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 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.

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!”


India Graduate Program – Meet the Graduates

Saransh Mehta took part in the 2017 Labs Graduate Placement. He is an aspiring Product Manager, with a background in both engineering and science.

“While one would think that developers just need to know the language and the skill to write working code, the Labs placement activity made us think otherwise.

Before we jumped into writing code and building our working prototypes, we were taught about a certain way of thinking. I personally always felt that products should be designed to communicate stories, and the design thinking workshop we experienced carved out a path to understand how to do that.

Meenakshi, one of the product managers at Tesco Labs, had a couple of activities for all of us to dive into. As a mock brainstorming activity, we were asked to design a solution to improve cab journeys to the office for Tesco employees in Bengaluru. By taking a user-centric, solution oriented approach, we were able to come up with a well thought out and an in-consensus interpretation to the problem. Creating something of value being central to our exploration, we realized the importance of independent thinking in groups. It helped us come up with amazing ideas and finally with all the ideas on the table, we were able to narrow down the ones that were the most practical and that we, as a team, believed in.

The next challenge was to apply these learnings in our Labs project, our problem statement being along the lines of re-imagining the recruitment process at Tesco. We started with understanding the company recruitment and interview processes by talking to all the possible stakeholders, be it HR, or people from the interview panel. Once we understood what problems looked like from different perspectives, we started to narrow down, filter and combine the problems into separate categories and sub-categories. With the next step, we diverged, independently thinking of solutions to the problem categories.

Categorizing problems

Ideating. Breakthrough thinking. Breaking down the solution.

We matched customer needs with what is technologically feasible, and a viable business strategy.

Thinking about the future. The Next Big Thing?

Our biggest takeaway from the design thinking workshop was that we needed to pen things down, get things out of our head on to paper and create a distributed system for idea-sharing. Once you bring your thoughts out of your head into the world, you are essentially freeing up processing power. Following this practice, on parameters of need, feasibility and innovation, we could imagine and analyse our proposed solutions.

As an industry standard, agile practitioners use Kanban boards to set the priorities right and expand their memory-horizon. For our project, we used Trello boards to keep matters in check. To assign tasks, to organize our work, to ensure that we didn’t lose out on our ideas, we updated the Trello board daily during our stand-ups, which created a story line for us. With updated boards every morning, all of us knew what we had to do by the end of the day. Apart from task prioritising, we needed a structure as part of the team building process. Within the team, we tried to understand each other’s predispositions to be able to put every person in the right role. This idea revolves around making the best use of your team talents. All of us may have the same job title, yet we’re all very different people with different inclinations. After much deliberation, we decided upon four concrete roles in our team. We had a code reviewer, a researcher (product and feature critic), an integrator (breadth of technological knowledge, can get multiple things to work together) and a planner in our team. By creating well-defined tasks for every person, we were able to build confidence, reduce conflicts and cover all the aspects of product development needed for a successful outcome.”

Saransh Mehta,
Tesco Labs Graduate Programme, 2017

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!

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!