Agile Mastery & AI Innovation: Doug Sutcliffe's Blueprint for L'Oréal's Tech Evolution

Doug Sutcliffe

In this interview, we explore the groundbreaking work of Doug Sutcliffe, L'Oréal's Director of Product Management, at the forefront of the beauty tech revolution.

Doug stands out as a leader whose unique blend of information technology expertise and marketing acumen is reshaping consumer experiences and setting new industry benchmarks. Through his strategic vision, Doug navigates the complexities of the beauty industry, championing innovative solutions that drive long-term value and success.

From implementing Agile methodologies to embracing AI-driven marketing, Doug's insights reveal the intricacies of leading a team through transformational change, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and leveraging cutting-edge technologies for enhanced efficiency and engagement.

Join us as we uncover how Doug's leadership is not only advancing L'Oréal's product management but also shaping the future of Agile tech development.

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, there's often a lot of pressure to deliver immediate results. However, sustainable success lies in prioritizing strategic, long-term solutions. How do you navigate this challenge?

I aim to foster long-term value in every position I hold. To me, this involves securing consistent revenue streams, developing resilient technologies, and cultivating a committed workforce. I try to interpret what the business needs through a compassionate and human-focused lens, creating a foundation for success.

When I began the process of creating L'Oreal Canada's first consumer data team, I faced the challenge of overcoming a prolonged stalemate related to a crucial technology rollout. I observed that business leaders were eager for the launch but were worried it could postpone other critical projects. Meanwhile, IT leaders were concerned that announcing fixed trade-offs might come across as inflexible, and trying to juggle everything could lead to their teams' burnout.

To address this, I spearheaded an Agile transformation that updated our technology and processes. This initiative included a flexible program for temps, ensuring we maintained optimal staffing levels. The goal was to enable business teams to capitalize on seasonal and fast-moving market opportunities.

It also involved an innovative reorganization of our teams based on feature-focused roles instead of rigid technology-specific positions, which significantly enhanced our operational efficiency and transparency. I also shifted our alignment to a geographical basis, improving the scheduling flexibility and cross-team collaboration.

A cornerstone of this transformation was the integration of over 1000 data sources into a unified data platform, which empowered our developers with a visual, point-and-click interface to swiftly design data flows. This innovation dramatically decreased the learning curve and training time for our teams. The intuitive nature of the system significantly reduced the reliance on extensive documentation, as the visual data flows were self-explanatory.

Furthermore, I engineered a novel type of data processing flow that consolidated all data, standardized it, and performed cleaning tasks uniformly. This breakthrough allowed temp staff to contribute effectively without the need to understand the complexities of every individual data source, thereby speeding up their onboarding process and time to productivity.

Finally, I implemented new prioritization processes that granted more autonomy to individual brands, which accelerated the development cycle times.

These measures collectively showcased an ability to not only address the immediate technological concerns but also to develop a solution that bolstered overall business agility and market responsiveness. By adopting these Agile methods, we became much more efficient. By providing flexibility and clarity on what our team could deliver, we enabled leaders to make informed decisions that supported long-term goals.

These measures led to a sixfold increase in our operational capacity, helping us launch the technology successfully and improving the work-life balance for the development team.

When sustaining value, long-term solutions are crucial - but short-term ones are often necessary to meet quarterly earnings goals. How do you maintain the balance?

Balancing short-term pressures with the pursuit of long-term value involves prioritization and strategic foresight. My strategy for sustaining value is twofold: identifying opportunities for immediate impact and ensuring these efforts support our bigger-picture aims.

One approach is to launch projects that provide instant benefits, such as new marketing campaigns or customer services that address immediate needs. At the same time, I focus on refining our day-to-day operations with each project cycle. This could involve updating our work practices or making our documentation system more streamlined. For instance, spending a few hours to enhance our ticketing process via Microsoft Teams proved to significantly boost our team's efficiency.

By methodically addressing smaller inefficiencies first, we gradually create more room and time to tackle larger issues. This strategy helps us build a cycle of ongoing improvement and increased productivity.

Managing change can be quite challenging. How do you introduce new ways of doing things, particularly when it involves stakeholders adapting to new systems or processes?

My strategy focuses not on avoiding change, but on implementing essential changes that integrate smoothly into our existing workflows.

Introducing new methodologies within an organization, especially one as dynamic as ours, requires a nuanced approach. I strongly believe that the most important determinants of success in a technology product are user design and how the "last mile" is managed.

By integrating these design principles into the development of a new reporting suite, we achieved a significant reduction in customer support queries by 80% and simultaneously increased user engagement. Collaborating with our development team, we established a comprehensive set of design standards aimed at enhancing the intuitiveness of the reports and continuously improving the user experience (UX) over time. These standards helped make complex data accessible and actionable for all levels of expertise within the organization.

Furthermore, addressing the "last mile"—the final step in streamlining work processes to eliminate unnecessary tasks—is crucial. The cognitive load of switching between tasks, especially new ones, can significantly reduce efficiency. It's like when you do your laundry - even though the whole washing process is automated, the inconvenience of the last mile, folding and putting away, can lead to extending the total cleaning process from hours to days (or even weeks).

One example of closing this "last mile" was when I used Microsoft Power Automate to develop a ticketing management tool integrated within Microsoft Teams, a platform already familiar to our stakeholders. This initiative streamlined the workflow, removing the need for additional training on new systems like Jira. This strategic approach enabled us to achieve full adoption of L'Oréal Canada's inaugural Agile team and ticketing system across the organization within a mere two weeks.

