How and why we ran a design sprint with 16 people 

Our Funeralcare team ran a discovery into how we can help people who are dying, which we call ‘imminent need’. For people in this situation, it’s after the time when it’s advisable to buy a funeral plan (pre-need) and before the time when someone dies and someone arranges a funeral for them (at-need). 

A timeline showing imminent need sat between pre-need and at-need

To make the most of everyone’s time on the discovery, the team ran a design sprint with 16 people to create a shared understanding of our insight and generate ideas around how we could start to help people better. 

Sharing research generated interest in the work 

As part of our discovery, we interviewed colleagues and subject matter experts. People were excited that we were looking into imminent need and keen to follow our progress. After our research, we held a playback of our work and explained that our next step would be a design sprint. Lots of our colleagues expressed an interest, including our Chief Commercial Officer, and we were keen to follow up with these people. 

What is a design sprint?

A design sprint is a method of generating lots of ideas collaboratively with people spanning different disciplines and business areas. 

The ideal number of attendees for a design sprint is around 4 to 8 people. This makes sure there’s enough time for the valuable discussions that happen as part of the process. Usually, if you involve more than 8 people it can become hard for everyone to contribute and feel heard, and the session agenda can become difficult to manage. 

The two sprint facilitators stood in front of a screen that displays 'Welcome to day 1'. A big table of people look towards them.

Why we chose to run a big design sprint

Our design sprint team totalled 16, including two facilitators. 

We were hesitant – it was a big group and we had concerns about being able to get through all the sprint activities and have enough time for discussion. However, we felt we could manage this and there were some good reasons to go ahead with a big team. 

We wanted to include the broad knowledge across Funeralcare and avoid extra meetings 

Our design sprint team represented skills and knowledge from teams across marketing, commercial, propositions, operations and funeral homes plus design, research and product. 

Having all those people in the room meant we could discuss barriers and opportunities in real time and within the context of each person’s role. This also meant we could avoid having lots of additional meetings with people to provide updates or answer any potential unknowns.

We wanted our colleagues to get the experience of being in a design sprint 

The main value of a design sprint is the rapid validation of ideas, but there is also huge benefit in bringing engaged stakeholders on the journey and the relationships we can develop in collaborative sessions. 

Our purpose wasn’t to bring in people who didn’t want to be there or would likely be disruptive to have in the session. It is still a good idea to push back on unreasonable requests to take part where it is likely to negatively affect the session and outcomes you want from the design sprint. 

We also wanted to make sure all six of our ‘imminent need design team’ could come along. We put a lot of emotional investment into the research and it was important to make sure everyone got to see the discovery through to the end. Plus having the balance of designers in the room also helped with managing the flow of the day. 

For some people, this was their first design sprint. For most, it was the first sprint since COVID changed how and where we work. Bringing people from across the business to work together in person is a powerful thing and it was incredibly valuable to showcase that. 

How we ran the design sprint 

We chose to run the design sprint in person as we felt it would be easier logistically and would provide the fun design sprint experience that we wanted people to have. 

We followed a format similar to Design Sprint 2.0, which condenses the traditional 5-day format into 4 days and only needs the full group for the first two days. By shortening the time, we hoped to make it easier for people to attend without the need for lots of diary juggling or planning months in advance. 

Our sprint team included our core project team of design, research and product, plus 9 people from around the Funeralcare business. We had two facilitators to support the large group (and each other). We spent one and a half days together as a larger group, then the core team continued remotely for the final days of prototyping and testing. 

The back of a dark haired woman adding to a poster sheet-sized paper covered with post-it notes

Day 1 (half day): Understand 

We wanted our design sprint team to have a shared understanding of our research and insights. To do this we shared: 

  • a simple journey map 
  • a clear problem statement based on our research 
  • lightning talks on different aspects of the research 

During the lightning talks we asked the team to generate ‘how might we’ (HMW) statements around the problem areas.

We did not have time for everyone to present back all their HMWs, so we summarised themes, asked everyone to add their HMWs to a theme and dot voted on the most important themes. 

The two sprint facilitators next to a screen displaying 'why we do ideation'

Day 2: Diverge and converge 

After recapping on the themes, we did 2 rounds of ideation using a 3-step sketching process. Usually, we would give each person 5-10 minutes to present their ideas back, but this could have taken a full day which we did not have. Instead, everyone discussed ideas in pairs or small groups and then fed back to the group for a wider discussion. 

We originally planned 3 rounds of ideation, but we had so many great ideas from the first round, that we realised we would cover all the themes with 2 rounds and make better use of the time. 

The 3-step process included: 

  • Mind-mapping 
  • Rapid 8s 
  • T-bar sketching 

In the afternoon each person picked an idea from the morning that they found interesting and presented it back to the group for feedback. 

The group then dot voted on the ideas. We gave everyone 3 blue dots to vote on the ideas they wanted to take forward the most. We then gave everyone pink dots to vote on anything they thought had been missed. The blue votes tended to focus on things that were practical and that people were more sure about. Some of the themes that only had pink votes, were ideas that were more experimental or things we’d not tried before. 

A close up of an idea sketched in t-bar format titled 'guide to dying'.

Day 3 and 4: Converge continued, prototype and test 

The core project team continued the rest of the sprint remotely. We focused on narrowing down what we were going to test then set to work on the prototype which we tested with some of our funeral home colleagues. 

Outcomes of the design sprint 

The design sprint was a great success. We generated a broad range of ideas, some we tested successfully and some that will contribute to future workstreams. We have since released guidance content for a person who knows they are dying and someone supporting a person who is dying. This is the first small step in what we hope will be many more in helping people with this need. 

And importantly, there was a feeling of togetherness and brilliant discussions happened in the room. The agenda was tight, but the pace of the day kept energy levels and engagement high. 

We had brilliant feedback on the sessions. It’s exciting that people are reaching out to ask if we could help them run design sprints or similar ideation workshops for projects in their own teams. 

7 people (coincidentally all wearing harmonious shades of green, blue and black) in thought, reading ideas stuck on walls.

Our tips for running a large design sprint

Have two facilitators 

Having more than one facilitator for a session this large is a must because it: 

  • makes it easier to keep an eye on time and make any agenda changes, whilst helping people in the room and listening to conversation 
  • helps manage energy levels of facilitators as you can switch between the two roles above and lead different sections of the day 
  • means the facilitators are supported by each other 

Be mindful of group mix and personalities 

Strong personalities can create challenging workshop environments and the more participants you invite, the risk increases that you have one or more people who might (unintentionally) derail your well-planned agenda. We were lucky that we knew none of our participants were likely to behave this way, but it is something to be mindful of when expanding your participant list. 

When you start adding more stakeholders or subject matter experts, it’s good to increase the number of designers (or others with design sprint experience) to support with guiding people who’ve not done workshops like this before. 

Run it in person 

This sprint would’ve been extremely difficult to run remotely, would’ve felt much more rigid and we would’ve missed the pockets of great conversation that ripple across a room when people are together. 

