Virtual Sprint How-To Guide

Virtual Sprint How-To-Guide

By: Air Force CyberWorx UX Design Team

Executive Summary

The following is a collection of notes on various issues with respect to conducting remote or virtual sprint events. These notes are based on both experiential data and from reading dozens of articles on the subject. We do not advocate for any specific tools but provide reflections of our experiences with them. Our intent is to help you conduct a successful sprint on your own.

Since each sprint is different and people have many different ways of conducting a sprint, this document does not describe the sprint process. Instead, we describe the functional issues you’ll need to address in order to provide a successful virtual sprint.

This is not an exhaustive review of various tools and methods, just experiential knowledge cultivated over time. Therefore, this is a rough guide to use as a data point, not a comprehensive set of rules.

Main Objective

The most difficult aspect of conducting virtual events is maintaining participant engagement and momentum throughout the event. To that end, we provide these tips and tricks:

Changes to Our Design Sprints

Social distancing rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to develop a remote sprint capability to replace our in-person design sprint events. We quickly determined that we could not just cut and paste our renowned 3-day sprint process into a virtual environment. The virtual domain demanded we change the process, deliverables, and expectations according to the challenges presented by the participants and available technologies.

That said, we have had enough success with virtual sprints to consider this alternative when logistics (or acts of nature) prohibit us from bringing everyone into our studio.

All or None

If this works, what about combining virtual participants and in-person participants during an event? We wouldn’t recommend it. To put it simply, in-person participants will most likely end up dominating the conversation. Virtual participants can become frustrated and eventually become disengaged and go silent.

Participant engagement is a critical factor of a successful UX event. It’s a much more balanced level of engagement if everyone is either virtual or in-person, but not a mixture of both.

Synch vs. Asynch

An in-studio sprint is usually a 2-3 full day effort with lots of different group and breakout exercises. When everyone is in the studio, it’s easy to manage this kind of breakout and regroup process. In a virtual environment, this process is limited due to the technology and distractions in the participant’s workspace.

Distractions make it difficult to maintain attention on long conference calls. A virtual environment allows for a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous events. Synchronous events occur when everyone is together on the conference call for shorter periods of time. Asynchronous events are basically homework participants can complete alone or as a smaller team when timing (and lack of distraction) is best for them.

One good method is to describe and practice an exercise synchronously, such as creating storyboards or personas. Participants can then add to that body of knowledge by creating more of these artifacts asynchronously before the next session.

Pace Yourself

When we have 50 people fly in for an in-studio event, it makes sense to run the sprint over 2-3 days. In a virtual event, we can skip a day between events without losing momentum. Giving homework assignments on the off days keeps the participants engaged in their free time. Moreover, it allows more time for ideas and methods to sink in.

Attending a long conference call can be difficult for some. We recommend keeping the sessions to 2-3 hours and spread them out over several days. Separating the sessions by a day allows you to assign ‘homework,’ asking the participants to revisit the digital whiteboards and adding any additional insights that occurred to them. This approach proved useful in capturing insights that attendees did not have time to bring up during the session. This also helps to keep them engaged with the effort.

Taking Breaks

Since we ran 3-hour sprints, we found a single 15-minute break in the middle of the session to be good. When participants returned, we asked them to announce in (Zoom) chat that they were back from the break for accountability.

Video Conference Tools

If you have more than 6 participants for your event, we have found breakout rooms are a useful feature in a video conference tool for conducting remote sprints. You may want to send small teams into a breakout room to allow for more focused discussions and the generation of ideas. If your sprint expects to use breakout rooms, be sure to enable the breakout room features in the account settings (Zoom). You’ll know it is enabled in Zoom if you see the Breakout Room icon next to the Record button at the bottom of the screen. Different tools do this differently, just be sure to check that your tool has all of the features you’ll need enabled.

There is currently no consistency across the Air Force about the use of Zoom. Be prepared to switch to another tool. The Zoom Gov version is acceptable in some locations whereas a paid Zoom subscription is acceptable in others. The free version of Zoom is always questionable. In any case, avoid any sensitive discussions (FOUO, PII, etc.).

We tested only a few tools that offer breakout room capabilities:

Zoom – This is our top choice. Most folks know how to use it or need little to no training.

Blackboard – Less common, but an Air Force-accepted platform (licensed by AETC and used for academics at the Academy).

Blue Jeans – Pretty good functionality and similar to Zoom. Has a history of being unstable, but that may have improved over the years. This tool may not be approved for use on AF networks.

We didn’t test some tools for various reasons: time for testing, cost (free version insufficient), ease of use (based on reviews and discussions), software install required, and more.

Reviewed but not tested conference tools with breakout rooms:

NewRow – A remote classroom tool

Remo – A webinar tool

Use Phones for Audio

Recommend to the participants that they use their phone  to call in to the conference call. They can use the video conference tool to connect visually, but should not rely on the tool for their audio. Using a computer for both audio and video can double the internet bandwidth and create audio drop-outs. A video drop-out isn’t usually much of an issue, but audio drop-outs are disruptive.

