We’re trialling an agile immersion course for all colleagues

Tuesday was the first session of the agile ‘immersion’ course – a free training course, put together and delivered by the team to help colleagues not working in digital experience agile working in a multi-disciplinary team.

The immersive nature of the course helps the team work collaboratively and aims to build on the foundations set by the Digital Skills Masterclasses which are more theory-based.

During the course, the group apply agile techniques and rituals to projects they’ve researched and selected. The course ends with colleagues showcasing their learnings at a show and tell in front of Co-op Digital’s heads of practice.

photograph of 4 colleagues on the course

Co-op Digital colleagues can help

The group is also required to work together outside of the sessions, with additional support provided by Digital colleagues. We’re looking for people across the communities of practice to help out with mentoring. If you have a spare 30 minutes a week for the next 2 weeks, get in touch with me.

Opening up opportunities in Digital

Since being seconded and then permanently employed by Digital last year, I’ve thought a lot about how to open up opportunities for non-Digital colleagues to experience agile ways of working, without taking time out of their day-to day-roles.

My hope is that after experiencing working in this way, colleagues would feel better equipped to:

  • introduce new ways of working to their teams 
  • apply for roles in the Digital team

We’ll listen and observe, then iterate

10 colleagues are enrolled on the trial course, all from our Support Centre in Manchester. We felt it was important to start learning about what works and what doesn’t as quickly as possible so we can make improvements and schedule another course early in 2018.

This time, the course runs 2 evenings a week for 3 weeks which means that it doesn’t interfere with day-to-day roles. Moving forward, the hope is we’ll be able to open it out, have more convenient hours and include colleagues from further afield.

The groups show and tell will be on 7 December at 12pm in Federation. Come along to see what we’ve learnt.

Annette Joseph
Delivery manager

3 reasons why sketching is useful in large organisations

Sketching can be really useful for teams working on digital products and services. It can help you quickly:

  1. Clarify your thoughts while you work through ideas, problems and potential solutions.  
  2. Communicate ideas to a wider team.

Recently, designer and illustrator Eva-Lotta Lamm came in and ran sketching workshops with the Co-op Digital Design team. Although sketching is something we already do, the sessions with Eva were beneficial because she:

  • showed us how to become more confident with our pens
  • encouraged us to be more comfortable sketching in front of the team
  • made us consider the right level of detail for what we need to communicate
  • shared tips to help us improve the quality of our sketches
  • made us consider using the technique in situations we hadn’t been using it in

Apart from these practical things listed, the workshops made us rethink the value of expressing ideas in visual ways within the Co-op – a huge organisation going through transformation.

Here’s why sketching is super useful.

1. Sketching can help us communicate more clearly

Often, there’s a lack of clarity within large teams. It’s not necessarily someone’s fault, it’s just sometimes hard to avoid Chinese whispers. However, sketching means there’s less room for misinterpretation.

Colleagues will have different learning styles, they’ll interpret things in various ways and they’re likely to communicate the same thing differently. Having something visual means there’s something tangible everyone can point to, to explain things clearly to a wider team or stakeholders. They’re showing the same thing, not their interpretation of what they heard days (or even weeks) before.

Of course, there’s something to be said for matching the level of detail in your sketch to whoever you need to convey your idea to. An abstract, visual metaphor help explain something technical to a colleague whose role isn’t technical, but if you need to talk through a webpage layout with a developer, you’ll need to include more detail.

2. It’s a quick, cheap and collaborative problem solving technique

Articulating a complex problem or idea can be tricky and sometimes, sketching it will help. However, being ‘good at drawing’ isn’t a prerequisite for giving sketching a go. Sketching has a low barrier to entry – it’s not about creating perfect works of art, it just needs to capture the spirit of what you’re trying to communicate.

Because we can sketch so quickly and cheaply, sketches can be easily iterated. We can also scrap them completely without feeling like we need to commit to anything.

3. It’s less about ownership, more about collaboration

When we’re working with people who aren’t used to working in an agile way, sketching could be a good way to introduce a more flexible way of thinking. It echoes the idea that nothing’s ‘final’ or ‘perfect’.

Teams can consider a problem and sketch ideas around it within seconds. Some will be potential solutions, some won’t. Either way, the quick pace helps us stay focused on the problem, and with each iteration we get closer to the most feasible solution. The constant discussion while various team members sketch makes the activity really collaborative.

Sure, it was the Design team that attended Eva’s sketching workshops but very few of us were super confident sketchers at the beginning of the session. Sketching isn’t a skill that should be owned by designers or even by a Digital team but it’s a technique we’d encourage all team members from Digital, policy, legal to get involved in. There’s value for everyone in it because it’s something we can use together to create visual interpretations of a problem or idea. This helps the whole team have a shared understanding which we believe could only be a positive thing for team morale.

