San Francisco 2016

Starbucks Technology Transformation

Courtney is the Vice President of Retail Technology at Starbucks. She’s accountable for the global POS and retail store technology experiences. Prior to Starbucks, Courtney spent 14 years at Nordstrom with her last role being the Vice President of E-Commerce and Store technologies where she drove a technological transformation essential for outpacing the demands of today’s Omnichannel consumers. She was accountable for program management, delivery, and support for all customer facing technologies including in-store, Web, and mobile touch points.

Courtney joined Nordstrom as a security engineer in 2002 and held a variety of leadership roles across the technology organization. Courtney is a graduate of Eastern Washington University with a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and worked at two startups, CyberSafe and WorldStream Communications, prior to joining Nordstrom.


Courtney Kissler

Vice President of Retail Technology, Starbucks



I spent the last 14 years at Nordstrom, I'm pretty involved in the DevOps transformation there last two years. That was kind of the story that I told up here. And now I'm five months in, at Starbucks and extremely excited about what's going on there. And so looking forward to sharing kind of what's going on at Starbucks and what we have planned for the future. Um, so if you're not familiar with Starbucks, the title of this presentation is directly tied to our mission, which is to inspire and nurture the human spirit. One person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. So I happened to be extremely passionate about small batch and single-piece flow. So I thought we'll do this one feature at a time. So that's kind of the key of the title here. Okay. So just a little bit about me. So I've been in technology for a little over 20 years, started in infrastructure and ops actually insecurity.


So that was my kind of first engineering role. Um, and then at Nordstrom started as well as a security engineer and then navigated through infrastructure and operations leadership, and then eventually into dev for most of the customer facing properties, digital and in store. Um, and now I'm at Starbucks, I'm VP of retail technology for global POS. So that's across all the markets. One thing just like to share a little bit of a difference. So growing up in an organization and kind of navigating from engineer into leadership is very different than coming in at a senior leadership role. So it's been really eye-opening to kind of get that different perspective as I joined Starbucks. Oh, the other thing Starbucks does, which I really appreciate is when you start, there you go, and you work in the stores. So that's actually me working in one of our locations. They let me make drinks and I was kind of shocked at that. And, um, I spent some time, uh, like directly in the store, so that's really great. Okay. So if you don't know, Starbucks has a lot of stores, so we have over 24,000 and we're in 70 countries. So just to show the scale of growth over the last 30 years, it's been significant. So managing that at scale is one of our biggest challenges.


Um, this is intended to show just the, the criticality of POS. Um, it's really the kind of nerve center of the store. So we use it for obviously for ringing up customers and transacting, but it's also directly integrated with our rewards program. If you use our mobile order and pay app, which is a really awesome experience where you can order ahead of and pick up your drink and food, um, that all goes through our POS. So it's a pretty critical component of the overall customer experience. So I don't know if this gets said very often, but our goal is to have PLSB and innovation accelerator. Um, it's really, like I said, it's a critical component of the overall experience. So we're really focused on the ongoing unlock of that capability and we really want it to be the enabler for delivering value. And, um, you know, we talk about, I said, mobile order and pay, and if you haven't used it, it's a pretty amazing experience. And now it's really about how do we scale that across our customer base.


So Starbucks has been on a bit of a transformation journey. I would say that started about a year ago. And I'll go into why that timing is important in a minute, but again, it's all grounded in our mission and values. And one of the things that drew me to Starbucks was actually the focus on, um, it's human connection. It's really about people and it starts with our value system. So it's about transparency. It's about focusing on, um, really our partners, which is what we call our employees. And we figure if we take care of our partners and our customers will be taken care of. So that kind of shows up in every decision that we make and every action that's taken and it really starts at Howard's level. And you see it show up across our senior leadership team.


This is the Starbucks technology mission. It's really about people again, you know, we want to make sure that we've got curious, um, trusted, insightful, transparent technology partners across our organization, and then really like how do we deliver today, but also balance the innovation and the plans for growth in the future. So we want to be flexible. We want to be focused on speed to value, and also looking at like, what's coming and how can we get in front of that as an organization? So this is where I said about a year ago is when, um, at least from my perspective, I think that Starbucks started on a different type of a transformation and one of the actions was to hire the first CTO. Um, so we hired Jerry she's in there. She's, uh, she's on the, I guess for me on the right hand, on the right hand side.


Um, and she had no retail experience. She's a technology leader. She's spent most of her career in the Silicon valley. And I think it was an exciting signal to send, to bring her into the organization. And she spent like her first few months really listening and observing and then focused on how can the team at the senior leadership level be structured in a way where we can go deep and be focused on, um, I will I'll even just say value stream. So how can we really focus and go deep? Um, she also noticed that there was a need for common vocabulary. So there was a lot of different interpretations of the business capabilities and what needed to happen. So one of her first things that she did was bring a group of people together and say, how can we create a common language and definition around our technology capabilities?