One of our subject matter experts travelled to Manchester from Devon and we were very grateful. 

Plan your sessions and agenda out in detail, but be ready to adapt on the fly 

Our agenda and timings were planned in detail and we made the timings for every activity visible to everyone. On day 2, after getting through more ideas than expected, it felt like the energy could drop if we did more sketching. We tweaked our afternoon agenda to finish the day with a dot voting exercise we originally planned to do asynchronously. 

Send out pre-reads or homework 

We knew we would not have time in our sprint to recap on what a design sprint is so to deal with this, we sent out a short one-page explainer document to all attendees and asked them to read ahead of the session. 

One or two pages of pre-reads or homework can be good ways to get around session time constraints. 

Set clear ground rules 

This is good advice for any design sprint, but more important here. Some of our rules are: 

  • keep to time: give everyone in the room accountability for arriving after breaks on time and wrapping up tasks when the timer runs out 
  • no multitasking: full focus on the sprint in the sprint, use breaks for checking emails if required 
  • be inclusive: we displayed the inclusive meeting guidelines on the walls for our sessions. 

Don’t feel you have to stick to a traditional design sprint 

Design sprints don’t have to be 5 days long and not every activity has to be done ‘by the book’. If you have limited time, be really clear about what outcomes you can get to in the time and plan accordingly. 

If you want more help with facilitating, have a look at the facilitation guide on the Experience Library.

A pile of 'how might we' post-it notes

What we learned overall 

When we set out on this discovery, we wanted to find ways to help people who know they are dying and their families. We rely on doing 1-to-1 user research to gain a deep understanding into the problems that our customers face. In Funeralcare it helps us to learn about the complex emotions that people are experiencing when they need to arrange a funeral plan or funeral. 

What was different about the ideation stage of our imminent need work was the variety and size of our design sprint. We learned that, done the right way, running a large design sprint meant we: 

  • progressed our ideas and work much sooner than we would have otherwise 
  • saved significant amounts of time and money by reducing the need for multiple individual meetings over months 
  • introduced our wider team to design ways of working which, along with a wider focus on this, has led to more people wanting to work in this way 
  • developed even stronger relationships with a wider range of our colleagues and teams, which we’re continuing to build on 

When we put out the call for this big design sprint at short notice, we did not expect so many brilliant colleagues from different parts of the business to sign up. Everyone who was involved fully embraced the process and the ideas and outcomes are stronger as a result. 

There is lots for us to work on in this space, but some ideas come with technical challenges. Our first small step was to create guidance content for people needing help with planning:

Michelle May – Lead UX Designer
Marianne Knowles – Principal Designer

Improving customer experience with content design: how we joined up services in different business areas

If someone is arranging a funeral, we know that they often also need probate. Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s money, property and possessions after they have died.  

Co-op offers both services but they are operated by 2 different Co-op businesses: arranging a funeral is owned by Co-op Funeralcare, and applying for probate is owned by Co-op Legal Services. But the way we’re organised internally is irrelevant to customers – what matters to them is a cohesive journey and a frictionless experience. 

We wanted to join up the services to create a seamless experience that helps our customers understand what they need to do, and get what they need. 

Bringing the services closer together 

We started by understanding the existing customer experience. We spoke to people who had recently arranged a funeral, and learned that many did not:  

  • understand probate or whether they needed it  
  • know that Co-op Legal Services offered probate  
  • know that they could get the cost of the funeral covered if they used Co-op Legal Services for probate

We wanted to help people understand if they needed probate and, if they did, make it straightforward for them to get it. We also wanted to make it clear when probate wasn’t needed, to reduce stress and avoid wasting people’s time. 

And we could do this by: 

  • understanding what the existing user journeys were 
  • learning from customers and colleagues 
  • explaining probate at the points where it was most relevant 
  • making it clear what probate is and when it’s needed  
  • using clear, understandable language  

Understanding what exists  

Helen Lawson facilitated a content audit. That’s a thorough analysis of the existing content to help us identify the points where it’s relevant to talk about probate. We are a business and although making money is one of our aims, it doesn’t mean shoehorning sales opportunities into a user journey at inappropriate times. We wanted to understand where it was genuinely in the customer’s best interest to know about probate. For example, when we write about costs, we could explain how Co-op Legal Services could cover the cost of the funeral upfront if the customer uses them for probate. 

We had to be deliberate. We understand our funeral customers are often distressed and have many competing priorities. We knew we didn’t want to get in the way of them completing the task they came to do – arranging a funeral. If we did, we’d make the process more stressful and more time consuming, and we’d increase the risk of them leaving the site and going elsewhere. So, to avoid getting in our customers’ way, it was just as important to decide where not to put the content. 

It was a collaborative effort. We relied on: 

  • the knowledge of people who dealt with our Funeralcare customers 
  • the expertise of colleagues in Funeralcare and Legal Services 
  • insights from research with people who had recently arranged a funeral 
  • our skills in content, design, data and customer experience  

Designing the content  

Probate is complicated. To make it understandable, and not get in the way, we need to be clear and get to the point fast.  

We explain what probate is in clear English. 

image text says:
Co-op Legal Services could pay for the funeral from the estate
If you instruct Co-op Legal Services to carry out probate, they could cover the cost of the funeral up front. Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s money, property and possessions after they have died.

They get the money back from the ‘estate’ (the things that the person owned), later.

Not everyone needs probate. It’s unlikely to be needed if the person who died:

did not own a house in their sole name
had less than £20,000 in the bank
Probate can be complicated. There are usually legal and financial matters to sort out and it can take months to finish everything that's needed.

Check if you need probate

We knew we couldn’t assume that our customers had any prior knowledge of the subject matter. Many may never have had to deal with a funeral before, and even if they have, that might not have involved dealing with probate. If we use complex terminology without explaining it, we risk overwhelming, frustrating, and alienating people. So where we could, we used clear English, to make it easier and quicker for people to understand. Where we had to use legal terminology, we explained it in understandable terms. Doing this makes us more inclusive. 

We explained when probate might not be needed.  

We did this to help get relevant information to people quickly– so that the people who don’t need probate don’t waste their time calling us. And the people who do need it, are directed to call us – that means we get the right help, to the right people. It saves our customers, and us, time. 

We also did some other things across the Funeralcare journey: 

  • broke up the text with more sub-headings and into smaller paragraphs which are easier for people to read  
  • used bullets for lists so people can scan them more easily 
  • linked out rather than duplicated content – reducing content maintenance costs as it only has to be kept up to date in one place 
  • moved relevant actions up the page, so we can help people earlier in their journey, without overwhelming them with content  
  • included links to the bereavement notification service, which is a free service for people who arrange a funeral with us, so especially relevant to our audience 

It worked 

As a result of the content changes on the webpages, 35% of all Funeralcare traffic now check if they need probate as part of their journey. 

The most effective services are those which are focused on the customer’s needs and those which are not bound by departmental silos. By focusing on making the customer’s experience better, across whatever channels and departments that involves, we can create services that help people, increase loyalty and make our business more successful. 

