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Discover how Sainsbury's have benefited from becoming an Agile enterprise
Sainsbury's is leading the way in recruiting the talent it needs to achieve genuine business agility
The challenge for large corporates running to catch up with the dizzying pace of digital development is simple: how to achieve agility while keeping a multimillion business running day to day.
For Sainsbury's, the process of building an Agile development function has been a priority over the last 12 months. From a situation where the supermarket employed only 18 developers, most of who had been acquired through buying another company, it now has a world-leading function across three sites, as well as a Digital Lab at its Holborn HQ.
Head of Development, Kim Hartlev, led the effort to build the in-house development function, but as he explained at a recent Reed IT Leaders' Forum, achieving that was no easy task, particularly given the competition for digital talent across every sector, especially retail.
"In the past, retailers were competing on price and square footage, but the key metric now is data and technology," Hartlev said. "There's been a clear shift there – our CEO, in every speech, talks about the challenges and opportunities around technology."
So what did Hartlev need from his new, beefed-up team? "They had to be world class, but also to be able to learn quickly about the specific needs and issues facing a retailer," he explained. "In addition, you're trying to attract people to this job in a company that might not be the sexiest for a technologist – this isn't Google, or Facebook, or even Microsoft."
To that end, the supermarket launched an advertising campaign across Manchester to find the right people.
"We wanted to attract a diverse team," Hartlev says whose team now includes 25 nationalities and a greater proportion of women. "We try to attract the right talent, so we're involved in meet ups, we're part of some of the tech press to position Sainsbury's as a destination for smart tech people."
The efforts have paid off: Sainsbury's now have 300 engineers, developers and Agile coaches across three locations in the UK. At the London HQ the challenge is keeping salaries under control in an exceptionally competitive marketplace. For its large facility in Coventry the pool of available talent is small, and attracting people to work out of town can be tricky. In Manchester the focus has fallen largely on growing a Northern digital hub for the retailer.
So far, the benefits of the new, Agile function have been felt across a range of indicators. Measurement has improved, for one thing, as well as the speed of deployment.
"Traditionally our e-commerce platform would be released on an eight-week schedule, making it a Big Bang deployment with lots of people involved, lots of manual steps we need to complete. Also, when you deploy things two months later people's memories aren't so good, meaning maintenance is slower and less efficient," says Hartlev.
Now that's changed: "We can fix things in real time, with zero down-time deployments, allowing us to fail fast, to experiment more. We can test better, get quicker feedback and we're learning now on a daily basis."
For Hartlev, the satisfaction is obvious: he has successfully positioned Sainsbury's as a destination for some of the brightest digital talents out there, and in the process pushed the supermarket ahead of its rivals with intuitive applications underpinned by best in class infrastructure. And the secret? Keep learning.
"We have started to move away from big up-front design," he says. "In our development teams we now use emergent design where we can change things every day: that's simply because we learn every day, so we can improve every day."
Hartlev was speaking at the recent IT Leaders Forum event in Birmingham. The Forum is supported by Reed Technology Leadership Practice and was established to allow those with responsibility for IT Strategy to develop their knowledge and professional networks. Membership of the forum is controlled to ensure maximum benefit for participants.
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