LSE Sprint Week – in Covid times.

On this last day of term I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the online teaching of “Innovating Organisational Information Technology” at the LSE with Carsten Sorensen and, in particular, the hugely popular LSE Sprint Week; a week long sprint following Jake Knapp’s influential sprint book which I organise and run.

Old Sprint Weeks

Usually this involves ~100 students working together in a huge hall around tables and whiteboards (see left). But this year, with only a couple of weeks notice, I had to move this entirely online. 110+ students, 21 parallel Sprints, various technical and administrative challenges, a real-world business problem, and world-class consultants judging on Friday afternoon. All online.

The week starts with a presentation from VISA of a significant challenge our students must address: this year it was various scenarios of fraud using the fast-payment infrastructure. Having received the challenge I released the my pre-prepared MURAL.co templates for each group to follow. The templates set out exactly what each group needed to do each day and were vital to ensuring groups could self-manage the week. Mural is a whiteboarding solution allowing you to zoom right into tiny post-it notes or images (see below). The groups would then use the templates adding their work collaboratively during the week and submitting their design via the red box on Fridays template. The template contain everything the groups needed including templates, instructions and forms.

The template was thus designed to be followed without outside facilitation by faculty and with each student in each group taking the role of group-facilitator for one of the days. In addition, dice were thrown to see who would be the “Decider” in the group – the group-CEO who could be called upon to make any tricky decision. Dice work well for this – ensuring the role is not always allocated to the loudest and most confident in the group.

One useful feature of MURAL is the ability to create rooms for shared collaboration around whiteboards. I therefore created seven rooms and clustered the groups into these allowing them to each see two other groups Mural-whiteboards. Clusters allowed groups to compare, discuss and peer-review each others work, and reduced the stress on groups as they could see how two other groups were struggling or overcoming the challenges and ask them questions. It also increased drastically social interaction among students. Each day Carsten and I met with each cluster for 30minutes – providing feedback and answering questions. This was important as it allows us to review each group quickly and maximise the time we had. Zoom was used for these meetings. We also held short “All-Hands” meetings every morning to share learning with the whole 110 students.

Outside speakers are major part of the Sprint Week and we were delighted to have Jake Knapp himself join us on two days to present and answer questions. This proved important as it reinforced that, despite not having a face to face sprint week, this was just as intense, innovative and important an experience for our students. This message was reinforced by VISA’s innovation team who have used Mural.co all this year, and by Roland Berger’s Spielfeld Digital Hub GmbH team who joined later in the week. Thanks to sponsorship from Roland Berger we could provide students with a copy of the book as well! [Jake is 4 along, 2, down, myself 2,1, Carsten 4,1].

Jake proved amazing at lightening the mood and helping the students realise that online sprints are certainly possible, and can easily be useful, innovative and fun – reinforced by organising a zoom dance session.

Scheduling

With so many moving parts during the week scheduling was vital. Outlook calendar proved the best tool available for this. Sharing my calendar with my admin support, and sending meeting invitations to all the students, either on-mass or in their clusters, allowed us to schedule the whole week. This also allowed dynamic changes during the week to be shared quickly with everyone and, crucially, handled time-zone challenges for those working overseas (though many of these students had decided to shift their body-clock for the week and so worked nights). Below is the final schedule for the week. Notice that during Wednesday and Thursday we had sessions where Roland Berger consultants mentored each group. This consultant feedback, (including from some who were our Alumni), was vital as it give industry-relevant feedback and reassured groups that the skills they were gaining were relevant to industry today! Finally we bought a cheap mobile phone and through this provided a WhatsApp, WeChat, Voice and Email helpdesk (manned by Dr Boyi Li) throughout the week.

Evaluation

During a face-to-face sprint it is easy to gauge the mood of the teams and adjust the week accordingly – indeed this is one of the key skills of a facilitator. But for twenty-one online parallel groups this was impossible. As such I devised a daily “check-in” form using Microsoft Forms which each student needed to complete nightly and which I reviewed each morning. This was helpful in showing minor points for improvement, and also extremely satisfying to see the overall rating for the the week:

Marking:

The students received two forms of feedback for Sprint Week. The first was on Friday when I invited industry experts (from Visa and Roland Berger, PA Consulting, Government and Salesforce) to form a “Dragon’s Den” to watch the video pitches each group had prepared and judge the winners based on innovativeness of the pitch. This was a wonderful experience for groups and unveiled the “winners” of sprint week – who will go forward to present their ideas to VISA’s innovation labs next year.

