Interview: the Labs Graduate Placement experience

How easy is it to produce a project to pitch to the Tesco Technology leadership team…in just 7 weeks?

Each year, our cohort of Tesco Technology graduates spend time with the Tesco Labs team. They are divided into groups and challenged to come up with innovative solutions to problems which affect our business, customers or colleagues. Their time on the placement is peppered with workshops, training, ideation sessions and mentoring; and their final task is to present their solution to the Tesco Technology leadership team.

Lawrence, 23, has just come to the end of his 2 year Graduate Scheme with Tesco. His placements around the company have been varied, ranging from being tasked with looking at new devices for customer picking, upgrading backend systems, working as a Technology Manager in the Tesco Bengaluru office, and most recently working with the Transport and Tracking team as a Product Manager. Coming to Tesco with a combined Maths and Computer Science degree at Warwick University, Lawrence has so far thrown himself into technology-focused activities at Tesco; including participating in hack days and the annual company Hackathon. With aspirations for an engineering or technology manager-style role as the next step in his career, Lawrence was prepared to be one of the more technically-minded in his Labs placement group. We caught up with him at the end of the Tesco Labs section of the Graduate placement to find out what he thought of the experience.

Q: Did you have any preconceptions about the Labs placement?
A: I had heard about the placement from grads in the year above me, and was generally excited about it. At that point I didn’t really have any ideas but I was really looking forward to working with my peers in that environment. I was a bit apprehensive about what my group would be like, but we have I think that we have such a real mix of skills across the cohort that any group would have been manageable. which has made it really enjoyable.

Q: How did you find the group work?
A: We started with ideation, and found this quite challenging initially. From the outset I wanted to work on something that would ‘revolutionise retail’, specifically I wanted to take some risks and steer clear of just developing another app, but we were having trouble coming up with an idea that was achievable yet stretching and that would actually add value. Our lightbulb moment came following a 10x session, where we looked at how we could really ramp up the value our ideas would deliver without considering the limitations of existing systems or processes.

Q: What was the hardest / easiest thing you had to do?
A: The hardest thing was sticking to our idea throughout the placement, but the easiest thing was maintaining morale. This was really helped by the working environment – it was really refreshing to work in such an unconstrained way. We were able to have absolute control over engineering and product, which helped us to work in a fast-paced, high-energy way.

Q: How did you prepare for the demo day and the final presentation?
A: We opted to roll the preparation for presentation and demo day into one, so we basically split the presentation between the three of us and drew up some slides. Our concept wasn’t massively visual so we put together some diagrams and graphs to demonstrate the work we had done.
Our aim for the demo day was to gather a lot of feedback from colleagues and understand what the FAQs were, so that we could address these in the final presentation. This turned out to be a really good idea as the nature of our idea led to a bit of a grilling in the Q&A following the presentation.

Q: What did you learn?
A: I came into the project with a good technical background, but I was relatively inexperienced on the product side of things. Throughout the project I took learnings from the Labs team and my team members on the product vision and how we can work in a more value-driven way.
On the flip side, both of my team members were starting from a non-technical background, so I could pass on some knowledge too, which was quite rewarding as I could see real growth from both of them throughout the placement.

Q: Do you have any advice for grads doing the same placement next year?
A: I think that future grads shouldn’t be afraid to take risks, and should definitely do the 10x exercise. A lot of the value I gained from the placement came from taking on a controversial idea, so I would encourage them to do the same. Don’t let the restrictions of our existing systems or the availability of data prevent you from building your vision. Whilst we had moments of doubt throughout the project, each time we resolved to ‘embrace the concept’ to deliver a quality product, and one that certainly sparked lively discussion at the demo day and the leadership presentation!
One final thing is to make the most of the demo day. It’s a really good forum to discuss your idea in-depth before the presentation, so make sure to capture any thoughts or questions that come out of the day as they will probably come up in the presentation.

The placement was really rewarding, and while there were challenges, there isn’t much I would do differently. Having control over product and engineering simultaneously enabled us to operate in a start-up style team and iterate really quickly. A totally absorbing and totally rewarding placement overall!