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Dive into the world of agile transformation with Siobhán Mc Feeney and Bryon Kroger on the stage at Prodacity. In this talk, Siobhán details Kohl's journey through adopting new operational models and tackling the challenges of digital transformation as the CTO of a large retail organization. 


Bryon Kroger (00:15):

Kohl's been around for a long time.




Large enterprise, over 60 years. You've got vast store base, brick and mortar, also a really strong digital business. So, I'm curious, we've heard a lot today about strategy, but how do you operationalize some of these things, build them into operating models, and what kind of challenges have you faced?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (00:36):

I'm going to start with the easy question. I Paul in the audience, the guy who was up here just last time? He kind of set the stage. So we're going to now unpack all the black holes as to what we actually did, starting in 2020, to build an operating model for an organization that had had, I don't know how many operating models it's had in its time, but many. The one we came into and we found was, it's not a surprise, it was hyper waterfall. We had a development, mostly offshore. Most engineering managers were people or managers of teams, of offshore consultants. They had not had hands on keyboards for a very, very long time. Everyone did talk about product, but then we took our requirements list and did it. So it was a very project, none of this bad, all of it, a way to build software and it actually had made the company successful to that point.


But we had this really interesting, and I think Paul mentioned it, but we had this really interesting window. COVID kicked in, was it February, March, that timeframe, 2020. And so we sat down and said, alright, when do you actually get to do it all, and do it all together? And full disclosure, I am also an ex-Pivot. I was at Pivotal Labs for about five years and had the chance to work with folks like yourself and other large enterprises who were trying to do this thing. And we saw this window, and we were like, "oh my god, we could actually, the operating model and the blueprint, the book we all built, all the diagrams...what if we could actually do it at scale in a public company?" And so then we spent the first year - and this all happened in the last four years, but when I look back at it, I'm like "man, we were insane."


We started off, the first thing we did was we built a product catalog, and it seems like such a tiny little thing. We had a gazillion projects and we built a product catalog and we tried to organize around end users. And honestly I remember talking to a lot of the folks there who were super-retail experience, very passionate about the customer, but the words we were using, I could just see the whole full on glaze over. People were like, "absolutely, product catalog. what the hell is she talking about?" Right? You just knew it wasn't landing.


So we built a product catalog and this is where I got the first alert. We are, this is fine, we're doing it. We're going to roll out the operating model, balanced teams, we're going to have SRE, we're going to have full, dedicated paired programming. And we are a little bit religious about the whole pairing and maybe a tiny bit about XP, but we'll have designers on the teams.


And then we had this moment where this fabulous person who'd worked there for a long time, he said to me, "that catalog, thank god we did that. That was amazing. So at least the catalog's done." And I'm roaring laughing going, "dude, that's like V one...we are years away from being - we will be doing this forever." And I remember how I broke his heart, he thought he was done. He was like, "oh ****, I've signed up for'll never end." And I think that was the first sign of like, "wow, we've got some work to do." Super passionate people knew the industry, but this operating model was going to require them to constantly be slightly uncomfortable, and then the whole ambiguity thing, and you're not certain, and you have to pivot. All of that seems easy. And we're saying...all these talks today were amazing...


It's such an impact on humans who want more certainty. And I sort of realized that really early on, I was like, "oof, this is going to take a minute." And then we had to, the gentleman from Belfast [David Anderson] said this really well earlier, but our business partners, not THE business, our business partners, our stakeholders, also had to come on this journey.


So we pivoted this whole organization but, then we started build really cool software, mostly customer-facing software. But we started to build this, and then, if you think about it, we were building all the software that used to be wedded and molded to those old business processes. And now we ripped the software away, but the processes were just as old and rickety. So now suddenly there was this bigger standard deviation between how our businesses did some activities and how the software worked. And so it started to get a little bit...not tenuous, more just awkward and very obvious that we needed a broader transformation.


So that was sort of the very first...we rolled out the full, if you will, Pivotal Labs model at scale, created brand new jobs. We did, oh my god, brought HR and Finance in. Just as a cue, if anyone wants to do this, your two favorite people - always bring them in. Maybe legal if you can. They'll write the new job descriptions. We took a whole new funding model, but we truly did do it at the very first. Haven't done a capital planning cycle in four years. You're welcome. It's been fabulous, but you got to do it early. And so we did all that early.