Joanne Schofield

Lead content designer

The principles that guide our content design and communications in Funeralcare

Becoming a funeral director at Co-op Funeralcare is not something people go into half-heartedly. Our colleagues in this front-line role meet recently-bereaved people daily and it demands a level of care and empathy from them (especially during the pandemic). They also need to be able to communicate clearly and calmly with people who could be in an emotionally heightened state.

The Digital part of the Co-op Funeralcare team supports colleagues in funeral homes in many ways but in this post we’re looking specifically at the language we use when we engage with clients online. It must reflect the clarity, kindness and reassurance a client would get from speaking to one of our colleagues.  

In short, is the online voice of our funeral directors.  

We created 4 principles to guide our content design and communications decisions.  

When we write for Co-op Funeralcare, we are:  

1. Down to earth  

‘Good’ content design opens up what we’re communicating so that it’s accessible to, and understood by, as many of our (potential) clients as possible.  

This means we work hard to remove barriers in several ways. 

  • We reduce the chances of misinterpretation by being very deliberate with the language we choose. For example, we say “he died” not “he passed away” because euphemisms can be misunderstood – especially when English is not someone’s first language. Defined by Collins Dictionary as “a polite expression used to refer to things which people may find upsetting to talk about”, euphemisms about death do not soften the blow but they can lead to confusion. A bereavement counsellor explained the terror of a child when they were told their sister had “passed out”. Months before, their mother had died and her death had been referred to as her “passing away”. The child had assumed the same had happened to their sister. The language we use is informed by years of working alongside funeral directors and research. 
  • We lower the cognitive load by explaining terms specific to funeralcare at the point the customer needs to understand them – words like ‘embalming’ and ‘disbursements’. Providing definitions within the content means we save them the unnecessary frustration of looking them up, and – from a business point of view – giving them everything they need means they’re less likely to leave our site.     

We say: If someone has died and you need our help, you can call us 24 hours a day. We’ll bring the person into our care at a time that suits you, then guide you through everything that needs to be done. 

We don’t say: We’re sorry your loved one passed away. Please accept our condolences. 

Example of our down to earth tone from our website

2. Empathetic 

Most clients who make contact with us shortly after someone has died, are grieving. However, we have to be careful with our tone because they’re not coming to us for an outpouring of sympathy, they come to us because – as experienced funeralcare providers – we understand what they’re likely going through and we are here to provide a service. Being empathetic through our language online means giving customers what they need to know clearly, quickly and sensitively.   

We say: The first thing we do is listen to you, then advise, guide, and inspire you to create the perfect funeral arrangement.  

We don’t say: We’ve been arranging funerals for more than 100 years. 

3. Reassuring  

Dealing with the death of someone is often a distressing time and we cannot heal anyone’s grief. We’ve found the best reassurance we can give is through clear, concise guidance to make the task of organising a funeral as painless as possible. Just as a dentist wouldn’t lean over you with a drill and say “this is going to hurt”, (of course it is) we focus on conveying that we’re knowledgeable and experienced, trustworthy and kind to try and remove any anxieties a customer might have around leaving such an important service in our hands.  

We say: Our team will support you from the moment you get in touch with us. We’ll help you through the funeral arrangements, on the day and even after the funeral. 

We don’t say: We know how difficult and disorientating it can be when someone you love dies. 

A reassuring tone avoids adding to the overwhelm

  4. Inspiring  

Research shows that in recent years, attitudes towards funerals in the UK have begun to change and personal touches that reflect the person’s personality or interests are more popular. Our tone and language around the extra touches we can offer should be inspiring – it should focus on possibilities and what can be done.  

For example, the hearse doesn’t need to be a traditional hearse. It could be a tractor, a motorcycle hearse or a converted VW camper van. We even have a poppy covered hearse and one with a rainbow flag. Families can choose one that best reflects who the person was. Or they can keep it traditional. When clients tell us what they want, we do our best to make it happen, and it’s important this message comes through on our site. 

We say: When we arrange a tailored funeral with you, the first thing we do is listen. Then we’ll advise, guide, and inspire you to create a tailored funeral arrangement. Tell us what you want, and we’ll do our best to make it happen. 

We don’t say: There are three different funeral types to choose from. 

Content intended to inspire from

A caveat: the spoken word is different to the written word  

The 4 principles above guide how we write for Co-op Funeralcare’s online platforms. Although in the most part they reflect how our front-line colleagues in our funeral homes speak to a customer, there’s a difference between the spoken and written word and it feels important to say that this post is not an attempt to influence the language or tone of our brilliant colleagues.  

When we communicate through spoken words, we have body language (or at least intonation) that contributes to how we convey and understand a message. So for example, mirroring someone else’s language is empathetic and if a customer says “passed away”, a colleague is likely to say that too (often subconsciously). But with the written word we rely solely on the clarity of words on a page which makes it important that we understand our users and design content for people coming to terms with loss.

We’ll continue to develop these principles over time. 

Helen Lawson

Lead content designer

2019 highlights: there’s a lot to be proud of

Today the Co-op Digital team came together at our Christmas conference to share and celebrate our successes from 2019.

This year hasn’t been without its challenges but it’s important to reflect on what we’ve achieved thanks to talented and conscientious delivery teams, communities of practice, and individuals. Their commitment to meeting colleague, member and customer needs is unfaltering.

Here’s to many more victories in 2020.

:tada: :raised_hands::skin-tone-3:

‘One web’ platform

In 2019, we’ve increased the number of websites, products and services on the platform from 3 to 10. Between May and October this year we had over 4 million visitors – that’s an increase of over 200% for the same months in 2018.

Next year we’ll continue to replatform our business sites – we re-platformed Co-op Food and most of Funeralcare this year and in 2020 we’ll be prioritising Co-op Legal services and Insurance. The aim is to give teams autonomy over their own sites so they’ll be able to update content themselves and use the Design system as a guide to improve brand familiarity.

Rebekah Barry, Content designer

Funeralcare customer-facing work 

This year we got involved in the customer journey after focusing on colleagues for so long. 

photograph of team standing in front of a white board of post it notes and sheets of paper on the floor listening to tom speaking

In February, we created the ‘service map of a death’, which shows everything people do after a death. 

It includes the touchpoints with our service, pain points and opportunity. The map formed the basis for a year of digital working on the customer journey and played a part in building the exec’s confidence in our ability to deliver a great customer experience that would help Co-op Funeralcare meet its goal: increase funeral numbers.

We created ‘After party’ – how we’d disrupt recommendation and consideration in the Funeralcare market. It showed the problem isn’t around which tool people use to plan for their funeral, but how Co-op Funeralcare can motivate people to plan theirs. This piece of work stopped the exec simply buying a later life planning tool and gave them the confidence to ask us to work on the Funeralcare website. We were also commissioned to create the new visual design and do discovery into priority areas, ready to start creating new features in 2020. 

