4-in-the-box: All in for digital transformation!
March 26, 2024

In an increasingly digital world and in the ever-evolving landscape of retail, staying relevant means embracing change, agility, innovation and a deep understanding of customer needs. Carrefour recognized this imperative and embarked on a transformative journey to modernize its approach. Discover the “4-in-the-box”, Carrefour’s tailored product operating model, supporting our digital transformation and journey becoming a DigitalRetail company.

Agile, lean, design thinking, product management – these terms are not mere beliefs; they are about discovering the best ways for teams to collaboratively deliver top-notch digital products that will meet evolving customer, associates, and partners expectations. This involves establishing the right product organization with appropriate roles and processes that align with your company’s time-to-market constraints. While it’s easy to write about, defining how to do it can be very challenging since there’s only one intangible rule: one’s best is not necessarily your company’s best. At Carrefour, we design ours and it’s called ‘4-in-the-box’. 

Before deep diving on what is ‘4-in-the-box’, let’s share our journey to get to it.

When you realize ‘Scrum’ is not the destination but just the beginning

A short time ago in a galaxy not that far away, a split took place between the ‘Waterfall model’ and ‘Agile’ believers. The former was criticized by its opponents for being a rigid structure, characterized by a strictly sequential and linear progression. On the other side, Agile, with its iterations and responsiveness, faced criticism for never ending changes and being challenging to implement. 

As early as 2016 at Carrefour, teams experimenting with Agile, especially Scrum, enthusiastically embraced it for enhanced collaboration and efficient delivery of digital products aligning with business requirements. But as Carrefour’s digital initiatives expanded, we encountered challenges in scaling Scrum practices beyond individual teams. Scaling Scrum across an entire organization can be complex, especially when dealing with interdependencies and coordination among multiple teams. So we had to experiment with a more comprehensive and scalable approach to Agile adoption. Thus began our journey with Agile at scale.

The beginnings of Agile methodology at Carrefour in 2016 (picture taken during the “Back to agile” event in 2017).

When Agile at scale means navigating through team dependencies

Agile at scale was implemented on a significant initiative in France: “OneCarrefour.” One of its objectives was to transition all our websites to a unified e-commerce platform: Carrefour.fr. Until 2018, Carrefour.fr functioned solely as a showcase website. However, in the night from November 27 to 28 of the same year, it underwent a transformation into a fully-fledged e-commerce site, marking a pivotal step in our digital transformation.

For the first time, IT and e-commerce teams collaborated in an agile at scale environment. This extensive program required us to scale our efforts, prompting the adoption of SAFe, a well known Agile at scale framework. The goal was to synchronize teams together, identify, and address dependencies.

We employed this approach in e-commerce for a while, including e-supply and marketing, even during Covid-19 home office, but in our context with the way we had set it up, the benefits of this framework were ultimately outweighed by its disadvantages. Revealing a situation with increasingly deep silos, limited collaboration, complex structures, blurred roles, longer time-to-market and ultimately the lack of focus on value. 

We needed to tailor an operating model more fitted to Carrefour’s specific needs and context.

Tracking dependencies with strands of red wool yarn (PI planning – October 14th, 2019).

When inspiration came from a learning expedition at Walmart

In May 2022, our team engaged with 20 Walmart executives, gaining valuable insights into the company’s digital process and innovative work culture. Technology is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of Walmart, forming a robust foundation for competitive advantages.

A particularly impressive aspect was Walmart’s Agile work culture, emphasizing autonomy within teams and employing the “4-in-the-box” approach for cross-functional collaboration. Walmart emphasizes the significance of placing business at the core of operations, making it an integral part of their 4-in-the-box approach. This framework serves as the primary way to digitize and transform their enterprise.

Upon our return to France, we didn’t just bring back memories – we saw the potential to foster greater collaboration, alignment, and agility across our organization so we packed the innovative “4-in-the-box” approach in our suitcase. Applying this operating model aligns with our strategy of becoming a “DigitalRetail Company,” using digital to enhance experiences for customers and associates.

Our learning expedition at Walmart in May 2022.

Skyrocketing a four-role teamwork to the next level

Navigating the complexity of digital projects requires more than just technical expertise; it demands a holistic understanding of the organization’s goals, capabilities, and constraints. So the main challenge often lies not solely in the technology itself, but rather in determining the right organization and approach to create value.This is where the four roles of the 4-in-the-box model make a huge difference. 

