What it’s like working in Digital Engineering

Gemma Cameron, our Principal Software Engineer speaks about what it’s like to work in Co-op Digital and Digital Engineering.

(Transcript) Gemma: I love the variety of projects that we have going on and all the people that are working on them. So we’ve got not just amazing engineers, we’ve also have got some really great product owners, delivery managers, really amazing BAs and the designers are just incredible and we’ve got all the user experience team.

We’ve got some great people working on really innovative cool projects and, you know, what comes out of it is actually doing something good.

I’m supported in all the community stuff that I do outside of work. So I get to you know, Co-op are helping out with Hack Manchester so we support and sponsor Hack Manchester, I also get to run events here, we are sponsoring the Liverpool Girl Geeks Academy, so it’s great getting girls who are like 12-14 to get to some experience programming.

We sponsor events, we attend events, so we were at the Manchester Digital Skills Festival not so long ago and that’s great meeting some of the new graduates and people are looking for work and getting to tell them about the story of what we do here, that we’re bringing brilliant people in who are really good at collaboration, who really care about software quality and you know we’re doing all the good things like test-driven development.

We’re building these great teams but we don’t expect everybody to know all the tools that we’re using or the languages that we’re using. So we have got some people who showing all these great people and behavioural qualities, but they’re not so good on Java and we’re giving them time and space and we’re coming up with a syllabus to give them that training.

The same with test-driven development and looking at all that quality. We have community of practice and we get together as a group of engineers and work out what our, sort of, level of quality should be. I also want to try and see if I can get involved in some of the projects from inception so actually working together with people and talking to them about what their needs are, going to have discovery phase and creating like little alphas that would be awesome because I’ve worked in a start ups before and I enjoyed doing that experience and it would be nice to do it for a more worthwhile cause.

Gemma Cameron
Principal Software Engineer

We’re looking for software engineers right now. Join us.

How we’ve made release management quicker and simpler

Release management is about how we plan and schedule when we’re building software. Every digital team has its own release management process but sometimes it’s worth reassessing it to make sure it’s as slick and quick as it could be. That’s exactly what we did.

How things were

Our process on the Digital Operations team was complex and repetitive. It was very specific to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework which is used to align IT service management with business needs. Our process was also dependent on a single gatekeeper. It didn’t work for us.  

The process worked like this:

  1. A developer would email me a release note.
  2. I’d forward it to the environment owner.
  3. They’d give me permission over email to put the release into their environment.
  4. I’d email the developer to say this was approved and to advise when complete.

This process would then go on for each of the 3 environments (system integration testing or ‘SIT’, pre-production and production) so testing could be started. A typical release would result in around 30 to 40 emails. It meant we wasted a lot of time and the release cycle was slow.

The recording process wasn’t much slicker either. I had to update 3 spreadsheets, make a new folder for each release note and save each one to a central location. Then I sent an email every evening to document what releases we’d made that day.

Something had to change

Frustrations were running high because it was such a tedious, long-winded process. Developers were frustrated because of the amount of emails they had to send and environment owners were frustrated because of the amount of emails they were receiving. It wasn’t practical or sustainable.

Making things simpler and quicker

We agreed what the ideal release management process should look like. We wanted something less email-intensive, more intuitive, easier to manage, something that’s always up to date.

Photograph of the Trello board on a big screen in the office.

I thought a kanban-style approach using Trello and Google Forms might work well. We still had a requirement to keep the release note part of the process so I created a Google Form that asked similar (but more simply-worded) questions. We could then convert the answers from the Google Form into a PDF using Google plug-ins, email it to the Trello board so it would be automatically converted into a card and appear on the board. At this point we’d reduced the amount of emails by between 5 and 10.

Adding in audits

We ran this new process past environment owners who thought a series of checklists on the Trello cards would be useful. This way we could include evidence that testing had been done and that we’d released in the correct order through the environments. When the Change Advice Board (CAB) reviewed releases they had the evidence there already and this would save time.

Trello also lets you assign tasks to people and they’ll get a notification when something’s been completed. So developers could release without having to wait for an email because the testing team had given approval which triggered a notification for the developer. This saved another 5 to 10 emails.

Testing things out

At this point we held demo sessions before putting the Google Form live. After a week we evaluated where we were at. The feedback was positive: releases didn’t get stuck at any approval points, there were far fewer emails and there was a live version of the status and position of releases at all times. The whole thing was much easier and it was self-managing.

Going from good to great

We kept improving the process and after 6 months we’d changed the way we labelled releases as well as the automation of release checklists when a new release is added. I was now only spending around an hour a day making sure things were flowing correctly.