Bryon Kroger (05:38):

And, I mean kind of an assumption here is, all the things we talked about this morning, like early morning before lunch, basically you've got your platform, your path-to-prod and you're able to ship apps. And the first one was a product catalog. I'm sure there were more. How do you go about organizing that? You said tension started to emerge. How do you get people aligned? I have a suspicion, and maybe you didn't use this, but I know from your time as the innovation strategy team lead when you were working with us, things like growth boards and goaling mechanisms like OGSMs or OKRs, did you use any of that?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (06:15):

We used all of them. So when I said the operating model, we did the teams, and the structure, and the jobs, and then a wise person told me, if you take something away, especially from a more traditional organization, it'll feel like a loss unless you have something to replace it. So, I don't believe in status updates. I find them full on yawn, I don't want to hear what people did. I don't need your list of your top five from last week - who cares? But I do believe in growth boards as a concept, as a way to have a conversation about what do you need help with, how does it work? So we stopped status reports, which caused everyone full on hives. That was a whole serious shock. And then we moved to this model.


And one of the things, it was sort of an experiment, we're still doing it, it's causing a little bit of stress, but it's kind of an amazing way to see a big organization who's done things a certain way, react and adapt. So our growth boards were open, so we'd open it to 500 - 600 people, but not everyone gets to speak because not everyone should be in these places if the team gets to ask for help, et cetera. So we'd have these massive meetings and it, you know it, it's hard to talk in a 500-person meeting and it's really hard if you don't agree with what's being said.


So how do you have that conversation? So, it has been three years and I got a lot of feedback, have the meeting smaller, close the doors. I wouldn't record it, maybe do a bit of this. And I was like, "that's awesome feedback, thank you so much. We're going to make it bigger." So, the audience bigger, democratize all of that.


We're going to publish everything. We really try to be relentless about - when it's confidential, sure - but for everything else, it's all available. You should be able to see all the backlogs, you should be able to see all the drum beats. So we did all the drum beats, we did growth boards, and we did, we pushed hard on the OGSM model. Truthfully, it's kind of fallen to the wayside a wee bit. But we are relentless about, you've got to describe an outcome and we deliver quarterly value for every product team. And if you not delivering, if you can't define value in your product every quarter, I mean we're a public company, we have reporting, we have investors. If you're not able to describe that, we'll talk about whether it really is an enduring product and whether you should...So defining value. So we've tried some things. They work great.


We pivoted a little bit on certain things. We forced a new technique where everybody sits and reads the document, very Amazon-like for the first 10 minutes, and then we go and talk about it. The most uncomfortable 10 minutes of your life, people are just like [anxious], and so now we say, "turn off your cameras," it gives people, just some ability to do it.


But one thing I didn't mention, we went fully remote and we've stayed that way. Kohl's is, some parts of the business are, I mean a lot of our associates of over a hundred thousand are in stores. So they're the ultimate remote. But more the corporate roles we're in either in California or Milwaukee and we just went fully remote. So we have our Kohl's Associates, Technology Associates in 41, 42 states. I don't care where they live. I care that they work well with their team. They figure out some pairing times, and they're super happy getting up every day. They do that, then we'll be off to the races.

Bryon Kroger (09:34):

Nice, nice. Can you maybe describe what goes into a growth board? We didn't talk about those today.

Siobhán Mc Feeney (09:42):

Yeah. Well, I mean the intent, I think we've probably modeled it a little bit for Kohl's, but we use them...we do it every six weeks. We tried every month, we tried a few different things. I think one of the things you'll hear, everything we've done was some model somebody built. We took some stuff from Google, we took some stuff from Pivotal Labs. We learned a lot. We learned from a lot of our clients. I mean I see Rob, we learned from Boeing, we learned from a lot of clients over the years and we put these all together. And the growth board is an opportunity every six weeks for the product team to get together with 500 of their closest friends and talk about what's going on, what they need help with, what might be in the way, or if they're going to pivot or preserve on a decision. And it's an amazing way - they do it in these sessions, we record everything. And so nobody, first of all, you have an opportunity to weigh in or you have an opportunity to see the recording, but they make decisions on like, "we're going to stop working on this. It's not working for us." Or "we're going to continue down and speak now or forever hold your peace." It's kind of powerful. So six weeks seems to be about the right time and if we hear that it isn't, we change it.

Bryon Kroger (10:56):

Okay. And in the VC world, a growth board traditionally would be when you're going back to your VC for additional funding. Do you follow that kind of model? Is there a mechanism to defund or not refund the team?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (11:08):

Defund the teams? Yeah, I'll go back with that one.

