Design Sprints at Scale: Fitter, Faster, Stronger
In November 2019 Loreto Normanhurst undertook its second iteration of our Sprint Week program. We took what we learnt the previous year and ran an even more ambitious 2019 program with a total of 30 teams (yes, that is 30 simultaneous design sprints) and the addition of a media team tasked with telling the story of Sprint Week.
Sprints are a five-day problem solving methodology born out of GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet (formerly Google). The methodology rose to prominence with the 2016 publication of ‘Sprint’ by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. Whilst originally used by GV in order to help fledgling startups solve tricky problems, many businesses and social enterprises now use the sprint process as part of their day to day operations. It allows key members of the organisation to come together for five days with the aim of solving and testing a pressing problem. The theory underpinning this way of working is that it’s far better to invest five days of people’s time than 6 months bringing something to market that may not actually solve the desired problem.
In education we are always looking for opportunities for our students to engage with the world around them in authentic, relevant and personally meaningful ways. Our decision to use a real world methodology gives students something to put on their resume and a talking point for an interview when they can say that they’ve worked with their peers for a solid week on how Australian Women’s Rugby might successfully professionalise or how Dyson might expand its beauty business to sell 250,000 units in a 12 month period. More than that, I think the methodology speaks to the core of a Loreto education. One that encourages girls to always ‘lean in’, to back their own ideas as valuable and worthy of pursuit, to know that they can have a seat at any table they choose – be it a Fortune 500 organisation, a social enterprise or a dinner table. Over the course of their lifetime, we know our girls will likely move fluidly between them all.
On Monday morning, Ms Ugonotti spoke to the girls about just that, overcoming their fear in favour of risk and experimentation both in their thinking and the ideas they bring to the table. Loreto Normanhurst alumni and Global Chief Marketing Officer at Guzman y Gomez, Lara Thom, spoke to Year 10 about her own entrepreneurial journey. She spoke about the importance of taking what you learn from great mentors and great companies and not being afraid of starting something new. Lara also laid the groundwork for the empathy needed to truly engage with a given problem. Students needed to not only bring their own expertise to a problem but to consider that problem from the point of view of someone directly impacted by it. We saw the power of storytelling in full flight when as an audience we were emotionally engaged with the plight of rural communities or a young girl who dreams of a career in rugby but whose parents worry about the safety of the sport.
Glenn Andrew, Managing Director of Dyson for Australia and New Zealand, spoke about audacious problems which require different thinking. He spoke about the need to remove the ceiling from what’s possible. Giving a literal and metaphorical example by telling the cohort about Richard Douglas “Dick” Fosbury who is widely credited with inventing a back-first high jumping technique that revolutionised high jump. Fosbury’s technique inspired jeers but was actually, according to Andrew, a stroke of genius that gives us a clear lesson around innovation. Given that the landing mats had changed, the context of the sport had changed. To continue doing the same thing in a changed environment is to stagnate. Too often we stick to the old way of doing things despite being handed the technological tools to try new approaches. I need only mention the disruption caused by Uber who took to established industries with new tools, namely a mobile phone. Why stand on the street waving your arms wildly when you can use the mobile phone in your pocket to hail a car? Not to mention the disruption caused around mobile payment methods. The awkwardness of digging into your handbag for cash or a credit card while the taxi is double parked has been significantly mitigated by using mobile as a means of ‘invisible’ payment.
Both keynotes provided wonderful frames of reference that we were able to refer back to across the course of the week when working with students. When the problems seemed expansive we directed them back to their process maps where they narrowed in on one specific part of the problem. As Ms Ugonotti reminded the students, ‘you eat an elephant one bite at a time’. When the students ideas were too rigid we used Lightning Demos to seek inspiration from further afield to see whether what has worked elsewhere might also work in a different context.
The role of the external stakeholders and real problems is integral to the success of the week. It moves the learning from the often abstracted classroom to the real world. The students commence the week not knowing much at all about their allocated problem. Some students in the Cerebral Palsy Alliance stream didn’t know what CP was and the majority of students in the Multiplex stream tasked with working on attracting and retaining women in the building industry certainly had little prior knowledge of the diversity of roles in the industry. In 2019 we equip the students’ ‘war rooms’ with research packs in order to go some of the way towards quickly helping them understand the area prior to the Monday afternoon interview with their allocated subject matter expert.