To ensure their phone connection follows them into breakout rooms, participants should link their audio to their video persona. If they aren’t linked, the video goes to the breakout room, and the audio remains in the main room.

Standard Video Conference tools

As mentioned before, we highly recommend tools with breakout room capability. The difficulty of using tools without breakout room capability isn’t the technology, but the human factor. To mimic a breakout room, the host needs to create separate conference sessions for each team, send separate invites to the team members of each room ahead of time, tell them to log out of the current conference, and login to their specific room. You also have to make someone the moderator of each room. Procedural problems can arise if the chosen moderator doesn’t attend that session.

Each of the sprint moderators will have to login to each room separately to answer any questions or make announcements. On top of that, there is no easy way for members to ask questions of the facilitators. When the breakout session is done, participants have to repeat the process of quitting a room and login again to the main line.

This cumbersome process adds frustration to participants, interrupting their engagement and the sprint momentum. We found this takes extra time to reestablish engagement. Using standard video conference tools is acceptable for events that don’t require breakout teams.

Collaboration Tools

There are many collaboration tools, but Mural and Miro are the most common tools of many UX teams who offered suggestions during this research. Tools fall into three categories: digital whiteboards, prototype and design tools, and full design activities support. Since every sprint is different and every team has their unique ways of conducting sprints, we recommend that each team identify tools that serve their needs. Remember, this is a living document and you are encouraged to add you knowledge and experiences here.

Digital Whiteboard Tools

There are several digital whiteboard tools available, but the free versions limit the number of projects or team members. I hope you try them out and report back.

Some common examples are:

Everything Explained – Getting some attention from UXers

Stormboard – Trending with some UX teams

Prototype and Design Tools

These are common collaborative tools used for sharing and commenting on visual design concepts. As such, they are not optimized for supporting activities like task flows or journey maps.

Some common examples are:

InVision

Figma

Balsamiq

Sketch

Axure

Xd

Design activity support

This category is like a whiteboard, but with extra options that enable both design and non-design activities. We tested and used two tools successfully:

Mural

Mural offers a few more desirable facilitator functions, but it’s also a bit more difficult to learn how to use within the constraints of a virtual sprint.

Follow Me

This feature shows the moderator’s board on all of the participant screens so they can follow the facilitator’s work. A useful feature, but not used that often for sprints.

Miro

Easy to learn and use. It only takes a 15 minute practice session to get everyone up to speed. Miro lacks a few facilitator features that Mural offers, but it’s still quite good.

Bring to Me

Miro has added a new feature called Bring to Me that brings all or selected participants to the same area of users’ board. It is accessible from the member indicator circle in the upper right. Click on your circle and then select the desired option.

Miro Board invites

Team members can invite people to the Team, which is necessary if you want them to have access to one or more projects. Once someone is a member of the Team, they can be invited to any project or board. Team members invited to a board are, by default, given access to all boards in that project.

A recent update allows you to invite guest editors via a URL but be aware that there is no type of access protection with that link. Anyone with the link can access your board (and therefore the information on it). This sharing is performed through the share feature on a board (upper right). You create a link and then send it to the invited guest editors (email, slack, etc.).

Invited guests have access only those boards that you invite them to. They cannot see any other projects or boards.

To uninvite these guests, change the settings in the share dialog.

Through use, we created a best practice to streamline using Miro: keep a list of every invitee and their email address ready to resend them invites and double-check that each participant is invited to the Miro boards and conference tool (Zoom).

We settled on Miro for our sprints after testing both Mural and Miro with the AF CyberWorx staff.  Even better is that we already had a license for it, it made sense to use it.

VPN issues

We have discovered that Gov PC’s on a VPN are often blocked from accessing many tools. It is advisable to ask participants to turn off their VPNs or use their personal computers.

Facilitators

All facilitators, despite their role, need to have the right permissions in both the conference call and the collaboration tool to enable smooth transitions and quick answers to questions.

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

Because of the various technology requirements, it is best to have someone on the periphery to take command of the conference rooms and collaboration tools as a sort of producer or Wizard of Oz genius behind the curtain. This enables the moderator(s) to focus on activities without being distracted by technology issues. The more participants in a sprint, the more this becomes and issue. Typically, a lead facilitator and assistant can handle up to 15 participants, but any more than that requires the additional assistance of a Wizard of Oz.

Set up Breakout Rooms Ahead of Time

It is better to work with the project stakeholder to identify the team make up. Avoid overloading teams with participants who share the same perspective or role. Assign attending participants based on these predefined teams. Reevaluate these teams during the sprint as some folks may need to drop off and may not be available during the time allocated for the breakouts. This is one of the tasks the ‘producer’ needs to perform behind the scenes so that the facilitators don’t have to interrupt the sprint.

Moderators

Moderators need to be assigned as co-hosts. Each breakout room should have a moderator assigned and each moderator must be assigned to a team, otherwise, due to technical issues, they will not be able to bounce around to other rooms.