Bryon Kroger (11:11):

Or is it more of keeping teams whole but refocusing them or maybe a combination of both sometimes.

Siobhán Mc Feeney (11:19):

Yeah, it's probably a combination of both. So you're totally right. That really used to be the Pivot preserve: more funding or less funding. We fund teams. So we'll fund a product team that we believe is an enduring product that Kohl's wants: digital marketing, returns as a service...It's a...and we'll fund that team if at some point we go, "hey, that isn't an enduring product anymore. It isn't something..." that team will go away and become something else. Now we have not had that yet, but that is a philosophy. They don't have to live on forever.


It was part of the reason when that gentleman said to me that the catalog is done and I'm like, "what are you talking about? It is a moment in time." So the product teams, they don't get to, they do ask for money, they usually ask for headcount as you can imagine. So one of their asks for help will be, we need more engineers to increase...or we need a designer. And we try and make sure every discipline is at the growth board. So nowhere to hide. They're looking for designers. And John's on, I'm like, "yo, John, you're up." And we're very...we're remote, but very vocal and active. So you'll see John's name flying across the screen and we're like, "John, turn on your camera. Let's go." So it is a really interesting way for them to ask for help. It's not always money, but it turns into money.

Bryon Kroger (12:39):

Alright, I have a tactical question I want to ask too and then I want to jump back high level, but you've mentioned people on the teams quite often. You talked about people being remote so you can get the talent. You've hired all my favorite people by the way. I was also trying to hire them, but they went to you. Not all of them, but you've hired some really, really great folks. First of all, what are you looking for? Hiring for? And then what are you doing to make Kohl's so attractive? I love what you do, you're an amazing person, but I think, well I could work on defense systems and really cool missions or I could work for a department store, but people are coming to work for you in droves...incredible people. How are you doing that?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (13:23):

He's trying not to insult me there.


I'm trying not to insult.


Do y'all get that? Feeling it. Fine. Alright. I'm not telling you all my secrets here. But we, and we believe this from the start, so we have a depth of, KT is a Kohl's Tech Associate, KT associates who have been there for years and have a wealth of knowledge about retail and understand what makes Kohl's special, what makes it unique and we're curious and interested to learn. When we came and said, 'hey, we're going to do this differently."


"OK, I'm in" and didn't know how to do it, but were open to it being a journey of learning and I mean for-ever. And we talk about this all the time, how do you want to get good at this? It's like living a long life, you're going to have to eat well and exercise every day, every week, every month, every year for the rest of your life.


I mean so depressing. You're like, where's the pill to make me all fit and happy, it's the ongoing, you will have to do this forever. So we had this great pool of talent and we said, "okay, if you marry that with folks who actually know how to do this..." you talked about pairing earlier about "pair with someone who knows - people who've actually done it." So Paul had come to Kohl's a few months before me. Then I had a small selection of folks that I had brought along, and we just actually started to hire from our network. And the reason I think so many people have been excited about joining Kohl's technology is a mission to build amazing products, in a way at scale, this way of working at scale that actually could make meaningful difference to not only the technologists, the designers, the data scientists, but I mean we serve 60 million customers, but we also serve a hundred thousand employees, those associates in stores.


And that's a grind, that job. That is an hourly wage. That is a really hard job where associates are out there sometimes dealing with customers who are happy, sometimes dealing with customers who aren't, with technology that very candidly wasn't awesome. And they're always very kind when I go to the store and they're like, "no, everything's great." And I'm like, "I'm sorry, we're going to do better." But it's a hard job. And so when you sell them the mission, and I hear you, there's cool, cool places to work. Kohl's has got a really legitimate chance at getting these type of folks if they want to build amazing software, changing a hundred thousand people's lives, that can change 60 million people's experience. I mean it's not a bad thing. And also, I'm super funny. So they like that. You're welcome. I'm also the closer on all the hiring if anyone's...And we're also hiring...anyone? We're also hiring. Always hiring.

