to ‘refer a friend’ to come and work in their store. It was a call for people to help serve their communities by taking on work in stores to meet the higher demand for groceries, and to cover for colleagues who were self-isolating. By the end of March, Co-op stores around the UK had welcomed thousands of new stand-in colleagues. The Shifts web app has played a huge role in the induction process for new joiners.

The aim of Shifts has always been to empower colleagues and give them the information they need at a time and in a place that suits them. But a convenient, remote way of receiving information has become more important than ever.

Here are some of the changes we’ve made to Shifts to try to meet emerging needs of existing and new colleagues.

Communicating updates and guidance

Shifts uses Intercom to send messages to colleagues about new features, and colleagues have been able to contact us through it too. It’s been useful in the past, but it’s taken on more importance in recent weeks.

We’ve been working closely with teams in the retail support centre to update colleagues about personal protective equipment, information they need as key workers and what they needed to know regarding school closures.

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 12.59.10

We also sent them a thank you message from Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive of Co-op Food.

Data shows that some of the messages were seen by over 43,000 store colleagues which we do not believe would have been the case if it wasn’t for Shifts being accessible for all colleagues on their personal devices.

Showing overtime at a different store

We recently added the capability to highlight when someone is working overtime at a store they don’t usually work at. Now, we can include them – and flag that this isn’t their ‘home’ store – on the same screen as everyone else who’s working a certain shift.

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We’d been finding it challenging to display this information, but at a time when many new crisis colleagues are helping in different stores it became more important to fix it. We prioritised work on this and now it’s resolved, we know it’ll be a much better experience for managers.

Matching up colleagues with shifts and stores

We know the demand for colleagues fluctuates between stores – some have been struggling to have enough colleagues in each day, whereas others have too many. And because a significant number of colleagues may show virus symptoms at the same time, stores could easily be left without their regular workforce while it self-isolates. To help with this, we’re currently working on functionality to allow managers to advertise available overtime shifts in their store to colleagues in nearby stores. This will allow colleagues to work where they’re most needed, and in places that are convenient for them.

Coming soon: showing available shifts

This month we’ll be releasing our ‘Available shifts’ feature which will let managers advertise overtime shifts and which roles they’d like to find cover for – this is open to colleagues who usually work in their store or ones who work in other stores in the area. Until now, managers have been using notice boards, WhatsApp groups or text messages to arrange cover which – according to research – can take longer than it should. The workaround can sometimes cause confusion too so the new feature should simplify and speed up the process. We hope it’ll be one less thing for colleagues to think about.

As always, we’re starting small. We’re testing this new feature with colleagues in around 10 stores and will roll out.

Doing our bit

Here in the Co-op Digital team we’re not on the front line. We’re not key workers.

But our colleagues in stores are.

There’s been a real eagerness in the Digital team to do whatever we can to support our hero colleagues, make their lives a little easier and lessen their cognitive load.

We’re fixated more than ever on adding value right now. Everyone wants to be useful in a crisis.

Caroline Hatwell, software engineer
Matthew Edwards, content designer

What the data and feedback show about 3 digital services in our Food stores

In October 2018, we formed the Operational Innovation Store (OIS) team. Our mission is to support store colleagues and empower them to spend more of their time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork. 

We’re doing this by simplifying tasks and removing time-consuming processes wherever possible with 3 digital services:

  1. Visit.
  2. Pay in aisle.
  3. Smartgap. 

We’ve been monitoring store data, as well as speaking to and observing store colleagues to understand how the services are helping them.

A year on, we’re reflecting on how far we’ve come with a look at each of the 3 services.

Visit: live across the majority of Food stores

We recently rolled Visit out nationally, after writing about Visit’s alpha and beta earlier in the year. It aims to simplify the process of welcoming a visitor into a store. Visit is on every customer-facing till screen so visitors can efficiently and independently check in, check out and acknowledge the safety information they need to be aware of. 

visit-on-till-screen

Thanks to the new service, colleagues no longer need to break off from what they’re doing to look for the visitor book and a pen, or accompany a contractor to the back office to see the asbestos information. All the while, visitor data is stored centrally and securely.

What store data tells us about Visit

  • Visit is live in 2,079 Co-op Food stores
  • 123,721 visitors have signed in so far (as of 1 October 2019)
  • On average, Food stores welcome 2.4 visitors per store per day. If we assume each visitor took a colleague away from customers for 5 minutes, that’s 91 hours per store, per year
  • Across all Co-op Food stores, 5 minutes of colleague time per visitor adds up to 9,858 days
  • Contractors doing repairs or maintenance work are our most frequent type of visitor and they can now view the asbestos information they need through Visit too, saving even more time for colleagues

Giving colleagues more time for customers

We visited some of our beta stores and interviewed store colleagues. One told us: “Visit’s really good, it’s taken away all that worry and getting people to traipse through to the back office. We’re saving time with every visitor.”

Ben, a store manager in Hull, said on Yammer (our private messaging service): “First visit to a store signing in using the Visit app on till screens – really easy process. This will be a game changer for stores, making the process so much easier.”

We’re rolling Visit out to another 600 stores by the end of the year as their tills get upgraded. We also have a dashboard where centre colleagues will be able to access visitor data if necessary – for example, contract managers can see if service level agreements are being fulfilled.

Pay in aisle: pay quickly, queue less

Back in July we posted that we’re testing our ‘Pay in aisle’ app in 30 Co-op Food stores. The app, available on Android and iOS, allows customers to bypass the checkouts and queues by scanning items as they go and paying for them on their phone.

Pay-in-Aisle-Blog (2)

What store data tells us about Pay in aisle

  • We tested the Pay in aisle app in 30 stores across England, Scotland and Wales for 2 months.
  • 7,364 transactions have been made through the app (as of 30 September 2019)
  • In the last week of September, that was 125 transactions per day on average
  • If we rolled the app out so it could be used in all Co-op Food stores, we estimate there would be around 10,484 transactions per day and 3.8 million each year (of course, adoption rate will vary across store types)
  • Unsurprisingly, the number of transactions peak at lunchtime in stores with offices nearby when queues tend to build up

Keeping colleague’s time for those who need it most

Each transaction made through Pay in aisle equates to time colleagues can now spend serving other customers – for example, someone having trouble finding a product, or someone who is less able to pack their shopping bags themselves.

We’re at the beginning of the adoption curve, but some users are already finding the app really valuable. During a research interview, a customer using the app in Edinburgh told us: “I didn’t fancy queueing because it gets busy in here, so I downloaded it to give it a go.”

And a colleague in a university campus store said: “It will be helpful in term time when all tills are in use and there’s a queue”.

We’re continuing to learn from this trial, and monitoring adoption while iterating the app. If you’re using Pay in Aisle, remember to tell us what you think using the Feedback button in the app.

SmartGap: saving time, paper and trees

In July we posted about how we’ve been redesigning the replenishing process for our Food stores. What was then called ‘Replen’ is now called ‘SmartGap’ and we’ve recently tested it in 84 stores, following a successful alpha earlier in the year. It allows our stores to manage inventory more quickly and easily than the old paper method, which we believe will also make stock levels more accurate.

Screenshot 2019-09-27 at 08.57.05

What store data tells us about SmartGap

  • Across all stores using it, an average of 15 minutes are saved per store, per day, which equates to around 27 years across all stores per year
  • Because colleagues don’t print out gap reports as often, 23.7 million pieces of paper, 5,000 trees and 120 kilograms of carbon are saved per year 
  • Stock accuracy increased from 69% to 72% in 8 weeks during the alpha

Making an arduous process quicker

In a survey of store colleagues, one said: “I think SmartGap is an invaluable tool. It’s easier to use than the paper system we had, it has everything in one place and allows more accurate reporting and replenishing. I’ll be very sad to lose it after the 5 week trial.”

And during a research interview another colleague said: “Doing it the paper way takes a lot longer than 15 minutes, every day. Don’t take it off me! It’s just simple, it’s so much easier to do.”

Kirsty, area manager of several stores on the trial in Scotland, said on Yammer: “I’m literally being begged on every store visit for stores to keep this. Do we have any update on when / if the trial stores will go on this permanently? They are loving it!”

We are working to launch SmartGap nationwide after the Christmas period.

What’s next: bring on year 2

In its second year, the OIS team promises to be just as productive. We have discoveries and alphas lined up that may turn into things we test in stores, and our team may also expand.

The past year has been a superb example of how the Digital team, Food colleagues, store colleagues, field managers and support centre stakeholders have worked together to design and build the right things for our store colleagues. 

