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

Mike Bracken: 700k new members, helping Food colleagues and an upcoming Funeralcare event


Mike: Hello. Welcome to week 11 update from Co-op Digital. Start off with a big number. Six months ago we launched the new membership scheme for the Co-op. This week we passed 700,000 new members. Great effort from the Membership team and everyone across the Co-op Group to roll out the service. It’s great seeing members come back to the Co-op.

I want to talk about 4 things we’ve done this week.

First is in Funeralcare where in our Edinburgh hub we’ve rolled out the new digital service that’s transforming that business following on from our Bolton work. There’s an event here in Manchester next week, you’re more than welcome to come to that to talk about how we’re digitising the Funeralcare business. [more information below]

Our wills service has been handed back right into that wills business which is now taking more and more of our transactions digitally.

And our coop.co.uk site and our corporate sites have had a refresh from Peter Brumby and the team. They look great.

Final thing is Store Dashboard. We’re starting to get real traction with our Food business and you’ll see on our blog the reception that our store managers give when we give them these great digital tools and services. You’re going to see more of that.

A couple of quick shout outs this week. Rebekah Cooper who’s joined our team is now reverse mentoring Steve Murrells, our CEO. It’s great to see our leadership team welcome digital in and taking the advice from a younger generation.

And also we’re helping Liverpool Geek Girls and sponsoring them as they come through and take part in this community here in Manchester.

And it would be remiss of me not to finish with the usual “were hiring.” We’ve got some great opportunities so do check out our blog and see if you can come and join the team.

Thanks a lot.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Come to a talk about the digital transformation of our Funeralcare business on 28 March. You can get your free ticket at Eventbrite.

Funeralcare team welcomes a new user researcher

Photo of Mark Branigan, user researcher on Funeralcare

I’m Mark and I recently joined Co-op Digital as a user researcher on Co-op Funeralcare. I’m part of a multi-disciplinary team which means I work alongside developers, designers and product managers as well as internal and external subject matter experts from the funeralcare industry.

At Co-op Digital we’re building a service so that our Co-op Funeralcare colleagues can meet the needs of their customers more efficiently. The less time spent doing paperwork, the more time they have for their customers. Their role includes welcoming friends and family who are visiting their loved one, arranging personalised keepsakes, and of course organising the funeral including the cremation or burial.

As a user researcher, I help my team learn about our Funeralcare colleague’s roles; which systems are already in place and where digital can make things better. The best way for me to do this is by visiting funeral homes, listening to my colleagues who work there, and watching them at work.

When I’m back in the office I relay what I’ve found out to the rest of my team. That said, I believe that ‘user research is a team sport’ so I always encourage my colleagues to come and see for themselves too.

Contextual research (actually going to the place to see how things work) makes sure we build a service based on needs rather than on our assumptions of what our colleagues need. So in this sense, my role is to make sure that when my team starts iterating on the service or building a new feature, we know it’s going to be useful as well as useable. Contextual research means that both time and money are spent wisely. We’ll iterate what we build along the way, of course.

I feel privileged to be on this team. Our Funeralcare colleagues only have one chance to arrange a loved one’s funeral. Building something that helps them do that smoothly and sensitively feels like a really important thing to work on and get right.

Mark Branigan
User researcher, Funeralcare

Hello to Annette Joseph

I’m Annette and I recently joined the Digital Services team as a Delivery Manager.

A Picture of Annette Joseph
Annette Joseph

I’ve worked for Co-op for over 2 years as the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Manager for our Food business. I was seconded to the Digital Services team earlier this year and spent a couple of months shadowing delivery managers to get up to speed with agile ways of working before being hired permanently.

We’ve got lots going on so there wasn’t any shortage of great things to learn.

The digital wills team helped me to get a hands-on understanding of the role and responsibilities of a digital delivery manager. Setting the team up for a successful delivery, removing blockers and obstacles and helping the team to become more self organising. I also worked with Vic Mitchell and the team as they established a robust, but light touch governance for the wills online service as it moved toward live testing.

Picture of the output from the wills risk session
Wills beta team – output from go live risk session

The team working with Funeralcare is helping the business rethink how we deliver at-need funeral services. In an agile team, the way the team works together is as important as the work they produce so it’s important that any issues are surfaced and dealt with as quickly as possible. Working with this group, I learned about the importance of facilitating a team through different stages of maturity and how the appropriate method of support can help the team produce magic.

Picture of the Funeralcare beta team
Funeralcare beta team

The recruitment pipeline was passed to me at the beginning of the secondment. I used it to demonstrate the techniques that I learned from the other teams. The big visible displays of information keep us on track, and help us to be transparent. Regular catch-ups ensure the flow is constantly progressing, user research loops and retrospectives continuously improve the process.  

Picture of the output from the recruitment retrospective
Output from the recruitment retospective

The delivery managers’ community of practice ties it all together. We have a steady, supportive group meeting regularly. We share knowledge, resources helping us to continuously improve the standard of agile collaborative delivery across all teams.

We’re looking for more Delivery Managers right now, if you’re interesting or have any questions please get in touch.

Annette Joseph

Helping Funeralcare rethink how we deliver our at-need funeral service

Hello. I’m Andy Pipes. I joined the new CoopDigital team in February as a product manager. Product managers design and build digital services that help Co-op customers, members and colleagues solve real problems.

CoopDigital is helping the Funeralcare business rethink how we deliver our at-need funeral service. The funeral business is a care service at its heart. It’s a traditional industry. It’s safe to say the internet age hasn’t really influenced its practices and delivery mechanisms.

The Co-op is the UK’s largest funeral business, arranging 90,000 funerals each year. We look after families in real distress. We play a key part in helping communities deal with loss.