Try it yourself

Here are 5 tips to change your note taking with sketching. You can watch Eva-Lotta’s video on the same thing too.


Louise Nicholas and Ciaran Greene
Interaction designers

Aaron Omotosho shares what it’s like being a Digital Apprentice

(Transcript) Aaron Omotosho: I’m Aaron, I’m an 18-year old student. I’ve just finished college, I was planning to go to university this year but unfortunately due to being an international student and the international student fees at UK universities I’m unable to afford to go this year and I’ve decided to take a gap year to work at the Co-op.

When I first started I was with the Data Services team and then I went to the Digital Data Services team and from there I had a chance to look at what the platform team were up to. After that I got some time to spend with Membership specifically the more members team. I’ve just been moving around a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to see several job roles that I didn’t even know existed. But I think the first one I encountered was business analyst.

The Co-op works in a multi skilled team, with different people, different skills, working together and the business analysts just sort of ties that together and I would never have imagined that that’s what they do.

I’ve also gotten a chance to experience other roles like designer, I didn’t know much about what a designer did but now it’s something that I’m even looking to maybe go into in the future.

I expected a generic workplace of everyone wearing suits, being really serious, but my mind has definitely been blown ever since I started working here.

Through the Co-op I’ve organised to take a course with the Northcoders to learn a bit more about the basics of programming. So after the 3 month course when I do come back to the Co-op for the rest of the year, I have a bit more knowledge and some sort of qualification to work better with the different teams and be able to understand more in depth about what they do.

After I left college I had no idea what would come next I had just no focus or anywhere to go, but I think after starting here the Co-op it’s given me a focus, a direction.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to work in things that are like actual real problems that are being solved, actual solutions that will go out there to help people and it’s just such a fantastic feeling to know you’re working on things that actually matter.

Aaron Omotosho
Digital Apprentice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Speight
Retail Director, Support Centre

Steve Foreshew-Cain: service jams at Design Manchester and sponsoring Hack Manchester

(Transcript) Steve Foreshew-Cain: Hello, happy Friday and welcome to this week’s Co-op Digital update.

You may remember a few weeks ago I told you that The Federation had been nominated for an Inspired Places Award 2017. Voting is now open so we’ll share the link on our blog and Twitter accounts – so please vote, and remember if you’d like a tour, just get it touch with Victoria Howlett who can organise that.

For the last 2 Saturdays, as part of Design Manchester, the team ran a ‘service jam’, which is where a group of individuals come together to create a service in a short space of time. A lot of work went into organising these events. Thank you to everyone who joined us and got involved, and a particular thank you to Kathryn Grace, Katherine Wastell and the rest of the design team for organising such incredible days. You can view how the days unfolded on Storify.

On Wednesday, our user research team held their first monthly show and tell in Angel Square. Thanks to everyone who took the time to join them and well done to James and the team for sharing what they’ve learnt over the last few months with colleagues from all over the Co-op.

This week, we’re proud to be sponsoring Hack Manchester and Hack Manchester Junior. The junior event saw some amazing teams coming up with really creative solutions to the challenge we set. Well done particularly to Table 9 and Hackerboy who were our joint winners. I’ll let you know next week all about the main 24 hour hack which takes place this weekend at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Good luck to all the teams entering that.

Talking of teams working through the night, I wanted to thank our engineering team working on Co-op Membership. They worked through the night on Tuesday to ensure the successful transition to a new technology platform. So a big shout out to the whole team. Thank you to all and well done.

Christine and the team working on our Going Google trial have been working really hard to make sure that it’s easy for our Digital colleagues to collaborate and work seamlessly with the rest of our Co-op colleagues. This week, major milestone, they delivered the integration that means regardless of if a colleague is using Google or Microsoft – they can easily see one another’s calendars.

This week we welcome Jon Ayre from FLS as our Interim Director of Digital Services and Amber Garland who has joined as an Apprentice Software Engineer to the Digital team.

And sadly we say goodbye to Mel Jones, Lawrence Kitson, Roberto Hortal and Sophie Newton – thank you all for your contributions to our Digital team. In particular, safe travels to Sophie on her move to New Zealand.

That’s it for this week. You’ll find our latest vacancies our blog. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates and follow us on Twitter.

And don’t forget to vote. See you next week.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Digital Chief Operating Officer

Our data hackathon at Federation House

(Transcript) Alex Waters: So we are in Federation House in the event space. We are hosting the Co-op’s first ever data hackathon.

