5 things we learnt that helped us build the ‘How do I’ service

We’ve recently launched ‘How do I’ – a service that helps colleagues in Co-op Food stores find out how to complete store tasks and procedures in the right way. We built it based on months of research with our Food store colleagues.

Here are 5 things we learnt that challenged our assumptions and helped us create a service that’s based on the needs of the people who use it:

1.The most frequent tasks aren’t the most searched for  

In web design it usually makes sense to prioritise the most common tasks – those which affect the most people, most often. So, for food stores you could assume that might be putting a card payment through the till or putting stock out correctly – the tasks which have to be done frequently.

But we found that the majority of our colleagues had become so familiar with these tasks that they didn’t need to check the detail. It was, of course, the infrequent tasks that our users needed to check – the tasks they only have to do occasionally and need to check the detail of what’s involved.

So, we created a service that prioritised the things we knew colleagues needed to check.

2.People don’t want to rely on those around them for their development

We saw that most colleagues were confident asking for help and were used to learning by being shown. We assumed that this was the best way for colleagues to learn.

However, we found that this takes at least 2 people’s time, colleagues often felt like they were pestering the other person and it’s not always the best way of relaying information – people were sometimes passing on bad habits.

We found that it can be especially frustrating if you’re relying on a manager for information, for instance if you’re trying to learn new procedures to get a promotion. Managers are often busy with other tasks and responsibilities:

I’m going to the manager all the time – that’s why it’s taking me so long. It’d be quicker if I could have gone somewhere to look myself.

– Customer team member training to become a team leader

So we built a service that allows colleagues to be self-sufficient and responsible for their own development.

3.Managers are users too

We assumed that the audience who would benefit most from a service like this would be customer team members (rather than managers). They were our largest audience and those who were often newest to Co-op.  

But, we learnt that those who were new into a management role also felt especially vulnerable. As their responsibility increased, so did the assumption from their colleagues that they immediately knew everything:

Going from customer team member to team leader is a massive jump. It can be quite daunting and hard to get to grip with everything that has to be done.

– New team leader

So we made a service that could help give new managers confidence at the time they need it most.

4.People with specialisms can feel disempowered  

In some of the larger stores, colleagues tended to have responsibility for their own  area, for example, the cash office, newspaper and magazines or the tills. They were experts in their areas and knew the processes inside out. We assumed these colleagues would have little need to use the service.

But, we learnt that their specialism often meant that they were:

  • nervous covering shifts in different parts of the store
  • unable to cover certain shifts
  • lacked confidence applying for overtime opportunities in different stores

If I went to a smaller store I wouldn’t know what to do. I feel disadvantaged because I don’t know how to do things.

– Customer team member in a large store

 So we created a service where colleagues can access any information they want, from computers in any store, and get the knowledge they need to go for other opportunities.

5.Putting information on a website isn’t always the answer

Co-op has a lot of health and safety policies and procedures. A lot. Many people thought that the ‘How do I’ website would be the best place to put all that information. But, just because something is a procedure for Co-op Food store staff, doesn’t mean the website’s the right place to put that content, especially if we want colleagues to pay attention to it.

For information to be useful, it needs to be available at the point it’s needed.

For example, amongst the health and safety procedures are things like how to wash your hands properly after preparing food.  We learnt that people would be more receptive to the information if it was a poster positioned near the sink. It wasn’t effective it to put information like that on a website – people’s hands were dirty and they rarely had a computer nearby (if they did, it didn’t cross their mind to check it in that situation).
So, we made a service that’s based on an understanding of the what the user’s doing and where they are at that point of completing a task.  

Don’t assume. Learn.

When creating ‘How do I’ we:

  • were open-minded
  • tested our assumptions
  • made mistakes
  • were proven wrong

By understanding who our users are and what they need, we’re able to build a service that can help them, rather than a service based on reckons, assumptions and guesses.
And it doing so we were able to focus on the things that were important – our users.

Joanne Schofield
Content designer

Do you want to work with us to design content that puts users first? We’re hiring content designers.

Steve Foreshew-Cain: The Federation is open and ‘How do I’ is live

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

This week we officially launched The Federation, as you can see behind me. It’s been amazing to see the transformation of the building into a vibrant, modern space. But what’s been even better is the community of people and organisations, both large and small, public and private that have come together.

Thank you to all the Federation team, Emer, Victoria, Lisa, Beena, Sam and Bex as well as our colleagues across the Group and NOMA that have supported us in not only the launch but the whole refurbishment of this fantastic building.

Also a big thank you to Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester who took the time to join us to mark the launch, as well as our CEO Steve Murrells.

The launch is just the beginning. There’s going to be lots going on in Federation. We’ll share all events on our social channels, and don’t forget there are really great event spaces that are available to hire for anyone as well as desks on our co-working floor.

One of those events is happening next Tuesday. Our Member Voice team are screening the Rochdale Pioneers film in The Federation. The Rochdale Pioneers tells the story of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers who founded the first successful co-operative retail store and whose passion and sense of fairness and justice inspired a worldwide movement with values at its heart.

I also wanted to say a big well done to our team working with colleagues in Funeralcare who received a highly commended award for workplace transformation project of the year at the UK IT Industry Awards last week. Well done.

Yesterday the ‘How do I’ service for our colleagues in Food went live and was launched into stores. 100% of the Retail Support Centre’s policy and procedure content is published on How Do I.

In the few days since we’ve launched we’ve already have over 650 colleagues accessing the new service, giving us lots of positive feedback on the service and plenty of ideas for improvement and iteration of the content.

And to give you some idea of the scale of the work, that’s 411 policies rewritten, 137 copied across from Citrus which was the old system. Absolutely stellar work from the content editor team who have been seconded in from stores and in less than 6 months have learned how to write user-focused content and how to use a content management system.

How Do I wouldn’t exist or be useful without the content, so this team, with our content designers Jo and Hannah’s help, have made it happen. So a huge thank you to Emma Nichols and her team – and to the whole team working together in partnership with our food business. That’s ‘being Co-op’ at its best.

Sadly we say goodbye to Jen Farmer this week. Jen was part of the team that brought our new brand to life, and has done a brilliant job of helping our data team start to engage with members.

Well, that’s it for this week. A big week I think you’ll agree. You’ll find our latest vacancies our blog – we’re looking for engineers, agile delivery managers, QAs and doing lots of recruitment in our data science team.

Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates and follow us on Twitter.

See you next week.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Group Digital Director


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?’