I’m proud to have met and and work with some wonderful colleagues from around the funeral business. They do an amazing job caring for our clients, despite having to fill in lots of paperwork and struggle with technology that can sometimes get in the way rather than help them do their jobs.

CoopDigital is working to design a whole new service for everyone involved in Funeralcare. One designed to make these processes simpler. Do more on behalf of colleagues. Communicate better with clients. And we’re designing it alongside funeral directors, ambulance staff, call handlers, and funeral home managers.

This is Robert Maclachlan. Robert’s the new National Operations Director for Funeralcare. He’s been in the post just a bit longer than I have. His vision for a new operation for Funeralcare couldn’t be clearer: Give time back to Funeral Directors to spend with clients.

Meet Hayley. She’s one of dozens of funeral directors the CoopDigital  team has met as part of our ongoing research. Hayley can spend six hours sorting out admin for every funeral she organises. Filling in forms. Checking on vehicles. Ringing round to find the right coffin, flowers.Confirming who’s officiating, who’s driving, who’s bearing the coffin.

Picture of Hayley a funeral director holding lots of paperwork

In Hayley’s hands is her “system”. It’s a plastic folder full of all the paper forms she’ll fill in for each funeral. It works for her. We’ve met other colleagues with similar home-grown systems. But every piece of information buried on paper in that folder is a piece of information a digital service could act on.

So there are some big problems we want to solve. Above all, we want to create one simple to use system so colleagues can organise a funeral from the first call right to the last detail.  Designed to accommodate the fact that every funeral that our colleagues conduct is unique.

The CoopDigital team practices ‘user-centered design’. This means we listen to and observe the people who will use the service. Our research team visits our colleagues in the field constantly to make sure we’re able to empathise with their concerns and challenge our assumptions about how we’d solve their problems. Three Funeralcare employees work full-time with our designers, researchers and developers in Manchester. An analyst from the Funeralcare IT team has joined us, so that we can introduce user-centred design and agile delivery to the in-house technology squad over time. We’re working together every day to help get the service just right.

Week by week we tackle a different area to work on, from receiving the first call announcing a death, through taking the deceased into our care, to booking transport, ordering coffins, and sending confirmation details to clients right the way through to creating an invoice and tracking payment.

On the walls of our workspace, we build out a picture of the emerging service. For each development period (a ‘Sprint’), we start with a clear picture of the user needs we’re focusing on. Then we sketch out a “flow” of the goals we’re expecting those users to be able to achieve after we’ve done that week. For instance, in the first week, we wanted someone receiving a call about a death to be able to log the most important details easily, and retrieve them later. Beneath the flow diagram, we list a few things that we’re most interested in learning as we test the service with colleagues in the field.

When we’ve built a small part of the service we take it out and test it in our funeral homes to see what the people who will end up using it think. If something’s not working we go back and change it and we’ll keep doing this until we get it just right.

We’re now 17 weeks into our journey. Here’s what we’ve made so far.

First Call service that logs the important details about a death, and alerts an ambulance team to take the deceased into our care.

Funeral Arrangement service that helps Funeral Directors capture all the clients’ decisions, plays back costs to the client, and keeps everybody updated about all the things that are still to be completed.

A hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service.

A coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range.

An audit system that works towards complete transparency about every important action in the service; a clear chain of care and traceability.

Various dashboards to show important “health check” measures for the business. Like busy times of the day for calls, and the % of contacts who are still waiting for an arrangement visit to take place.

Since we work fast, test often and iterate constantly, we understand that what we produce might not be right first time. Some of the areas of the service I am screenshotting above have been revised five or six times during the process.

But already we’re seeing how the service we’ve built will save time, do helpful things on behalf of colleagues, and present Funeralcare staff with useful  information in a way they haven’t seen before.

As we start to trial the service alongside the existing process in a real funeral home over the summer, we’ll see what’s working best, what still needs tightening up, and where we need to really focus next.

I’ll report back on where we take the service over the coming months.

A side note

If you’re interested in doing work like ours, please get in touch. We’re hiring more product managers, designers and developers to join our growing, dedicated team.

Andy Pipes

Working with the Members’ Council

On Sunday, I was happy to have an opportunity to discuss our digital strategy with the Members’ Council. The best way to bring that to life was to show some of the things we’re working on for Funeralcare and wills.

Andy Pipes, one of our product managers, showed members the alphas we’ve built. These are early versions of digital products. We test them with stakeholders and get feedback to shape how they develop.

Andy talked through the team’s work on arranging a funeral and preparing a will. Making these services easier and clearer helps customers and colleagues to know what is happening and to keep in touch. We’ll be sharing more about these alphas on the blog this week and next.

What the Member Council told us

We’re on the right track. Council members liked the clarity, tone of voice and sense of engagement with customers.

They asked great questions and tested out some of our thinking on:

  • the alpha products
  • our place in the market
  • our plans for helping members to communicate
  • our approach to managing and using data

Some members were concerned about the experience visually impaired or dyslexic people might have when they use our prototypes. They were pleased to hear that we’re working with Leonie Watson, chair of the British Computer Association of the Blind, to make sure we do the right thing.

Engaging with members

We’ll be working with the Council as we go on developing our digital services. I’m looking forward to Council members getting more involved and helping us to keep our focus on delivering what’s right.

Thank you to those who jumped straight in with an offer to help test our beta products. You’ll be hearing more from us as they start to develop. In the meantime, we’ll be sharing what we’re doing through this blog.

On Friday, we’ll start to publish a weekly newsletter. It will let you know about some of the things that are happening in digital businesses elsewhere and why they’re important for the Co-op and our members.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer