Meet the new Head of Tesco Labs

Last month, Jo Hickson joined Tesco as the new Head of Tesco Labs. We’ve given Jo some time to find her feet before putting her on the spot with some questions to find out a bit more about her.

Q: Welcome to the team Jo, can you tell us a little bit about your background please?

A: Thank you, it’s great to be here! For the last 10 years I’ve been leading innovation teams for large corporates in retail and the travel industry. I’ve also worked in product development for o2 Telefonica and the National Lottery. I started my career in marketing back when that simply meant creating radio, press and TV ads!

Q: What appealed to you about joining the Tesco Labs team?

A: There were three reasons I wanted to join.
1. The scale of Tesco means there is a huge opportunity for innovation to make a real impact on the retail industry, globally.
2. Joining a well-established, talented and multidisciplinary team.
3. I love retail!

Q: What have you learned in your first weeks in the role?

A: I knew Tesco was a big company but it is even more vast than I’d appreciated. There’s a lot of people to meet and get to know! Also, the team are working on projects that genuinely excite me – watch this space!

Q: Looking forward 20 years, what do you think retail will look like?

A: Again, what I liked about this role was that the scale of our business means we’ve got the opportunity to define the future of retail for consumers. So for me, it will be experiences that redefine convenience, immediacy and personalisation.

Q: Which innovators do you particularly admire?

A: Hedy Lamarr is the innovator I most admire. She was a beautiful Hollywood star in the 30s and 40s but had another passion – inventing. Her most important invention came during World War II, when she realised that radio-controlled torpedoes could be knocked off course. Her solution was to invent and patent a frequency-hopping signal that was impossible to hack. Lamarr’s work was incorporated into early versions of Wi-Fi and today’s Bluetooth technology, the backbone of how we communicate!

Q: And finally, what technology could you not live without?

It’s a cliché but it is the mobile phone. And not really for calls anymore – it’s for podcasts, instant messaging, turning on my heating from anywhere, ordering food on the move, catching up on Netflix shows and Instagram – and so much more. It’s easy for us to forget how far this technology has come in under 10 years. It is a veritable digital swiss army knife of useful tools! The future potential of 5G connectivity affording broadband speeds using new cellular tech is also one to watch.

How may we…innovate as graduates?

Tesco’s 2018 Technology Graduates have just reached the end of their placement with the Tesco Labs team.

The aim of the 7 week placement is for the graduates to build a demonstrable prototype that adds value to the business or solves a problem statement, from across the organisation.

We caught up with Julia Wong and Jack Clare, two of our Technology Graduates to hear about their experience of the Lab placement.

Q: Can you outline the process you went through during the 7 weeks?

Julia: For the first few weeks of the lab placement, our group focused on ideating. We talked through all of the problems we saw during our one-month store placement and put them into How May We (HMW) questions. We chose the HMW that interested us the most in order to come up with the final problem statement.

With a problem statement now selected, we discussed all of the different ways to tackle this problem, verifying our ideas with as many relevant business stakeholders as possible.

The build phase involved creating a wireframe of our mobile application and testing with colleagues. In the last week of the placement, we were given the opportunity to demonstrate our prototype at a demo day and delivered a presentation to the Technology leadership team.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Julia: Picking up so many new skills in such a short space of time was definitely a challenge. With only 4 weeks to actually build our prototype, we had to learn things quickly in order to finish the project in time for the demo day and presentation. However, we could always reach out for help if we were really stuck on something.

Q: Would you do anything differently next time?

Jack: There is actually little I’d do differently next time, as I think that trial, failure and improvement is a really important take away from the Labs placement. However I would try and streamline our validation process for ideas, to allow more ideas to be tested by the team. Time is really precious and there’s always the possibility that we didn’t validate an idea which if we had, would have turned out to be the idea of the century! The more you test and take forward, the better informed your decision making process can be.

Q: What was your biggest learning from the placement?

Jack: I think the biggest take home from the placement is how challenging it can be to actually come up with a groundbreaking, innovative idea that is actually doable! With most of the truly “out there” ideas our team ideated, either they were way too complicated to even build part of in a seven week placement. Or they would never have any valid business case or maybe even there’s no actual customer demand or need for it. However, the ideation time is well spent for those few gems you uncover to take further.

Q: What advice would you give to future Grads doing their placement with the Labs team?