Rachel Hand
User researcher

Introducing Co-op groceries on demand

This week we launched the digital front-end of Co-op Food’s home delivery and collection service. Customers within the M4 postcode can now order from the Corporation Street Co-op in Manchester city centre, and our proof of concept website continues to be available from 10 stores across central London. 

screen shot of 3 different pages on the website

The service is in beta at the moment which means we’ll be watching and analysing how customers are using it with a view to rolling it out to wider postcode catchments and to other Co-op Food stores. You can see the service at quickshop.coop.co.uk

How it works

Customers order through the website. Colleagues at the local store receive a notification on the store’s tablet and gather the items in the order from the shop floor. The customer then either collects their order or one of our delivery partners picks it up and couriers it.

At the moment, there’s a minimum spend of £15 (research suggests the average spend will be around £25) and customers can choose a 1 hour delivery slot. They can also choose to receive their order as quickly as 2 hours after they ordered. Delivery is currently free.

Keeping up with competitors

Co-op Digital began researching how people shop for food last summer – much of it was qualitative and took the form of interviews and Whatsapp food diaries, but some was quantitative. For example, online behaviour on coop.co.uk and a significant number of searches on the site suggested that customers expected us not only to have a website that allows them to browse the products we stock, but a transactional service they can buy them through. 

Until now, Co-op didn’t have the latter and we need to keep up with competitors.

The Co-op difference

But just as Co-op Food stores revolve around convenience rather than the weekly ‘big shop’, so does our delivery service.

Interviews and food diary studies from our research helped us understand that we have to remove the guilt associated with convenience shopping. For this reason our vision for groceries on demand is: 

post it note with the following written on it

Our research also showed us that Co-op is well placed to:

  • support bigger shops with fresh food ‘top-ups’
  • help those wanting to cut out a visit to a store in between finishing work, picking kids up and taking them to various after-school clubs
  • serve foodies who have their minds set on cooking a specific dish or menu rather than deciding what to cook after browsing the aisles for inspiration or offers 

On your marks, get set… shop

It’s been our team’s aspiration to design a service that allows customers to browse or search, find, choose, and buy products as quickly as possible. We’d decided that part of how we’d know whether we’d been successful would be to compare the time it took people to shop using our service with how long it took them to buy the same items through a competitor’s.

We’re expecting around 75% of transactions to be carried out on phones so we asked research participants to use their device. It typically took the small group we tested with half the time to complete the shop using the feature we’re developing as it did competitor services. 

What’s (probably) next

Based on continuous research, we’re expecting our service to be welcomed by customers – it’s what they expect from a supermarket after all. We’re looking at the analytics and we’re asking for feedback to help us improve the service continuously.

What we prioritise and work on next depends heavily on what we learn from the feedback but there are certain things we expect to add to the site at some point. These include:

  • ways to improve the experience for returning customers
  • creating a personalised shopping experience
  • expanding our beta service to more stores and replacing the proof of concept website

If you try the service, let us know what you think.

David Gregory, Delivery manager
James Rice, Lead designer

Co-designing the Shifts website

This week, we made the Shifts website available to all Food store colleagues.

The website means colleagues now have far more visibility over their work schedules and their days off. They can access Shifts from their personal devices too so they don’t have to be in work to look at their rota.

This is a big deal. It’s empowering. It’s a game-changer.

In September 2017, we started testing the Shifts site with colleagues from 10 stores. By November, 600 people across 120 stores were using it. That quick uptake was a sign we were getting things right. We hadn’t asked more people to test it – colleagues had shared the site with neighbouring stores because they saw value in the product we’d designed.

Experts. Lots of them

Experts from several areas came together, bringing their knowledge and expertise. Shifts was designed and built by:

  • Food colleagues at HQ 
  • Food store colleagues (informed the design through their feedback and how they interacted with the product)
  • Co-op Digital
  • UsTwo (completed alpha phase)
  • Equal Experts (built the site)

Shifts’ success is down to collaboration

It’s not an accident that (so far) Shifts has been a success. It’s a superb example of co-design and collaboration. This post picks out examples of when working together, listening, and considering quantitative and qualitative research meant we designed a much better product.  

Listening to colleagues

Ustwo ran the Shifts alpha phase. The prototypes we tested with store colleagues confirmed our assumptions – we were on the right track to designing something useful. But, it was the time Ustwo spent with colleagues that was most valuable because it helped us find lots of features colleagues needed that we didn’t anticipate. We found that a very common user need was having the visibility to see who was scheduled to work on the same shift. Their research in context helped us get to grips with the more human side of colleagues’ needs.

