Making Change Stick: Lessons Learned From Helping Teams Improve at the Co-Op

The Co-op has a wide range of software teams, working closely with its variety of businesses (from food to funerals) to build and improve services for use by over 65,000 colleagues, 5 million members, and many more customers.

Software team structures, ways of working, and ways of planning and financing work have all been very varied across the many parts of this huge business. This talk will take a look at how we’ve moved to a more consistent approach - using long-running teams that own systems, and agile ways of working - while still allowing teams to experiment and tailor their approach to what works best in their context.

We’ll cover:

  • A tour through the very different types of teams, roles, and ways of working seen in different parts of this varied business
  • Reflections on changes that have brought improvements, and others that didn’t get the benefits we hoped
  • Advice on how to encourage interest and curiosity in all of this, so that improvements stay alive and keep getting built on.

You’ll come away with insights into how teams work across a 180-year-old organization, and a range of ideas that you can try applying where you work.

What's the focus of your work these days?

I’m helping improve skills, practices, and team ways of working - focused mainly on teams in payments and e-commerce for food retail, and also working with engineering leadership across all of Co-op’s different businesses.

What's the motivation for your talk at QCon London 2024?

I see any big organization as an interesting puzzle - there’s so much history, and such variation across different teams, it’s hard to understand how it works and how to make helpful changes. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what kinds of change help or hinder, and I’m keen to talk through this experience with an audience.

How would you describe your main persona and target audience for this session?

This talk is aimed at anyone who’s interested in influencing across multiple teams. When you’re one step removed from the day-to-day work of a team, it gets much harder to give good advice, understand their challenges, and help any new practices get the benefits you’re hoping for. 

Is there anything specific that you'd like people to walk away with after watching your session?

Insight into how a range of teams have been set up across a varied business, and how various changes have made improvements. The examples and ideas will be useful for anyone who’s interested in helping teams improve. 


Neil Vass

Engineering Manager at Co-Op with 18+ Years in Tech, Previously Worked at BBC and Tessella

Neil has 18 years’ experience in the tech industry, having worked in a variety of roles in software development and delivery management. He’s especially interested in team dynamics, coaching, and helping teams and organizations get focused around the outcomes they want to achieve.

Neil is currently an engineering manager at Co-op, helping product teams and stakeholders from across the Co-op collaborate on new products and services. He’s worked with lots of parts of the business, from systems used by food store and funeral home colleagues through to public-facing websites and e-commerce systems. A long time ago, one of Neil’s first ever jobs was also at the Co-op, stacking shelves in a Scottish food store aged 16.

Previous experience has been at a mix of working in-house at large organisations - like the BBC, where Neil worked on the CBeebies website and school science campaigns - and as a consultant supporting multiple large client organizations. Some highlights include automating medical image analysis, developing systems to support protein crystallography research, and using force and motion tracking sensors to build a toothbrush tracking application with real-time 3D display to study brushing technique. 

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Find Neil Vass at:


Tuesday Apr 9 / 10:35AM BST ( 50 minutes )


Whittle (3rd Fl.)


organizing at scale learning culture building teams


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