So many highlights, so little space. But Rae, Tom, Helen and Gail have smashed it out of the park all year.

Hannah Horton, Principal designer

Digital Skills team

We help teams in the wider Co-op adopt digital culture and agile ways of working. In 2019:

  • 457 people attended one of our agile masterclasses
  • we coached 22 teams in agile ways of working
  • 450 people attended a training session or workshop
  • we’ve partnered with teams on 2 discoveries

Our highlight of the year was collaborating with members of the People team on a discovery to understand how colleagues experience and understand their benefits package.

Thanks you card. It says: Thank you for all you've done through the discovery, for enlightening us on new tools and techniques and for helping us understand how we can make a difference to our colleagues. from paul and team.

Above is a thank you card – we’re very proud to have influenced ways of working and helping the team become more user-centric.

Vicki Riley, User researcher

Guardian plans

Guardian plans is part of Co-op Funeralcare and aims to improve the experience of creating a pre-paid funeral plan. Traditionally, a colleague filled in paper forms, posted them to head office and the information was typed into our system. The new site allows colleagues to add information during a meeting with a client which means it’s recorded instantly – it used to take up to 7 days. It has also improved accuracy.

This year, we tested the site in 2 regions, learnt lots, iterated and scaled up. Now, over 90% of pre-paid funeral plans from over 1000 funeral homes come through Guardian plans.

Liam Cross, Product manager


In 2019 we’ve iterated, researched, and iterated again on the Shifts’ ‘exceptions’ feature which helps managers make sure colleagues are paid correctly for extra hours they’ve worked. We ran 2 trials involving 130 or our 2661 stores (around 5%) and now around 15% of all exceptions are managed through Shifts.

Here’s some of the feedback:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 15.33.39.png

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 15.53.29

We’ve also helped reduce the most common type of payroll error by almost 49% and colleagues have praised how Shifts helps stores find cover for shifts at short notice.

In the last half of 2019 we averaged 4 releases a month (around twice as many as in the first half).

Thank you to subject matter expert Julie Haselden at head office – she’s been so generous in sharing her knowledge.

Robyn Golding, Delivery manager 

Tech ops

In 2019, the Tech ops team completed:

  • 1,065 changes (as of 10 Dec) with a change success rate of 98.21%
  • 1,127 service requests such as new starters, Leavers and access requests
  • 27 stories and 118 sub tasks since we changed to 3-weekly sprints in September

Steven Allcock, Digital service manager

Pay in aisle, Visit and SmartGap (Operational Innovation Store team)

Our team looks after 3 services used in Co-op Food stores. Here are our 2019 highlights:

  1. Pay in aisle – lets customers skip queues by paying for items on your phone. Trial in 32 stores with a significantly improved, frictionless user experience, reaching up to 1% of transactions across particularly engaged stores.
  2. SmartGap – removes a cumbersome, time-consuming daily paper process. We’ve gone from prototype, to alpha and beta within 9 months, it is now rolling out to all stores to save colleagues time, and over 20 million sheets of paper and better product availability for customers. visit-on-till-screen
  3. Visit (as shown above) – replaced the need for a signing in book with a digital sign-in on till screens. Saving colleague time, and meaning we are more compliant with asbestos and fire safety, and can better track our contractors.

Charles Burdett, Designer


We’ve had loads to celebrate this year but we’ve pulled these points out as our highlights of 2019. We’re proud because:

  • 12% of people are returning to Co-operate
  • feedback about the platform has been positive – for example: “How fantastic that Co-op are empowering communities!”
  • the community has added over 300 events to our ‘What’s happening’ page since July
  • there were 1,600 page views in 2 weeks for our ‘How to organise a community event’ guides
  • … and the feedback on them was good too, for example: “A really useful guide for organising community events!”, “This is great, really useful” and “Love this, what a great idea!”

Special shout out to Natalie Evans, our community subject matter expert and resident Member Pioneer. Her energy and focus have been incredible.

Ben Rieveley and Jen Bowden-Smith, Product managers   

Food Ecommerce

This year we’ve replaced the proof of concept third-party front end with our own. When the 2 were running side by side, the performance stats from 12 to 24 November showed:

  • for London traffic on mobile conversion rate increased from 3.3% to 5.15% (a 56% percent increase)
  • A 22% decrease in bounce rate on mobile

Regular workshops and working transparently have helped us create valuable relationships with the wider Co-op Food Ecommerce team. We’ve also been able to show value in our approach and have started to change the way some of the business team interact with us for guidance, as opposed to just delivery.

A great team to work with. Challenging (in the right way!). Always pushing us to think of the customer first and to be different when the easiest thing is to stick with the familiar.

Gary Kisby, Head of Web Operations

Sophia Ridge, Product manager

Digital newsletter

The newsletter gently pokes the organisation to look at future digital opportunities and threats, and it helps show public readers what we’re thinking.


Subscriber growth is around 170% year on year and the open rate is approximately 50%. Big thanks to beloved readers, Richard Sullivan, Jack Fletcher, Linda Humphries and everyone else who has sent stories to the #newsletter Slack channel.

Rod McLaren

Co-op Digital blog

In 2019 we published 32 posts, by 41 authors – 22 of these identify as female, 19 as male. We’ve heard from a range of seniorities but a less balanced mix of disciplines – 7 posts from researchers; 3 posts about product decisions and the same number about delivery; but only 1 post by an engineer. We’ve gained 169 subscribers – some internal, many from orgs like Citizen’s Advice and the fin tech sector.

My highlight was working with the Design team on a series of posts to support their 90 minute show and tell which explained the benefits of being a design-led business to our stakeholders.

The posts are something to point at when stakeholders would like to know more about our ways of working.

Amy McNichol

Customer and member

We’ve made a lot of improvements for customers and members this year. Here we are looking at our screens and the big screen.


Here are our top 10 in no particular order.

  1. We’ve made 339 changes to date with 98% success rate and 99.5% availability.
  2. We launched the Co-op app and it’s had nearly 200,000 downloads.
  3. We’ve built a single place to sign into Co-op online services (500,000 API calls a day).
  4. Fought off constant bot army attacks. :robot_face:
  5. We launched digital offers and members are making around 656,000 offer selections a month.
  6. Local causes pay out supported (£17M paid out!).
  7. This year was the first time we’ve launched with 3 new local causes in every community. This was made easier at least in part because we helped with changes to remove the need for the charities aid foundation vetting and paying out to causes.
  8. All new systems were built with serverless technology.
  9. Reduced AWS cost by more than £5,200 per month.

Paul D’Ambra, Principal software engineer

Co-op Insurance

Co-op Insurance design team won Best in Digital – Direct to Customer at the Insurance Times ‘Tech and Innovation’ awards.


The judges were impressed with our customer and metric-focused approach, alongside the lengths we go to benchmarking ourselves against competitors and better understanding the challenges customers face, now and in the future.