One Board or Separate Boards?

For breakout sessions, it may be necessary to provide a separate private board available only to the members of that specific team. Separate boards reduce distractions and confusion over where on the collaboration screen each participant should focus.

Technology

We have yet to test these processes on a tablet but we recommend participants use a laptop or desktop computer with sufficient processing and graphics capabilities.  In some cases, depending on the collaboration tools used, personnel will need to use a personal device on a commercial network while others may be able to use government devices on a government network. Highly recommend testing out the tools prior to start with enough time to work any technical issues.

Two Monitors

If possible, it is advisable to use two screens, one for the video conference tool (Zoom) and one for the collaboration tool (Miro). There are times when the moderator will be sharing a screen on Zoom and participants will be interacting with their collaboration boards.

Varying Degrees of Internet Access

Recognizing that different sites have different internet access rules and not every tool can be used on a government computer or behind a firewall, it makes sense to test each site that a participant would use to make sure they can access and use each of the tools. For instance, not everyone may have access that allows them to use the collaboration tools (Miro and. Mural). Therefore, you may need to simply share your screen in the video conferencing tools. Test this far enough in advance to allow time to make adjustments to the plan.

Pre-Sprint Checklist

Create visually large anchor points in the main project board (Miro) that are easy to find. This makes it easy to direct participants to the right area of a board (which can get pretty large). A large numbered circle is highly visible from the navigation map.

Practice Board

A practice board (Miro or Mural) lets invitees login to the board and use some of the common features prior to the event. Let them know you will be monitoring that board to make sure everyone can log in to it. Have attendees leave a “Kilroy Was Here” message on the board so you can track who was able to login. If someone doesn’t leave a message on the board, be sure to reach out to ask why before the start of the sprint.

We developed practice boards for each feature we expected users to use during the sprint. We provided a sample artifact using each tool for users to recreate on their own. For instance, in one frame we showed some colored shapes and had users recreate those. In another frame, we had users connect shapes with the arrow connection tool.

Uploading Images

In some cases, you may want the participants to draw things. Not everyone is comfortable drawing on a digital whiteboard. Therefore, be prepared to let participants draw things on paper with marker pens and upload a picture of it to the board. To facilitate this, you should have participants practice taking a picture and uploading it.

This also means that you should let participants know to have paper and markers on hand. Regular pens and pencils don’t register well enough when photographed and uploaded. Include this information in the invitation email.

Preferred Email Address

Be sure to ask for their preferred email address, not just their official address.  Military email can have connection and delivery issues that would inhibit participants from getting essential sprint-related emails in a timely manner.

Test, Test, Test

Be sure to test all of your tools and features prior to launching your sprint. Enlist your colleagues to participate in a dry run of your process and tools. Something will need adjusting, so plan for about an hour to do a full dry-run.

In-Sprint Checklist

Introduce the collaboration tool (Miro) and review the practice steps to show how it should be done. This helps those who didn’t practice and those who struggled with the tool to better understand how the tool works.

Be sure to demonstrate how to navigate the boards using the map tool and the different pointers.

When it comes time to vote on something, have a PowerPoint slide ready to describe how to use the voting feature and show an example of what it looks like to the users. Indicate what to click on to place their vote. For instance, in Miro, if they click on an object in a drawing, that object will get the vote, not the drawing. This can be leveraged to promote some conversation by asking users to clarify what they were voting for.

Session Recordings

Be sure to record the meetings. It’s better to store the recordings on the local computer to avoid running out of space in the cloud. Zoom offers 1GB of cloud storage with a paid subscription, but that fills up in 4-8 hours.

Because Zoom only records what is shown in the Zoom screen, be sure to have the moderator share a screen with the digital whiteboard tool displayed in it.

Remind participants to call in on their phones and link their phone to their video feed. It may be best to describe how to do this as part of your welcome message. The Producer Behind the Curtain can tell who is linked and who isn’t and prompt them via direct chat.

Post-Sprint Checklist

Recommend capturing the session recording and make it available to the necessary parties.

Take advantage of the tool to  capture relevant info on the boards. Miro has an export board function to save parts to your computer as an image or vector PDF. The vector PDF allows the greatest clarity and zooming features for later use.

Create a survey asking folks what they would like to see to improve their experience.

In Summary

While conducting virtual sprints was a direct response to the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown, we learned that virtual sprints may be useful when gathering a group in our studio is not feasible. Hopefully, you will find this information useful when you need to conduct a remote or virtual UX event.

Remember, this is a living document that will benefit from your experiences – both successful and unsuccessful. Feel free to add comments or questions.

ARTIFICIAL OR AUGMENTED INTELLIGENCE: WHICH SOLUTION IS RIGHT FOR YOUR PROJECT?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the latest ‘gadget’ that companies want to add to every project. However, it’s not the silver bullet that many folks hope it to be. It has its strengths and limitations. To overcome AI’s limitations, Augmented Intelligence optimizes the strengths of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning (ML), and human capabilities.