Jack: Keep ideating and validating around each problem space you’re interested in. Your best and most innovative ideas won’t be the first or second, but more likely the 41st or 63rd idea your team comes up with. Don’t be afraid to suggest something that you might think is out there, as it might just end up being viable and could be the root of the Tesco of tomorrow!

India Hackathon 2017

Hot on the heels of our 2017 UK Hackathon is the second instalment of the competition, this time running in our offices in Bengaluru, India.

We’re delighted to announce that the 24 hour event will be running on 21-22 September, and teams will be competing to harness the technology of the future and produce a working prototype to present to a panel of judges.

Working to the theme of ‘The Future is Now’, the teams will be encouraged to think big – and look to the current emerging technological trends for their inspiration. They’ll be following in the footsteps of teams (many of whom worked through the night) who have produced a wide range of very impressive solutions, from new delivery models through to collaborative shopping propositions, voice-activated assistants, and a two-factor authentication for online shoppers.

Each team will have a matter of minutes to pitch and demonstrate their idea to our panel of judges, who will be looking for a combination of an exciting use of new technology, a smooth and enjoyable user experience, and how applicable the solution is to the business.

If you’ve never been involved in a hackathon, now’s your chance! It’s a common opinion that you have to be a coder to compete, but that’s definitely not the case – we’re looking for teams with a range of skills, so whether you’re a comms specialist, a designer, security expert or product manager, we want you!

Tesco colleagues can register online today using the link circulated – please see communications for details!

(Please note that this competition is only open to Tesco colleagues, and that you must be able to get to the Bengaluru offices to participate – remote participation will not be available).

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Hackathon Winners Announcement

With their sights set firmly on future technology, a total of 57 teams gathered last week to participate in our annual India Hackathon. Working on the theme “The Future is Now”, the hackers had 24 hours to produce a working prototype and pitch a solution to an existing problem to our panel of judges. There was a real buzz in the air as the teams got to work, with pressure and excitement building as they worked to the tight timeline.
48 teams completed the challenge, with 46 of those presenting to the judges – a very exciting event as each team had just minutes to persuade the panel of the winning attributes of their solution.

The winning teams were:
Winner: Gang of Four, with their hack to help customers choose the fastest queue for checkout.

1st Runner up: Robo Cards, whose solution was a robot which is able to use portable electronic devices, and complete transactions, as well as humans.

2nd Runner up: Smart Shoppers, with a solution to show ongoing deals and recommend shopping items with just a tap of your phone.

The winners of the “Most Ambitious” category were Grey Matter, who worked on a solution to crowdsource the Tesco delivery system, powered by Blockchain. And the “Most Creative” team were Cherry Pick, who presented a mobile app to radically simplify the in-store shopping experience. Congratulations!

A big thank you goes to Partha Roy and Bhavesh Kumar who led on the organisation of the event, and to all our participants, who made the event very special. We’re looking forward to the next event already!

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!

The Next Generation of Innovators

Our Technology Graduates could be developing the next big innovation for Tesco right now.

One of the things we’re clear about at Tesco Labs is that we’re not the only innovators in the business. Everybody at Tesco is constantly thinking about how to serve our customers a little better.

One way we help to facilitate this is through our Early Careers programme. For the last five years we have been running an Innovation Placement for Technology Graduates which gives the next generation of Tesco colleagues an opportunity to share their ideas and apply their own solutions to business problems.

Although the format has evolved over the years the essence has remained the same. It’s an opportunity for all Technology Graduates to run their own project from idea creation through to proof-of-concept. This involves identifying an opportunity or need, doing their own research into the problem space, generating ideas, planning, designing and developing a working proof-of-concept, and then finally presenting this back to senior stakeholders from across the business.

We support the graduates through the placement, sharing tools and processes and providing technical training that will help them on their way, but we try to allow as much autonomy as possible. It is this autonomy that makes it equally challenging and enjoyable.


“It was 100% the most enjoyable month I’ve had so far at Tesco and I learnt a hell of a lot while doing it.”

Nick Wake, Technology Graduate

The graduates will typically work in groups of four, so collaboration is key to a successful placement. For many it can be a steep learning curve as they will be learning and applying new technologies in an extremely short space of time, they only have 3-4 weeks during the build phase to actually develop a working proof-of-concept that they are able to demonstrate to stakeholders.

We have so far seen 82 graduates come through the placement, working on 28 different projects over the five years. Every single proof-of-concept that we’ve seen demonstrated is an impressive achievement and is testament to the hard work put into it.