Azra Keely, Optimisation consultant 

Legal services

We are a new team working on a series of alphas to test if we can increase sales and product mix by using a conversational tool.

The first alpha is to help recommend the type of will someone should get. Wills are challenging to understand and research has told us they’re not at the forefront of people’s minds. We want to educate people about what wills can protect against and which will might be right for their circumstances. We are working closely with our stakeholders and we’re really pleased they’re attending our user research sessions showing they are bought in to listening to user needs.

Liam Cross, Product manager


Last year, we completed the rollout of Guardian to all Co-op funeral homes across the UK (over 1000!). In 2019, our focus has been continued iteration and improvement.

25% of users responded to a National Promoter Score (NPS) style survey we sent out and the average rating was 7.5 out of 10 – positive but still room for improvement. We worked closely with our 2 least satisfied groups of users, to design solutions to their problems.

We developed 8 new features, eradicated 3 bits of time-consuming paperwork and simplified workflows to save over 100 hours of time to-date. We got some excellent feedback from colleagues about the changes we made. One said:

Hi Guardian Team, just wanted to say thank you for all the previous changes done recently. From a Funeral service operative point of view it has helped amazingly.

We’ve also done lots of work to increase the stability and resilience of Guardian, with some major missions to improve our release process, our backups and re-work some legacy features to keep them fit for the future.

Daniel Owen, Product manager

Co-op Health app

In May we launched the Co-op Health app. In the app you can order your repeat medication and choose how to get it – either collect it from your chosen pharmacy, or get it delivered to your door for free.  

Health Blog Post

Different GP surgeries use different systems to manage their patient’s prescription. Since launching the app we’ve integrated with more of these systems, meaning patients from 99% of surgeries in England can use our app.

In October we were also the first service in the UK to offer ‘NHS login’. This means people can choose how they register for Co-op Health – either by visiting their GP surgery or completely online (using NHS login)Around 20% of new customers choose to register using NHS login.  

Being the first organisation to use NHS login is a massive coup for Co-op. We’ve worked closely with NHS Digital, sharing designs and feedback. Massive credit to Jack Fletcher, Dan Cork, Catherine Malpass, Ben Dale, Ayub Malik, Andrew Bailey, Stephen Gatenby, Alex Potter and the rest of the Health team for making this happen.  

So far, we’ve delivered 12,447 prescriptions to customers and have a 4.1* rating in the Google Play and Apple app store. 

Joanne Schofield, Content designer

What to do after a death: how we used service mapping to understand our clients

[Arranging a funeral] is the ultimate distress purchase made infrequently by inexpert, emotionally vulnerable clients under time pressure… Clients don’t know what to expect, spend little time thinking about the provider and feel under pressure to sort things quickly.

 Funerals market study by Competition and Markets Authority

Organising a funeral is difficult and complicated.

To get a better understanding of how people do it and where we can make it easier, we were tasked with mapping out the full experience of arranging a funeral using a technique called service mapping.

Service mapping gives you a holistic view of both your product or service and your user. You don’t focus solely on individual interactions, but the whole emotional and practical journey as the user interacts. There are few areas of life that need this type of consideration more than planning a funeral.

Here’s how we did it, and what we learnt works well in the process we followed.

Work with people who know more than you do

many team members listening as theyre talked through the service mapWe had 10 days. The people we involved were subject matter experts from Co-op Funeralcare and IT; marketing experts, plus us – a user researcher, a designer and a content designer from the Digital team. Having people from as many disciplines as possible involved helps to give the map a broader perspective. We spoke to funeral directors, the police, and people who’d recently arranged a funeral. We also analysed live and historical qualitative and quantitative data.

Never lose focus of the subject matter

Understanding funerals requires empathy and we wanted to keep this at the forefront of the map to understand what people were feeling, thinking and doing at each point in the process. This empathy also helped keep us grounded in the real user experience and the heightened emotions that go with arranging a funeral.

Our approach

There are many ways to approach a service map. We started by validating our assumptions. Here are 2:

Assumption 1: A second funeral is easier to arrange.

Not necessarily. Some practical considerations might be less difficult but depending on the relationship with the deceased, the emotional journey could be completely different.

Assumption 2: People shop around for a funeral director.

The common misconception is that people search for a funeral director online. But often, people already know which funeral director they’ll use based on recommendations or choose one simply because it is local to them.

Choose a user journey and follow it through to the end

photograph of team standing in front of a white board of post it notes and sheets of paper on the floor listening to tom speakingWe had to agree on the most likely client journey, otherwise we’d work on hundreds of maps with different viewpoints of ‘arranging clients’. The map should always evolve as you work. It moves and shifts and changes as you learn more. Thoughts and ideas change as you go through the client’s journey with them.

Pretty soon we had a massive map on the wall charting a typical journey from the beginning of the process to the end. What is the client feeling when they make the first call to tell us that someone has died? How do they feel when they meet the funeral director? Do they know how to register a death? And how do they feel on the day of the funeral? Understanding this means we can better understand this experience from the client’s point of view.

We uncovered many pain points – registering the death being a big one.

How people pay for the cost of a funeral was another huge issue. This led us to explore funeral poverty further. We found that most arranging clients want to ‘do the right thing’ by the person they have lost and will sometimes honour all of their wishes even if they can’t afford to pay for it.

Think about the practical and the emotional

Many people are in a heightened state of emotion, but how this manifests varies. There are recurring feelings such as worry, sadness and anxiety in the run up the funeral and often a sense of loneliness afterwards, when people call and visit less and life goes on. And we learned that grief is not linear.

Don’t forget the data

Using data from actual funeral arrangements we found interesting behaviours about arranging a funeral. The assumption was that the arranging client had a meeting with the funeral director or arranger soon after the death, discussed all or most of the details of the arrangement and that was that. The next time we saw them was on the day of the funeral.

But using analytics and Metabase we found it’s not uncommon for clients to have up to 6 arrangement meetings.

This makes total sense. You wouldn’t arrange a wedding with one meeting, why would you be satisfied with one meeting for a funeral? People don’t arrange many funerals in their lifetime and don’t always know what will be asked of them in the arrangement meeting. They might be distressed, so forget to ask certain questions or want to amend choices later.

Learn from what people actually do, not what you think they do

To us, the arranging client is the one who will pay the bill, but this doesn’t mean they make all the decisions on their own. We discovered whole families and groups that were involved in planning the funeral. This means different points of view, opinions and ideas. Only 1% of people know all the wishes of the deceased when arranging a funeral, and a third of people don’t even know if the deceased wishes to be buried or cremated, according to the Cost of dying report, 2018.

Take the map back to business

Once we had our map it was time to draw out our insights. We drew out high-level themes and opportunities then worked with the wider business to focus the 60+ opportunities into things that were new and would set us apart in the industry and other things we just needed to do. These were not features in their own right, more starters for 10 that needed further investigation into appetite and feasibility, which is exactly the result you want after working on a service map.