The fundamental limitation of AI is not the programming, but the design of the AI algorithms. Artificial Intelligence is a rules-based solution, and a traditional rules-based AI requires complete and accurate rules. It’s up to the designers to accurately define the right rules. Historically, humans are not very good at predicting every eventuality or possibility, and thus do a poor job of specifying the rules.

And then there’s the issue of the data used to train and operate an AI system.

Humans routinely arrive at successful solutions based on ambiguous, inaccurate, and incomplete data. Computer and AI systems require accurate data to derive an accurate solution. Unfortunately, inaccurate data is a common occurrence, and it’s not always possible to identify the inaccuracies. For instance, there may be inherent biases in the data that will alter the results. These biases may be created by virtue of how the data was collected or due to an unrepresentative data set.

Accurate data is critical, especially if the tool includes a Machine Learning component. A learning engine is only as good as the data it learns from. A good AI solution should include a learning engine to constantly evolve its rules based on actual usage.

Creating a training data set requires a lot of human processing, which may account for much of the unintended biases in the data set. A human decides what data to use to train a learning engine. Without knowledge of how the training algorithm works, they may exclude data that would otherwise be useful and include data that confuses the learning engine.

Besides data accuracy issues, AI systems are not designed to understand inferences as well as humans. An AI engine might be good at taking ice cream orders, such as a chocolate ice cream cone with candy chunks on it, but the same engine would not know how to handle a request for a cone, “Just like that one only with sprinkles.”

AI systems are designed and trained to perform specific functions with specific data sets. They are not yet sophisticated enough to generalize across all inputs to learn everything. Humans are uniquely capable of transferring knowledge across domains to operate effectively in a novel environment based on what we have learned in other, non-related environments.

Humans have limitations, as well. Humans just don’t have memory processing capabilities as good as computers. We are not able to process large amounts of data, we cannot keep track of many things at one time, and we cannot recall things with perfect accuracy. These human limitations are AI strengths.

So, one of the big questions is how to leverage the strengths of humans to overcome the weaknesses of AI, and vice-versa. Augmented Intelligence is a model that emphasizes the assistive role AI can have in enhancing human cognition rather than trying to mimic or replace it. A good example of the use of Augmented Intelligence is in the Automated Readiness Forecasting (ARF) tool designed by the AF CyberWorx team.

ARF accepts mission parameters, such as an exercise several months away, and schedules qualification events to ensure that appropriate personnel and resources are available for the exercise. It also keeps track of all necessary equipment maintenance as well as personnel training and medical activities needed prior to the exercise. It suggests schedule changes which will ensure the required resources are ready in time. Affected personnel only have to approve or acknowledge any adjustments. The tool then tracks progress, highlighting any deviations to the plan and suggesting corrections along the way to stay on track. Machine Learning uses the repeated iterations and changes to evolve the scheduling algorithm, fine-tuning its capabilities and reducing reliance on human intervention.

The readiness tool assumes the mundane tasks humans would otherwise have to perform to keep track of readiness data and immediately adjusts the plan to accommodate any changes to resource availability. Normally, such adjustments would require dozens of people working hours to accomplish. Humans are still required to approve changes, but are relieved of the time-consuming and error-prone tasks associated with adjusting schedules manually. This tracking and automation saves hundreds of resource hours, eliminates errors, and ensures a higher level of readiness.

This example illustrates an Augmented Intelligence and Machine Learning paradigm that could be applied to many Air Force projects rather than a typical Artificial Intelligence approach. The point is, AI is not a panacea for all problems. AI is successful when the problem domain is well understood, the data set is accurate, and the AI is focused on a specific task. Knowing when to design for an Augmented Intelligence verses an Artificial Intelligence – and the difference between the two – is crucial to success. Not every problem needs an AI solution.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PART FIVE: AFTER THE SPRINT: NEXT STEPS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PART FIVE: AFTER THE SPRINT: NEXT STEPS

A design sprint’s ultimate goal is to improve a situation, whether that means improving an existing process or developing a new product. Not acting on the solutions a team suggests means a design event has not fulfilled its purpose. AF CyberWorx continues working beyond the sprint itself to help the results of a design sprint reach implementation.

The last step of the event is the outbrief where participants present their findings to the stakeholders. With team suggestions in mind, AF CyberWorx uses their own crack team to work with stakeholders to determine the next steps.

Greg Bennett, AF CyberWorx Relationship Manager, explains, “Every single sprint is going to be different. The outcomes are going to be different. The resources required on the back end are going to be different.” As such, AF CyberWorx customizes a roadmap to the end result according to the needs, limitations, and available resources of the problem owner. “We will continue to stay engaged as they want us to stay engaged,” Greg reassures. However, “We will not fight the fight for them.” Even with CyberWorx assistance, “Transition will not happen without [the champion’s] direct involvement and advocacy.”

