I’ve not blogged for a while so thought it would be nice to restart the blog on a positive note with a story about working with a new team of potential industry stars of the future at one of IBM’s clients.
The focus of the blog is on the power of design thinking and hackathons (even small ones!) to turn ideas into compelling prototypes and stories.
Pets at Home is a leading UK based pet care retailer. The organisation has a fantastic focus on their customers and a great forward thinking attitude (a great recipe for innovation). Pets at Home and IBM have worked on a number of innovative projects in recent years and when I heard they’d started a new apprentice scheme focused on IT development skills I offered to set up and run a mini hackathon with the new team.
This resulted in a three day event. No horses were involved, although we did get to know Kevin the dog – see below. Day One focused on the team learning of a number of cloud development skills and tools, including an introduction of IBM Watson capabilities. This session was led by my IBM Cloud colleagues, Stephen Woolman and Brian Say.
I took over the lead on Day Two by facilitating a design thinking workshop focused around a typical customer journey. We created a persona of “Debbie”, a typical Pets customer, along with an empathy map so we began to understand her. Among the things we learned about Debbie was she had a rabbit, a new puppy called “Kevin” and two children.
We created an as is scenario covering Debbie’s visit to a Pets at Home store, ranging from first thoughts about her visit to activities after she had left the store. We identified a number of potential pain points and opportunity areas which could improve Debbie’s shopping journey and experience.
The next step was to generate big ideas. Everyone was encouraged to develop ideas from their knowledge of the business, the empathy map, as is scenario and wider discussion. The team created many ideas, including as we hoped a few off the wall ones. I was beginning to see what a great team of the Pets at Home IT apprentices are. Their willingness to learn, passion for their business and creativity were all very clear.
We converged to assess the ideas as a team, grouping similar ones and mapping ideas to a prioritisation grid, balancing potential value (for Debbie and the business) with feasibility. Our focus was on developing a prototype in the next 36 hours! The team agreed four items which represented the best ideas to consider taking forward and finally selected two, the first to be worked on by “Team One” and the other by “Team Two”.
I don’t want to give too much detail away on the ideas but… One idea involved identifying and engaging both Debbie as the customer and Kevin as her pet when they arrived at the store. The second idea focused on engaging Debbie in a different way to provide key advice and guidance on topics such as pet nutrition (a key area of concern for Debbie as Kevin is still a young pup).
The solutions developed over the next day used a range of different tech in interesting combinations, including IBM Watson visual recognition and conversational capabilities. Key design considerations included customer privacy and data security.
Working with Stephen and Brian from the IBM team and a representative of one of Pets’ other partners, the apprentices worked their socks off to create a working capability through the afternoon and evening of Day Two and into Day Three.
One of the key messages in the Innovation Thinking and Practice undergraduate module I run at the University of Leeds is “you can have the best idea in the world but if you can’t communicate it it won’t go anywhere”. With this in mind, we interrupted the coding and testing to develop a storyline for how the two solutions would give value to Debbie and Kevin and deliver significant business value to Pets at Home.
Once again the apprentices proved to be quick learners. By the early afternoon of Day Three they had the prototypes ready to demo and stories ready to tell. I think the hardest bit of all for them was just before they presented to members of the Pets at Home IT leadership team, including the CIO… because actually when they demoed their solutions and told their stories it was clear they were developing great communication skills as well as technical ones. The team answered all questions confidently and said how much they wanted to take their ideas forward through to live deployment.
Everyone thanked everyone else and the hackathon closed. All involved found it a hugely positive experience. My focus inside and outside IBM in the last few years has increasingly been on helping develop the next generation of technology / business professionals and it was a pleasure to work with the apprentice team of so early in their career journey. I look forward to seeing the apprentices flourish in the future and their prototypes develop into live capabilities in the coming months.