Tell your story well – and often

One thing to prepare for when you finish a map and have your insights and plan is to prepare to talk a lot about what you discovered. We presented the map to at least 12 groups of about 20 people each from around the business and we’ve been asked by external individuals and businesses to talk about it.

Tom’s tweet about the map has had a lot of engagement.

This could be because people are as fascinated about the subject matter as we are, but also service maps are a very tactile way of drawing out key opportunities and pain points. Done well, they can attract a lot of attention.

We’re now prioritising and working on the ideas and will be testing and learning from them over the next few months. Hopefully, we’ll have more to tell you then.
Rae Spencer, Lead interaction designer
Tom Walker, Lead user researcher
Hannah Horton, Principal designer

Using our data to improve Guardian, our Funeralcare digital service

Guardian is our digital service, designed with, and for, our Funeralcare colleagues. Next week, it will be live across our 1,059 Co-op Funeralcare branches.

That’s every single branch in England, Scotland and Wales.

At this point:

  • 4,014 colleagues across our 1,059 branches in England, Scotland and Wales are now using Guardian
  • 30,425 funerals have been arranged using the Guardian digital service so far

But the Digital team’s work isn’t complete. We’re working to continuously improve the service for our colleagues and their customers and one way we’re doing that is by looking at the data.

Improving the journey between the ‘first call’ and funeral

One of our key performance indicators in the Funeralcare business is around how much time the deceased spends in our care. Typically, families want their loved one’s funeral to take place as quickly as possible, so often, the shorter the gap between the date of death and the funeral equates to higher customer satisfaction.

From the ‘first call’ when a family member rings up to say they’ve lost a loved one, colleagues take details and the deceased is then in the Guardian system. As they move through the care process, the time they spend at each stage is calculated automatically as colleagues use Guardian.

Guardian then pulls that data through to a dashboard so we can monitor performance easily. Being able to break down the process is really useful in terms of seeing our average time for each stage – it helps us see where we’re excelling and where we can improve.

Giving colleagues autonomy

Giving time back to colleagues so they could spend more time with families has always been the most important outcome of Guardian. Everything has been focused on that.

Ideally, we wanted to build something that would help colleagues deliver the same number of funerals more quickly, ie, colleagues spent less time organising, note taking and communicating details to other colleagues, and more time with families who are going through a tough time.

Empowering colleagues to see for themselves where they’re excelling and where they could improve gives them autonomy and helps them manage themselves. Each branch will have access to their own data so they can see how they’re doing. The data is presented in small chunks and includes things like: number of customers served, breakdowns of the types of funerals, hearse and limousine use, customer satisfaction scores as well as a breakdown of the time the deceased has spent in each part of the process. 

One place for data

Back in early 2016, when we started to identify user needs, we knew we could solve a lot of problems if we could record information about the deceased and about their upcoming funerals, and make that information available to the colleagues who need to see it, at the point they needed to see it.

Early user research found colleagues inventing their own, paper-based systems to log details of the deceased and organise funerals which was time consuming. But above all, it was limiting because colleagues couldn’t easily share their notes with people who worked in the same funeral home as them and it was even trickier to keep external homes in the loop.

Paper processes limit who can work and where they can work from. Some recent feedback from a colleague highlighted this. He said: “What I like most about Guardian is that it means I get a better work life balance – I can go home and finish admin there, rather than having to go back to the office. I get to spend more time around my kids.”

Making data accessible to the right people at the right time

Because Guardian’s data is stored in one secure place, we can use it to help out other areas of the business.

For example, before Guardian, customers would call the central Funeralcare number on the website and come through to the customer service centre. Advisors weren’t able to answer respond efficiently to phone calls like: “My mother came into your care over the weekend. It was all a rush at the time. Which funeral home is she in?” This kind of information would only exist as paperwork in-branch. Advisors can only transfer the caller to a local branch, but this isn’t always the best experience because there’d be no guarantee the branch would answer.

We’re starting a pilot next month, looking at giving our call centre advisors access to relevant information on Guardian, so with a few clicks they could find out quite a lot of reassuring detail for the family of the deceased. For example: “Your mother came into our care last night at around 2am, she’s now at the Rochdale home. Would you like to speak to your Funeral Director?”

What we’ll look at soon

Now rollout is almost complete, we’re looking at what we could do with the data coming out of Guardian. We’ve been asking:

  • How could we optimise the 1,275+ vehicles in Funeralcare-owned fleet?
  • Can we predict the volume of demand for individual branches so we can ensure more customers are served first time in-branch?
  • Can we enable more customers to be served first time on the phone by leveraging the customer service centre?
  • How could we optimise the order and delivery of ten of thousands of coffins annually?

They’re all interesting problems to solve. The hard work isn’t over yet.

Jack Gray
Product Lead

Guardian update: rolling out, listening to feedback and fixing problems

We’re conscious that we haven’t blogged about Co-op Funeralcare for a while so this post aims to give an overview of what we’ve been doing and how it’s been going.

Co-op Digital worked with subject matter experts from Co-op Funeralcare to design and build a digital service which would give time back to our Funeralcare colleagues by taking away arduous admin and keeping customer data safe and secure. You can find previous posts about our progress on this blog.

The service is now called Co-op Guardian.

We’ve started to roll out the service

The last time we posted back in August, 29 branches and around 110 colleagues were using Guardian. Since then we’ve been gradually rolling out. Here are the latest figures:

  • 1,948 colleagues across 563 branches in England, Scotland and Wales are now using Guardian
  • 16,642 funerals have been arranged using the Guardian digital service so far
  • we’ve rolled out to 18 of our 36 regions
  • 12 regions are receiving training at the moment and we’re checking tablets are working and that wifi is in place

It wasn’t easy from the off

When we began the initial roll out there was a lot to contend with. Some of the problems we ran into were consequential and some were mistakes we needed to learn from.

We found we needed to:

1.Extend wifi coverage

A lot of our funeral homes were based in old buildings with thick walls and, consequently, the wifi was weak. We upgraded our coverage so it doesn’t just work in client-facing areas but also in places such as our mortuaries and garages.

2.Make initial training groups smaller

We learnt quickly that our approach to training colleagues up to use the service needed to change. We had too many people in a room at one time and too few people to support them. Now, there’s a maximum of 8 people per session so that each colleague gets the support they need and their confidence is much higher at the end of a session.

3.Give managers more support

We started out giving managers high level training and asking them to support their colleagues. But this put teams under too much pressure. Now, our Learning and Development team give managers much more comprehensive training so they feel more confident supporting everyone in the branches.

4.Improve communication and access to online help

To tell colleagues about updates and changes we had a ‘what’s new’ section within the digital service and we offered support through guides on the intranet. However, we knew colleagues weren’t using either of these things. So, we’ve created a ‘help’ section within Guardian which lets colleagues search and find the help they need and has a much more user friendly layout. It’s also easier for us to update.

This feature had more visits within the first 2 weeks than the intranet did in 7 months.  