Each champion and problem owner has different levels of capability and needs. As such, AF CyberWorx has different tools at their disposal to help. While some projects proceed best after transitioning to a different Air Force agency (which is an option), others are best served by going through a research and contracting process to get industry assistance. AF CyberWorx acts as a bridge between the problem owner and the contracting office to assist with that.

Once the problem owner and AF CyberWorx decide to pursue contracting options, Erica Wilson, Contracting Officer, and Casey Pehrson, Contracting Specialist, go to work. Erica explains that with AF CyberWorx acting as their technical point of contact, “we connect market research to figure out if anybody’s doing what they’re wanting done, who’s doing it, and what types of businesses are doing it. From there, we decide on a contracting vehicle.” The contracting office looks for the most streamlined avenue based on available information, resources, and the problem owner’s timeline. To best do that, as Casey says, “We just need to come together as a government team and find the best way forward.”

The problem owner can help that process most by clearly defining their wants and needs: what they need, what they’re trying to buy or do, and what their limitations are. Information from the design sprint really helps with this, but the more specific the project parameters, the better the contracting office can find the best paths forward.

“Transition [to the end result] requires continued involvement with the customer,” Greg stresses, “to formulate strategies…and advocate with leadership, program offices, and sustainment functions.” It takes a dedicated team to champion a solution and transition it from the idea stage to implementation. From the discovery call laying the groundwork through the problem solving process to drawing out a roadmap to implementation, AF CyberWorx helps guide the process by connecting the right people at the right time. While we don’t do the fighting, we coach problem owners as needed to refine and mitigate Air Force challenges.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

The finish line of a design sprint is the final outbrief. This last piece is when participants and decision makers see the results of the hard work everyone has put into finding a solution. The outbrief is an integration of everyone’s efforts during the event and includes all the design sprint elements: the refined problem statement, personas and scenarios, solution design, and all the pieces in between.

Vel Preston, AF CyberWorx Head of Innovation Design, describes the elements of an outbrief. Just as the event begins with the problem statement, the outbrief also starts with the problem. As Vel asks, “What’s the impact of the status quo?”

Stakeholders define the goal, but it’s the participants who explore the problem and determine how the status quo impacts the end users and, by extension, the mission. While the military mindset tends to put mission first, people enable the mission. As Vel explains, “We’re in the military. A lot of our problems revolve around lives at stake,” whether that means boots on the ground being supported by aircraft in the sky or personnel relying on finance for their paychecks. In exploring the human aspects of the problem, participants identify specific pain points to improve upon.

After briefers reiterate the problem, explain its impact, and outline the human element involved, they’re ready to lay out their solution. The ideal solution addresses the problem statement directly and pertains to the specific barriers and pain points identified during the design sprint journey. Vel explains that overall, “we want our listeners to follow the logic trail…Here’s what the status quo is, here’s the impact of keeping it that way, here are the things that’re getting in the way [of improving], and here’s how we can do it better.” The solution is the final piece that gives stakeholders a direction to a better future.

For the best response to an outbrief, participants should keep in mind more than just what the problem and potential solution is. Participants need to know to whom they are briefing. Ideally, they will be the person or people who can say yea or nay to the next steps. When that’s not possible, the person receiving the information should be someone who can become a champion for the solution to those who do have say. To help with this, briefers need to understand what information the decision-makers need. The team needs to consider and include that information. Some of that can include approximate costs, necessary resources, items to investigate further, and what parts of a solution are already in place to easily use.

Though the purpose of a design sprint is to come up with new ideas and solutions to solve or mitigate a problem, there are still limits to keep in mind. As Vel says, “It’s harder to get behind someone who wants to restructure everything.” Resources across the DoD are shared among a lot of projects, programs, and departments. If a team attempts to change the world, even if that is what is ultimately needed, their solution may not gain much traction.

Vel explains that the best received solutions are when the participants have drilled down to a single root cause that affects several pain points of the problem. “Because [a team] focused on the root cause…the integrated solution was more impactful and powerful.” If they focus on the right problem, the solution will have a large impact and be received well by stakeholders even if the root cause is relatively small and can be fixed with little effort and resources.

The outbrief is not the end, however. As Vel encourages participants, “The outbrief should be the beginning of change that everyone is asking for.” Viewing the outbrief as the beginning of change, instead of the end of an event, changes the perspective from one of presentation and after action to one of suggesting next steps and path to improvement. AF CyberWorx works to enable change and improvement. Facilitating events and guiding experts through the process to a solution is simply a vehicle to enable that change, not an end in itself.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

STEP THREE: SOLUTION DESIGN

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP THREE: SOLUTION DESIGN

The solution design portion of a design sprint is often considered the most fun and free-flowing part of an event. This is what people come to the event for: to come up with solutions to their problem. What most newcomers to the design sprint process don’t realize is that the solution design portion is still part of a much larger process. Knowledge and artifacts from the previous steps in the event feed into ideating solutions and then paring them down for realistic solutions that will have a strong impact on the organization.