Although we don’t measure success in how far the ideas are taken beyond the presentation stage, as it’s really about what the teams learn along the way and the skills they can take forward into their future career at Tesco, we are always pleased and extremely proud to see ideas picked up and developed further.

One such idea is Tesco BackIt which launched last month. It’s a wonderful example of how nurturing even the earliest seed of an idea can help it grow into something great.

Technophobe to techie in 24hrs

A self-confessed technophobe tells us about her experience at this year’s Tesco Hackathon.

As a self-confessed technophobe the Tesco Hackathon was never something I thought would be for me. I was invited to be part of a team comprising of external tech consultants and thought “Why not?!”. The opportunity to create something that answered one of my many: “Why don’t we have something that…?” questions, was too tempting to pass up.

I hadn’t heard of a Hackathon before but discovered that it’s an intense coding competition where teams get 24 hours to build a prototype of a new app, to help solve a problem somewhere in the business.

“The Hackathon was brilliant fun, I loved the energy and buzz that was generated by all the teams as they were brainstorming and then building their ideas. I was so impressed by all the hacks that were created – the standard definitely felt higher than previous years and every hack fit the brief of “a little help” perfectly.”

Angela Maurer, Head of Tesco Labs.

The calibre of hacks was outstanding and extremely inspiring. The teams themselves came from all over Tesco including from Tesco Bank, Tesco Mobile, stores and some of our supplier partners. This year there were over 100 people taking part, in 16 teams. The hack theme was “A little help”. We were challenged to come up with loads of ideas and prototypes for helping both customers and colleagues out, in their everyday lives.

The 2016 winners:

1st Place – ‘Sam’s Elite’ created a customer mobile app for real time visibility, tracking and information of their order, including any order changes, precise delivery time, driver and van info and delivery feedback.

2nd Place – ‘The Royal Hackers’ created an app that linked a scan-as-you-shop device to a customer’s online shopping list, from fridge to checkout in store.

3rd Place – ‘The Bankers’ created an app which allows our customers to budget for their shop and track how much they throw away, with the aim of reducing food waste.

“The Hackathon was so much fun. Our team got a chance to showcase the skills we’ve learnt since joining the Tesco Bank graduate programme. It was great to see everyone doing what they do so well. We really didn’t expect it, so we were delighted to get 3rd place. We’re coming back next year, to win!”

Scott Gardiner, Tesco Bank.

Although our idea of “healthy helps” didn’t win, I’m exceptionally proud of it and leant so much in the process. It was a chance to meet loads of inquisitive and passionate colleagues. Bring on next year!

This content was written by Sarah Gallo, Health & Wellbeing Manager, and was originally posted on the Tesco PLC blog.

From Cab to Lab: a Dotcom delivery driver’s secondment with Tesco Labs

Our store colleague and Globe’athon winner, Antony, gives his perspective on why collaboration across the whole business is so important for Tesco.

This was the second time I’ve come to Head Office; the first being in March, when I took part in Tesco’s global hackathon. Being in the UK winning team at the Globe’athon gave me a wonderful sense of achievement, so I was delighted to be invited back to Tesco Labs to co-produce a viable business case to support our idea. During a two week collaborative sprint with ex-Globe’athon team member Luke Hickton, we explored an exciting new way of making the shopping experience even more seamless and convenient for customers.

This was the first time a colleague from Stores had been invited to Tesco Labs, so the pressure was on – not only to represent my own store (Chesterfield Extra), but also to make my visit a success so that other colleagues from Stores,  Distribution Centres and CSC’s around the country might be able to follow in my footsteps.

On arrival at the Labs, Luke introduced me to the rest of the Tesco Labs team, who made me very welcome for the duration of my stay, and freely gave their help and support to Luke and me.  We benefited immensely from their expertise and individual specialist skills.

We started from scratch and with open minds, and within three days we had festooned the walls of the lab with flip chart sheets and post-it notes. As I am normally a mobile worker, it’s not often than I am able to see the result of three days’ hard work at my fingertips. I was beginning to feel a real sense of satisfaction by this point.

Another highlight of our sprint was actually running our own mini-trial of the idea, but the real sense of success was realised on the last day of my visit. It was agreed after a series of presentations to business leaders that preparations to introduce a pilot project could commence.