Looking at data

We looked at data to make improvements too. For example, the data showed that the vast majority of colleagues didn’t look at their past schedules so we adjusted the site to just show the past 12 weeks rather than 52.

When we spoke to colleagues we found there was confusion about the laws around break times so we included a feature on the site that set this out clearly. We’d put this in a prominent position alongside colleagues’ shifts, but the data showed that it’s not something people used repeatedly – they checked it once, learnt the rules and had no need for it again. So, we put it on a separate webpage so colleagues could reference it when they needed to, rather than seeing it every time they log in.  

Learning from past experience

Shifts was always going to be behind a log-in so we looked to the ‘My HR’ app that also has one. To log into My HR, colleagues need their colleague number and a password that was sent to their personal email account. However, we knew that wasn’t working well because many colleagues don’t have a personal email address. Managers also said it’s time consuming to collect those details.

We wanted to make Shifts as easy as possible to log into for the first time. So with My HR in mind, we introduced a simple login requiring the employee number (colleagues use this every day to clock-in so they’re familiar with it) and their mobile phone number. Using these details we authenticate and send a login token by SMS, so the process is still secure.

No training needed

Often when organisations introduce a product or service it’s necessary to spend time and money on training for whoever will be using it. This isn’t the case with Shifts. Because we’ve designed it alongside Food colleagues and have tested it with them, the language is familiar and written in user-centred, plain English and the design is intuitive.

Never finished, always improving

We designed in the open and estimate that around 600 colleagues had the chance to input into Shifts and decide the features. Although we feel confident that, with their help, we’ve built the right thing, it doesn’t mean we’ll stop listening to feedback now and iterating accordingly.

If you’re a store colleague, you can log into Shifts now. There is a link at the bottom of every page where you can leave feedback.

Chris Ward
Workstream lead

Before work on Shifts kicked off, Chris was an area manager in south-west London. He’d seen time-consuming processes and difficult-to-use systems first-hand. He moved to Manchester as a subject matter expert to help design Shifts.

Shifts is now available to all Food store colleagues

If you’re having trouble with the Shifts website, email shiftsfeedback@coop.co.uk

Today, all Co-op Food store colleagues have access to Shifts, a website that allows them to view:

  • their past and upcoming shifts
  • who’s scheduled to work each shift in their store
  • their shift preferences
  • their break entitlements
  • the payday calendar

Image shows screenshots of 3 screens from the Shifts website.

Managers can also view their stores productivity and see who’s using Shifts in their team.

We’re working on new features to add to the website too. We’ve found a need for colleagues to be able to:

  • check their holiday balance and book holidays
  • see new features as they’re added to Shifts
  • manage their availability

We’re also planning to add the following features for the management team:

  • check colleague shift availability
  • approve holidays
  • create financial forecasts

So far, so good

We tested the website with colleagues in 140 stores over the last year. Here are some of their thoughts.

Quick history of Shifts

In March 2017, Co-op Digital product lead Anna Goss posted that we’d identified a range of ways we could give time back to Food store colleagues. She described how we chose which 3 discoveries we’d take forward to alpha phase.

By August, we were taking Shifts prototypes (then called My Schedule) into stores and testing our assumptions with colleagues and iterating based on their feedback.

A month later, we’d rolled the website out a little more and were testing it with colleagues in 10 stores. Without us asking them to, they shared the log in page with colleagues from neighbouring stores and by November, 600 people across 140 stores were using the app.

We’d known there was a need for the product and this natural uptake was a good indication that it was meeting needs.

A success story

Shifts’ success is down to the collaborative design process. You can read Chris Ward, workstream lead’s post about Co-designing the Shifts website to find out more.

Co-op Digital team

If you’re a Co-op Food store colleague, you can log into Shifts now.

The ‘How do I’ website is now live for Food colleagues

Today we’ve launched ‘How do I’, a new digital service into all our Food stores.

We want all store colleagues to be able to find out how to do something in their store quickly and easily. ‘How do I’ is a website with up-to-date policies and procedures on it, written in a clear, user-focused way.

Screen shot of the landing page of How do I shows a search box plus 9 large categories of things colleagues need to know regularly.