Data Hackathon 2017, we’ve brought about 50 data analysts from around the whole Co-op. From all the different business units, from different functions, they’re all together today working on some data challenges. We’ve got a few different ones. We’ve got ones around energy consumption, ones around internal costs, ones around using social media data. They’re being creative, they’re adding in extra data where they can find it, they’re not being asked to solve specific questions, they are being given the challenges to solve themselves.

Mike Yates: So, me and my team decided to work on an energy task. So a few teething problems at the start, as you’d expect, trying to get all the data and work out how to use the systems, but getting there now. We’ve potentially found a £27 million saving but I probably shouldn’t say that on camera, it’s probably not right! I need to double check the figures. But potentially, some exciting stuff that we’ve found.

Pralita McCourt: My team are working on looking at how the spend on travel and accommodation was across the business last year. So we’re looking at that 2016 data and analysing for any patterns and any cost saving measures that could be adopted for this year and next year.

Mike Yates: So we’ve got guys I’ve never worked with before, so 2 guys in my team they’re kind of more, what I’d say is back-end system guys and kind of architecture guys which is something that I never normally get exposed to so it’s great to kind of see how they think and how they work. I’d say data is everything in that, you know, we’re ultimately trying to understand people, that’s kind of a lot of what life is all about, and I think data’s a great way, it’s not the only way – it’s a great way to get some real insight into that.

Pralita McCourt: It feels good to be part of it, it’s exciting. It’s good meeting up with other analysts from across the business that you wouldn’t normally come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.

Alex Waters: Right now, I think it is probably the most exciting time to work in data in the Co-op than it has been for many years. I really do expect that as we go through the next couple of years the Co-op is going to get better and better at using data and it will be recognised nationally as a brilliant place for data.

Allowing members to access their digital account in store

Membership is at the centre of everything at the Co-op and the Membership team works on ways to make it better.

I’m on the ‘Trading more’ Membership team and this week the first of 3 stores will get a Membership touchscreen for their shop floor. We’ve built 3 interactions.

1. Helping customers become members. The touchscreen gives high level information about Membership. Customers will be able to enter their email address and we’ll send them a link with details on how to join.

2. Encouraging temporary card holders to register and become members. The touchscreen lets temporary card holders see their rewards balance. They can’t spend their rewards until they register the temporary card so the screen asks them to enter their email address so we can send them a link with details on how to register.

3. Helping members add rewards after they’ve completed a transaction. The touchscreen asks members to type in a code from their receipts and adds rewards to members’ accounts for transactions when they didn’t swipe their card.

photograph of colleague Nancy using the touchscreen in the office. Touchscreen shows Nancy is signed into her account, she can see her rewards and she can add a missed receipt.

Why we’re doing this

The Co-op retail team is refurbishing 3 stores as we start to digitise them so we’re trialling touchscreens there. Firstly, we want to find out if customers and members will engage with us digitally, in stores.

We hope that the touchscreens will:

1. Improve conversion rates

We want to increase the number of people registering their temporary cards online. We’re hoping that the touchscreens will make membership more visible and help remind people of the benefits of being a member. By leaving an email address we’ll be able to nudge them to register their card and reinforce that message. We’ll track the conversion rate of customers leaving an email address and becoming members, or registering temporary cards.

2. Help users ‘do it themselves’

If members don’t swipe their card during a transaction, they can ask for a special receipt which allows them to add their rewards to their account later. They can do this themselves online (which accounts for 20% of visits to the site), or they can call the contact centre. These calls make up 8% of the membership-related queries. We hope the touchscreens will make things faster and simpler for members as well as reduce the number of calls our contact centre colleagues have to field.

Learning from user research before launch

We invited some people to come and test our screen in the Co-op Digital office. Seeing how people interacted with the screen was great and we made changes to improve the user experience based on what we saw.

When members and temporary card holders signed in, our original journey asked them to tap ‘Scan your card’ and they’d scan their membership card on the scanner. We found that the majority scanned straight from the home screen and were confused that it didn’t sign them in. We have now added in this functionality to make things smoother.

We also wanted to find out the type of data people would be willing to enter on the screens. We had a hypothesis that customers would not want to go through the full registration process on the screen because they’d need to enter personal details potentially in full view of other customers in store. Our user research told us we were right: almost all participants said they would have an issue entering anything other than an email address.  

What’s next

The screens are only a trial in 3 stores but if proven successful we could roll them out to other stores. We will use user research and monitoring to help us decide our next priorities.

We’ll post again and share how things go.

Liam Cross
Lead business analyst