This was not however the judgement of academic success, and after Sprint Week Carsten and I carefully marked each groups project based on the following criteria (listed on each groups MURAL) for their academic grade:

Having an academic grade for Sprint Week has been important in ensuring groups feel the stress of caring about their design. Each group then received a feedback form with a few paragraphs explaining the rational for the marks and outlining any limitations in their design – thus ensuring they learnt from the entire experience.

Teamwork support

Before the week started teams were encouraged to organise a meeting and use the Team Canvas to understand their working practices and plan the week. I also held a 1hr introduction to Mural so the students would know how to use the tool effectively prior to Sprint Week.

Video Conferencing equipment:

Finally I was also lucky enough to have very good quality equipment to run Sprint Week . I used an ATEM Mini Pro video switcher and my own good camera and microphones for meetings. These tools proved invaluable during the teaching as, within zoom calls, I could add overlays with information (e.g. lower-third messages about the day) and professionally switch between devices (e.g. my video camera, an overhead camera for drawing/whiteboarding, images, my tablet as a white-board, even my phone to show a Time Timer app). During meetings for example I could put my phone as a timer in the corner of my Zoom video images to keep students to time. This technology, while expensive and complex to use, improved the professionalism of my teaching this term and, perhaps, along with the work above, helped reassured students that they were still receiving an LSE quality sprint experience online.

My “Lecture Theatre” during Sprint Week! (the tin foil on the window was to stop the camera overheating in the sun)

Five days of trials, tech and teamwork: welcome to Sprint Week

Innovation can transform the world. So how can it be encouraged and nurtured? Sofia Klapp, studying my course in “Innovating Organizational Information Technology” for her MSc Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation (MISDI), reveals how our Sprint Week concept challenged her and her fellow classmates to generate, develop and pitch genuinely groundbreaking ideas. 

It was Monday morning, and 18 multidisciplinary teams were assembled at their desks. It was the beginning of the Sprint Week. We all had our materials ready (post-its, tape, markers, cardboards, and one big whiteboard) and plenty of healthy snacks to keep our energy levels high. Visa, one of the world’s leading payment brands, were explaining their global innovation challenges. From this moment until Friday afternoon, we would have to work in an “agile manner” to create an  innovative digital solution to win this innovation competition.

The Sprint Week: A learning-by-doing process framed as an innovation race

Will Venters and Carsten Sorensen, scholars on the “Innovating Organizational Information Technology” course, came up with a better use for the reading week for the MISDI Programme at LSE. Instead of just teaching about digital innovation and agile theory, why not use this week of no classes to immerse the students in a hands-on learning experience? They called it “The Sprint Week”, and this is the second year they´ve run this 5-day bootcamp.

As if making Sprint Week 50 % of our course assessment wasn’t enough, to add some extra adrenaline the teachers framed it as an innovation competition. Two key partners (Visa and Roland Berger) were invited to make things even more exiting. Both would be judges and choose the best projects for the grand final on Friday. Visa shared its strategic digital challenges to inspire our innovation ideas. Trending topics like mobility, digital identity, and a cashless society, served as fuel to ignite our imaginations. At the same time, Roland Berger, a strategic consulting firm and design sprint expert, was there to support our hands-on learning process.

The Sprint Week Methodology: The MISDI approach to developing digital innovations

But how did it all work? Sprint Week addresses digital innovation development by combining the best of two approaches: Design Sprint Methodology (a five-day work process for answering business questions through design, prototyping, and testing digital ideas with customers created by Google Ventures) and Soft Systems Methodology (a socio-technical approach broadly used to understand, design and intervene in information systems and digital innovation). While the first approach encouraged us to work in an agile manner as a multidisciplinary team, the second allowed us to understand the digital challenges from a systemic perspective considering their social and human implications.

The Sprint Week Experience Challenges: It’s not about intellectual capacity, but about the right mind-set and team-work skills.

Initially, these methodologies seemed simple. But as we moved forward we realised that putting them into practice wouldn’t be easy. For me, the biggest challenges we faced weren’t intellectual, but mostly related to how we managed uncertainty and how we interacted and communicated as a team. Whether we felt lost or on track depended on how well we managed our teamwork, triggering a roller coaster of emotions in our team throughout the week.

Managing the uncertainty that every innovation process entails can be very hard. We humans seem to have a control seeking mind-set that also looks for right answers. Yet working in an agile manner is not a linear step-by-step process. The agile mind-set is about learning and discovering the answers as you go, navigating in a disciplined way the messiness of the innovation process. If you are a control freak, you will suffer a lot. A good strategy was to keep trusting the methodology, accepting uncertainty as a normal feeling during the process while being open to be suppressive by the outcomes of applying it.