How we did it

We knew that information about how to do things in stores was kept across multiple systems. Colleagues often had to search pages of policy to find the bit of information they needed. And some policies and procedures were more up-to-date than others, meaning colleagues didn’t always trust the information they were seeing. So our goal was to create a trusted source of better practices in one easily-accessible place.

To do that, we:

  • collated all existing policies and procedures
  • grouped them in a way that made sense for users
  • separated policies and procedures into actionable tasks
  • rewrote everything in a way that colleagues can easily understand – using the language that they do
  • researched with users along the way to find out if we were making something useful and understandable

Building something for users, with users

Co-op Digital builds user-centred products and services – things that make people’s lives easier. That means doing the hard work centrally to make things clearer, simpler and faster for our users. To do that we speak to users and show them what we’re building frequently. We change what we’ve designed based on how they interact with it and what their needs are.

For us, our users are colleagues in Co-op Food stores. And we involved colleagues from stores as much as possible while writing content and building the site.

In the past 6 months, we’ve visited 23 stores around the country and spoken to 46 colleagues in stores. We’ve also spoken to colleagues working in our Operations Store Support (OSS) team, who field queries from stores every day.

As well as visiting stores and showing them our works in progress, we involved store colleagues in writing the content too. Six colleagues were seconded from stores for 6 months. They worked with our content designers in Digital to learn about writing clear, simple, effective content that focuses on the needs of the user.

Using feedback to make it better

We’re building services with colleagues. We work with them, listen to their feedback and adapt services so that they’re continually useful for the people who will use them.

Since July this year, 10 test stores in Manchester have had access to an early version of How do I. In September, we also gave it to 2 other areas – Surrey, and Glasgow. That means that 47 stores have been using the website, and giving us feedback which we’ve been using to make improvements.

Every page on the website has a feedback function, so colleagues can tell us if they found the information they were looking for and whether it answered their question.

Giving people early access to what we’re doing kept us on the right path, and helped us to decide what to focus on next.

We’re still improving it

We’ve got ideas that we think will make How do I better, and we’re working through them. Here are 2 examples:

  1. Giving colleagues easier access

We learnt that most of the time, when a colleague isn’t sure how to do something, they ask someone else in their store, call another store or text a colleague. It’s easier to do that than to look it up on the existing system.

At the moment, colleagues can only access the site through the store computer. We know that this can take colleagues off the shop floor, and takes longer than asking the person next to you. We’re hoping to have a way for colleagues to sign in and access the site from any device early next year.

  1. Including Food HR policies

There’s still multiple places to look for information – on both How do I and the intranet. We’re working with our colleagues in Food HR to get their policies onto How do I, so it can become the go-to place for everything a colleague might need to know about working in a Food store.

Tell us what you think

We’re going to keep on making How do I better.

The version that’s in stores today isn’t the final version of How do I. We’ll continue to use analytics, research and feedback to improve the service so that it continues to meet the needs of the people that use it.

If you’re a store colleague, log on to your store computer and let us know what you think – we couldn’t have got this far without your input.

Anna Goss, product manager
Jo Schofield, content designer
Hannah Horton, lead content designer

Matthew Speight: how working with Digital has been a positive disruption for Co-op Food

(Transcript) Matthew Speight: Leading the Way is the Co-op’s plan to transform the way we run our stores for our customers and members and most importantly make it simpler for our colleagues.

So the Co-op Digital team came to the Leading the Way program really early in the year and at the time, if I’m honest, I didn’t really understand how we’d work together as a team because it wasn’t clear and I didn’t know the Digital team that well, the skills and the abilities they’ve got on the team.

The first thing I think the Digital Team have done is they’ve opened my eyes actually having spent a couple years in the field, what I thought was was the truth about supporting colleagues and providing leadership is actually very different to what the reality was.

In fact we could have supported colleagues more and we should have done a better job and the Co-op Digital team have brought user-centric design to the Co-op. And they are fascinating as a team in terms of that passion to make sure that the user needs are at the forefront of any project. And before you scope an idea or a potential project they focus on what is it user need that you’re trying to fix.

My Schedule is a tool for colleagues that allows them to not only plan their holidays and look at their own shifts but start to think about working in other stores and it gives flexibility to colleagues. It disrupts the way we run our stores.