All the work the stakeholders and participants have done up to brainstorming solutions lead to creating a wide pool of potential solutions. Cole Stamm is an AF CyberWorx UX Research Fellow through the ORISE program. As he explains, “The personas, journey maps, task flows, task optimization – all that is the foundation for creating ideas off of.” From the initial discovery call to writing out personas and scenarios, the artifacts that map out the problem-solving journey the team has taken leads up to ideation. Cole went on, “You can’t create solutions without doing those first steps or they’re just arbitrary solutions.” Arbitrary solutions don’t provide the impact to the organization a team hopes to create.

The best solution design phases pull in focused information and give back actionable, well-developed solutions. Cole relates a specific event that had excellent results. Part of the key, he says, was because “it had a very specific focus…with very clear constraints and personas.” Another successful event “had a number of interesting solutions that benefited from the task analysis approach.” For each, the solutions were based on a strong foundation built throughout the event. The solutions focused on the end user and solving their pain points.

Ultimately, solution design is really just another step in the entire problem-solving process. Cole stresses, “Problem solving goes on throughout the process. It doesn’t really stop with the solution process.” AF CyberWorx facilitators are there every step of the way to assist the team with staying focused on the problem and reminding them of the gains they’ve made during their problem-solving journey to finish strong with impactful solutions.

The Solution Design Process

Once the team has a cohesive, shared vision of the problem, end goal, and requirements for success, they enter the ideation phase. This is the fun part. Cole outlines some key things participants need to know about ideating solutions: “Stay open to making connections between different peoples’ ideas…put off judgement until a later time…stay focused on the user at the center of the problem.” Keeping these ideas in mind, let the ideas flow freely, have fun, and trust that the process will weed out the ideas that are too complex, expensive, or off topic later.

The next step puts the products of previous steps to active use. Often, a team will find a process or design has specific requirements, objectives, or key questions that need to be addressed. After creating a large group of great ideas, the team needs to whittle down the number of solutions to narrow their focus. As Cole states, the group is looking for “the idea that’s really going to change the game.” The team votes, considering which solutions would be “easy wins” which would have the greatest impact on the problem, and which solutions generate the most passion among the participants. After that, asking which requirements each solution meets helps prioritize them and sometimes further weeds out unlikely solutions.

Now the team has a set of solutions that the majority agree meet the requirements, will be impactful to the problem and users, and are feasible. The team next needs to prepare those ideas for action. To do this, each solution gets fleshed out with a process Cole calls “make it or break it.” Here, the critical cap needs to go back on to determine the pros and cons of a solution and what acts as assists and barriers to the solution. Some examples of both include expenses, manpower, time to implement, or utilizing existing resources. Ultimately, it’s the decision-makers that decide if a solution is a go. It’s the participants’ job to give them the information they need to make the right decision.

AF CyberWorx guides participants through a tried-and-true process from discovery to solution design so a problem-solving team’s efforts result in finding a direction to improvement. Whether the solutions call for a change in process, prototypes for a new product, or a proof of concept, we help the team discover areas for improvement and develop paths towards success.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PART TWO: BREAKOUT GROUPS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PART TWO: BREAKOUT GROUPS

AF CyberWorx design sprints are tailored to the needs of the stakeholders. One crucial aspect is the number and diversity of participants in the group. Events at AF CyberWorx can have as few as five people and as many as forty or fifty. In each group, dynamics are determined by individual personalities, experience with the problem area, and strength of opinion as well as rank and positions (and perceived deferment to such). Each element may affect how people interact with one another.

However, each event is very short. The typical forming, storming, and norming growth of a group needs to happen as quickly and painlessly as possible while still gathering as much information and as many ideas as possible. The answer to this is to break a larger group into smaller diverse teams of four or five people.

Ideas are the meat of the problem-solving process. Ed Mikos, UX Design Analyst at AF CyberWorx, explains that “the information that’s created and captured [during an event] is going to be built on in a series of expansion and contraction steps leading to one final outcome.” In each step, ideas are generated from the group to expand potential. Those ideas are then vetted to contract focus down to the best, most impactful ideas that will push problem-solving efforts further. A team needs that pool of ideas to find which are the best.

Breaking the group into smaller focus teams gives everyone a voice. Ed states, “Everyone in the group brings something to the table.” Each person in the event is there for a reason and has good ideas from a different perspective. Smaller groups composed of diverse people takes out the possibility of a single, strong voice speaking for their peers in a larger crowd. Position becomes less of an issue when the higher ranked person is in a different group. The senior airman who actually uses a program has equal voice to the colonel who oversees the management of a similar office.

Another benefit of breakout groups comes when the groups return from a session and share their findings. Sometimes more than one group will have the same or similar ideas. That’s O.K.! Ed says when the same idea comes from multiple groups, “there’s probably something there [that needs to be explored].” Instead of being repetitive, the multiple groups reinforce each other, giving consensus and higher strength to that idea.