Kind words: we’re making a difference

Introducing a digital service into this very traditional profession hasn’t been easy but we’re getting there. The feedback we’re listening hardest to comes from the people who use Guardian everyday: our colleagues.

We asked some of the first colleagues who received Guardian training what they’d say to colleagues who were about to start using the service.

“If you can buy something online, if you can book a holiday you can confidently use Guardian.”

“Having to learn something new in such a short space of time can be a bit daunting but once you go onto the system and see how easy it is to use, that anxiety goes straight away.”

Hayley is a Senior Care Logistics Manager who is based in Crewe care centre.

Exciting problems to solve

We’ve learnt a lot over the last 2 years and these last 6 months since we exited beta have been a really steep learning curve. Now, not only is Guardian getting better with every release, roll out is smoother and training is more colleague-focussed. All of this helps our colleagues trust the service, and we’re getting better data that helps us make improvements for Funeralcare colleagues and their customers.

In the next few months we hope to:

  • complete roll out
  • build data tools to help predict demand peaks
  • explore the option of giving customers access to Guardian
  • look at extending Guardian to also capture funeral wishes and pre-need funeral plans

The Guardian team

We’re looking for engineers to work on the Guardian team. Visit our jobs page for more details.

We’re live! Funeralcare colleagues have started to use the digital service in Edinburgh

We reached a milestone last month when our colleagues in Edinburgh started arranging real funerals with the digital service we’d designed together. Although they’re keeping some of the existing, more paper-based ways of doing things as a safety blanket until they get used to things, our Edinburgh branches are the first to use our new ‘at need’ digital funeral arrangement service.

We’ve been testing the service with colleagues in Bolton and Edinburgh. For this post, we’ve spoken to Jamie Rafferty, a Funeral Director in Edinburgh, to find out how colleagues feel about what we’ve built so far. We recognise that Jamie is just one user and that what he’s sharing here is what he’s found to be the general opinion of the digital service so far.

Some of our Edinburgh Funeralcare colleagues in our Angel Square office helping us improve the digital service. Jamie Rafferty is second from the right.

Of course, we’re still listening to colleagues about what we need to improve before we roll things out to other branches and we’ll continue to do that.

Saving time and keeping details central and safe

When Funeralcare colleagues receive a call telling them that someone’s died, they record details of the deceased. The digital service is helping them move away from paper forms and instead asks them to add the details into a digital form. This change means the information is held safely and is available immediately so other Funeralcare colleagues can access it when they need to.

Jamie’s found that colleagues like only having to capture information once. He says, “It’ll help save time. At the moment there’s lots of duplication as we have to keep repeating information such as name, address etc in several paper forms.”

Giving everyone instant visibility

It’s incredibly important that colleagues know who they have in their care and where they are. The deceased can now be booked in and out through the digital service. It also requests that 2 people verify unique ID numbers when colleagues move them to a different location.

Edinburgh colleagues say they’re getting used to doing these things digitally rather than relying on paper records. “Previously, we’d have had to make lots of phone calls to consolidate the paper mortuary registers in all the branches,” says Jamie. Now, the transparency is making it easier to keep track of who’s where, when.

Photograph of Elizabeth, a colleague in the Edinburgh who is using the digital service on a tablet.

Knowing what’s been done

Colleagues get involved at different stages of planning and performing a funeral so communicating progress is essential. We’ve developed a new care and preparation section to show which tasks have been completed, which ones are in progress and which ones are still left to do.

Not only does this help manage the workflow, Jamie’s colleagues who speak directly to clients say it’s helping them arrange viewing appointments for family members. Now, if a client wants to come in and see their loved one, they can make an appointment straight away because colleagues don’t have to make several calls to find out about the progress.

Personalising the funeral

There’s no such thing as a typical funeral and our all colleagues want to do everything they can to help families give their loved one a personal send-off.

To help, we’ve built ‘about me’ text boxes so colleagues can make notes as they learn more about the deceased. For example, if someone was a big football fan, colleagues can make a note and might then suggest choosing flowers in their team’s colours or plan a route that goes past a certain stadium.

The boxes for extra details have been welcome additions. “It’s all about making the funeral special and making sure the wishes of the family are followed,” says Jamie.

Visibility of availability

The digital service gives colleagues access to a shared calendar which can be seen by all Funeralcare colleagues within a region. It has filters so they can see when funeral directors within their care centre are available. This means they can provide a quicker service by provisionally booking in a funeral while a client is sitting with them. “Before the digital service, colleagues had to leave the client on their own, or ring them back, because we’d have to phone a resource department in order to find out about availability,” says James.

Where next for the Funeralcare digital service?

Two colleagues from the Digital team looking at the whiteboard roadmap to see what's coming up in the future.

We’ll be coming out of beta soon and we expect to be live in 4 regions before Christmas. Then we plan to roll out the digital service across the rest of the country during 2018. We’ll also be doing more work to make things more comprehensive. As well as doing more to help colleagues we have plans to build some client-facing services. So while the service gets more users, it also keeps getting better through continuous delivery.

Funeralcare team

Funeralcare: taking the beta to Edinburgh

Since April 2016, the Funeralcare team at Co-op Digital has been working to make life easier for our colleagues at our funeral homes across the UK. Our aim has always been to reduce the time our colleagues spend juggling and filling in paper forms so that they can spend more time with their clients – people who are grieving for their loved ones.

It’s been awhile since we wrote an update on our work. Back in August Andy Pipes, our Head of Product Management, said that we were rethinking how we deliver our at-need funeral service (an ‘at-need’ service is the immediate assistance someone might needs after reporting a bereavement).

At that point we’d built:

  • a ‘first call’ service that logs details of a death and automatically alerts an ambulance team by SMS to take the deceased into our care
  • a funeral arrangement service which captures the client’s decisions, the costs, and keeps colleagues in various locations from funeral homes and the central care centre updated
  • a hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service
  • a coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range
  • an audit system that captures certain steps in the service

Since then we’ve been busy testing with colleagues and iterating.

We’ve added new features

As we’ve learnt where the gaps are in the service, we’ve added new features. They include a digital mortuary register and a digital belongings log to record possessions.

Deceased can come into our colleagues’ care at any time of the day or night and it’s vital the funeral director knows where that person has been taken. To help, we’ve developed a digital mortuary register so that ambulance staff can book the deceased in and the funeral director can see where the person has been taken.

image shows a screen with the first page of the digital mortuary register. the options are 'booking in' and 'booking out'

Another new feature is a digital belongings log. Often, when someone is brought into our care they’ll have jewellery on them or other personal belongings with them. This means that when a funeral director at a funeral home gets a call from the grieving family to check up on jewellery, they don’t immediately know what the deceased came in with because the paper record is with the deceased at the mortuary. To make this easier and more efficient, we introduced a digital log instead of needing multiple phone calls between different locations.  