That’s one project, but this year we’re going to launch ‘How Do I‘: how do I do things, and that’s probably a real simple baseline of what the Digital Teams can do. They’ve taken our existing policies, 7,000 of them that are on Citrus which is our store process back office platform and simplified it. They provided a real simple menu option, that will improve the way our colleagues navigate problems in our stores. That will save time, it’ll improve compliance and it’ll also allow us to answer both colleague queries and customer queries in a much more efficient way.

And those sort of things together, My Schedule, How Do I, are the start. Then if you start to think about how we might run our stores and bring our IT data together, then you know digital gives the potential to really disrupt the way we run our stores and I’m hugely excited by some of those plans for next year.

I’m blown away by what they brought the program. They’re a fantastic team, hugely talented and they’ve made a real difference the program.

Matthew Speight
Retail Director, Support Centre

My Schedule. Task Manager. How do I? 3 alphas aiming to help Food colleagues

Food’s ‘Leading the Way’ team said back in March that there were 14 potential alphas that came out of a 3-week discovery. Since then, we’ve been working on 3 of those alphas. These are:

  1. My Schedule – a service to help colleagues see which days they’re working, book holidays and request extra shifts.
  2. Task Manager – a digital way to organise tasks.
  3. How do I?  – a single, accessible source of information to help colleagues find out how to do things in stores.

Here’s where we’re up to.

Empowering colleagues with My Schedule

In the discovery, our research showed there was a need for colleagues to see which days they were scheduled to work, request overtime, review their holiday days and book holidays from their own devices. If colleagues could do these things independently, managers would be more free to spend time on things that would be more valuable to their colleagues and customers.

We’re now 5 weeks into a 12-week alpha to explore this. We’re researching and validating our assumptions by designing and building a working prototype with real data, and taking it into stores.

At the moment, colleagues check paper schedules to see when they’re working, and rescheduling or swapping shifts happens through informal channels like WhatsApp.

Our prototype allows colleagues to see their schedules on their own devices. We’re also working on ways to allow customer team members (CTMs) and managers to request and approve holidays, swap shifts and approve any overtime.

Image shows 2 photographs of real paper schedules in stores plus a photo of a colleagues phone with text messages between a colleague and a manager discussing changes to a shift. The right hand side of the image show the prototype.

So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but we’re taking everything onboard and will keep iterating.

Taking time back with Task Manager

The discovery showed that regular in-store tasks were taking longer than they would do if they were better organised and all in the same place. There’s an inconsistent system for reminding colleagues to complete tasks and for letting other colleagues know that something’s been done. There are also several channels for tasks so it’s confusing to know where to look.

Since then, we’ve visited colleagues in Manchester stores to find out about their day-to-day routines: how they work together, what they get done and especially what they struggle to get done. We found that there are 76 tasks that need completing regularly.

In order to start designing a product that will be useful, we’re going to run a 5-day design sprint. As with all agile projects, we’re starting small. We’ve chosen one of the 76 tasks: a tool to check the dates on ambient products. We’re going to explore how we can make it easier for colleagues to complete all the necessary date checks.

After 5 days of understanding the current process, mind mapping, sketching ideas and designing we’re confident we’ll have a prototype we can take into stores and test with colleagues. We’re still in the planning stages but we’ll talk more about what we learn when we start testing.

Making information easier to find with ‘How do I?’

The discovery showed that finding out how to do things in store, for example, loading a date gun to transferring stock between stores, was taking colleagues more time than it should.

All the information is on a system called Citrus. At the moment, it’s often buried in a much longer policy, and that policy is often hard to find. A lot of the time it’s not written in plain English either which could be confusing – especially if you’re new to Co-op or English isn’t your first language.

So we’re working on a way to help colleagues find out how to do things quickly and easily. We’ve built a test website which includes a few redesigned, user-focused procedures in different formats. We’re doing regular research in stores to see how colleagues use and react to the information and if something doesn’t work, we change it.

Our early findings have been positive. Colleagues seem to trust it, understand it and feel able to do the thing they didn’t know how to do before.

But, we need to do more work to understand how (and if) colleagues would use the site. There might be better ways to get the information to them at the point they need it. Testing in more stores and having more content on the site should help us with these questions. So we’re working with a team of 6 colleagues seconded from stores to help us write more procedures and we’re expanding our testing group to 40 more stores.

We also have questions around what we call the product, how colleagues can access it securely and how it’ll be hosted. We’re working on the answers.

