Here’s to transformation and our progress so far

We've just said goodbye to Kim Morley, our Head of Delivery. She joined in February 2019 at a point when we started reorganising our traditional IT department into a set of digital product and services teams so that we’d be more equipped to thrive in the digital age. Kim supported the team through this change, implemented new ways of working and helped transform our culture.

Now seems like a good point to look back over how far we’ve come.

January 2019

The executive board appoints Paul Martin as IT Director to spearhead our digital transformation. He sets out a strategy to bring the Tech team closer to the business, starting with closing the development team in India to allow for new skills to be introduced into the tech department.

February 2019

Paul officially joins. Spurred on by low morale and a negative audit from KPMG, he makes some more big cultural changes, fast. He:

Kim joins the Retail team and works alongside John Sylvester – he’s recently made the move from store supervisor to product manager after answering a job ad in the stores’ weekly update.

The push for change begins.

Kim encourages the Retail team to burn the existing backlog and begin a discovery into stores.

"Instead of working on solutions suggested by our business team, our aim going forward would be to work together to find the most important problems to solve." – Kim

March 2019

We make plans to recruit UX designers, delivery managers, QAs and developers so we can begin to work in multi-disciplinary teams that align to 4 business streams: Retail, Merchandising, eCommerce and Logistics. We put wheels in motion to move away from a pool of developers picking up tasks in a ‘requirements factory’.

There are now plans to bring in more leadership for each discipline (a process that took time).

We dedicate time to thinking about our work culture – how we’d like being part of the Tech team to feel, and what sort of environment helps everyone thrive regardless of individual circumstances and personality traits.

We start to build understanding that teams could and should self-organise, that people can work flexibly – and from home – because we believe work should only be part of someone’s life, not the all-consuming everything in it.

“It’s not about bums on seats or how many hours you work. It’s about the focus we put into the things that matter.” – Paul

We buy a LOT of post-it notes. Paul’s asked to justify the £74 spend to the then Finance Director.

Kim introduces the ‘blameless retro’ (urging everyone to keep the Prime Directive in mind). We look at morning stand-ups and whether they’re working as well as they could.

Kim starts to put communities of practice in place and starts with our product managers.

Slide taken from product manager community of practice.

We look at how we prioritise tasks and whether we should be doing this differently. We involve stakeholders. Together, we conclude that tasks that provide the most value (‘high impact’ on the matrix) should be prioritised.

matrix showing high and low impact versus high and low risk

Kim and John outline our proposed discovery to area store managers. Naz Miah, Head of Retail gives a big thumbs up.

The Retail team moves into Federation House in Manchester from our Rochdale office.

We’re now a short walk to 4 Footasylum stores in the Arndale Centre, which makes it much easier to collaborate with store colleagues and get regular feedback. Let the discovery commence!

All levels and types of store colleagues join us in Federation House. We find out about their daily work routine and at which points things could be better.

Service mapping begins.

6 people service mapping round a whiteboard.

We look at managers’ daily tasks, for example, opening and closing the store, cashing up, doing rotas and processing timesheets.

sprawling service map.

April 2019

The search for a development manager begins.

Service architecture project starts (Platform team). We realise that our systems are all very tightly coupled, with data problems everywhere. We take a big step to re-architect and aim to make things like product codes consistent across all systems.

The Retail team presents at the huddle for the first time. We ‘show the thing’ to the rest of the IT department. We’re honest about our successes and failures.

And then, the week everything breaks... Store colleagues tell us about a single item showing up incorrectly-priced on the tills. An easy fix, or so we think. But the tiny release causes all hell to break loose. One small deployment causes issues across all business functions. International frenetic problem-solving and lots of confusion follows. It is tense. But there’s an acknowledgement that everyone is doing their best and everyone is learning something new about old systems.

With so many teams involved it's very difficult to keep track of who is doing what, where. John’s giant role of paper proves invaluable as the issue went on and on.

Giant roll of paper on desks with post-its identifying problems and what action is being taken.

Naturally, our first massive retrospective comes soon after all this. We begin to understand what we could do to prevent a repeat of the chaos.

Then we’re back to the discovery. We spend more time in stores. We realise how many efficiency and usability problems we were facing. At this point, we realise that innovation should not be our priority – fixing the basics should be.

We stop what we are doing. Work begins on a product that store colleagues can check whether our tills are showing the right price for the right product. Product name? The Price is Right. Of course. 😂

May 2019

Graham Thompson joins the Retail team as Technical Architect. Graham Thompson back to camera, arms out-stretched against whiteboard in the office.

We continue to grow the teams in Rochdale and Manchester by closing ties with the near-shore teams in Romania.

We realise the software across tills is different and that each time we release something, the behaviour is inconsistent. We start to fix this by putting new hard drives in every Footasylum till and create a ‘golden image’ to give us consistency.

Also, we set the objective to implement contactless and mobile wallet payments by peak trading (run up to Christmas and sales).

June 2019

All product or service teams start introducing blameless pre-mortems and post-mortems.

July 2019

Jason McCreery joins as Head of Infrastructure and Support.

Stand-ups, sprint planning and pre and post-mortems now happen like clockwork across all teams.

August 2019

The leadership team is complete. Andy Norton joins as Development Manager and Phil Penketh joins as Head of Data Strategy.

September 2019

The countdown to peak trading begins to ramp up. Each team works on their roadmap so they can see clearly what’s left to do, prioritising what will make the biggest impact to our business. As a group, we share what we want to achieve, we use our pre-mortums again to help us predict what might stop us getting there.

October 2019

Black Friday preparations really kick off. This month: our test store in the Arndale gets contactless payment capabilities; we release till software and contactless payment finally begins to roll out across all stores after repeated problems with PDQs. We create a Retail Support team – a help desk dedicated to stores.

November 2019

Our new online checkout goes live (created in-house and with a small team based in Portugal).

Contactless and mobile wallet payments are now available in every store.

man using contactless payment in store

We collaborate with influencer KSI to offer customers promotion codes through his Youtube video – it creates so much traffic our site breaks in a few seconds.

KSI instagram story to his followers when they broke the FA website

Black Friday swings round – it’s what we’ve been preparing for for most of the year. We see 60% more sales than the same event in 2018, and 40% more sales in stores. Warehouse colleagues report that they’ve packed nearly double the amount of orders compared to last year, and that there hasn’t been any outages, or downtime.

All this is a huge team achievement.

As with failure, our relative Black Friday success is subject to a retrospective. What had gone wrong? What should we reprioritise in time for Christmas and Boxing Day sales? How about our next peak?

December 2019

We prepare for more teams to move into Federation House.

Christmas and Christmas sales come and go and although many aspects are widely considered better than last year, we do a retro. Of course.

Looking good for 2020

By the end of 2019, we’d put out some fires, laid the foundations and gave the confidence back to the business. The culture felt different, teams and individuals had autonomy over their work, we were sharing regularly, inviting feedback and collaborating more with the rest of the Footasylum business. We’d made a superb start on attracting the kind of people we want to work with. It was in no way ‘mission accomplished’ but, we’d made progress and we were well set up going into 2020.

2020 has been turbulent so far. However, the foundations we laid last year, has meant we've been in a decent place to cope with challenges.

Kim Morley (former) Head of Delivery