Bryon Kroger (16:05):

Yeah. No, I think that makes a huge difference. I mean I said it before about Paul, I feel the same way about you is people that I've met that regardless of what you were doing, I just feel like I would like to go work for you. I think there's something to be said for loving to come into work today. And I will say I've talked to you about some of the tech that you all have employed, especially the in-store experiences for both associates and customers. And it's pretty incredible - one, the amount of data that you all have, and how you're utilizing that data in real-time to make decisions that benefit the business, that achieve those outcomes. And also you've got a massive supply chain. And that was kind of the, I said I wanted to go back high level, how are you getting after this massive value stream that you have? I mean it goes way back into supply chain logistics, digital store experience. You still have brick and mortar store experience, and you've been dealing with COVID. Are there any tools, like tactical tools that you're using to get everybody aligned on what's the next most important problem to solve?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (17:09):

You really are asking the doozies. Yeah, I think what we're doing, and we've really been focused on the last two or three years. That sort of gets to your question. Kohl's is not unique as a retailer. Most retailers have been looking at the problem in different ways. Let's fix the supply chain. Let's look at merchandising. Now we're going to fix things in store. I think some of your favorites, the Targets, et cetera, maybe started to connect those and look horizontally. And two, three years ago while we were fixing things, and bringing self-pickup, and drive-up during COVID to Kohl's, we also were looking realistically at the decision - in a retailer starts way upstream, and a merchant decides to build or to make something and ends up in a store or online. And the journey that thing goes through is a special experience that you have to actually go and learn about that's unbelievable.


And I had a chance at a town hall, I see Jackie smiling at me here, a while ago, and I thought, how do you describe to folks in the room who work in like "I am a buyer or a planner or I sit in finance or I'm in legal. "Why would they have any idea how that system behind the curtain works? And so we took a lamp on a walk. And the lamp was purchased by a merchant and this lovely lamp, it started its life ,and it was going to get to some place on some, I don't know, it was going to get to Vacaville, it's going to be on the shelf. And then we did this picture of, "it goes through 19 of these merchant systems, and nine pricing systems, and then I don't even want to tell you that's all connected to some mainframe that nobody wants to talk about anymore, into the supply chain that then does 15 gyrations of something else, and then it hits like a DC or an EFC, and then that's a whole mysterious thing that then ends up in a store or possibly online.


And then it gets shipped and there's...anyway. We did this thing and people were like, "oh my god." And I'm like, "that poor lamp is tattered and torn by the time it gets to its home. So how do you think...?" And so we went on this journey of how do you force people to look left and and that's something we talk a lot about. "Sure, I work on digital or I'm currently working in the stores," but you have a responsibility - actually, you have a duty to look left and right. So what you're working on is getting input from somewhere and it has output to something else and you have to connect that. And the most, the folks who are doing the best at I think Kohl's technology, who are succeeding the fastest, aren't the ones who were trained up on Agile or Lean. They're not the smartest, they all didn't go to Yale or whatever.


They're the ones who are the most curious, and they care deeply about what is left and right. And so, we've started to connect all the merchandising decisions, all those systems all the way down, and rationalize, and take out...I love that AI has not been a big topic. Everywhere I go in the last couple of months I'm like, "oh my god, I can't even talk about it." But we truly are using the power of data science and the power of AI to take a lot of manual workloads out of the system, which is important. And give freedom back to merchants to be merchants, and buyers to be buyers, and supply chain experts, to be supply chain. And they were Excel magicians, right? I don't know if anyone else knows it, but the world runs on Excel. Who knew? I did work for someone years ago. We were going to turn Xcel off for a week, but we never did that.We never had the bravery to do it, but somebody should do it. I really encourage it.


So we've been forcing teams to do that. And then there's only one thing that works. It's super simple. You have to make everyone rotate. Everyone has to rotate in their jobs, all the time. And I will rotate if they have somewhere for me to go, I will rotate. But everyone who works for me rotates. Other than my head of infrastructure right now, and CISO. Every product leader. So who ran digital and marketing used to be in supply chain and merchandising, supply chain and merchandising....


And so first of all, it stops you falling in love with your team too much. You will definitely leave the place better than you found it because you're going somewhere, and you're hoping that person leaves it better than they found it, right? So you've got a responsibility to do that. And that rotation means you have now a point of view across all these things and then that feeds into your team.


And then we rotate all the way down. We don't take the whole team and turn everyone every day. We obviously have a super anchor and others that we keep locked in, but we will rotate. And rotation is the other part of why I think you can get the whole ecosystem better. And we start putting front end developers into the platform. We just moved somebody who worked in the credit ops area, he's now running platform, and he's like, "what were they thinking?" And I'm like, "great question. You should go talk to them." And they're now moving over where he was and went, "what was he thinking?" It's awesome. So rotation, we talked about pairing earlier. Rotations are hugely important.

