10 things we have learnt about virtual sprints

Gavin Thompson explores virtual sprinting, sharing his best practice advice along with hints and tips to create and deliver a meaningful event for everyone involved.

Sprints are a time-constrained, five-phase process that uses design thinking to explore change in the built environment with a group of people who have different perspectives.

At Buro Happold, our consultants and advisors have developed sprint formats which range from two hours to two days. The differing durations help us problem solve a broad number of topics with a diverse and dynamic range of attendees and guests.

Urban C:Lab Design Sprint Barcelona
By holding sprints virtually our specialist consultants and advisors can bring together participants who may not typically travel to such an event.
Image: Urban C:Lab Sprint, Barcelona, October 2019

By holding sprints virtually, we can quickly bring together participants who may not typically travel to such an event, ensuring greater diversity of perspective and access to relevant expertise.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and resulting lockdowns, have forced change and social agility to cope with this change. With this in mind, Urban C:lab explored and tested the efficacy of a virtual two-hour sprint. The results were highly insightful.

Here are the 10 things we learnt from the session:

  1. Preparation and briefing: virtual events allow us to work quickly to capture a particular moment. But, careful planning and pre-event briefing of all participants is vital to ensure valuable outcomes
  1. Online platform: working in small groups then sharing feedback in plenary is a key feature of an effective sprint. Break out rooms within platforms such as Zoom are a good substitute for group tables in a face to face sprint environment
  1. Timing: the ideal overall sprint length is up to 120 minutes as energy decays more quickly online. It’s important to change the format throughout the sprint to maintain focus. Allowing some time for start-up, transitions between break out rooms and close out are important. We have found +15% is a good margin. Breakouts of around 45 mins allow for a good level of discussion
  1. Noise: there are a lot of webinars and workshop invites whizzing around. Sharing original data and analysis at the start is a compelling primer
  1. Clarity: posing a series of short simple questions ahead of the sprint is a good way for participants to organise their thoughts before joining the breakout sessions. Translating these thoughts through different lenses is a good exercise for group work. For example, exploring personal experiences of lockdown through the lens of design in different ‘spaces’ within the built environment
  1. Group numbers: breakout groups should be a maximum of 8 people as larger groups make it harder to hear from everyone involved
  1. Group roles: a chair in each group is key and should drive the conversation ensuring good airtime amongst participants and convergence on key themes. A rapporteur should capture the essence of the discussion. This is a tough role and requires considerable concentration
  1. Sharing ideas: emerging focus during discussion needs to be captured quickly and shared with the group. Jamboard and other whiteboard apps are popular amongst rapporteurs and allow real-time sharing of emerging ideas during the breakout
  1. Feedback: group feedback is best kept to 10 minutes per group. If you have more than three groups, run parallel feedback streams and ask someone to summarise each stream at the end. A quick summary is the best way of identifying key headlines and topics, ideally followed by 30 minutes of group discussion (this can exceed the total time of 120 minutes so can be optional for attendees)
  1. Don’t let it stop there: consider capturing and processing the feedback in short papers and reports. If there is mileage in the outcomes, suggest that groups reconvene separately to further develop and share ideas.
man with headphones on video call
Larger groups can make it harder to hear from everyone.
Image: Getty

If you would like to explore and understand emergent and rapid change in your area of the built environment, please contact Gavin Thompson. We would be happy to help you.

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