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

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

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

Here’s where we’re up to.

Empowering colleagues with My Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking time back with Task Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good start

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how we got to this point.

Getting the right team together

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

Learning how things work in store

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

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

Using filters to figure out potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 2 and crossing the half-way point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting our priorities straight

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

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

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

Where we’re at now

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

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

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

Anna Goss
Product lead

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

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

Teaming up with ustwo

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

Researching and learning during discovery

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

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

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

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

Initial scope of delivery alerts

We posed these questions:

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

Starting simply and cheaply

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

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

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

Building a digital dashboard

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

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

It shows our Food colleagues:

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

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

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

Helping colleagues plan better

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

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

Big thumbs up from colleagues

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

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

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

Kim Morley
Delivery manager

Championing a better way of doing data

Blue background with white text that says 'championing a better way of doing data.'

We want to bring the Co-op difference to data. That means going beyond what is simply required by law, and instead infusing the way we collect and handle data with the Co-op’s values.

Practically, we want the Co-op’s data to be: correct and up to date; secure; available to those who need it within the Group and easy to find, understand, connect and augment. That will help us make decisions based on data. We’ll arrive at better decisions more quickly because the information we need will be easy to find and use. It will also help us spot new opportunities across the business, quickly, creating new opportunities because we are joining the dots. We’ll also be able to build better relationships with our partners because data that is well-maintained and with consistent standards can act as common language between us and them.

So, how do we get there? Well, we all have a role. We’ll need to set common standards and provide tools and ways of working needed: data principles.

As importantly, we need to create a culture at the Co-op that isn’t complacent about data and problems with data, but instead fixes those issues at source. We should think and care about how data is used once it is created. Everybody has a role to play in data. Thinking about data and asking how to use it and why will become a habit.

Some of this isn’t new and many people at the Co-op have been doing good work for a long time. Helping and supporting those people to continue to do their jobs is important. That’s why we’ve been convening and meeting with Data Leaders, and why we’re including colleagues from data teams across the business to work out what values we want to hold our data to from now on.

Data and the Co-op values

To help us think about this, we’ve started to look at how Co-operative values like self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and equity might manifest in data.

We’ve come up with a Data Principles alpha to help colleagues working with data at the Co-op. The principles are based on workshops we’ve had with colleagues, and we’re going to be running more user research sessions to make sure that they are relevant and helpful for colleagues at every level. We’ve done a few versions of data principles, and based on colleague feedback on previous iterations we’re sharing what we’ve learnt publicly.

Important themes

1. Data is part of everything

The data function does not work in isolation. Everyone does their bit to collect and create  good data, which can be used as the basis for making decisions. We are focused on what Co-op members and customers want and need, and respond to that quickly. Colleagues have the necessary tools to do so, and are trained in how to use data and to spot opportunities.

2. Clarity is for everyone

We will communicate how we use and collect data in a way that both specialists and non-specialists can understand. We’ll use consistent terms and standards that are externally recognisable, as well as use plain English to help members meaningfully consent to how the Co-op uses their data.

3. One version of the truth

Major data sets will have a designated owner and steward, who is in charge of keeping them updated, accurate and complete according to defined goals. All significant data sets will be listed and visible to all staff in a Central Data Catalogue, rather than relying on local duplicate, or inconsistent versions.

4. Co-operating safely

We will use data across the business where appropriate and ethical. We encourage co-operating about data, safely and securely, working together for mutual benefit.

We’re still testing these and we’re keen to hear colleague, customer and member thoughts on them. If you have feedback on these principles, leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director