We’re now coming up to a year since we started doing things differently and the process is down to minutes per day. It’s now totally self-managed by the developer, testers and product managers which gives us more time to work on what we’re actually here for: solving bigger problems.

Steven Allcock
Digital service manager

The first 8 months of the new Co-op Membership

We’ll be talking a lot about Co-op Membership, in the company of many of our members, at our Annual General Meeting tomorrow. We’ve also just had a retrospective where leaders from across our business got together to look at Membership. We reminded ourselves of what we originally set out to achieve, evaluated our progress and discussed what’s gone well and areas we feel we can improve on.

This seems like a good time to talk about where we’re at.

A good start

We launched the new membership scheme back in September last year and we’ve been blogging about the progress we’ve made since.

In January, we posted about our ambition: we want 1 million new members this year. Last week, Mike Bracken announced that we’ve reached 850k new members. It’s been a fantastic team effort to get to this point.

Members have earned over £45 million from the 5% they get back by buying our own-brand products and services. They also earn 1% for local causes and since September they’ve accumulated £9 million. Last month we gave that £9 million to over 4,000 local causes across the UK.

And it’s not just about new Membership. We’ve also reconnected with our loyal existing members. Since September, almost 1 million of our existing members have started to use their cards again. This means we now have 4.5 million active members trading across all our businesses.

You can see how membership is doing here.

But there’s still room for improvement

We’re pleased with what we’ve achieved over the past 8 months but there’s still much more to do. We’ve been listening to feedback from colleagues, members and customers along the way so we can continue to improve things. We do regular user research and retrospective reviews to make sure we’re continually building a membership scheme that works for our members. This is reflected in our service map that Jack blogged about recently.

photograph of Membership service map.

Just 7% of members chose a local cause during the first 6-month cycle

Members love the idea of choosing a local cause to support with the 1% they earn on own-brand purchases, but they’ve also told us that choosing a cause needs to be easier.

The team has been working hard to make it simpler on the website. We’ve iterated our design in line with learnings from research and the rate of members choosing a cause has increased by over 10%. We’re now looking to make choosing a cause simpler and more accessible in store.

There’s some confusion around reward structure

Screenshot shows Membership dashboard and rewards in punds and pence. And dividends.

We found that people get confused when a loyalty scheme rewards them with ‘points’. They ask: ‘but what are they worth?’ To make things simpler, Co-op rewards are shown in pounds and pence. But, because Co-op members are rewarded in 3 ways (dividend points, the 1% community reward and the 5% member reward) there’s still some confusion with members around how much they’ve actually earned and how to spend it.

We’ve been doing trials in store to make it easier to understand what the 5% means in terms of value by highlighting receipts, printing coupons with value and changing labeling on the shelves. We’ll be looking at making our communications simpler through things like member pricing and member baskets.

Not enough temporary member cards are fully registered

At the moment, customers can pick up a temporary card in store and start collecting rewards immediately. Then they need to register their temporary card online to become members and to be able to use their rewards. Not as many people are doing that as we’d like so we’re looking at how we can make it easier to do the whole thing in store.

We’ve been testing different options and will be running more pilots in June including use of in-store tablets and SMS messaging. We have also been considering how we take the £1 share payment. This is a really important step to be recognised as a member and we need to make it easier.

Helping more members have their say

When you’re a member you have the chance to influence what we do and how we do it by joining in. The membership website offers opportunities to ‘Get involved’. Recently, members sampled our new beers and wrote the tasting notes – a great example of the Co-op difference! Although we’ve seen some fantastic involvement from members, we think we can do more to help them find out about the opportunity in the first place.

We know that most involvement has been from new members, aged under 30, who have seen the ‘Get involved’ section of the site when they’ve completed registration. We’re looking at how we can display these opportunities in the right places to make them much more easy to find for all members.

Where we’re going from here

We’ve been listening to colleague, member and customer feedback as we’ve been going along so we can make improvements. We’ll never stop doing that. Next we’ll be thinking about new products and services we can launch, and we’re developing a plan as to how we’ll better meet our members needs on mobile throughout the rest of the year.

This is just the start. There’s a lot more to come.

Roberto Hortal
Director of Membership Products and  Services

Catherine Brien: great speakers at our data trust and transparency event

(Transcript) Catherine: Hello and welcome to this week’s Digital blog.