Collaborating daily with business, product, tech & data, and design together is an efficient way to deliver products that match company, customer, and associate expectations. The idea is to bring together in a single team all the components and skills needed to build, maintain and develop a product.

Our 4-in-the-box model is rooted in three key convictions: 

  • Collaborating more efficiently by fostering an environment where teams work together seamlessly, addressing challenges comprehensively with a design thinking mindset to meet customer needs.
  • Generating more value with an Agile and product management approach, focusing on maximizing the impact of our investment and shortening the return on investment time. 
  • Simplifying our organization with small and dedicated product teams and streamlined roles.
A concrete example of the 4-in-the-box benefits, explained by Nathanael G’BAMY.

Breaking down silos and fostering collaboration across functions

With the 4-in-the-box,Carrefour embraced collaboration by restructuring teams into cross-functional units, bringing together expertise from product management, design, tech & data, and the business. This streamlined communication accelerates decision-making, and ensures alignment towards common goals, facilitating faster product iterations and enhancements.

Here’s a brief overview of the various roles and interactions of the 4-in-the-box model:

  • The business is responsible for defining the problem that needs solving. Instead of arriving with a pre-determined solution, they bring evidence of an opportunity to be addressed by deeply understanding real user needs. The quartet then collaborates closely to provide a relevant response to the opportunity, emphasizing the importance of falling in love with the problem rather than the solution.
  • The product takes on the role of drafting the best solution and prioritizing needs based on value. This phase is called the “discovery process”. They help transform business and customer needs into high-value solutions, prioritize those solutions and write the specifications needed for developing the solutions to identify and prioritize solutions that align with the overall product strategy.
  • The tech & data bear the primary responsibility for delivering solutions, but are actively engaged from the beginning of the problem-solving process.
  • At last but not least, the design contributes to enhancing the user experience, not only for customers but also internally, ensuring a better digital experience for our associates using our solutions.

This capacity to blend business, product, tech & data, and design teams enhances our delivery, resulting in a greater collaboration and alignment across our organization. Let’s focus on the 4-in-the-box assets.

The 4-in-the-box facilitates small, multidisciplinary teams with defined roles.

The rise of “OKRs” for better focus, alignment and prioritization

Ideas are usually great, especially if they’re yours or from your manager. How about changing this ‘prioritization by greatness’ to a more outcome-oriented approach? That’s what we’ve done with “Objectives and Key Results,” or OKRs.

It all begins with a business-oriented goal, like: “How might we improve e-commerce earnings while maintaining customers NPS” . We realized that a significant opportunity to satisfy both our customers while limiting our costs was to “Make it easier for our users to check their orders”. Then, we attach a target for the following quarter to this goal: “Reduce the number of SMS sent to customers per order by 15%“. This combination is our “OKR,” and it’s a significant shift! 

OKRs play a pivotal role in our strategy, prioritizing impactful initiatives to align seamlessly with broader business objectives. They gauge performance through specific, measurable results, fostering continuous improvement in our digital offerings. Lastly, OKRs empower teams by encouraging creative thinking and independent work, extending beyond traditional project limits.

Product: Cracking challenges through “Discovery”

OKRs help teams clarify their priorities and focus their efforts on the most impactful initiatives. But which initiatives will best tackle the objective identified in the OKR? Pinpointing the right initiatives to reach those objectives is where the Discovery phase comes in.

The Discovery is an efficient way to de-risk solutions before implementation and design the best approaches to achieve desired objectives.Throughout the discovery process, collaboration, cross-functional alignment, and a user-centric mindset are essential. 

At Digital Factories E-commerce and Store, we faced the challenge of enhancing product availability on shelves. From problem exploration to informed decision-making, every step was a team effort. While product and design teams led the charge in deep diving into associates’ workflows, pain points, and bottlenecks, all the 4-in-the-box roles were vital to identify areas for improvement in the existing process and co-create the solution to digitize our paper-based system. 

In this journey, collaboration was key. Our business, product, tech & data, design teams, pooled their expertise to improve accuracy and facilitate better decision-making. By leveraging the collective wisdom of our teams, we continuously drive transformative change in our day-to-day operations.

No more pen and paper sheets: our associates can now scan products to improve their availability.

