A ‘STEAM Sprint’ is a flexible design thinking framework that can be used to help your stakeholders to tackle product, service, or societal challenges and test new ideas using creative problem solving methods. It is an intense process, produced and delivered by STEAMhouse, that brings together a team of diverse stakeholders to work collaboratively during a series of online workshops. The results set the direction for a product, service or project to be taken forward into a set of next steps.
Name: STEAM Sprint
Partner organization: STEAMhouse, BCU
Authors: Patrick Bek
‘STEAM Sprints’ are for small teams of no more than 16 people who have a shared concern that they want to tackle. It takes practice to understand how to tailor the methodology and create activities to suit the concern the team is working on. Here are some other, less commercially focused examples
Time: STEAM Sprints (online version) work best as four to six workshops of no more than two hours each with participant ‘homework’ in between.
Original Context: ‘STEAM Sprint’ has been delivered with a variety of external organisations, including a group of construction industry organisations, who are collectively addressing the problem of reducing the use of single use plastic in the construction industry. Our focus was problem framing. The group came together to share perspectives on their shared problem and worked together to define and articulate the challenge, as well as develop an action plan to tackle it.
Group: In this instance, the particular group comprised a range of organisations who either manufacture and produce building materials or supply building materials to the construction sector. Each organisation had a specific challenge regarding the problem of overuse and reliance on plastic packaging. The group also involved academics and researchers from BCU’s Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment.
Sprint Lead – This is the client.
- Sprint Designer – is responsible for managing the relationship with the client and
designing/delivering sprint activities.
- Sprint Facilitator – supports the Sprint Lead with all aspects of the sprint.
- Pre-sprint reading – Assets you share with participants so they know what to expect
and what’s required of them.
- An intro deck for every workshop – Participants need to know the rules of the sprint
and what they’ll be working on each time they come together.
- Virtual whiteboard space – Miro is one of a number of options available.
- Video conferencing software – Microsoft Teams or Zoom works well but aim to use software most agreeable for the client.
- Workshop activities – These need to be designed and produced by the ‘Sprint Designer’ before every workshop.
- Pens and paper – Tech can fail so ensure participants have these to hand during every workshop.
The ‘STEAM Sprint’ methodology can be applied to find answers to many big questions, however it takes practice to understand how to tailor the methodology and create activities to suit the concerns of the team working on it.
If a ‘big question’ problem concerns stakeholder data, consider ethical arrangements and checks that may need to be put into place.
Potential application/ adaptation:
A ‘STEAM Sprint’ can be adapted to support exploratory work at various stages of projects and within a variety of contexts, outlined below:
At the beginning of a project – You might use a ‘STEAM Sprint’ to initiate a change in a process or start the innovation of a new product or service concept. This works well when you are exploring opportunities with the goal of coming up with original concepts that ultimately will be tested in the real world.
In the middle of a project – You might use a ‘STEAM Sprint’ to start a new cycle of updates, expanding on an existing concept or exploring new ways to use an existing product or service.
For a mature project – A ‘STEAM sprint’ can also be used to test a single feature or sub-component of a product or service. This allows you to focus on a particular aspect of the design.
For policy work – ‘STEAM Sprints’ can be used to start the process of innovating policy ideas or creating prototype policy recommendations.
For research work – ‘STEAM Sprints’ can help multiple people work together to generate and make sense of human-centred research insights and find opportunities to act.
For systems work – A ‘STEAM Sprint’ can be an effective way to enable groups to explore and analyse multi-actor systems. They can shape strategic thinking and align teams on the best course of action.For idea generation – Shorter sprints are a great way for groups to brainstorm multiple possibilities or opportunities, then critically analyse and filter ideas to arrive at consensus.
Running a ‘STEAM Sprint’ (online)
STEAM Sprints work best as four to six workshops of no more than two hours each, with participant ‘homework’ in between; this allows for enough depth to lead to accelerated results. It is recommended that no more than one week be given between workshops to keep up momentum and enthusiasm. All participants should be sent the agenda beforehand as well as examples of what a ‘STEAM Sprint’ might look like.
Each workshop throughout the Sprint needs clearly defined objectives, an agenda specific to that session, which summarises activities and duration. Each session needs its own conclusion so participants feel they are making progress at each stage.
The non-negotiable part of the ‘STEAM Sprint approach’ is ensuring participants work through each Sprint phase but the specifics of timing and exercises can be adjusted to fit project constraints.
To keep things on track and manage expectations, you will need to determine the ‘guardrails’ for the sprint. Scope the sprint with stakeholders and do your research. Arrange short 20-minute discussions with prospective participants ahead of the Sprint, understand what a successful Sprint means to them, and listen to their concerns. This will help determine the scope, who should be in the ‘room’, and you will get a sense of their individual characters and working styles.
Whatever the reason to run a ‘STEAM Sprint’, use a big activating question to bring participants together. Use the ‘how might we’ format to do this to keep things exploratory. The word ‘we’ is in there because this is a collaborative effort. The word ‘might’ keeps participants open to all kinds of possibilities. The question needs to describe the scope of the Sprint: if it is too broad it will be difficult to tackle and one that’s too narrowly defined will not have enough scope for a full Sprint.
Keep in mind that a well-scoped ‘STEAM Sprint’ needs to be flexible, especially if it’s quickly discovered that the greatest need is outside the scope.