The other thing that she did that I find to be extremely powerful is she rebranded it. So we're not Starbucks it anymore. We're Starbucks technology, which seems really small, but in the grand scheme of things, it really set a totally different tone for the organization. And she's been very clear with her direction and vision and, um, has been focused on how do we have really clear strategic priorities and how do those get cascaded out to the teams and how do they have clear line of sight to everything that we're doing? So lots of visibility, lots of, um, checking in and making sure that we're still focused on the right things and pivoting if necessary. So it's been really great to have that support start at that C level.


Now I'm going to talk about the POS team cause that's the team that I'm a part of. And, um, I think it's extremely exciting to hear about what's been going on within that team. Um, I had some, uh, uh, what do I want to say? I was hoping to see certain things when I moved to Starbucks from Nordstrom and I kind of made this little catalog of things that I was hoping to see when I got there. And I had some really exciting surprises when I joined the organization. So very first thing, the team had a value stream map, which I did not anticipate. And I was extremely excited to see that, um, there's actually one of the leaders in the audience and Suzanne will you wave, um, who was one of the trailblazers for bringing the team together and really documenting the value stream for the POS team.


So actively engaged in the ongoing process around that, but at a minimum it's like we know what it takes to get value from product all the way into production and the team had already set a target. So they were on a quarterly release cadence and they said we're going to monthly, which was a big goal for them to set for themselves. And, but they, they said it, um, really early stages of agile and journey and, you know, the whole journey around transforming from waterfall to agile, but a lot of really good momentum around that. Lots of curiosity around lean and dev ops. So it was very exciting to see. And there was a lot of leadership alignment on the value of leveraging data for making decisions. So kind of helped with creating some of the, I would say scaffolding around being able to adopt these mindsets.


So the burning platform, I always steal this quote from jazz because I really think it's powerful. It's like when the team made the decision to go from quarterly to monthly, it didn't come without bumpiness and pain, but the team really rallied around that and said, what can we do to maintain the speed? Because it would have been really easy, I think to say, well, we better go back. Um, because we're having challenges and it is painful, but instead they said, what can we be doing to continue down this path and really make progress against that goal? Um, and again, all about let's figure out how to make PLS be an enabler for innovation. And the other thing was how do we align the team capacity against those strategic priorities? So like most organizations and, you know, the ones that I've been a part of often there are competing priorities.


And so you're constantly juggling, like, do I work on this production issue today? Or do I work on this feature? And how can you really get a really good understanding of your team's capacity when the work might not be visible? So there was a lot of focus on how do we make the work visible and then how do we do a good job of aligning that capacity and then optimizing for speed to value? I think Opal just said the same thing. It's like, that is a huge focus. It's less about cost and a lot more about speed to value and how do we deliver?


So here's a few problems that we were having and, you know, we continue to have, cause some of this is aspirational. It's like we've set this stage, but we saw, you know, we've got work to do. And we're on this journey. Um, one of the problems that we had was context switching. So I mentioned the piece about, you know, maybe today you're working on a production issue tomorrow, you're working on features. How do you balance that? So for us, it was how do we look at the team capacity and do our best to put a single, so put our capacity on a single initiative. So you come in every day and hopefully that's aligned to an outcome cause that's another goal. And every day you come in and you're focused on delivering against that outcome. I mentioned, you know, mobile order and pay that's something we're focused on.


We want to scale that and grow it. So we have a team that works on priorities that are aligned to scaling that platform, but really trying hard to say, that's the thing you work on. And it doesn't mean that there won't be variety within that initiative, but it's really setting the team up to be more organized by value stream or product where if you build it, you own it, you improve it. And then we had a lot of coordination and our delivery timelines like a lot of enterprises, um, there's a lot of work streams that need to come together in order to deliver value. And so for us, the focus on value stream mapping is really making that fact-based so that we can see where do we have all those dependencies and are there ways that we can solve for that to really, um, reduce that lead time and cycle time and move as fast as we need to.


And we had silos. So within our own PLS team, we had operations and features and feature delivery teams and QA and release. And so we just recently, um, and I'll show some examples of how we're setting the teams up, but to really be a lot more optimized for delivering against the value stream. And then the question that everyone likes to probably ask themselves, as, you know, are we working on the right things? And that can be challenging sometimes when there's not really great line of sight. So our focus has been on how do we show that the work that we're doing is tied to a strategic outcome and it doesn't always have to be driving revenue or driving, um, like customer acquisition. It could be about resilience. It could be that we're trying to drive speed of service. So what work are we doing to achieve that outcome?


