26 Apr 2018

Tesco and Snook celebrate their one year anniversary

A year on after starting our Tesco journey, London Design Director, Emma Parnell lets us know what it’s like to embed design within one of the worlds largest retailers.

Paper anniversary

Just over twelve months ago our founder and director Sarah Drummond met with the Head of Service Design at Tesco, Kate Kapp, to discuss how a small design agency could help one of the world’s largest retailers. Fast forward to April 2018, Snook and Tesco are celebrating their one year anniversary of working together. We all know it’s not polite to kiss and tell, (especially when you have significant NDA’s in place) however, we wanted to share some of our experiences and tell you what it’s really like to design on the inside of Tesco.

No one is better placed to tell the story of this journey than our London Design Director, Emma Parnell. This time last year she started her first project with Tesco and has been working as part of a rotating team of Snook’s who’ve been embedded within their in-house service design team for the last twelve months.

Emma sat down for tea and cake to have a chat with our communications boss, Isabella. The Snook team (always curious to know more) had submitted their questions for Emma’s response. Here’s how it played out…

So, we’re a year in. How does it feel?

Great! In a word. We have achieved so much together over the last year and I have personally learnt loads. As a designer it’s really helped me grow and better understand the realities of service design. For the business it’s been a game changer for Snook, really cementing our place in London and our position in the private sector.

Lets pick up first on some of these achievements, what have been the highlights?

There have been some great projects which I obviously can’t talk about as we’re yet to go live but, I’ll pick up on three things:

Making things

Working with Tesco has given us such a breadth of experience in this space. As designers we want to make things, no one wants to deliver a research report that sits on a desk. Tesco have given us this remit. We’ve really worked to push a large organisation into rapid prototyping (both physical and digital), navigating the complexities that come with this and demonstrating the value of making and testing quickly before launching at scale or even at trial. Working in a channel agnostic environment like that where anything is up for grabs is incredibly exciting and I, personally, have loved the in-store prototyping of physical things and seeing how customers and staff respond to emerging ideas.

Training teams

Being so instrumental in growing the skills of such a passionate team has been really rewarding for Snook, and for me personally. Everyone at Tesco really just wants to make things better for people. It’s been great to be able to work to develop tools, methods, and ways of working that Tesco can own and roll out across their business. This has very much been about growing capabilities the Tesco way. A real highlight being a consolidation of the approach to journey mapping within the business with consistent stages, methods, templates, training and guidance for use. This has exposed teams across the business to a new approach but also helped them to understand how Service Design creates a common language for all of them to communicate with.

Balancing business requirements with customer needs

We’re working on an exciting live service refinement at the moment. For me this is where service design, and all its complexities, really comes into its own. It’s all fun and games coming up with new propositions, but when you’re tasked with a careful balancing act between keeping customers happy and keeping costs to the business down — you’re really getting to the reality of service design. It’s my hope we can see some really juicy impact metrics come out of this project.

So in the spirit of DOTI, it’s not all glowing success stories, what have been the hard bits?

Service design inside organisations is hard and I think broadly that’s the narrative you don’t hear enough in the industry – which is why we’re bringing DOTI forward as a platform for these discussions. For Tesco, I think the hardest thing has been the sheer scale we are working at and what this brings with it. It’s a dream when you start to think about the scale of the impact we can have with our work but it makes getting to implementation, and through it, difficult. The structure of a large organisation, and the silos it comes with, will always be a challenge but you learn to navigate this because service design is about the people, the politics, the policies and many other P’s I’m sure. Design for me has always been about problem solving and designing at scale is where that mantra comes into its own — everyday.

Has anything surprised you?

I’ll answer this one personally. Before Tesco I had never worked within a big corporate before and it was daunting – I don’t even own a suit! I guess I was pleasantly surprised by the informality (no suit needed). However I was actually also surprised by the passion and dedication of everyone, from store to HQ, to just make shopping better for people. This is not about flogging more loaves of bread. It’s about ensuring our customers with accessibility needs can shop in a comfortable environment. It’s about making it easier for families with young children to enjoy their shop; not just survive it — maybe even educate their kids while they’re at it. It’s about online delivery working for older isolated people and so much more.

Have you made any mistakes?

Oh probably a fair few – I think it’s important to share mistakes. One example would be, not realising that when you send a survey out to Tesco customers you could get 3000 responses… overnight! And then not having time built in to analyse this. It’s a great mistake and we’re still using that data now, but at the time it was scary and overwhelming.

Another example would be when we worked on a project around returning clothes bought online back to the store. This was an interesting research learning for me. During testing we mocked up customers going through the process of buying an item and then returning it (and all the little details in between). What we didn’t factor in is the change in behaviour that happens during testing when customers are not spending their own money, especially when purchasing. It highlighted the importance of making testing as real as you possibly can.

Snook are relatively small in size, Tesco are not – how has this come in as a factor

I’d be lying if I said it was easy for a small agency to deliver to a large client and for everything to run smoothly. We’ve learned lessons along the way and will continue to learn. Resourcing projects is a challenge. We work weekly, usually daily, with Kate on the shifting sands of the business to ensure we can best make this work. We’re recently hired Tom, to help streamline this process in Snook but it was Tesco that spurred us on here. Furthermore, small and agile meets large and slow moving. That’s tough! But we suss it out, work around it, make sure to play by the rules and swim around them if and where we can, all to keep a project moving.

I want to come back to impact. I have to ask but, does every little really help? And what does this mean across an estate of hundreds of stores?

It means just that! And that’s why I’m such a big advocate for putting this into practice and helping Tesco live out their strategy. As designers it means we can look to deliver what may seem like a small change or a simple proposition and have a huge impact on millions of people. The reach of Tesco is huge! ‘Tesco Magazine’ is the most read magazine in the UK!

But, scale also works both ways. So what might seem like a small change usually comes with a cost. Multiply this by 803 (number of large UK stores) and you’ve got a business case to make. Ultimately though, the reach we get with Tesco and the potential we get to make people’s lives a little better through our work is pretty great.

What’s next on the Tesco/Snook journey?

We’re continuing to build a strong relationship with the Tesco team. We have some exciting projects lined up for 2018, especially around refining existing services. Ultimately though we’ll be continuing our mission to make the world work better for people, equipping the Tesco team as we go. I look forward to our second anniversary!

Thank you to Emma, Izzy and the Snook team for their contributions to this piece. Even bigger thanks go to Kate Kapp for her continued support, enthusiasm, and expertise throughout year one of this journey.