How dividing into smaller delivery teams has improved delivery

The One Web team’s vision is to: 

Create cost efficient and coherent user experiences for Co-op. 

We create the tools and technology to help teams across Co-op deliver value to customers and members quickly and easily. 

It’s a big challenge. We work in a big organisation with lots of moving parts and historically there’s been lots of variation in how design and technology has been used and applied. 

The Web team has been working on improving this for the past couple of years – so why are we changing our approach now? 

How we started 

Our first task as a new team in mid-2018 was to move existing Co-op websites to new, simpler technology platforms so we could create better, more coherent user experiences, for less money. 

We were successful. We replatformed some of the major websites like coop.co.uk/food and Funeralcare.  

We created several tools and functionality along the way to make us more efficient including: 

  • a consistent technology stack that took 50 minutes to set up – rather than 4 weeks 
  • a set of shared front-end components that allowed each website to have a set of consistent design patterns available to it 

We proved the value in our approach. Our websites were no longer reliant on third parties and inconsistent (and often unsupported) technology. The user experience and user journeys were improving, and we were seeing our metrics improve. 

However, as a successful team grows to meet delivery demand, we found it difficult to keep working in exactly the same way. 

The problemwe got big 

Digital transformation often takes a long time. Although we had the websites in a much better place, the Digital team and businesses areas across Co-op were still busy building the right capability to support and iterate their user experiences. 

This meant the Web team was suddenly supporting and trying to improve multiple things at once and we were finding it difficult to improve the core parts of our platform that had made us successful in the first place. 

The team got bigger and bigger and we could no longer work together on one thing as a single unit. We had multiple requests coming into the team meaning we fell into some classic traps of not knowing why we were doing certain things and what their value was. 

This made it increasingly hard to deliver due to the amount of work and interdependencies between people and systems.  

The solution: smaller, focused delivery teams 

The team kept scaling to help meet demand but had had very little time to reflect on and analyse how we organised ourselves internally. We could all see the symptoms mounting up and in January 2020 we did something about it. 

We made a clear statement to our leadership that to add the highest value to Co-op and its customers we needed to stick to our vision.  

It was the responsible moment to begin handing work to the business areas that should own it. For example, the digital team in our Food business should own and be able to iterate coop.co.uk/recipes in line with their strategy and users’ goals – after all, they’re the experts in that area. 

The Web team could then regain its focus and enable teams by delivering solid foundations of technology, shared functionality and design patterns. This allows all digital teams to move faster and spend more time focusing on meeting the needs of their users – not on fixing the basics. 

How we’ve restructured our teams to help us achieve our vision 

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos famously instituted a rule: every internal team should be small enough that it can be fed with 2 pizzas. This rule is focused on creating efficiency and scalability within teams – 2 things we knew we needed to tackle as well as providing those teams with much-needed focus.  

We split our team into 3 to help us deliver effectively on different areas of our core product. We call these teams our ‘Web platform’ teams. They build the features, tools, resources and standards to enable other teams to focus on their users.  

We now have: 

  1. A design system team 

Focusing on providing the solid foundational tools, resources and standards to enable other teams to work fast – with quality baked in from the start.  

Things like: 

  • well-tested design components with usage instructions 
  • a framework for testing accessibility at a component and user journey level 
  • a community lead contribution and maintenance process 
  1. A ‘coherence’ team 

This team provides the tools so that other teams can build and maintain their products and services themselves rather than relying on us to build for them and provide ongoing technical support. In other words, we help make sure the user experience is coherent. 

  1. An ‘efficiency’ team 

Ensuring every tool and framework provided by the Web team is efficient, robust, secure, and works for everyone. We want to enable every team to deliver faster. 

We also have 2 other pre-existing teams in our area, that we call our ‘enabling teams‘, these teams work with business areas that are utilising the web platform. These are: 

  1. The onboarding team 

This team helps our partners across Co-op to move their website to the web platform. 

  1. The Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and search engine optimisation (SEO) team 

This team provide specialist services to partners all across Co-op in the CRO and SEO areas. 

We’re excited about the future 

There’s been a lot to sort out to allow us to get to this point  and we  appreciate the patience of our stakeholders and colleagues as we’ve made the changes.  

We’ve been working in our reorganised teams for 4 weeks now. Each new, smaller team has its own roadmap, goals and focus, and we’re feeling positive. 

We’ll post about how the new arrangement is working out soon.

Matt Tyas (on behalf of the One Web team)

Principal designer