Ultimately, this approach is indicative of my broader philosophy towards driving change and leading transformations. I believe in implementing changes that are intuitively understood and that enhance the user experience without imposing a steep learning curve. Such an approach not only accelerates adoption, but also fosters an environment where people are ready to innovate without worrying about dealing with something unfamiliar.

You've mentioned implementing Agile methods across various projects. How have these changed the way your team works and completes projects?

At the core of Agile methodology is a practical approach that emphasizes the quick delivery of valuable outcomes and iterative enhancements based on user feedback. This strategy has greatly benefited my teams, leading to superior quality outcomes and better solutions for the brands we support. It has also made our internal team dynamics more efficient.

Predicting the needs of multiple brands in a fast-evolving market a year in advance is quite challenging. Often, even the user can't predict their true needs for a product until they've been given a prototype to test and respond to.

For example, understanding that a sales KPI should be broken down by product category or compared yearly to analyze growth usually becomes apparent after we first engage with the data. This iterative process, central to Agile, not only refines our technologies but also enhances our team's workflow and the data literacy of our end users.

By adopting Agile practices, we encourage our team to view challenges as opportunities for improvement. This mindset shifts how we approach problem-solving and interact with other teams. Instead of accepting inefficiencies, we take shared ownership of the process to seek constructive solutions through dialogue. Whether it's aligning processes or developing automated solutions to eliminate repetitive tasks, the goal is to streamline operations and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

This method has revolutionized our workplace. It has cleared the path for smoother operations, allowing us to focus on strategic goals and contribute to the company's success.

More importantly, it has uplifted our team's morale. I have observed a significant change in how my team members view their work; they have gone from dreading their jobs to feeling excited about what they do. This shift is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding aspects of implementing Agile methodologies.

Can you provide some specific examples of when Agile methodologies have enhanced project outcomes and team dynamics within your organization?

For instance, when creating a new consumer data reporting suite that would have taken a full year to build, we were able to start providing valuable tools to brands after just a month. We then continuously improved these tools until the full product was realized. Observing how users interacted with this initial version also helped us make our dashboards more user-friendly and pertinent, speeding up the project and enabling us to swiftly adapt the project plan to accommodate market changes during COVID-19 lockdowns.

I've also tailored Agile methods to better suit the unique demands of Consumer Goods companies, which differ from those in the tech sector, especially regarding product seasonality and scalability. While Agile methods focus on establishing a fixed team capacity to increase predictability and support planning, consumer goods companies like L'Oreal need more flexibility. This led to a Flex-Agile team model, which combines a structured and predictable approach to dynamic resource scaling with the continuous improvement and adaptability principles that make Agile so effective.

To make this scalability possible, I focused on simplifying developer-facing data systems and ensuring uniform design standards across projects. This setup makes it easier to onboard new team members and allows for flexible team sizing based on project demands. Our "MBA Temps" and "1 Day to Value" programs exemplify this approach, providing cost-effective and flexible solutions for resourcing.

Can you go into more detail about the MBA Temps and 1 Day to Value programs? How did these benefit L'Oreal?

To address the fluctuating demands of our work, particularly the seasonal variations in workload, I spearheaded the launch of an innovative program known as the MSc Resourcing Program - "One Day to Value." The traditional avenues for scaling resources, such as consulting firms, proved prohibitively expensive.

We established partnerships with nearby universities to tap into a pool of top-tier MSc students who not only brought senior-level experience but were also in search of flexible, well-compensated work that would connect them with a potential future employer.

This initiative offered a win-win scenario. For the students, it meant access to attractive pay and valuable work experience. For us, it translated into engaging with exceptional talent possessing the managerial-level thinking to understand not just what they were doing, but why - a perspective not always found among junior developers. This high-caliber talent produced tremendous value, uncovering opportunities at a fraction of the cost compared to working with professional services firms. In fact, this solution saved L'Oreal over $500K / year.

The success of this program hinged on two factors: the students' inherent capabilities and the way we simplified our systems and tailored our training program. We were able to have students onboarded and contributing value within a single day. Given the efficiency of our onboarding process, even if we utilized a student for merely 20 hours of work, the investment in their training quickly paid dividends.

An unintended yet valuable outcome of this program was the establishment of an exceptional hiring pipeline. Having worked with many of these students for several months, we had a clear insight into their communication skills, delivery quality, and thought processes. This firsthand experience made it evident which individuals would be outstanding additions to our team upon graduation.

It's clear that embracing cutting-edge technologies plays a crucial role in your strategy. How have the shifts towards AI-driven marketing methodologies transformed L'Oréal's approach to engaging customers and optimizing marketing strategies?

Following the comprehensive redesign of L'Oréal's data infrastructure, we began moving from traditional data-driven methods to more advanced AI-driven marketing approaches. This change was led by two key projects: Customer Lifetime Value Modeling and Multi-Channel Attribution Modeling.

I led a talented team of data scientists who used multivariate regression and Shapley models to develop these sophisticated tools. However, the real challenge was not just in the math; it was in designing models that could be used to make real, impactful decisions.

For the Customer Lifetime Value model, we didn't just follow the usual approach of waiting for enough data to estimate a customer's total value. Instead, we estimated how much they would spend and for how long right from their first purchase, supplemented with a confidence level for each projection. This approach helped us understand the difference between customers who make one large purchase and those who buy smaller items regularly - each needing distinct engagement strategies.

I also went a step further by developing a new metric called Customer Lifetime Profitability. I designed this metric to help us figure out exactly how much to spend on promotions for each group of customers to engage them most effectively and efficiently.

Through these initiatives, we not only refined our marketing approach but also set a new benchmark in leveraging AI to enhance customer engagement and drive strategic growth.