Bryon Kroger (22:13):

That's awesome. You mentioned looking left and right and more thinking about the, we call it the heritage organization, the legacy organization. But I think one trap that I see folks fall into, and in fact, this was a criticism, we've showered a lot of love on Pivotal Labs. So I'll shower a little bit of criticism is what I call the Lean Trap, which is teams starting with that thin vertical slice, and they only look up and down that slice of "how can I make this even more joyful," instead of left and right. There's just blue ocean space in the product, and that tends to lead to a lot of local optimization, but you have a global optimization problem. So how have you handled that with your new teams, your modernization teams, making sure that they're able to, within their product lane, continue to do discovery and not get stuck in that lean trap?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (23:08):

Yeah, I mean it's a real problem. I am sure everyone here has, you did point out that one problem, huh? We're calling them legendary by the way, not legacy. We're moving into the legendary teams.

Bryon Kroger (23:18):

The legendary teams

Siobhán Mc Feeney (23:19):

I think it's a's more politically correct. I think I'm answering your question, but if I'm not, I know you'll keep me on track. So we really have...we don't have requirement docs, we don't do any of that, but we really do...we're religious about discovery and framing, and not just once, you don't just do it and off you go to the races for three to four years. So when we start to feel a little bit stale, or when we feel like we've gone way too perfect on this one thing, and we're not seeing the velocity, we're not seeing the value actually, to be honest with you, we do, I'm going to go off on a tangent because it's important. We do this. Every product team defines their value and then every quarter I sign this, I feel it's kind of like a legal document, but I'm not sure it is a legal document, but she makes me feel like it is our CFO. And it basically is here's the commitment to value delivered.


And then I sign it and she signs it. But I feel once it's in DocuSign, I feel like I've given away something and I'm like, "I don't want to hit that button." But we do it. And when I start to see that slow down, that's an indicator, a leading indicator to me, something's not working, something's getting a little...they've either gone too deep and they've nothing else left, or they're not understanding what's happening on the other sides. So we will re-incept a product, we will rerun a D&F. So we'll go back and use, and now I'm going to give some love back to Pivotal Labs, the techniques of making sure that you don't fall into that trap, that you figure out and discover what the next best thing is, or that maybe what you've done is enough, it's enough. Just let it be and move on to something else. I think reusing the disciplines's insanely important, but I think people forget. You do it once, you get a little bit routine on it. But we did a whole journey a few years ago of reinception. We would force people to reincept and they were so annoyed. They were like, "we know what we're doing, what's wrong with you?" And then we'd do the reinception and it was awesome. People would be "like, god, this thing didn't work." Yep!


So I think using all those things keeps us...I don't know when people are going to slow down. I don't know when they've gone too far down a rabbit hole. We did pick a product a couple of years ago. We had a hypothesis. We thought that returns would be a great thing, and returns is a big business for Kohl's, and we are very, very good at taking your returns. Please come by. But we really wanted to do a self-return business and we really thought it would be good. And long story short, it's in version maybe 3.0 right now. But what actually was important about that is, the lesson we learned: we went too long. We let them, they slogged, they powered through. They were just, it was sort of if anyone has kids or teenagers, they're like, "I got it. Just give me five more minutes."


And I'm like, "no....god." And I was terrible. I was like, "we'll give her one more go." And then this is the more funny part of the end of it. We're going to go back, we're going to rethink about it in the right space, but we put it to the side. We actually said, we're going to pivot on this. We're going to stop for now. But the product manager was just passionate about this and wanted to just hold onto one box, just one. If I could just have the one box and I'm like, that's super creepy. Why do you want one box? The thing didn't work. So, it is important to let stuff go and then know when to pivot. But I do think those disciplines of reinception and all that sort of get you out of...

Bryon Kroger (26:55):

Yeah, the sunk cost fallacy is strong. I think we talked about platforms a lot today, and I've seen a lot of organizations get into some costs on their platforms that are just unbelievable and untenable. And how do you know when to shut it off? And how do you communicate that? I mean, assuming you've made a large investment.

Siobhán Mc Feeney (27:20):

I don't think we're unique in our company or in any agency. It's less, I feel like it's less now. I may be wrong. Folks tend to be quite religious about their choice of platforms and what they love and what they don't, and what companies they love and what companies they don't. We definitely have a philosophy. We are agnostic. I don't care. I want it to work. I want it to work in our ecosystem. We don't need every hyper-scaler. We need to be thoughtful about our choices. That's easy to say. And then you get into dealing with platform folks who've dedicated their lives. They all have the tattoos, everyone's in, and I'm like, "whoosh, this is a nightmare." And so, a couple of things we've done. If you are not bringing your developers, and they're not using what you bring to bear, I'm not going to argue with you which platform you want or which way you want to...