A good start

At this stage, as with all alphas, there are still unknowns. We’re hoping that by the end of the year all Food store colleagues will be benefiting from at least one of these projects.

Susanne Husebo, agile coach on My Schedule
Louise Nicholas, interaction designer on Task Manager
Hannah Horton, content designer on ‘How do I?’

How we went from a 3-week discovery to 14 potential alphas

Running a food shop is simple in theory. You need to make sure there’s food on the shelves, there are colleagues available to help customers if they need it, and you’ve got to make sure customers can hand over their money when they want to buy something.

In fact, running a branch of a supermarket is pretty complicated. Even within that first statement, ‘make sure there’s food on shelves’, there’s a whirlwind of complexity. Getting food on the shelves involves logistics like knowing when a delivery is arriving, best before dates and in house baking.

At the beginning of March we completed a 3-week discovery to find out how we could make life simpler for our colleagues in stores. After the success of the Product Range Finder, one of our previous alphas, we wanted to find other opportunities for us to help. Now, we’re at the end of the discovery phase and we’ve proposed 14 alphas that we could work on.

Here’s how we got to this point.

Getting the right team together

We needed the right mix of people working together. It was just as important for us to collaborate with people with first-hand experience of the shop floor as it was for us to work with people with digital skills. The ‘Leading the way’ team from the Food business joined us. The purpose of their group is to help colleagues ‘go back to being shopkeepers’ by taking away some of the administration involved in running a store. Four of them joined the Co-op Digital team for the whole 3 weeks, and importantly, 3 of them had been area managers or shop managers within the last 12 months. Like we did for the first 3 Food alphas, we teamed up with digital product studio ustwo too.

Learning how things work in store

During week 1, we had around 20 colleagues from the Leading the way team come and work in Federation House to map out what happens in a Co-op store, and what goes into running one day to day.

We learnt about everything from walking around the store in the morning, ‘facing up products’ and cashing up, about what happens to unsold magazines when the issue expires, and a whole lot more. The purpose of the workshop was to uncover any assumptions. Doing this meant that anyone who didn’t have first-hand experience in store could get a decent understanding of how things work which in turn meant that our research would be less biased and more thorough.

Using filters to figure out potential

In our first week we also set up some team principles and some filters to evaluate each alpha idea on.

“Yes” ideas were ideas that we thought were good enough to carry forward to the alpha phase. Each one would:

  • have a clear user need
  • have potential for lasting value
  • empower colleagues and decentralise processes
  • keep colleagues on the shop floor

On the other hand, we had some ideas we wanted to ditch. “No” ideas were the ones that:

  • had a poor effort to value ratio
  • would add to colleagues’ workloads
  • didn’t actually need a digital solution

image shows 3 columns of post-it notes. The first column shows criteria for a 'yes' idea, the second for a 'no' idea and the third for ideas that might be good to pursue at a later date.

Week 2 and crossing the half-way point

In the second week of the discovery we spent around 30 hours in store doing ‘Lend a hand’ which is exactly how it sounds: we lent a hand to colleagues. We interviewed them and their store managers in different parts of the country. We also interviewed customers, to find out what they like about Co-op, and what they think could be improved.

After each store visit and interview, we shared what we’d learnt with the rest of the team, and we started to see themes emerge from the things we were seeing and hearing from colleagues.

image shows 3 colleagues sharing their feedback and arranging post-its on a wall.

We used those themes to create some prompting questions which we then asked over 60 Food colleagues at ‘sketching sessions’. For example, one of the themes that came out of the feedback was that it’s not always clear to colleagues how they can progress their career at the Co-op, so we asked colleagues at the sketching sessions “how can we help staff to progress?” They’d then draw something in response.

Here’s an example sketch in response to the question, “how can we sign up customers for membership at the store?” 

Sketch from colleague Phil Hesketh shows a machine that you can put your temporary card into, a screen where you choose the cause you'd like to support, and a real card will popping out of the bottom of the machine.

By the end of the sessions, colleagues had produced a whopping 562 sketches.

Getting our priorities straight

We put them all through the filter and managed to whittle the ideas for solutions down to 41. Then we fleshed them out, before prioritising them by asking:

  1. How risky is the idea?
  2. How much evidence for the opportunity do we have?

We figured the sweet spot was where we had both evidence and low risk. After looking at the 41 ideas through that lens, we got to 14 – a more manageable number!

