Community Sprints

The popular “sprint” format of innovation recently made popular by Google Ventures as a tool for helping their startups speed up the process of focusing and testing innovative ideas; has a new application for community engagement.  I’m calling this a “community sprint” while giving credit to Nigel Sharp and the University of Alaska Anchorage Center for Economic Development (UAA/CED) credit for the work to develop the format and implement it to help different communities explore new opportunities.

My intent here is to share how a community sprint fits in to the larger innovation ecosystem and tool set, while also suggesting that the goal and objectives of a community sprint need to be kept clear.  To summarize, Community Sprints are a new process for facilitating “Impact Innovation“, that is a form of “Open Innovation”.  I’ve linked my previous post on impact innovation, but it remains another task to explore “open innovation” and post something later.

To begin with, I’d like to cover some background.  The “sprint” format comes from a long history of rapid team problem solving methods.  I learned it during the 90’s as a the AME Kaizen Blitz process use for rapid shop floor and operations management improvement projects.  The blitz format was generally five days, with work teams that were expected to focus full time on the blitz, leaving daily work “1000 miles away”.  The format included a lot of preparation by management to scope the challenge and prepare resources and support for the team, without knowing exactly what they would come up with; but generally being able to anticipate some of the resources they would need, such as lift equipment, mechanical and electrical technicians, permitting, drafting or IT support.  Teams would spend the first day completing some introductory (just in time) training and challenge familiarization including data collection and observation of the current situation.  Then they would move through a process of mapping the current processes and a desired future process that would lead to identifying potential projects and finally selection of a project that would deliver the biggest benefit for the effort within the time frame they had to work in. Setting up and testing the solution was rapidly completed and the blitz would finish with presentations to management of the new process including metrics of the before and after results; and recommendations for future new blitz and improvement projects. Here is an overview of the process from a SlideShare from Anand Subramaniam . Others have used the approach, such as the Deep Dive from IDEO.  AME and IDEO may claim some credit, but I expect that some additional research would find that there are many examples of the format that existed before the AME trademarked the Kaizen Blitz in the 90s.

More recently the sprint process was popularized by Google Ventures in their Book Sprint. Their format uses a five day format with a format of exploration, selection, building, testing and presenting.  I will skip more details on this popular format, but here is a good post that summarizes the format.

Now to the point of this post, community sprints offer a format for addressing community challenges using the same tools used by companies for their internal quality improvement and innovation opportunities.  They feature the same process of problem exploration, just in time training on any enabling tools, selection of solution to prototype, feedback and presentation on the solution results. 

There is one significant different however that comes up repeatedly around the purpose of the solution prototype and the ultimate goal of the community sprint. Where as the Kaizan Blitz and GV type sprints have a goal to develop a solution and if the prototype is promising, then to proceed with additional development and perhaps full implementation, I believe the goal of the community sprint is different.  

The goal of the community sprint should be directed to exploring the range of opportunities that might come from the challenge and use the prototype solutions as not a end goal in themselves to be pitched at the end of the event, but instead as a feedback process to help explore and understand the range of opportunities more completely.  

As this illustration of a community sprint shows, the sample solutions are fed back to a review of the opportunity space to consider what was learned from the solution about the impact and effort of different opportunities that might come from the challenge. (See the PICK tool for more about prioritizing and selecting projects based on effort and impact.) Indeed, not shown, is a possible feedback to the challenge itself. With this in mind, then the final presentations at the end of a community sprint are an explanation of the solution and what it taught the team about the opportunity space and the nature of the challenge. The fact that the solution itself might have value moving forward following the impact innovation model is secondary to the value of having involved a group from the community to explore the challenge and the potential opportunities that might come from seeing the resources that will be put in the challenge as an investment in enabling the future opportunities.

The winner of a community sprint? The winner should be the community and everyone that participated and developed their network of contacts in a challenge space. However if a “winner” must be selected for the fun of it and rewarding the efforts and outcomes, then it should be choose based on the novel opportunities found in the challenge, the validation lessons (good or not) from the prototype solutions, and most of all, the insights gained and shared about the opportunity space (effort and impact) from building and evaluating the solution that clarifies the potential solutions and reduces risks for others to pursue in the future. Said differently, the winner is the team that was most effective in teaching the community about the challenge and inspiring people to take action.





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