But if developers don't like it, if it's too hard to use...there you are, you're done. You kind of lost the movie. And that is part of it, right? And then how often, that's why we rotated the platform lead, we said used to build soft. He used to be an app dev person. Now he's going to go back and that empathy to build across. But yeah, I don't think we're anywhere unique. We probably went a little bit too heavy on "this is going to be the one thing. We are full on OpenShift or we're full on PC." Whatever your platform happens to be. If developers don't use it, that's simply the measure. It doesn't matter.

Bryon Kroger (28:53):

And I mentioned or referenced, we've had conversations about some of the cutting edge tech that you're doing. How do you balance that with the core backend things that are making the business run? You mentioned mainframes earlier. You have mainframes running? Lots of...

Siobhán Mc Feeney (29:08):

No, what are you talking about? Nobody has a mainframe. Well, I think what we did early on, setting up an operating model like this, and doing sort of all of the practices, and getting very lean, and it was fun and moving fast, and we built a lot of customer-facing applications. We was right in COVID. So we did drive up, and I know it sounds maybe silly and for folks who move faster than us, we built it and launched it in five weeks. We were like, "yes!" That would not have been a five week project, let me tell you. That thing would've taken months. So under pressure, with no constraints, with a burning platform, guess what? We were able to bring it to life and customers loved it, and it was amazing. So, I think we spent a lot of time. And it was needed.


The associates needed things, customers needed things. And it's really hard to think about your more legacy systems, or legendary systems, and your mainframes and things that are just a bit more gnarly. And then you get the pitches from all the big firms - they can, your [inaudible] in the cloud and your stuff for that and all this stuff. I don't know. There's a thousand things and there isn't an easy solution, right? There hasn't been.


And so, we've talked a lot about, a lot of this is in our control. I feel like a lot of the talent we brought and a lot of the talent that existed at KT came together and said, "you know what? We're done with this victim thing." The whole like, "oh well we have a mainframe we can't move fast." That can't be the answer. So, we've pushed really hard to bring this concept of a lean store to market.

Bryon Kroger (30:48):

Yeah. How have you managed the kind of that transition between, so using production as kind of the arbiter here, you talked earlier about how long do you keep an investment going? When do you shut it off? When do you pivot? Do you have any good rules of thumb? Especially for some of those things - we talk about things at the app level that can get into production in days, maybe weeks, but there are some things that are more like projects. They're going to take longer. And how do you think about the investment and the time to value? Is there a cutoff period? Are there good rules of thumb? How do you not get stuck? You said once you guys made a mistake. So how are you thinking about avoiding that in the future?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (31:39):

To be clear, we make mistakes every day and anyone who's in here who's building software and who doesn't make mistakes every day, you're not being honest. It's the nature of it. And we break things every day and all the things. There's probably three buckets, right? There's sort of the greenfield like this product and go investigate. We did a returns-as-a-service product. We take a lot of Amazon, I'm going to get the word out, returns at Kohl's. You probably know that. It's a great place to bring your return and then please do go shopping in the store when you're done.


That was a sort of "what should we do?" Investigate. That was fun, right? It worked out. So there was a success criteria and then we got another opportunity and now we're doing more different types of returns. Awesome. Then there are projects. We do probably know, we have Sephora in nearly all of our stores now. That was definitely more of a project event. So partner comes in together, we're going to build this. And it wasn't like, I'm like, "well, we'll do a D&F, we'll figure it out." They were like, "it'll be done by March." And I'm like, "absolutely. Sounds fantastic. I like that deadline." So there's just some stuff that's more sort of project. And then there are things that are on that product catalog that we've said, these are enduring. We absolutely believe that these products will sort of define Kohl's - help bring value.


And the inventory movement team is an example. But at some point when we have done the work, and if we look at this, this is why every six weeks you sort of get together with the growth board. We do a quarterly prioritization, which we should talk about, which is a whole experience that everyone should come join at some point. It's fabulous. But, if all of these points show are you continuing to be relevant? Are you making a difference? Are you adding value? But those three buckets, we have projects, of course we do, and we have partnerships with big companies like Amazon and Sephora that are time-bound and are maybe a little bit more on the traditional waterfall than we would be. And so we have to figure out how to merge that. And we still have these same teams who want autonomy and freedom. So we do everything we can to say your job is to partner with a Sephora.