Where we’re at now

Last week we presented back our ideas to the wider team.

group of colleagues from across the Co-op and ustwo gathered around whiteboards to hear the feedback on the 14 potential alphas.

Now it’s up to the Leading the way team to figure out which they want to go forward with, because we won’t be doing 14 alphas all at once. Just like last year’s discovery, we found a lot of opportunities, but we know we’ll solve a problem best if we can solve them one at a time.

Anna Goss
Product lead

Helping Food colleagues get out of the office and onto the shop floor

At Co-op Digital we’re building products and services that’ll improve efficiency in the wider Co-op Group. Part of this is figuring out how we can give more time back to our Food colleagues in stores so they can spend time helping customers instead of shuffling handfuls of paperwork in their office. Basically, we want to make things things more predictable ie, knowing when a delivery will arrive so that colleagues can plan and use their time better.

Teaming up with ustwo

We brought in ustwo, a digital product studio, to help. At that point we needed more people power and ustwo have excellent experience in putting user needs at the forefront of everything they do. Their ethical values also made them a brilliant match for us.

Researching and learning during discovery

Our goal for discovery was to produce a set of alphas that would potentially benefit the food business. We spent time with and interviewed customers as well as our Food colleagues including store managers, colleague team members and depot managers.

We learnt about the Food business at incredible speed through qualitative and quantitative research and design techniques such as sketching. Our interviews were sometimes focused and at other times wide ranging; sometimes they were in depth and at others they were vox pops. Spending time listening to colleagues on the phones in our call centres and seeing what happens on our internal help desk helped us learn a lot too.

We took what we’d learnt from our research and proposed alphas that might help with common problems we’d encountered throughout the discovery. In the end we worked on 3 alphas with ustwo. Last year, we blogged about the product range finder which was one of them.

Now we’re talking about another one: the delivery alerts alpha.

Initial scope of delivery alerts

We posed these questions:

Can we speed up delivery turnaround times?
Can we reduce queuing during busy times?

Starting simply and cheaply

We wondered if notifying a store of the arrival time of a truck would help make stores more efficient. So we set up a simple trial by asking a driver to use one of our cheap mobile phones to send a text message when he was approaching. Straight away we found that this was useful to stores so we felt confident that if we pursued this idea to the next stage, it’d be useful. So we built a more robust prototype that would test our theory further.

At this point we realised we were crossing paths with another team in Co-op working on putting black boxes into our delivery trucks that could provide us with the data we needed.  So whilst that work was coming together with the third party supplying the black box, we pivoted slightly to focus more on this question:

Can we make important shop bulletins available to everyone, quickly?

Building a digital dashboard

With the ease of a good agile team, the delivery alerts alpha became the store dashboard alpha because delivery alerts could be a part of something bigger. We built and trialled a store dashboard, a website running on an iPad.

image shows store dashboard including tasks (for example 'return match attax champions league products'), delivery times and news.

It shows our Food colleagues:

  • urgent or general tasks to be done
  • news or information from the Support Centre that colleagues should read

By now, we had around 15 stores in Manchester and London to use the digital dashboard as an information source. We chose a mixture of big and small, city and rural.

Image shows team leader Dan and store manager Craig from the Didsbury Road store looking at the store dashboard with Kim Morley out delivery manager. They're in the store.

Helping colleagues plan better

Once we had access to the data from the black boxes in the trucks, we built our delivery alerts module that sat in the bigger, more comprehensive dashboard. Then we broadened our trial to show colleagues when deliveries were going to arrive. With the dashboard they can see if their delivery truck was stuck in traffic. This meant they could plan ahead and use their time efficiently.

We got enough insight from the delivery alerts module and our tasks and news modules to calculate that it could give store managers up to 10% more time to spend on the shop floor.

Big thumbs up from colleagues

Naz at Faircross Parade Co-op said that knowing when deliveries will arrive is the main thing that would make the system helpful to him, because he could co-ordinate his team and the floor schedule. Co-ordinating better means that Naz can free up colleague time for other activity, like reducing queues at the tills.

Gemma from Taylor Road Co-op said that she could turn her deliveries around 10 minutes quicker using our dashboard. But it means so much more than that to her, knowing when her deliveries arrive means she can allocate tasks before and after the delivery to make her store run more efficiently.

If we take this idea forward, we’ll blog about our progress. In the meantime, you can sign up to the Co-op Digital blog.

Kim Morley
Delivery manager