All the teams were highly diverse in their backgrounds and personalities. My team mates were from Indonesia, China, and the UK, whereas I´m from Chile; and their backgrounds ranged from IT-engineering, linguistic, international business, innovation and psychology. The methodology encouraged us to interact and discuss in an active and collaborative way. But it also meant dealing with disagreements among team members. We all speak English but our cultural differences and accents meant we had to focus extra hard. Getting to know each other before the Sprint Week and negotiating working styles was very important. We also ran open-heart sessions after each day gave feedback about what we liked and what we could improve for the next day.

What did I get out of all of this? From connecting theory and practice to being inspired by my classmates

As a MISDI student with previous work experience in innovation and agile development, I did not expect to learn as much as I did. The Sprint Week has definitely been the highlight of the MISDI programme so far.

Getting the opportunity to work on a real-life case challenge for a global company, with the input from industry experts, helped to link the theory I´d learned on the course with real world challenges.  And the ideas and discussions it generated between team members from different backgrounds, life-experiences and nations were amazing. Honestly, I feel that in one week it made me a better team player!

Moreover, seeing the teams´ project presentations on Friday was inspiring (all of them, not just the finalists). All the initiatives were so diverse and creative.  They greatly exceeded my expectations: from a data monetization platform that allows individuals to gain control of and get value from their digital data, to a futuristic payment chip inserted in consumer’s hand linked to an integrated app. Even some of the social projects surprised me; there was a donations platform that streamlines the funding of NGOs for increased transparency and another that provides digital sovereign identity and financial inclusion to the unbanked population.

This hands-on experience helped us gain a practical understanding of breakthrough methodologies while developing the multidisciplinary team skills needed to craft digital innovations. But most importantly, this week reminded me that at LSE your classmates are one of the main sources of learning and inspiration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sofia Klapp is from Chile and holds a BA in Organisational Psychology, plus diplomas in Business Management and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Her experience in leading customer experience evaluations in technology projects in a global IT consultancy enabled her to understand the strategic complexities that digital transformation brings, encouraging her to pursue her MSc Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation (MISDI) at LSE.

Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week reflections

The following article was written by students attending the our Digital Innovation Sprint Week at the LSE:  MISDI students race to innovate during Sprint Week

 

This October, 120 MSc Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation students took part in LSE’s first ever Sprint Week- an intensive exercise in innovation and collaboration that forces teams to go from idea to prototype in just five days. It is designed to accelerate decision processes and produce clear results within a short time-span- a method used by many start-ups and innovation departments. They were supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In this article we hear from two students about their Sprint Week experience.

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Responding to that challenge is the aim of the Sprint Week.

Will Venters, Assistant Professor of Information Systems

martin kassethMartin Kasseth, 2017-18 MISDI student from Norway:

Tell us a little about your Sprint Week experience- which company were you working with and what approach did your team take to their problem?

We were working on an exciting project for an internationally recognised financial company (that unfortunately I can’t name here for legal reasons), with some help from consultants from Roland Berger to come up with an innovative idea to help the corporation and their issuers (banks) to engage with younger generations. My group came up with the idea of creating a new, flexible and disposable payment mechanism that we named “VSticky”. The purpose behind the solution was to engage new generation audiences and facilitate small payments at events. Enabled by NFC (contactless) technology, these sticker devices were limited by a geo-fenced and time-limited area, and could be easily deactivated and disposed after use. The sticker is linked to your own digital wallet via a mobile app, where you can set your own spending limits. We envisaged that this solution could be used at events to allow quick and safe payments within geographically-limited areas. Possible use cases included sports games, concerts, schools/universities, street markets, conferences, amusement parks, etc.

What challenges did your team face?
I think the greatest challenge for both me and my team was communication. We were a very international team, with students from Norway, Germany, the U.S., Iran, China and Estonia. While this was one of the most exciting dimensions of the week, it also posed some communication problems. Even something as simple as saying that someone’s suggestion is “okay” might have completely different connotations in different languages and cultures. This resulted in quite a few funny episodes that we also learnt from throughout the week!

How did you do?
Of the 18 groups, the top six were selected for the last day’s “Dragon’s Den”, where representatives from the financial corporate client, external consultants and industry experts listened to the groups’ presentations and asked questions about the designs. There were many creative and really good ideas presented by all of the groups. In the end, the jury picked a winner, which actually was my team’s solution!

