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Virtual Think IT Event: Evolution of Product Engineering at Target

Last Friday, we hosted a Virtual Think IT Event to discuss the Evolution of Product Engineering at Target. A huge thank you to Nancy King, SVP of Product Engineering at Target, and Kraig Narr, VP of Stores and Supply Chain Product Engineering at Target, for facilitating this meeting. Thank you to everyone who joined the event and participated in the discussion!

Below you will find a summary of what was discussed.

A little bit about Nancy and Kraig

Nancy King is the SVP of Product Engineering at Target, a new role within the last nine months. Her responsibilities include leading the product engineering organization, including all the software and capabilities that team members and guests interact with at Target. 

Kraig Narr leads the Stores and Supply Chain Product Engineering team at Target, which falls within Nancy’s organization. He leads all the applications from purchasing overseas, global transportation, warehouse management, domestic transportation, and all the applications within the stores.

Evolution of Product Engineering at Target 

As a Product Engineering Organization, they are organized together in an IT structure that has them interacting and working directly with their business partners. The Target Tech team comprises 5,000 team members primarily located in Minneapolis at headquarters and then in Bangalore, India, at their secondary headquarters. Target Tech is divided into five different divisions, 1) Product Engineering 2) Infrastructure 3) Cybersecurity 4) Architecture 5) Data Sciences/Data Engineering. Starting in 2015, Target noticed they were lagging in their technology working models. They had been using a very traditional model that was not keeping up with current businesses, technology, and the company’s needs. This was the beginning of the digital transformation at Target. Some of the most critical aspects of this transformation were organizing their teams for DevOps, introducing new roles into the organization, and filling them with top-notch candidates, gathering leaders and engineers from across Target Tech to debate various topics within tech, and embracing opensource, which became central to all the technology assets they were building.

The foundation of this transformation became this question: How do we make core data reliable and accessible? They spent the first few months deciding what made up the key data they were looking for and ensuring they had people who could find this key data. Once the core was built, they could go to market quicker than before. They continued to embrace test and learn principles, starting small and ensuring that the guest led them to the correct answer. The teams utilized capabilities like never before, which led to the discovery of new capabilities. As the company was rapidly moving in the right direction, things became much more complex than they ever had been. Kraig stated that many teams were struggling with prioritization. Teams were innovating and accelerating products and services, but it became hard to prioritize which ones needed the most attention. As a result of changing technology processes during this transformation, they ran into a few bumps in the road that did not make this journey easy. On Father’s Day in 2019, Target’s point of sale systems went down, causing guests to be unable to pay as they were leaving the store. Although this was a significant challenge that they had to face, they had created a culture within Target that embraced cross-functional teams that could handle this situation well and overcome it. 

In 2020, Target was far enough along in their transformation that they were able to introduce new services, such as Drive Up, and keep up with it and have the confidence to do it. This is thanks to the latest technology capabilities and operational partnerships. The pressure of the pandemic and the need to find a solution to allow their guests to feed and provide their families with the daily necessities were at the forefront of their priorities. 

Looking forward, Target is focusing on making sure their employees are connected. Their culture must encourage people to work together, build trust and ask questions. They want to make sure that all teams are on the same page and have shared empathy for the goals. They feel confident that they can handle whatever is coming next because of their agility and ability to move quickly, ultimately giving them responsiveness. Over the past seven years, Target has made a substantial transformative shift and will continue to evolve with the current world of technology.