Tech & data: Leveraging digital for enhanced customer and associate service

In the case of large projects following the waterfall model, the journey from well-crafted initial specifications to the final deliverable involves a lengthy tunnel spanning several months, leading to misalignments and tension.

The 4-in-the-box makes things better ensuring team members talk to each other and collaborate constantly during the whole process. This provides a better work environment for tech and data teams. Understanding business also leads to offering better advice on aspects like selecting hardware, and shaping the technology stack. The winner of all this change? User experience! In other words, our customers and associates.

Consider the “EasyPrep” solution (formerly named “EOL”) as a practical example. Before the 4-in-the-box, warehouse preparers relied on a screenless terminal, managing tasks through voice commands in a heavy and cumbersome headset. Now, the new terminal mirrors a smartphone, offering a visual interface and greater autonomy with a lighter Bluetooth headset. Developed with open-source technologies, EasyPrep significantly reduces costs. Additionally, powerful algorithms eliminate the need for preparers to make unnecessary back-and-forths.

EasyPrep: Elevating picker experience with tech & data expertise.

Design: Powering digital products focused on user experience

The principles that apply to tech and tata are equally relevant in design: the 4-in-the-box shatters the stereotype of limiting a designer’s role to creating merely flashy buttons or a nice logo on a website.

In today’s digital world, delivering an excellent user experience (UX) is crucial for both B2B and B2C apps. The 4-in-the-box approach challenges outdated views in design, understanding that UX goes beyond just looks. It recognizes that a thoughtful design not only enhances visuals but fundamentally shapes how users interact with the product and services, driving satisfaction and efficiency.

The checkout software we’re building – SmartPoS – has been worked on with designers. Not merely to make it “pretty,” but fundamentally to envision the best experience for our staff. Thanks to design, our checkout employees can, for example, easily find fruit and vegetable items using a visual “picklist” integrated into SmartPoS.

SmartPoS: Delivering optimal user experience for our associates through design.

Tailoring the 4-in-the-box approach globally at Carrefour

We crafted our 4-in-the-box operational model with the objective to make it the main product and service management framework within Carrefour, dedicated to propelling digital transformation. Let’s be humble, we are just at the beginning of the journey. Carrefour is a Group with eight countries. Scaling up our operational model will take time.

But a major step has already been taken. We now have 8 digital factories: “Store”, “Merchandise”, “Supply Chain”, “Finance & Corporate”, “Financial services”, “Human Resources”, “E-commerce, Marketing and Customer Relation”, and “Carrefour Links”. The message is crystal clear: Carrefour is building a new model of digital-powered product company.

For additional insights about Merchandise and Supply Chain digital factories, please refer to the interview of Guillaume de Colonges, Carrefour Group executive director for merchandise, supply and formats.

In a nutshell, Carrefour’s 4-in-the-box model brings a fundamental change to digital product delivery by adapting Agile and product management principles to our retail needs. Focused on simplicity and collaboration among business, product, tech & data, and design roles, the model ensures global scalability while prioritizing value delivery for customer and associate satisfaction.

We are dedicated to ensuring that this organizational transformation provides clear career paths for talent development within our digital teams. This vital initiative is currently in progress. Stay tuned; we will soon share more information to inspire you to join us and contribute to transforming Carrefour into a DigitalRetail company!

About the Author

Digital transformation director

Angélina's role at Carrefour is to foster a culture of agility, innovation, and adaptability within the organization, by promoting awareness and understanding of the "4-in-the-Box" operating model and principles and emphasizing its importance in achieving strategic objectives. Trained in Palo Alto's systemic and strategic approach, Angélina believes that by embodying the change and consistently demonstrating new ways of thinking, behaving, and working, individuals play a pivotal role in driving meaningful change that transforms the system from within. Always on the lookout for the slightest thing to hack, you will probably find her in training sessions or with teams challenging the status quo.

Digital transformation manager

Fatima's day-to-day involves supporting digital teams on their ways of working. This includes formalizing the 4-in-the-box operating model, adapting it to Carrefour needs, issues and challenges. She works closely and cross-functionally with all the digital factories and the teams involved in the Group's digital transformation.Before joining Carrefour, Fatima worked for 8 years as a consultant in the fields of transport, energy and retail. Passionate about calligraphy, reading and good coffee, you won't be surprised to find her sitting in a Parisian coffee shop, enjoying an oat milk flat white, with a book and/or pen in hand.

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