Winning teams that value design

Peter Holmes
Jan 3 · 6 min read

I’ve been working at Sainsbury’s for over three years. In my time here I’ve been fortunate enough to play a leading role in building a great reputation for our team. I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different areas of the business where no project is ever the same. That is a very exciting prospect and not something you get to do everywhere!

I joined in 2016. Since then I’ve seen exponential positive change and growth. Designers are now working across many different areas. These include Supply Chain, HR, Commercial, Retail, IT, Clothing, the list goes on… A fantastic achievement for the Experience Design team, a team that I’m very proud to be a part of and to help shape and grow.


My first project

My first project at Sainsbury’s was one of the only live products in store for colleagues. It had a single scrum team of 7 and it was on trial in 21 stores. It was a fantastic product using an IoT device to temperature check cooked meat in store.

This meant the business could be fully compliant when selling hot food ensuring that it is cooked to the right temperature. The process was fully paper based in all other stores, making it harder to track compliance.

When 2 design contractors left the business some weeks before I started on the project the scrum team had no design support. I remember on my first day working with the team a developer said:

The team had spent weeks making design decisions by themselves because of their need to progress and deliver.

I needed to bring value for design and support back into the team. In the process I wanted to make sure that other teams took notice and in turn that would start to build a great reputation for our team. It would highlight what we could achieve if we all work together.


Steps for winning teams

To do this I followed some simple steps that I have used for many other projects I have worked on, these are:

1. Evaluate the current vs the future

The current product was in a state of flux. It used old design patterns and there was a mixture of experiences that made it somewhat archaic.

A 3 week design sprint to research, map and understand enabled recommendations to be made. This meant we could improve upon what was already built.

A Lean Canvas was used to help to get everyone aligned to the problems, aims, measures and business goals. By bringing all this information back into the team we could start to get everyone understanding how design can help.

Lean canvas from the Hot Food workshop in 2016

2. Bring the whole team on the journey of discovery and design

I find that this is one of the most important ways of working processes. By doing this the team can take ownership of the designs and always feel included in the process. You’ll get less resistance and a collective influence when presenting to stakeholders.

Imagine designing a whole product in isolation and handing it over to a team to build. Would they feel enthusiastic about delivering that product having had no involvement whatsoever? If the team are included they will be more enthusiastic about discussing and delivering ideas, and building solutions.

Bringing the team along to witness research and testing first hand is fundamental to delivering a great product. The team often have insights that others don’t and can see things from a different perspective. This can open up more possibilities and highlight something that may have been missed. This process doesn’t end with design but continues right through development, testing and delivery.

3. Break the ice, get people collaborating in workshops

It’s important to get the whole team collaborating on design together. Co-creation sketch workshops have been a fantastic way to help do this.

A co-creation sketch workshop and the outcome… lots of ideas!

Give the team 5 minutes to sketch as many ideas as possible around a problem. These solutions are then taken forward to design and test. This is a great way to air ideas in a trusted and non-biased environment.

These types of workshops are fun, break the ice and enable collaboration even if you’re not a designer. They give everyone a voice!

4. Make design visible

Put designs up on the wall in an area for the team to see. Enable them to see designs at home through digital channels. Add design to stories to the agile development tool of choice for sprint ceremonies. Give the team the ability to discuss the designs in an open and collaborative way.

The more visible the design, the simpler it is for the team to discuss and deliver them in the way they are intended.

5. Sit with the team

Sitting with the development team is crucial. Conversations take place all the time. If you’re at another desk across the office you’re not always guaranteed to be involved in those ‘on-the-fly’ decisions. Being visible and in hearing distance is hugely important. It will mean you can have an input when being elsewhere might mean you don’t.

It will also give the team more opportunity to deliver at a faster pace making each sprint more efficient.

6. Be available and supportive at all times

Paring up with a developer
Paring up with a developer
Design and development pairing will help to speed up delivery and support the team

Following on from my previous point there are many other ways to do this. Pairing with a developer. Opening other methods of communication for when you’re working at other locations. Asking team members how things are going. Spending time having lunch with the team.

All these things will mean that you are core part of the team, and the team are a core part of the design process!


The outcome

Being brought into the team gave everyone an unrivalled passion for design. In return everyone valued the design process and what design can do to support product development. It proved to be a resounding success and our team got involved in much, much more.

With every project since I’ve made sure that I’ve followed these steps. I’ve worked with different teams in many areas of the business. A majority of teams that haven’t collaborated with design before. As we mature and grow our processes are being embedded across the business at an astonishing rate.

These steps have built trust and have formed great working relationships. But ultimately they have helped to grow many winning teams that value design.

If you’d like to chat about anything in this article then please follow me on Twitter @petergholmes and Medium @xd.peter.holmes


Sainsbury’s are hiring and we’d love for you to help our team deliver some amazing products. If you would like to read more or apply please click here.

Sainsbury’s Experience Design

Read stories from the Experience Design Team at…

Peter Holmes

Written by

Senior Experience Designer @ Sainsbury’s Digital

Sainsbury’s Experience Design

Read stories from the Experience Design Team at Sainsbury’s. A group of creative specialists of copywriters, experience designers and researchers, who work hard to know our customers and colleagues to design UK firsts!

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