India Graduate Program – Meet the Graduates

ChandanKumar Singha is the second graduate we meet in this series of blog posts from our India-based graduate students. Here he shares his experience of the program.

“Tesco Labs placements is a program where graduates work in teams on assigned mini-projects under the Tesco Labs team.  The purpose of this exercise is to build teams, understand a range of problems and challenges faced by the business, and ideate around them with the aim of developing a prototype solution.

Phase 1: Understanding the Problem 
We were given six problem statements, and spent our first week understanding these problems. Having developed some understanding of the business and existing processes, at the end of the week we were assigned the problem of making recruitment process more efficient.

Phase 2: Ideate, Create an MVP
After delving into the problem statement, our team came up with a few ideas; which ranged from ways to better extract information from resumes, to creating an end-to-end solution for recruiters. We reached the consensus that the purpose of our minimum viable product (MVP) should be the development of a chatbot which would be able to answer retrieval based questions promptly, whilst also profiling and archiving users for future reference. In my experience of applying for roles, I’ve found that waiting for replies from recruiters can become frustrating – our use of chatbots aims to ease that pain and improve the user experience.

After a lot of online research, we came to a conclusion that the chatbot industry is still in its infancy; there is no well established framework, and players are competing against each other. With the current hype around chatbots, the team were hopeful that this would open up a world of possibilities for our work.

Phase 3: Build
Prototyping is a way to test our idea with a small scale implementation. We worked for four weeks to develop the prototype of our chatbot. On a personal level, through our team work I’ve been stretching myself to check on everybody’s progress to see if anybody needs help. I had to think of various events and tasks so that we could divide the work fairly, which is something I have never done before, and at times it was quite difficult to convince fellow team members to do something. I soon realised that anything proposed has to be backed by the proper resources to justify that ask.

On another note, it’s hard to digest the call back concept of Node JS when all you’ve played is with CPP and Java. Node JS was new to my teammates, and a number of times they ended up writing sync functions and returning values which required asynchronous computations. I was happy to take the role of teacher, and help them understand the essence of call backs.

For the bot itself, we used Microsoft’s bot framework. The advantage of using a framework like this is that it comes with a lot of developed, tested, secure and optimised code which speeds up the process of development. Since a framework has a developer community around it, the chances of scaling and finding help are much improved, but my team and I found it difficult to get relevant answers to our questions related to the bot framework. If you look into questions on stackoverflow tagged “botbuilder”, you won’t find more than 100 questions, so we had to ask a few questions on stackoverflow of our own – but I am glad that we could add to it.

Challenges
We did come across a few challenges in the process, which started with the lack of time. I always try to find best possible solution to a problem and write elegant code, but soon realised that in a few cases, it is wise to  compromise. Sometimes it’s about getting things done. Hovering through various blogs on chatbots, I realised how mind maps can be helpful to impart a common understanding to the team, but since we had little time at hand we had to start digging. We couldn’t draw mind maps.

I also realised while writing code/building, how easy it is to forget our goal. Our team found standup meetings important to keep the us on track for the final goal.

We made sure to follow some of the good practices mentioned in the botframework’s documentation. Like narrowing down the user choices to broader questions like “how can I help?”, which gives users a perspective of what the bot can assist them with. Such suggestions help the users make decisions quickly and properly and are therefore regarded as an industry best practice. We also added carousels to enhance the users’ experience.

On a sidenote
During the build phase, we had to nominate people from other teams and acknowledge the help that we get from our peers every week. I was eager to be the resource guy. And on second week people acknowledged that I was of great help. The Bot industry is still in its infancy and there is great potential in it. Working on this was an enriching and motivating experience for me.

What’s Next?
It was fun working on the Labs placement, and I learnt a lot. During the development our team clearly felt there was a need for a more integrated and common platform for communication like Facebook or LinkedIn. If appropriate to the business, we think that this project could be taken forward in the form of a Facebook Chatbot or an independent bot that could be integrated with our company’s official website. Thanks to the Labs team for giving us the opportunity to work in this way and explore these options!”

 

Tesco Labs India – Graduate Placement Program

Tesco Labs India recently launched a first-of-its kind initiative, conducting a six-week placement programme for the technology graduates who joined us from premier institutes across the country.

The initiative launched at Tesco Bengaluru, where 48 graduates learnt and put into practice product management, design thinking and engineering skills to build working prototypes.  This programme was largely run by Krishnan Ramaswami and Jamie Holmes with the support of the Tesco Labs team and many mentors from across our Technology teams.

The objectives of the Lab Placement Programme were:

    1. To get graduates used to lean ways of working
    2. Introduce the graduates organically to the retail business and functions
    3. Instil an innovation mindset from the very start of their careers at Tesco

The graduates were divided into teams, and challenged to create their own innovative solutions to existing problems experienced by Tesco customers and colleagues. 11 teams were created with graduates from different schools, with varying and complementary skill sets. We kicked the program off with a range of workshops designed to help the graduates navigate through various stages of the programme.

The first was a Design Thinking Workshop, which I was pleased to conduct. “Design Thinking” uses design techniques to solve problems innovatively. It takes a human-centred, rather than a technology-centred approach and has clear stages that help navigate around common innovation dilemma. The aim of this was to give the graduates a taste of the entire placement in 1 day, going through the main phases of Understand, Diverge, Decide, Prototype, Validate and Reiterate.

Second was our Engineering Workshop. This was designed to help the graduates get used to working with Tesco’s APIs. Thanks to Deepsona Das and Nitin Gupta for running this.

The UX Workshop helped the graduates understand concepts like wireframing and information architecture, and was led by Harry Betteridge who conducted this session remotely from UK.

And finally, our Product Management Workshop gave an introduction to Product Management; thanks to Hemanth Kota and Aviral Gupta for conducting this session.

Various HoSDs and Directors then gave a list of problem statements which were abstracted to 6 more generic problem statements. The teams were then asked to research these topics and present their findings to the rest of the cohort. This gave each team enough information on all problem statements to enable them to choose which they were most interested in pursuing. The graduates then selected their top 3 choices, from which they were assigned 1 problem statement per team.

The teams began working through the various phases of the design thinking session – Understand, Diverge, Decide, Prototype. Every Friday they presented their progress back to the Tesco Labs team and tried to integrate any notes or feedback they received. Great care was taken not to push the teams towards any ideas, so they could develop their own way of thinking and working.

Towards the end of the programme, on 24 August, the Tesco Labs India team organised a Demo Day, where the graduate teams’ innovative prototypes were showcased for our colleagues at Tesco Bengaluru. We were delighted with the turnout of more than 400 people!

The teams have come up with an amazing range of ideas:

  1. Jetsons – Automatic ‘romanticizing’ of product descriptions
  2. AJACs – Electronic glove to help the blind locate products
  3. Backbench Studios – Digital assistant to be used by customers in store
  4. Silver Stars – Crowd sourced gap scan from customers
  5. Grey Matter – Block chain to track products through the supply chain
  6. Bits Please – Smart recruiter chat bot (candidate interaction)
  7. Narcodes – Gap prediction algorithm
  8. COEUS – Recruitment referral recommendation & personality performance matching
  9. SARK – Demand forecasting for clothing (F&F)
  10. C Squad – Real time clearance forecasting system
  11. Targaryen – Supplier queries chatbot

and we’re all looking forward to seeing what they will present at their final task – pitching to our Technology Leadership Team on 26 September!