Lessons learnt by a non-digital colleague: the benefits of agile ways of working

Last month we introduced ‘Visit’ to 55 Co-op Food stores. Visit allows store visitors to efficiently, and independently, check in and check out on store tablets or customer till screens.

We began designing Visit in October 2018. Below is a photo of me setting up an early alpha test in store.

Photograph of Nick, middle-aged man wearing a smart coat and shirt holding a paper sign saying 'Visits' above a tablet with the Visit product on there.

Visit is in beta right now meaning that our research and testing are ongoing and we’re making small improvements regularly. We’re hopeful that we can roll it out to all Food stores by autumn and that it will save time and solve efficiency problems.

But this post isn’t really about how we went about researching and prototyping a new product. It’s about the processes and practices associated with agile – a way of working that was unfamiliar to me and many of my immediate colleagues. It’s about the benefits of working in this way and why non-digital teams should be collaborative, open-minded and committed to learning about, and designing for, their user.

The problem: a long, old process

I work in the Risk team. Visits to a store are frequent and essential, and as part of my role I saw a lot of inefficiency when it came to signing in store visitors. The process would often be:

  • ask a colleague at the till for the visitor book and a pen
  • fill in your details
  • listen to the colleague to explain the store fire process
  • wait for a manager to take you to the back office
  • sign on to the PC
  • read the asbestos report
  • sign a paper acknowledgement of the report in the health and safety folder

It shouldn’t have so many steps in the process. It shouldn’t take this long. It shouldn’t involve so many people.

Our Field risk team regularly visit stores to train management on health and safety controls. As a result of the complicated, long-winded visitor flow, this was one of the least followed processes. There was also a lack of visibility around who has visited, so on occasions third parties have claimed to have visited a site but there is no evidence they have been.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to improve this process.

Learning new skills and different ways of working

At this point, my knowledge of digital design was limited. I knew that digital product Shifts was co-designed for Co-op Food colleagues, and that other pieces of the Leading the way work relied on expertise from Digital, Food colleagues at support centre as well as Food colleagues in stores. I was aware that this coming together of specialists had been successful within the Co-op before.

I signed up for the Digital masterclass, a half-day training session that helps colleagues whose skills are outside digital understand how the Co-op Digital team works (more information at the end of the post). Richard Sullivan who ran the training introduced me to the benefits of agile ways of working.

Getting support

I’d identified the problem around checking visitors in and out but to fix it I needed expertise from the engineers from Retail IT as well as the Digital team including delivery managers Lee Connnolly and user researcher Rachel Hand.

Together, we started to learn more about the problem.

Putting theory into practice and learning more

Working on this project in an agile way, in a multidisciplinary team was very different to how traditional teams would tackle it. That includes the Risk team I’ve been part of. It was a sharp learning curve.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1.Testing over requirements

I’d been used to handing over a list of requirements to a technology team and asking them to find or create a piece of software that might fix a problem. For Visit, we put paper prototypes in front of store colleagues as soon as we knew enough about the problem. Their feedback helped shape the design meaning the product was tailored to their specific needs rather than it being an off-the-shelf solution.

2.Questions over assumptions

I approached the problem (the process of checking visitors in and out is inefficient), with a solution (so we’ll put software on store tablets to make it better). It seemed such an obvious solution to me (and in the end this is in fact our solution) but the Digital team showed me the dangers of assuming rather than questioning. We did an ‘assumption mapping’ session which helped us see if or where we were making assumptions about the desirability, feasibility of the product. Identifying assumptions reduces risk.

Photograph of a whiteboard with many yellow post it notes of notes arranged across a grid. This is an example of assumption mapping. 

3.Build in team time

I’d never worked in a team where we’d schedule regular time to reflect on our progress and our team health. This is what retrospectives are for. Until now, praise and problems were private – not something a team could be part of together. I didn’t realise how essential I’d begun to consider retros until we had to cancel one.

Progress through collaboration and thinking differently

Despite this being my very first digital product, I feel I can say with confidence that when Visits rolls out to all Food stores later this year, it will solve problems and meet our store colleagues’ needs. This is because the product is design-led. We were never tied to a solution, we changed our minds as we learnt more and our understanding of what store colleagues need improves.  

If you recognise opportunities for operational improvement, no matter which team you’re in, you can speak to Chris Ward, Product manager for Operational Innovation Store. You can also email Richard Sullivan to arrange a place on the Digital masterclass.  

Nick Bullough
Product owner

Steve Foreshew-Cain: a Member Council event, an award win and Food colleagues come to Federation

(Transcript) Steve Foreshew-Cain: Hello and welcome to this week’s Co-op Digital update. It’s been a really big week this week.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining our National Members Council to share with them the work that we’ve been doing in Co-op Digital over the last year. Catherine Brien was with me and she talked about our thoughts on data and the work that we’re doing to become trusted with our members’ data.

And a big thank you to Mary McGuigan who presented with us as well. She’s a council member who was presenting on her experiences working with our teams as a member of the Digital Working Group.

Catherine’s had a busy week as she was also representing the Co-op at the Manchester Digital Summit. Now this was a summit that was arranged by the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, and was a really great opportunity for us to get the chance to share our thoughts and our experiences about how to connect people and businesses and their communities.

On Wednesday we welcomed some of the food store managers to Federation House. They shared some brilliant ideas with the team who were working on the Leading the Way project so thanks to them. And a big thanks to Steve who took some time out of his busy diary to sit with Kim Morley as she demonstrated some of the exciting work that the Leading the Way team have been working on.

A massive well done to the team working together with our colleagues in Funeralcare to transform their business. I’m not sure if you’re aware but they won an award last week. The Digital Leaders award for the best large enterprise project. That’s a brilliant achievement for Robert, Andy, Carl and the whole team and very well deserved.

And finally a hello to some of our new starters. We welcome Sophie Benger to the Digital Engagement Team where she’ll be helping our data science team explain some of their work. We also welcome Adam Westbrook who’s joined the Engineering team this week as a platform engineer.

Well that’s about it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter.

See you next week.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Digital Chief Operating Officer