Our Co-op Architecture Principles

Before Christmas we started working on our architecture principles; a set of principles to empower and guide all colleagues who design, build or buy technology for the Co-op. We put together a team from across the Co-op Group to create the principles in line with Co-op values.

Since then, our architects who put them together have improved them, shortened them and have tested them with some of the people who’ll be using them.

It’s important to show and to share

We knew that the best way to get meaningful feedback would be to test the principles with real users. We asked our colleagues across different projects and business units to test them so we could get a better idea of how well they might work in the wider Co-op. Colleagues told us they wanted the principles to have more clarity, direction and include pointers on how to use them. So we’ve made changes based on their feedback.

Here’s a shorter version of the latest version of our 10 Architecture Principles. Note: this is just that: a latest version, and we anticipate this will change (probably shorten) in the future.

  1. Understand what people need

We find out who all the real users are and how to meet their needs in order to define what a service should do and who else is it impacts. Technical and design decisions should come from what people need and not from organisational structures or silos.

  1. Act based on context

Context includes our environment, the wider Co-op, the value chain, the changing market, and the problem we’re trying to solve. Technology quickly becomes uncompetitive as the industry moves on. We need to look beyond the industries we know well for examples of ways we could do things better.

  1. It’s not just about the technology

Coming up with a technology ‘solution’ before we’ve understood the problem could mean we waste significant time and money on a project that goes wrong. We understand problems well when we test how a technology fits with users needs, processes, people and data.

  1. Working together makes things better

When we work in silos we usually only see things from one perspective. That means we’re less likely to spot problems that will come up later on in a project so having conversations early on will lead to a better outcome.

  1. Trusted, reliable and secure

We need to consider how well a technology needs to work (as opposed to what it does) so that it’s trusted, reliable, easy to support and secure. If we don’t do this, the technology won’t meet user needs and will cost a lot of time and money to fix. We need to take time to ensure the technology is secure, reliable, supportable and that it handles data responsibly.

  1. Prove it works

Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work here. If we haven’t proven that something actually meets real user needs before committing, we might find ourselves making compromises later on.

  1. Balance cost, value and risk

We should make decisions based on a good understanding of cost, value and risk and how they impact each other. For example, choosing a solution because it’s the cheapest to deliver doesn’t mean it’s going to be the cheapest to run, manage or provide the same amount of value.

  1. Scope and ownership will change

We can’t assume everything will stay the same. Things will change but we don’t always know what when we’re designing something. Smaller things are easier to change so we need to look for opportunities to break down problems and choose the right technology for each component.  

  1. Make things so that they work with other things

If our technology limits our access to data, is difficult to use with other things, or doesn’t work with other technologies, we’re going to have very little flexibility in the future. We can create value we didn’t expect through appropriate sharing and reusing of services and information while respecting data protection, privacy and security requirements.

  1. Do the hard work to keep it simple

Thinking ahead is important. If we’re replacing something, we should make sure we completely remove the old thing first. We need to leave things in a better condition than how we found them.

Next up: governance

We’re going to start work on a new governance model that will sit alongside and complement the principles. We’ll talk about our progress on that soon.

The Co-op architecture community


We’re always looking for talented people to come and work with us. At the moment we’re recruiting platform and software engineers to join our growing engineering community. You can find out more about working for Co-op Digital.

We’re working on our Architecture Principles

Group of colleagues from across the business gathered around a white board and chatting about new architecture principles

I’m part of the architecture community of colleagues across the Co-op who set technology direction. We’re responsible for overseeing the design and build of new services for our colleagues, members and customers. Just before Christmas we started thinking about how to renew the Architecture Principles that govern how we make technology choices and how we work.

Times are changing

Our existing principles have served us well over the years but technology is changing quickly. It’s important our principles take the pace of change into account so they can help our colleagues make good technology decisions that reflect our ethical leadership too.

We’ve formed a team from across the Co-op Group that includes colleagues from Retail, Consumer Services and Digital. Together we’ll create and then iterate the principles. We’re using Co-op values and principles as our starting point. These values and principles such as democracy, equity and equality are the fundamentals of ‘being Co-op’, and will help us to focus on how we do things, as well as what we do.

Testing with colleagues

We’ll create a pilot group of colleagues who’ll test the principles we create and feed back on how clear, simple and usable they are in practice.

One of our guiding thoughts on this work is that we need to be radically open and transparent, and we’re starting with this blog post. We’ll share our progress and publish the principles in alpha during the spring.

Michael Paulson
Chief Technology Officer