I think collaboration between Head Office and other areas of the business is something that should be encouraged, and I would urge anyone from Stores, Distribution and CSC’s to look out for future innovation events and wholeheartedly participate.

Embarking on a voyage of Discovery

To keep our colleagues informed of the latest happenings in the world of technology.

We spend a lot of time keeping on top of the latest technology trends, and it’s our job to share those trends with the rest of Tesco. Since the inception of the first IT R&D teams the easiest way to do this was via email. Of course, the progress of technology waits for no man and in an always connected world of smartphones, tablets and social media our old weekly bulletin was in desperate need of an overhaul. Enter Discovery, a complete rethink of how we communicate the most relevant technology news to our colleagues. We wanted to not only replace the old weekly bulletin, but develop a strong communication brand that would bring together the diverse mix of internal publications we’ve accumulated over the years into something more coherent. The standard bearer being a completely new news site, a platform that allowed us to share and discuss content across the entire business. Our main objectives were to:

  • Be able to curate relevant news articles as we find them
  • Automate the administration process as much as possible
  • Be easy to use on desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone
  • Provide a commenting facility for colleagues to share their thoughts
  • Establish a platform we can evolve into a valuable reference tool

The Discovery news site is now live for colleagues. We’ve adopted a clean, responsive design that puts the focus on the news articles themselves, it’s simple and instinctive to use for both readers and editors, is underpinned by some of the latest web technologies and has been developed from the ground up. That said, the real boon for us is not necessarily how we’ve simplified the way we deliver news content, or in the technology used to create the site – for the record it’s built on MEAN stack (MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS and NodeJS) and a fair dose of blood, sweat and tears – but in the possibilities it opens up for innovation at Tesco. By integrating the Yammer enterprise social network for commenting it provides every colleague across the business with an opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts on how the featured technology could be used. That in itself might prove to be the headline feature.

Project: Inform

Putting information into the hand of our colleagues.

Background and Introduction

A lot has changed over the last decade. Most of us now carry a powerful computer in their pocket – their smartphone.

Tesco currently offer various customer apps across a number of platforms. Our grocery shopping app is actually now in its third generation and there is lots more to come in that area.

Continuing in this vein “Inform” is our first ‘colleague’ app and we’ve now launched it to all store managers in the UK.

Goals and Objectives

If you’re a store manager you can scan a barcode on a product or on a shelf edge label and quickly get back a load of information about the product from the central systems.

If there’s no product left on the shelf they can use this information to do some troubleshooting to find out what has happened and hopefully get the product back on sale.

Where We’re At Now

So far in trials it has been very successful and colleagues really love having this information at their fingertips.

They can also have it on whatever device they’re used to; iOS or Android (with Windows phone coming soon).

As the world gets more and more mobile we will see more apps that help our colleagues as well our customers get access to useful information.

Helping you experience the future

The journey we took in becoming the team we are today.

I thought I’d write my first blog post based around our team mission statement; to share the journey we took in becoming the team we are today and our thoughts that went into creating the statement.

Creating a Labs team represents a real shift in the way that Tesco thinks about innovation. We’re developing a culture that will allow innovation to thrive in the long-term and we’re already working collaboratively with start-ups through networking events like T-Jam and our sponsorship of the Rainmaking Loft. We are devising a series of internal events such as hackathons and invent’athons which we’ve found are a great way to harness the collective power of people at Tesco.  It’s all very exciting!

So with a new team we set about defining our core purpose and mission statement – we wanted something simple that we could all remember, that reflects the work that we do, and something that helps to keep us all aligned and united as a team and heading in the same direction.

After much debate and discussion we came up with “Tesco Labs: Helping you experience the future”. Here are our thoughts behind the words in that sentence.

Helping

This could be anything from having a chat and helping someone set off on a journey of discovery to creating something to show people so their imagination doesn’t have to do the hard work

You

You the customer, you the colleague or you the supplier

Experience

We want to create new experiences, they could be simple, lightweight prototypes to help us understand people’s thoughts and opinions or they could be fully working and integrated so that we can actively test them and learn with our colleagues and customers.

Future

We are creating hypotheses / products that we can use to demonstrate what we think the future of retail will be like in 5 – 10yrs, but as you know the future is hard to predict! The real aim here is to be ambitious, not to just to solve tomorrow’s problems but to collaborate across the business and the world of technology and solve bigger, harder problems. It’s a mindset thing….