You may have noticed that I am not Mike Bracken, my name is Catherine Brien and I’m Data Science Director here at Co-op which means I’m on a mission to make data a valuable asset that we’re using every day in the business to deliver more for our members and our customers.

The big event this week that you’ll have heard of is our AGM which takes place on Saturday and I want to take this opportunity to share with you an event we’re holding, a fringe event in Federation House, 5.15pm to 7.30pm. The purpose is for us to speak to our members about how their personal data is used to help us shape the most appropriate and best policy we possibly can to build trust with our with our members.

I’m delighted that Jeni Tennison, CEO of the Open Data Institute will be joining us to give a keynote speech and we’re joined by 3 fabulous panelists Jessi Baker from Provenance, Sarah Gold from Projects by If and Richard Potter who’s CEO of Peak, a start up from here in Manchester.

You can still register on our Eventbrite page and if you’re not able to make it in person we will be streaming parts of the event live online so please do look out for the links on our Twitter feed.

Separately, we always use the opportunity weekly to welcome new joiners to Digital and this week we’ve got two new joiners I’m delighted to welcome. First is Nathan Langley second is Katherine Wastell both designers joining us working for Andy Travers. Welcome to the team.

That’s it for now, thank you for listening and have a great weekend.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

The data trust and transparency event will be at Federation House from 5.15pm on Friday 19 May.
Sign up for the event.

Speaking to our members about how their personal data is used

Last month, the data team blogged about how we want to become trusted with our members’ data. We said that one of the pieces of work we’re doing to help us strengthen our position of trust is around understanding how members feel about personal data. We wanted to find out what our members thought about their data being used and shared for various things.

A survey to start

We asked members to take part in a survey. 148 people completed it but not everyone answered every question.

Here are 5 things we’ve learnt so far.

1. 50% want more transparency around how data is used1.2.50%-want-to-know-more

Half of the people who took the survey said they’d like to know more about how personal information is used by organisations and businesses, but they don’t know how to find out. To set the Co-op apart from the rest, we should be clear about how we’re using this information and, if people want even more information, we should make that easy to find.

This leads us to our next learning…

2. Members would like to understand how their data is used

We asked members whether they thought they understood enough about how organisations use their personal information.

Three out of 10 members said they feel they know enough or everything about this. Which leaves 7 out of 10 wanting more information or having no idea about how personal information is used. That’s good to know. It indicates we should be explaining more about what we do, and what we don’t do, with member data.

3. What people do before trusting someone with their data

When it comes to thinking about trusting an organisation with personal details, only 2% of people said that didn’t do anything before hitting the submit button.

We asked: “Which of the following do you routinely do before submitting personal information?” The most popular answer was: “Make sure I amend my marketing preferences.” “Check for secure symbols/assurance marks on the website” was a close second.

Only 3 out of 10 people said that they read the terms and conditions or small print though. We think that we could go further in making our privacy notices easier to understand and more likely to be read and understood.

4. Members are happy to share their data for the right reasons

We asked our members if there were any reasons why they’d be happy for us to safely and anonymously share their data. Unsurprisingly for Co-op members, 70% said they’d be happy if it benefited the local community! Some of the comments around this were “Because the Coop is for local people”, “Local community is important” and “Because it’s for a worthwhile reason”.

One respondent said that although they don’t like the idea of their data being shared, the best reason to do it would be if it helped the local community. That person emphasised that their data must be safe and whoever has the data must be accountable. We completely agree and we’ll continue to prioritise data safety. We will also continue to speak to our Member Council and Members as we go.

5. People trust us

Over three quarters (76%) of our respondents said that they trust us to keep their data safe and to use it sensibly (79%). This is also good news. However we can’t sit back and relax on that one. We know that we must do the right thing, not the easy thing in order to bring our Co-op difference to data. We’ll continue to work in the open.

image shows text that says: People trust us and a graphic of two hands shaking an the Co-op logo

Turning learnings into policy

We’ll look at and analyse the feedback we got from the survey more closely to pick up more themes. But the conversation around whether we use and share member data, and how we do it, isn’t closed now. We’re still listening to your thoughts on this. Over the next few months we will start to discuss improvements to our policies around data and, with a lot more information and discussion start to make those policies real.

Tell us what you think

We’re holding an event Shaping our Co-op: Data trust and transparency event at Federation House on Friday 19 May, 5:15 to 7:30pm. You can register for tickets.

We’d like to speak to members regardless of how much you know about how your data is and can be used, as well as people with an interest in data consent. The only prerequisite is that you have an interest in doing the right thing for members.

