Mike Bracken: bringing food and digital together, leader showcases and thanks Richard Pennycook


Hello! Week 8 update from Co-op Digital.

First thing to say is thank you to Richard Pennycook who stepped down as CEO this week. It was Richard who helped bring many of us into the Co-op and really supported our move into all things digital. Well done to him and we hope we do you proud.

Into his footsteps comes Steve Murrells. He’s now the CEO and he’s already given a great degree of support to us and our digital teams. Should also mention that stepping up as interim CEO of the Food Business is Jo Whitfield who’s been the digital leader in Food. That’s great.

On that note, one of the big things this week is the work that we’ve done with food colleagues. We’ve had many, many store managers in place and if you can count the ambition by the number of post-it notes we had over 2000 requests on post-it notes written down for what people want to see in our future stores. Over 420 drawings of that so it all looks good for bringing food and digital together.

Other big thing this week, we spent a whole day with our Leader Showcase, bringing in groups of leaders into Federation where I’m standing now, showing them all the digital work  getting them engaged. We’ve got a really good level of ambition and engagement from them and it bodes very well for the future. And it’s great to see that ambition. To meet that ambition, we’re going to need new people, new skills*. This week I’m delighted to welcome 3 new joiners to Co-op Digital. Rob Wadsworth and James Bleasby join us as delivery managers and Mike Ingham has joined us as a product manager on Membership. Welcome to them and have a great week.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

*We’re hiring interactions designers
We’re hiring content designers
We’re hiring user researchers

Number crunching in an agile environment

A picture of Head of Finance Karen Lindop

In November last year I moved across from Co-op Group Finance to Co-op Digital to set up a finance function. I’m now looking for a digital finance manager to support me. I’ve written this post to talk about how we work in finance at Co-op Digital and to show the difference between accountancy in a traditional environment and in a digital one. For anyone who has accountancy skills but hasn’t worked with digital teams before, I’d like to give you an idea of the challenge we face when we’re juggling (limited) pots of cash in an ‘agile’ environment.

Long term versus short term planning

When I moved over to Co-op Digital I knew I’d have to adapt the way I worked because digital teams work in a different way to other areas I’d looked after before. During the budget process, I was used to understanding everything an area of the business wanted to do that year, discussing all the costs and working up a detailed, line by line budget. Then we’d track progress against that budget.

But instead of having a detailed plan for the next year, digital teams work to much shorter timescales. They prioritise what they’ll be working on based on user needs and they reassess their priorities every 2 weeks. It’s all part of working in an agile way. A team’s budget needs to be flexible because the digital service or product changes direction as the team learns more about what the user needs.

Juggling pots

We have around 8 digital product or service teams as well as all the Data, Membership, Brand and Social Media teams. Obviously, whenever we give one team an extra slice of the budget, it has an effect on what’s left for the other teams. This means you’ve got to be super proactive. You need to be really plugged in to the teams so you can find out how their plans are changing and what’s coming next so we can account for, report on and forecast costs as we go.

The good news is that Co-op Digital is full of great people to work with. Everyone understands the challenges we face in the finance team and we work together to overcome them.

Adapting to agile

One of the interesting areas I’ve been involved in is making sure we’ve got the right financial controls in place. This means giving teams the freedom they need to deliver while making sure they stay within the allocated budget. Because the Co-op has traditionally used a longer term planning approach, a lot of the controls aren’t suited to an agile way of working. Obviously we need to maintain the same level of control, so we’ve been working with other support and governance functions within the Co-op to come up with something that works.

I’ve been working this way with Co-op Digital for pretty much a year now, and so far things are going well. At the beginning of 2016 we committed to meeting the existing budget, and by the end of the year, that’s what we’ve done. In fact, we’ve also delivered an awful lot more than we originally set out to do which is pretty satisfying.

What the job ad doesn’t tell you

Being able to balance the books for a group of teams who work in this way is really rewarding. It’s also a skill that’s likely to become more sought after as more traditional organisations start looking to digital to see how it can help make their businesses more efficient.

You can find the Digital Finance Manager job advert over on our jobs page. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Karen Lindop
Head of Finance

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