And how do we cascade that to the teams and then use that as our indicator that we're working on the right things. And then, um, this, uh, this happened when I was at Nordstrom to where sometimes, um, there can be, um, so much excitement around a transition. So say from waterfall to agile, that it almost becomes too, um, too rigid. It's like, we're all gonna follow the exact same process. We're all gonna do the exact same ceremonies. We're gonna have the same roles. We're all gonna follow the same practices. And for us we're really more focused on what are the minimal guardrails that need to exist. And then the, how the team delivers against that is really up to the team. And so it's more about, are you clear on the outcome? You're driving? Is all the work visible? Is it a single backlog? So it's not just features it's inclusive of operational work as well. And so really setting those guardrails and then just allowing the team to say, this is the best way for us to achieve those outcomes.


So this is an approach that we took, um, we really started with, and this is a focus that Jerry has as well is, um, number one is the operational work that we're doing. So capacity gets assigned to that first and that needs to be, um, maintained. So we can't get into a spot where we have a hundred percent of our capacity on feature work and zero on operational work. So we really started there. We said, what does it take to deliver against our operational, um, metrics and outcomes? And then whatever's left over, we'll use that to assign two additional, um, strategic initiatives. And then we did that in a priority order. So we went and S kind of stack ranked all of the initiatives and applied capacity in that order. And then we looked at the team dynamics. So once we did that, we said, are we causing disruption or are we maintaining continuity?


Because we already had some teams that had been working for, um, at least a year together. And so we said, if it makes sense, let's try to keep them together. And then we looked at skill sets and the work that we were doing. So, you know, we've got a mix of work within the POS team. We have some work that we're doing that is, um, integration with the package application. And then we have some build that we're doing. So are we setting the team up with the right skillset matched to the work? And then we looked for pairing opportunities. So do we have a situation where maybe we have a newer engineer and someone who can pair with them and teach them things and stretch assignments. So are we allowing people, new learning opportunities and how would that play out with the new team structure? And then we made some adjustments after we went through all of those criteria and then also told the team, we know we're not going to get it right out of the gate. So we need to allow ourselves the flexibility to adjust as we learn.


Um, this is directly from our COO. Um, so the timing of this was great two weeks ago. This is another thing I love about Starbucks. There's a lot of investment in, um, leadership and culture and how important it is to be aligned with the value system and how we practice that as a leadership team. So I participated in a three day session with other leaders in the organization and Howard came and talked to us and Kevin Johnson and Jerry, and really talked about what it means to be a leader at Starbucks. And these three, um, statements came directly from Kevin and I thought they were really powerful. It's like our role is to serve others and share success, really designing for joy, which I thought was a powerful phrase because it doesn't just have to be about designing the next experience, but it could be how are we setting up a process or how are we setting up the team structure?


And we want it to be simple, elegant, and have an emotional connection. So where we tie that to the teams is we want them to feel like they're working on things that are meaningful. So how do you create that environment and then showing love for the brand? So if we get all of that kind of working in a cohesive way that would show up in the brand as well, this is something that, you know, I, I learned at Nordstrom and I wish that I had spent a little more time focusing on how to talk about lean and continuous improvement at scale. And so for us at Starbucks, it's like, how do we continue to drum beat the value of practicing lean and practicing continuous improvement? So one of the directors on my team actually found these three bullets as a way to talk about it with his team. And, um, I just thought it was a really good representation that you really want to maximize customer value, eliminate waste, and really respect people. And I think the respect of people is the piece that, you know, is really the grounding element of lean and continuous improvement. And then he added the part about having fun, which I think is important. We it's, it's good to have fun and be able to feel like you're a part of a team.


So I said, I'd share a little bit about our team structure. So one thing is, it's not a one size fits all, which is probably not a surprise, but I think that sometimes that is an assumption that gets made is that it has to be the same for every team. So literally within my team, we have all three of these going on. So the first is really embedding product. So that's new for us. Product management was not in our team as of about a month ago. So we have product management and we're embedding analysis and QA into those teams as well. And so that is one of the structures that we've started to adopt the middle one. And this is new for us. I'm very excited. It's actually the team that teams that Suzanne's leading is where we're embedding ops in the team as well.


And so we've already started to learn a lot by taking that action. We have feedback loops that are happening more frequently. We're um, our dev teams are learning about the, uh, the reality of how things are deployed in production. And it's been a really good opportunity for those teams to work together. And then the third one is really, um, kind of, I would say maybe the target state that we're trying to get to, and that is where quality analysis, all of those capabilities, security architecture are really just part of the work that the team does rather than having those dedicated roles within the team. So it's really kind of embedding quality into the practices and embedding all of that work into the actual team.