Rob McKendrick
Head of Data Engineering

Mike Bracken: 850k new members, Agile Manchester and Mental Health Awareness Week

(Transcript) Mike: Hello. Thanks to Dave for doing this video last week. I’m back this week and again another big number 850,000 new members joined the Co-op since September 21st last year. That’s a terrific achievement by the team and membership continues to grow.

On that note, our members will be voting next week in our AGM, in Manchester at the end of next week. If you’re eligible to vote, please do. The cut-off date is a 15th of May.

Four big shoutouts this week. The first goes to Rufus, Paul Gerrard and the team have published our Modern Slavery report. It’s vitally important that the Co-op backs this initiative and we’re taking real action to put people back into society, back into the workplace. Do check out the report on the website.

Another shout out to Tom Walker, one of our user researchers has been leading on Mental Health Awareness Week and it’s great to see the Co-op support him and him engage with all the colleagues in Manchester and in the wider community to support mental health issues.

Also shout out to Anna Dick, James Boardwell, Ian Drysdale and the team for speaking at Agile Manchester a big event that we sponsored here and that we’ll continue to back, as we back that agile way of working.

And finally I got a little time this week in Federation. You see that on our website and great work with Victoria and the team who have fitted out nearly 5 floors now and with local designers and local artists, the place looks amazing.

We’ll be having a launch event later in the year and I look forward to seeing you there.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Introducing the Digital Operations team

On the Co-op Digital blog we’ve spoken a lot about the products and services we’re working on like Membership, our new coop.co.uk site and location finder. We’ve spoken less about the Digital Operations team and the work it does before those products and services can be made available to the world.

Time for an intro?

We recently did a show and tell over in Federation but for those who couldn’t make it, here’s what we spoke about.

Photo shows a group of colleagues watching the Digital Operations team show and tells.

The Digital Operations team’s responsibilities

The Digital Operations team looks after 3 things:

  1. Service management.
  2. Platform infrastructure.
  3. IT security.

The role we play differs for each area of work. For example, for Membership our role is to run the live service and its infrastructure, whereas for location finder we’re supporting the team while they run things themselves. Sometimes, our role is more about helping teams who are designing new services to think about how they’ll be operated and made secure during their life cycle, right from the early idea through to being live.

How we support teams

Photo shows 4 members of the Digital Operations team at their show and tell.

The Digital Operations team doesn’t take on development, support or responsibility for running new services. These things fall under a product or service team’s remit and we advise them. When teams need platform or operations engineers to build and run something, we help them find the people and resources they need.

We help Digital and Group work together

Co-op Digital is only one part of the Co-op, so it’s important that the work we do is in line with the wider policies. We help digital and non-digital people work together by translating Group policies into something accessible for digital teams to work from, and by helping Group colleagues understand how agile ways of working can support the policies.

Saving teams times by creating patterns

A really important part of our role is to build a set of patterns and ways of working that will help teams build things that are secure, reliable and scalable and perform well. We’re still in the early stages but the plan is that using the patterns will help teams make sure their product or service has security controls, disaster recovery, monitoring, alerting, a way for users to tell us about issues, and a support route to get those bugs to the developers.

The patterns are being built around Co-op policies such as our security and data protection policy, which means that if a team uses one to build they will have ticked most of the security policy checkboxes.

Ready for public consumption?

We’re also the keepers of the ‘readiness checklists’ – a list of things that need to be in place before teams make something new publicly available. Points on the checklist includes whether an alpha is publicly accessible; whether it captures colleague, member or customer data and if it integrates with any internal Co-op systems. The checklists aren’t a hoop to jump through just before a service goes live – teams need to start thinking about being production-ready right from alpha phase.

Working on something new? Tell us all about it!

Our big message to teams at our show and tell was: if you’re working on something new, involve us as early as possible. This way we can share any patterns and technology that might help you work more efficiently. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel each time we build something new. If we’ve got something that works – your team can just reuse it.

Coming to us early usually means we can pick up any problems and point out anything on our checklist that your product or service might not meet much earlier. That’ll mean we won’t have to delay anything.

Another place we can help is if you’re thinking of subscribing to an online service or purchasing a product. Maybe you are thinking of starting a new blog, creating a wiki, using a productivity tool or anything else that will help you with your job – you should make sure you speak to us to find out if it needs review or if there is a suitable product already available.

Come and say hi

We have a regular ‘surgery’ on the sixth floor in Federation House at 11am on Tuesdays. We also have a Slack channel or drop us an email on digitaloperations@coopdigital.co.uk

Michaela Kurkiewicz
Principal service manager