On Monday afternoon, each team was given the opportunity to interview a subject matter expert. We are so grateful to the generosity of our Sprint 2019 partners who gave up their time to talk to the students about the unique challenges of their industry, what has worked before and where some of the biggest opportunities for growth are. These experts were engaged again on Wednesday when they provided digital feedback to each team by ultimately telling them which idea or parts of ideas to champion. Receiving external feedback shifts the focus away from the person behind the idea and towards the merit of the idea. The SMEs don’t know the individual students and they provide feedback on the strength of the sketches that are sent to them. Once the teams have the go ahead from the SME they must rally together and storyboard a singular team idea. After prototyping their concept they present back to that same SME the next day. Giving students the opportunity to voice their ideas in front of an audience who are well placed to turn those ideas into reality is a powerful teaching tool and a platform for brokering connections between young people and their potential employers or indeed, potential investors.
Perhaps the most exciting part of our second iteration of Sprint Week is the growth we have seen in our team of teachers. Pieces of the sprint methodology are moving beyond the Year 10 Integrated Learning program and into the classroom of a diverse range of teaching disciplines. From Sprint inspired lessons where students use Post-It notes to work together on developing thesis statements to sprint in the Visual Art department. We are seeing an uptake in staff requesting more whiteboards in their classrooms in order to shift the learning from sedentary to visible and physically active. We see the Sprint Week program as a strong professional development opportunity for staff where they can see practices in action that help facilitate team decisions, use time limitations in order to increase output and grow a test and learn culture.
Having first introduced the Sprint Week program to Year 10 in 2018 I thought we would most definitely be fitter, faster and stronger this year. In many respects we were, though the magic of program is that it is impossible to control or predict the outcomes. Team dynamics that might have raised an eyebrow pull together in productive and cohesive ways, problems that you think will produce amazing results, sometimes don’t. There is evidence of both convergent and divergent thinking when the teams assigned the same problems come together to peer review their respective ideas. Some teachers step into the space with confidence and calm and others are stretched well out of their comfort zone. The magic is in its unpredictability, to try and exercise absolute control is to have the experience but miss the meaning. We need to give students scope to bring themselves to issues in their own way. To allow space for experimental thinking and to carve out areas where trial and error is the norm rather than a hurdle to navigate.
It was a privilege and a delight to watch these young Loreto women engage with the challenges laid down by industry and I am enormously proud to say that we take every single Year 10 student on the journey with us. Of course, the journey would not be possible without our partners. Thank you again to the 2019 Loreto Normanhurst Sprint Week partners: Dyson Australia and in particular Glenn Andrew, Managing Director Australia and New Zealand and Cara Mead, Sales Director Australia and New Zealand. Thank you also to Katie Steele and Tiana Hale at Dyson who worked so well with the students. It was a buzz to see the Dyson products in full flight and we are certain the winning teams will enjoy their Beauty Bar experience. Thank you to Lara Thom, Global Chief Marketing Officer @ Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria (it will be hard to beat surprise burritos in 2020). Thank you to Canon Australia who provided Lucas Townsend, Advocacy & Partnerships Manager and Anthony Cortis, Project Manager. Canon’s youth mentorship program, Redstraps, provided guidance to our media team throughout the week. Thank you to Cerebral Palsy Alliance and especially to Peta King, Events and Community Fundraising Manager, Cerebral Palsy Alliance. We hope to see our girls working with you again in the future. Thank you to Nestle and in particular to Leah Barroccu, Head of Field Sales Nestle, Australia who gave us a Milo problem to solve as well as samples to enjoy. Thank you to TAFENSW and Melanie Timmerman, School Relationship Coordinator, TAFENSW, for breaking down the stereotypes around TAFE. Thank you to Multiplex and Loreto Normanhurst alumni Jade Nicholson who is a Design Manager at Multiplex. Thank you to Bulliroy Pastoral Co and Year 10 parent Maurice Cluff who travelled a great distance in order to work with the students on an agriculture (or agriCOOLture) problem. Thank you to Australian Women’s Rugby and Kerry Chikarovski, Director on the Board of NSW Rugby Union who brought such passion to professionalising women’s rugby.
The staff were graciously provided with training yet again from Adaptovate and a very special thanks goes to Caitilin Studdert, Karrie Chen, Katy Hughes and Thomas Ross for working with a team of teachers.
We are pleased to be able to offer Loreto family and friends 25% off the RRP on the full Dyson range. It may prove useful in the lead up to Christmas and our thanks go out to Dyson for their generous offer. Please use code LORETO25.
Ms Elizabeth Green
Learning and Knowledge Strategist