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Probably that innovation processes are much more complex and challenging than I imagined beforehand. It is not simply enough to have a good idea – you also need to think thoroughly through the possible usage cases, target groups, the value creation, in addition to the system design itself. Nevertheless, parts of the innovation process can be compromised into a single week and still produce good results. This provided me with a method and toolkit that I am sure I will bring with me into my future career.

Everyone has the opportunity act as the group’s leader for a designated day, providing you with valuable insight into team-work management and challenges, which are crucial for your future career. Moreover, getting the opportunity to work on a real-life case challenge for a global company, with the input from industry experts, is a really inspiring factor. It is probably the best academic learning experience I have had so far during my studies!

We all got together and celebrated with a big party on the Friday – it is important to celebrate after a week with hard work!

IMG_7499 resized

_____________________________________________________________________

Timo Fuhrmann, 2017-18 MISDI student from Germany:timo

Do you have any advice for future students about Sprint Week?

Before the Sprint Week, I would definitely recommend students read the book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days on which the project was based. It gives you a comprehensive overview and explains in detail the tasks that have to be done during the week.

The outcomes were very diverse among the 18 groups that took part in the Sprint as everyone approached the problem in a different way, leading to interesting products. My group worked on a mobile app and a smart card to unify payment and authentication. Other groups focused more on the payment aspect and also trying to approach new markets.

What did you find most challenging about the week?

I believe that the biggest challenge was to bring everyone on the same track during the first two days. There was not always a clear way forward and there were also many discussions on various aspects. We had to make sure that everyone knows our goal, agrees with it and follows it. We needed to achieve a common understanding of our main idea to be able to find a good solution and work on our prototypes. On Tuesday, we managed to overcome this challenge and found our common understanding, enabling us to work more efficiently and to come up with a great solution in the end.

What did you learn from the experience?

For me, the Sprint Week has been the highlight of the MISDI programme so far. It was intense and demanding but a lot of fun to work together with my group on a real-life problem, creating our own solution and presenting it in front of experts and receive feedback. The Sprint Week is a useful and effective concept to think about and test new product ideas. This hands-on experience gave me a good understanding of the concept and I believe that I can use this framework for my future work life.

Sprint Week1
Timo’s Team

Sprint Week2
The “Rich Picture” from Day 1.

Old Sprint Weeks

Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week with Roland Berger

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Addressing this challenge we drew inspiration from  Mark Thompson at Judge Business School who has run small sprints within their MBA and we developed a 1-week “Sprint week” bootcamp within our core MSc course.

This week all our 120+ MSc students studying “Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation” are coming together in teams of 6 to innovate a new product or service for a real global company during a 5 day sprint [1]. They are supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In essence our week follows the Sprint method set out in Jake Knapp’s book “Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” with some significant changes:

  • Students will use richer (and more complex) modelling methodologies, which makes sure groups appreciate the different cultural, social and organisational perspectives within their design. This ensure they produce designs which are both systemically desirable but also “culturally feasible” wherever they will be applied.
  • Students will be pushed to not just produce solutions based on user interface or web design. They must develop a coherent digital design using basic UML modelling techniques alongside Wardley mapping techniques, to ensure a realistic strategic design.
  • Interspersed with the innovation work are a few short lectures – refreshing them on key techniques and introducing challenges their design will face.

On the Friday, the consultants will select the top groups for a Friday afternoon “Dragon’s Den” where experts from the global company, Roland Berger, and from the consulting and software industry, will put those groups through their paces – asking the difficult questions and pointing out the failings in their design. Finally, and most importantly, there is a party on the Friday evening (kindly sponsored by Roland Berger).

As the week counts for 50% of the student’s course mark, their designs will be marked by LSE academics based on LSE assessment criteria – something that is important to ensure this is not a “game” but a deliverable for our students.

Students will benefit from this unique opportunity and will experience some of the frustration, stress and elation of this kind of digital innovation work. Students will also get a chance to show in future job interviews that they know how to work in groups on digital innovation work, for a real client under real pressure.

One group might just come up with the next big thing and then, perhaps, be given a chance to work with the client to develop it further!

Will Venters 2017.

  1. Knapp, J., J. Zeratsky, and B. Kowitz, Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. 2016: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Checkland, P., Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. 1981, Chichester: Wiley. 330.
  3. Checkland, P. and J. Poulter, Learning for Action: A short definitive account of Soft Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. 2006, Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.
  4. Checkland, P. and J. Scholes, Soft Systems Methodology in Action. 1990, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.