Groups increase idea generation, break down group dynamics to give everyone a voice, and often generate consensus faster than a large group as a whole. With those three benefits of breakout groups, Ed gives some key points for participants to remember when they move into the smaller focus groups during an event: “Everyone in the group brings something to the table. There are no bad ideas. Trust the process.”

He goes into more detail on some of these by explaining that “When someone is locked on an idea or someone is being too negative, like saying ‘Why are we doing this?’…that negativity is infectious.” Being a champion for your own idea is fine; that idea may be validated. However, keep an open mind. Each member of a group has a unique perspective and adds to the quality of the end product. “Allow for diversity of ideas…people come up with different ideas and know what the different feasibility and technical and organizational shortcomings will be.” When a diverse group works together with a positive attitude towards the process, the entire problem-solving team improves.

For those who are still hesitant to speak up or grab a marker and add their ideas, Ed reassures that “no one cares how good an artist you are or how eloquent you are. We need your ideas. You’re in the room for a reason.” Each idea adds to the whole. Each group’s findings add to the quality of the event. Every participant who speaks up adds valuable feedback that ensures a quality end product.

To assist the problem-solving team, AF CyberWorx provides experienced facilitators to encourage breakout teams to participate and stay on track. We know time is precious during a design sprint and how valuable each participant’s voice is in the group. Speak up and allow us to help you find the best possible solutions to your unique problem.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART ONE: DISCOVERY CALL

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART ONE: DISCOVERY CALL

When AF CyberWorx gets a request to run a design sprint, it’s like kicking an anthill…without all the biting that follows. There’s a series of meetings scheduled, logistics starts plans to make everything run smoothly, and team members are selected. One of the most important pieces to this initial organized scramble is the discovery call.

Dr. Dan Padgett, one of AF CyberWorx’s excellent user experience designers, describes the role of the discovery call as letting the facilitating team get a glimpse of the situation. This glimpse allows them to get into the stakeholders’ minds a little. As he explains, “At the end of the day, as UX designers, we’re not the subject matter experts in the field, so we need to try and understand as much as we can so that we can effectively plan for the problem solving session, whatever form that might take.”

The forms an AF CyberWorx event takes can be from a full five-day problem solving and design sprint to a simple site visit. The discovery call narrows down how long the process will take and what needs to be done.

One of the big pieces the team tries to discern is how solid a problem statement the stakeholders have. As Dr. Padgett explains, “If through a discovery session, we feel like we’ve got a really good handle on the scope of the problem and what they’re actually trying to solve, then we might do a lot less on the discovery portion of the design sprint.” The first day of an event is taken to refine the problem. How long the team spends on this exercise depends largely on how thoroughly the stakeholders have explained their situation and what they want to improve.

Paired with that is the need for clear goals. Everyone has problems, but fewer know what they want the end state to look like. “We want the problem to go away,” is not a goal. “We want the system to improve,” is not a goal, either. A goal needs to be actionable and measureable. The clearer the desired end state is, the more focused a problem solving team will be.

A piece of information that most people don’t think of is the understanding that not all AF CyberWorx team members are well steeped in every cyber career field. We don’t always understand the jargon. As Dr. Padgett describes it, some calls are extremely technical. The experts are on the line and use “acronyms without ceasing.” In the case that our team does not understand,the biggest help is to know what the acronyms mean and pass on that information early in the process. The discovery call is what shapes the overall event. It gives the team at AF CyberWorx the information it needs to build an event that will have the greatest impact. The best way to make the event as successful as possible as early as possible is for the discovery call to go well. Dr. Padgett explains some items to get the most out of discovery calls:

  • Provide enough time before the event that an AF CyberWorx team can make a site visit. Seeing the work environment and the job actually being performed by the users themselves always gives information that someone used to the environment won’t recognize as significant.
  • Ensure the right people are on the call. Stakeholders are important, yes; but having some of the users that experience the pain points normally adds more practical information.
  • Know who the stakeholders are and who the decision makers are. They aren’t always the same. Knowing who will receive the information to make the final decision helps ensure that the final products are designed for maximum impact.
  • Provide concrete information. Who are the users/customers of the system in question? What process/product/challenge is needing improvement or a solution? What are your goals?
  • Exploring the situation and asking questions are part of every discovery call. Come with information and have people in the know on the call so the facilitating team can get a clear picture of what’s going on.
  • A high-level comprehensive picture is more important than a detailed breakdown of the process. The detailed work will go into the event.

Ultimately, the discovery call is an introduction to the problem solving event. It shapes it, defines it, and prepares the AF CyberWorx team to guide a team of experts through the problem solving process. Information goes both ways. We also explain expectations while we’re gaining information. We aren’t the experts on the problem, but we are experts at guiding others through solving their problem. Help us help you.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART TWO: EXPECTATIONS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART TWO: EXPECTATIONS

“Our thoughts about an event can have a dramatic effect on how we go through the event itself.” –Martha Beck, life coach

Any time a group of people are about to embark on a new goal, there are expectations. As much as motivational quotes talk about having no expectations, they still exist in one form or another. A major part of the initial event planning is expectation management. Stakeholders have in mind what they think AF CyberWorx can do and will do. At the same time, the facilitation team has specific things they hope the stakeholders and participants will do. Sometimes the mystery continues on until the event itself. We hope this blog will work towards solving that mystery by setting realistic expectations.