And we've done, I think, an amazing job of bringing it to life at Kohl's. But you still have all that - don't have anyone tell you exactly how it's looking. You want to have a rewards program with Sephora, that's your to-do you figure out how? So we try and bring those, even in a project world, even with timelines, I mean we're a public company. We do have budgets. We do have timelines. I'm not going to give anyone the "here's the list of exactly how this...I'm going to predict the future," nonsense. That's nonsense. We're not doing it. So even in those more, "I'm being told to do this," you still have a ton of freedom. Then there's the greenfield and then there's the products we believe in. It's where I spend most of my time just making sure we don't go off the reservation and way too down a rabbit hole. And we do it all the time. And we'll pivot. The one thing I would say, this is just what we do. So I don't know if it works for you. If I see too much time in that third bucket ,and people just holding on for dear life, we will rotate the PM, pretty fast. Because you know, they're definitely, deeply in love and we need to break it.

Bryon Kroger (35:01):

How do you, or actually, you said we should talk about quarterly prioritization. Let's go there first. I was going to ask earlier, you said you are not using OGSMs. By the way OGSM: objectives, goals, strategies, and measures, similar to OKRs, tends to work better in large enterprises. It gives you an extra box to put everybody's ideas. Absolutely. You said you're not using that. Are you using any kind of goaling system or how are you tracking quarter over quarter, year over year?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (35:29):

No, we are using the OGSM model. It's just not as, it was such a pain initially and everyone would lash out through OGSM. It's become a little bit more just - it's part of the function now. I think, like everything with building software, you got to double back down, right? We're going to...communities start up and then they get a little tired, and maybe now everyone goes and then you've got to give it another shot of adrenaline. I think the OGSM, it's in there. Is it really as meaningful? That's really...we use them, but I think we need another - I think with all of this over time, you have to decide everything just won't thrive at the highest level all the time. You have to keep going back and refreshing. So wait, sorry. We are using them still, just they're not front and center as I'd like them to be.

Bryon Kroger (36:11):

OK. And then what else would you say about the quarterly? You said we should talk about it.

Siobhán Mc Feeney (36:15):

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So this is the thing we've tried. It did take us four years, so we've been doing it for two years, but it took us four years. So just giving you some context. So, most, and again, not unique to us and probably not unique to anyone in here. You, as a software team will have lots of different folks who want your goods and they need your time. And so you'll have to go negotiate with supply chain. You go negotiate with the stores team, then another team. So you've got...and everyone's pitching what they need. And so then you come back and you realize, right, you've got all this stuff, it doesn't fit in the bag, but you, technology, you have to go back now and send the disappointing message. Sorry, I can't deliver for you. You're on the back burner. I'll get to you in 2025.


And you're like, we were so silly. Why did we put all that burden on us to say, no, no, no. So we said, "you know what we're going to do, we have some..." and this is a skill that I think every company or every agency you should invest in, develop if you don't have, which is excellent facilitators. An excellent facilitator is like money. It's the forget about everyone else, just bring that person to me. And we have a bunch of excellent facilitators. So we do a quarterly meeting and it is every decision-maker leader. So our CMO, our CFO, all of them come together. It's virtual. KT is virtual so we drive this meeting and it's virtual. And we have an insanely talented facilitator. And what we do is a full prioritization. Here, we have a finite number of resources. We have a set of priorities from the organization.


We have a bunch of products and things we're doing. I mean, it's a two by two and we say, "you can only vote things up, let's go." And we hit a line of 50. And so the head of stores, and the head of logistics, and it's the first time, and it's the only time every quarter that every single person has to think Kohl's first. And not that they don't think Kohl's all the time, but they think Kohl's stores, they think logistics supply chain, because that's what your day job is. And because I'm sitting your logistics and I'm merchandising and we agree, my stuff is more important, you're going to absolutely, Siobhán's thing should go up. It is a legitimate way for everybody to be Kohl's first. And we force that. And you can only vote up. So you can't be all like, "we'll take that down." Nope. Is it more important? And we force it.


So we do it once a quarter, we then publish it to the whole enterprise, and then I bring it to the operating committee just to remind everyone this is what we agreed. And what it does is it gives guardrails to everyone to say, "oh, you have a shiny new project. I don't see it on the...did you not get to the meeting?" But it's finite resources. And it's a commitment where everybody has to say, "you know what? While I want my thing, yeah, that's fine. Johnny gets to get it ahead." But I would tell you the only reason it works facilitate, you need a facilitator who is magic.