Live trial and user testing

We’ve been testing in 2 ways. From September to November we continued to visit funeral homes all over the country to observe how colleagues work but we were also doing usability testing on each of the individual features in the bulleted list above with colleagues in mock labs. We tested and improved each feature separately until we thought we’d built enough of a service to be valuable to colleagues. At that point, in December, we rolled out a beta trial in Bolton.

interaction designer Matt researching which content is most valuable to one of our colleagues with a paper prototype.

We asked colleagues in Bolton to use the service in parallel with their current process which involves whiteboards, post-its, paper diaries, fax machines and the old, often painful-to-use software. Letting them use it for real is the best way to learn what’s working and what’s not. It drew our attention to 3 major things we’d overlooked during usability testing.

  1. We thought we were being helpful by preloading the local churches and crematoriums but we hadn’t given colleagues the option to create new ones.
  2. We found that the calendar couldn’t cope with all day events.
  3. We discovered that colleagues help each other out so having restricted access for specific roles creates a problem if someone is off ill and cover is needed.

Testing the beta with a small number of colleagues helped us catch problems like these before we rolled the service out to more people.

Trialling the service in Edinburgh

We want our service to be useful everywhere but we’ve been told many times by colleagues that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ funeral. They vary from region to region for reasons including local traditions, operational set up, affluence, traffic as well as legislation. Because our aim is to give time back to colleagues so they can spend it with their customers, we need to create something that works for all users not just our colleagues in Bolton. That’s why we are launching our at-need funeral service trial in Edinburgh in March.

We’re still learning

The beta has shown us that funeral arrangements are made up of multiple interactions like choosing flowers, booking venues and signing off obituary notices. Funeral arrangements are iterative with lots of tweaks along the way, so iterating the design is the only way we can cope with all the new things we keep learning.

We know that standard software packages don’t solve every problem. By involving colleagues throughout we’re building something that meets their needs and will improve things for both colleagues and their customers.

We’re transforming the Co-op Funeralcare business but we believe that what we’re doing here will actually help transform the entire industry. To help us do this, Co-op Digital is working towards having a dedicated digital product teams within the Co-op Funeralcare business.

If that sounds like something you’d like to help with we’re looking for an agile delivery manager and a product manager.

You can read more about the agile delivery manager role and more about the product manager role.

Come to a talk about the digital transformation of our Funeralcare business on 28 March. We’re particularly interested in speaking to product managers, delivery managers, software developers and platform engineers. You can get your free ticket at Eventbrite.

Carl Burton
Product lead

Helping Funeralcare rethink how we deliver our at-need funeral service

Hello. I’m Andy Pipes. I joined the new CoopDigital team in February as a product manager. Product managers design and build digital services that help Co-op customers, members and colleagues solve real problems.

CoopDigital is helping the Funeralcare business rethink how we deliver our at-need funeral service. The funeral business is a care service at its heart. It’s a traditional industry. It’s safe to say the internet age hasn’t really influenced its practices and delivery mechanisms.

The Co-op is the UK’s largest funeral business, arranging 90,000 funerals each year. We look after families in real distress. We play a key part in helping communities deal with loss.

I’m proud to have met and and work with some wonderful colleagues from around the funeral business. They do an amazing job caring for our clients, despite having to fill in lots of paperwork and struggle with technology that can sometimes get in the way rather than help them do their jobs.

CoopDigital is working to design a whole new service for everyone involved in Funeralcare. One designed to make these processes simpler. Do more on behalf of colleagues. Communicate better with clients. And we’re designing it alongside funeral directors, ambulance staff, call handlers, and funeral home managers.

This is Robert Maclachlan. Robert’s the new National Operations Director for Funeralcare. He’s been in the post just a bit longer than I have. His vision for a new operation for Funeralcare couldn’t be clearer: Give time back to Funeral Directors to spend with clients.

Meet Hayley. She’s one of dozens of funeral directors the CoopDigital  team has met as part of our ongoing research. Hayley can spend six hours sorting out admin for every funeral she organises. Filling in forms. Checking on vehicles. Ringing round to find the right coffin, flowers.Confirming who’s officiating, who’s driving, who’s bearing the coffin.

Picture of Hayley a funeral director holding lots of paperwork

In Hayley’s hands is her “system”. It’s a plastic folder full of all the paper forms she’ll fill in for each funeral. It works for her. We’ve met other colleagues with similar home-grown systems. But every piece of information buried on paper in that folder is a piece of information a digital service could act on.

So there are some big problems we want to solve. Above all, we want to create one simple to use system so colleagues can organise a funeral from the first call right to the last detail.  Designed to accommodate the fact that every funeral that our colleagues conduct is unique.

The CoopDigital team practices ‘user-centered design’. This means we listen to and observe the people who will use the service. Our research team visits our colleagues in the field constantly to make sure we’re able to empathise with their concerns and challenge our assumptions about how we’d solve their problems. Three Funeralcare employees work full-time with our designers, researchers and developers in Manchester. An analyst from the Funeralcare IT team has joined us, so that we can introduce user-centred design and agile delivery to the in-house technology squad over time. We’re working together every day to help get the service just right.

Week by week we tackle a different area to work on, from receiving the first call announcing a death, through taking the deceased into our care, to booking transport, ordering coffins, and sending confirmation details to clients right the way through to creating an invoice and tracking payment.

On the walls of our workspace, we build out a picture of the emerging service. For each development period (a ‘Sprint’), we start with a clear picture of the user needs we’re focusing on. Then we sketch out a “flow” of the goals we’re expecting those users to be able to achieve after we’ve done that week. For instance, in the first week, we wanted someone receiving a call about a death to be able to log the most important details easily, and retrieve them later. Beneath the flow diagram, we list a few things that we’re most interested in learning as we test the service with colleagues in the field.

When we’ve built a small part of the service we take it out and test it in our funeral homes to see what the people who will end up using it think. If something’s not working we go back and change it and we’ll keep doing this until we get it just right.

We’re now 17 weeks into our journey. Here’s what we’ve made so far.

First Call service that logs the important details about a death, and alerts an ambulance team to take the deceased into our care.

Funeral Arrangement service that helps Funeral Directors capture all the clients’ decisions, plays back costs to the client, and keeps everybody updated about all the things that are still to be completed.

A hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service.

A coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range.

An audit system that works towards complete transparency about every important action in the service; a clear chain of care and traceability.

Various dashboards to show important “health check” measures for the business. Like busy times of the day for calls, and the % of contacts who are still waiting for an arrangement visit to take place.

Since we work fast, test often and iterate constantly, we understand that what we produce might not be right first time. Some of the areas of the service I am screenshotting above have been revised five or six times during the process.

But already we’re seeing how the service we’ve built will save time, do helpful things on behalf of colleagues, and present Funeralcare staff with useful  information in a way they haven’t seen before.

As we start to trial the service alongside the existing process in a real funeral home over the summer, we’ll see what’s working best, what still needs tightening up, and where we need to really focus next.

I’ll report back on where we take the service over the coming months.

A side note

If you’re interested in doing work like ours, please get in touch. We’re hiring more product managers, designers and developers to join our growing, dedicated team.

Andy Pipes