When stakeholders request an event, they know the status quo is not working. They and the users they represent all have ideas of what might “fix” everything. Dr. Dan Padgett, a user experience designer on staff with AF CyberWorx, explains that the facilitation team does not “validate solutions they’ve already thought of.” Instead, they help with a process of thinking differently that gets the team to an answer. The key word being process. A problem solving event does not start with the solution. That being said, some participants and stakeholders come with the expectation that the AF CyberWorx team is going to either provide the answer to their problem or enable the idea they already have.

Vel Preston, Head of Innovation Design, explains it this way: “You scope a problem one way, and a lot of people come to the sprint who haven’t had the same background with new ideas. The group decides, ‘Well, we hadn’t considered that. Maybe we should scope this differently than we thought.’” The process AF CyberWorx guides event participants through leads experts and industry partners to refine the problem and find an impactful solution.

What the team thinks they’re going to fix at first may not be what needs to be focused on. Larry Marine, Lead UX Designer, explains why it’s necessary to lead participants away from their initial expectations as soon as possible: “Folks come in with a strong tendency towards the symptoms without fully understanding the problem.”

That being said, the facilitating team members are also not subject matter experts themselves. As Dr. Padgett says, “sometimes it takes participants a bit to realize that we’re there to facilitate the sprint, and that we’re not SMEs ourselves.” As designers, their specialty is facilitation and guiding teams to consider the user experience in their own designs. They are not experts in every field, nor are they experts on exactly what the stakeholders need to fix their problem. That’s why a group of experts from the field are brought together to solve the problem.

What AF CyberWorx cannot do for stakeholders is solve their problem. They will not immediately verify initial solutions before the process is followed, because they don’t know the current system well enough to say “yea” or “nay.” What we can do is assist a special focus team towards finding a desirable and feasible solution. We can provide facilities with a workspace, tools, and facilitators to make problem solving easier. We also provide networking with industry partners to broaden the knowledge and capabilities of the DoD talent pool. We facilitate improvement and growth, but the subject matter experts in the field are the real heroes that do the work.

Of course, expectations go both ways. Jayleen Guttromson-Johnson, Program Manager, lays out the AF CyberWorx expectations succinctly: “We expect full-time commitment while [participants are] in the design sprint. No email, phone calls, or disappearances. Also, be open to living with the uncomfortable. Our process isn’t like what most people are used to, so just trust the process.”

Stakeholders request AF CyberWorx facilitation and capabilities. We’re here for the team’s success. Let us help turn problems into solutions that go beyond simple expectations.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART THREE: PROJECT LOGISTICS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART THREE: PROJECT LOGISTICS

What do hotels, food, security, and video recording have in common? They’re all part of the chain of logistics that happens behind the scenes before a successful event. The AF CyberWorx logistics guru is Cheyenne Ellis. She does more than just gather and send out a hotel list and coordinate access badges and video recording of the event outbrief. She also lines up transportation into the secure location where events are held, builds baskets with supplies for each breakout team, coordinates with our support team for food delivery, ensures buildings and elevators are accessible, and a myriad of other small details to let participants and the team focus their energy on the problem being worked during the event.

For her to be successful, though, she needs the cooperation of stakeholders and participants involved in the event. She says the most important thing she needs is for participants to fill out the requested information as quickly and accurately as possible. Otherwise, she may be unable to help, constrained by security or other deadlines. “We’re very strategic on what we ask for. We’re doing this because we need to.”

The place to give information is through the portal every participant is directed to at registration. The information provided allows Cheyenne to acquire security badges, lets her know if there are any food allergies (or preferences), as well as gives contact information in case there’s a last-minute change or weather issues to ensure participant safety and comfort. Without the proper information, we can’t get you on base, get you access badges, and through security to attend the event.

It’s critical that participants read the information they’re given before arriving on base for an event. It may involve what to bring (and not bring), base visitor hours, directions to the parking area, shuttle transportation, and how to navigate the maze of hallways to AF CyberWorx.

For stakeholders, the most important thing is to be involved and responsive, even if they are unable to attend the event. The best results happen when stakeholders give fully fleshed-out directions including their goals and a fully formed problem statement. Not only do these give the problem-solving team direction, they keep the stakeholder in the loop with what’s going on. The stakeholder is a critical part to shaping the way forward to a solution. Having involved stakeholders helps the event run smoother from the beginning all the way through approving implementing changes identified by the project teams.

AF CyberWorx does as much work behind the scenes as possible to make a design sprint run as smoothly as possible. Without cooperation from participants, however, that work is difficult. Be prepared with your end of the logistics and we will be that much more effective at designing a solution!

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

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