Bryon Kroger (39:15):

Yeah, that's awesome. It was really impressive. I wish my quarterly planning went like that with my customers sometimes. But one aspect, because you've talked about autonomous teams quite a bit, and now we're talking about essentially an alignment mechanism to keep those teams aligned. One thing that's really fashionable in the Govtech community right now, again, don't love the term, but software factories became a thing in the DOD, and now the wider federal government, and I'm hearing a lot of leaders take over, there's a lot of leadership turnover in government orgs, and they take over these factories and the first thing they do is declare that autonomy has failed or everything is broken because we've allowed these teams to be autonomous. And to a degree they're right. I mean the autonomous teams are going in all different directions, but it's not a failure of autonomous teams. It's a failure of leadership, right? Like, no, "you failed, you didn't do the work. You're not communicating." You've got this quarterly planning process, which obviously helps create the alignment. But are you doing anything throughout the quarter, week over week, month over month? How are you keeping people aligned throughout that time?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (40:25):

Yeah. So I a hundred percent agree. Autonomy didn't fail and the teams didn't fail. We do a lot of different things. But I think maybe the overarching's what I a product leader, as an engineering leader, as a whatever role you have, CTO, it doesn't matter what your role is, you have to give freedom to do these things. You have to give the discipline, guardrails, and scaffolding to go do it. And here's the hard work. And then you have to go and bloody inspect all the time. That is your job. You have to inspect. You don't have to meddle, you don't have to tell people what to do, but you have to be observant and you have to be observant about all of it. When you see it sideways. One of the things we haven't talked about today, I hadn't heard anyone use this word.


And it's something I think about all the time. This way of working, and it doesn't have to be the very specific way. We've built technology at Kohl's in a very lean XP way, but it requires people to be brave. You've got to push back on stakeholders and be all like, "oh my god, they're going to be so cranky." And you have to tell your engineer, "yeah, no," and you got to do these things. And that requires bravery in a way that we probably didn't hire when we said, "how brave are you? Would you be willing to...", nobody asks that in an interview, but we do - that is important. So we're asking people to make courageous decisions in the moment based on data they know today. We're asking them to follow these guardrails, do these things. And then I just think the number one thing we, as you get maybe a little bit more senior in your career, and you've got more things on your plate, and surface area is bigger, the inspection isn't as clean.


And that is the number one thing. There is no world in which somebody, our CEO Tom could ask me, "what's happening in supply chain?" And I don't know? That's a failure on me. And if they're all going in 65 different directions, a hundred percent failure on me. So all I can tell you is we inspect, we have mechanisms for inspection. We have my product leaders, we meet three times a week, which seems like a lot, but staying connected, and talking all the time. And their job is inspection, and their product manager's job is inspection and the engineering... And that is a part of it. And it's getting out of the way, but inspection is key. And I do think that people just give up on that. They're like, "I can't believe it all went sideways." What did you think would happen?

Bryon Kroger (42:45):

Absolutely. I love the bravery piece too. Actually, the second part of the Prodacity definition, we have a fake dictionary definition that we made. The first is being willing to take bold personal risks to deploy, to prod. But the other one is having a bravery that could offend others. So...I love it.

Siobhán Mc Feeney (43:00):

It's the way. Got to do it.

Bryon Kroger (43:03):

Well, is there any closing thoughts that you wanted to offer up before we end here?

Siobhán Mc Feeney (43:10):

Look, I think that doing this work or pushing the boundaries of a place where it's hard to make a difference, I think if you can use folks who have experience in that space, and combine it with folks who know how to do this work, who has done it before, just changing a whole organization is never going to happen. You need to have some new folks in combined with some folks who have some tenure and experience, I think you have a much better chance at getting there. And then the piece that I'm going to finish with a little bit of an oldie, but a goodie is the be kind piece. And we kind of rushed past that an awful lot. But to me, the kindness of all of this is to be insanely transparent. This is super hard. It takes a while. And it means that you're going to tell people like, "hey, you're awesome, you're not doing awesome work right now, but I'm going to help you get better. But here's the reasons why," versus "no, everything's fine."


Definitely that person's leaving in a few months. Be kind. Be really kind to your people and that means be honest and be direct. They will love you for it. They will get better. They will 100% get better. But I do think...blend your teams. Get some old, get some new, fix it. No, get some experienced, excuse me. And some folks who've done this before and I think you'll go as fast as you want to go. And also, my last thing, we're hiring. Please come soon. Thanks.


Alright, thank you so much. I really appreciate you.


Thank you.