Um, hyper-focused on metrics. This is, um, another area that I'm very passionate about. So we have done a lot of work in the last few months to really quantify what speed of service means so that we can have visibility to how long is it taking for a customer to get through the experience in the store. And what that is allowing us to do is not only make it visible, we look at it on a weekly basis with very senior leaders in the organization, but it also gives us the opportunity to really inspect and understand changes that we're making and not just technology. So we introduced the MV this year. That was, that definitely had an impact on speed of service, but we also can look at our operational processes, say we're, um, uh, changing our beverage menu or we're adding new food items. It gives us the ability to kind of see that end to end, um, speed of service metric, and then understand how we're influencing it. Lots of focus on MTTR. And for now we, we are looking at our incident count. We hope to get to different metrics over time, but for now that's a proxy for us to be able to understand the health of the service in the stores and really across all of technology.


Um, this is, I tend to, um, focus on the leaders evolution in this transformation because I, I think it starts there so often. Um, how leaders show up in this new context is such a critical component of the success or failure of a transformation of this scale. So again, just hammering home the Starbucks mission and values, which I think, um, they really resonate with this community because it is about respecting people being transparent, creating that human connection and really making sure that leaders are creating an environment where teams feel like they can, um, they can take risks. They can, um, act with courage. They know they'll get support. It's about learning. How do we create an environment where we're learning all the time? And so I think that, again, the way that leaders create that environment is a huge piece of the equation. So for us, it's, um, not just the Starbucks values, but we're also talking about, we, um, need to be able to explain why when we make change, our team should understand it, and we should be able to articulate the reasons behind any change that we make, um, honoring and extracting reality.


So this is a big one for me. I think if it's one thing to be able to recognize what's actually happening in the organization, but then also being able to create the environment where teams feel like they can represent reality and that it would be about learning and not about blame or anything along those lines, um, becoming students. So I've talked in the past about go and see, which is, you know, a common lean term, but really making sure that that's not translated into go and tell it's really about observing and helping teams and asking questions and then becoming coaches. So talked about the learning culture. I think it's a critical piece as well, that, um, figuring out how to be in constant learning mode and then leading by example. So making sure that the actions that the leaders are taking really matched the words and the spirit of the value system, this is a picture of the team.


Um, Suzanne's in there again, um, and behind them on the wall is the value story map. So when I got to the organization, as I said, I was really excited to see that a value stream map had already been created. This was kind of the next iteration of that. So the team had gone to the monthly release cycle, and so they were basically updating the current state map and coming up with what they wanted to go after next, as challenges within the value stream map. So big cross-functional team, lots, all the roles there that needed to be so that we could, um, make sure that we represented reality. And it's really fun to watch the teams go through that together.


Um, so there I am on the drive-through screen. So that was another opportunity I got to work at a drive-through and, um, I'm actually, it might look like I'm laughing, which might not seem appropriate, but I was, um, my family came through the drive-through, so I was laughing as I was taking my daughter's orders. Um, yeah. Um, I don't think they're going to invite me back there. No, I'm just kidding. Um, so what I need help with is the ongoing sharing. I think that's one of the things that has been the most powerful about this summit and the community that shows up here. I feel like everyone is so open and it is always about sharing both the successes and the failures. So I always like to say that I will continue to value that and always look for that amongst this community. And then, you know, I talked about leaders, um, I really am still fascinated to hear like, how are people teaching new leadership, um, expectations and really making that shift to more of the leaders are connected to the work that their teams are doing and they're creating that supportive environment. And then how do you stay in front of that? Um, what's the next thing. And really, how do you continue to evolve the leadership team and the talent in your organization? Um, that, that was it. I did Q and a, I didn't know if we were going to do Q and a, but, so


Thank you so much. I can just ask one quick question. Um, I will never look at a Starbucks label maker in the same way, again, 45 seconds to share the story.


Okay. So I mentioned that for the mobile order and pay experience, it's, um, integrated with PLS. So we have these labelers in our stores and they are the visual indicator of a mobile order and pay order. So anything that comes in to the store that labeler is it's a key piece of the experience. Um, so I was sharing that with Jean and he was like, I'll never look at them the same because you wouldn't probably think that that is the way that we have visibility to those orders. The other thing, which I'm glad you brought this up is another observation that I had when I started is the amount of lean practices in the stores, their standard work there's visual indicators, there's metrics, and a lot of focus on lean in the actual Starbucks locations. So,


So the reason why I thought that was so amazing is that, so when the label or runs out of labels, you lose all visibility into orders and so forth. Right?


Yeah. Amazing. All right. Great. Thank you so much for it.


Um, okay, then announced it. Thanks again.