This week NETPark has been host to Northumbrian Water's Design Sprint. Over four days the group has been looking for innovative solutions to a particular issue, facilitated by IBM. We asked them a few questions about their approach to innovation:
Darren Bentham, IBM
What is a design sprint?
The idea behind a design sprint is to get a cross-section of people with different skills and experience in a room together to explore a particular problem and come up with possible solutions which will then be tested. It is a 'sprint' as the aim is to 'fail fast, quickly and cheaply' so the best ideas can be identified to take forward.
How do you encourage teams to be more innovative?
At these sessions everyone is looking at the problem from a different perspective. Encouraging people to be open with their views brings out opportunities that may not have been considered before.
What advice can you give on turning creative ideas into actions?
We use the 'agile scrum' software and solution development approach, using fast methods to create products that can be tested by the user quickly to see if it solves the problem. Getting lots of ideas to the market quickly means that the best solution will be found more efficiently.
Nigel Watson, Director of Transformation, Northumbrian Water
How has the design sprint helped you with the challenge you are addressing?
The process of bringing people together from different areas of the business who think in different ways open's peoples minds to other possibilities. It's a great way to generate lots of good ideas.
How else do you innovate within the organisation?
We have run 14 sprints this year covering a variety of areas from recruitment to billing. Depending on the problem we either hold them in-house or bring in expertise. We have also run data hacks where we present a section of our data to a new audience and pose the challenge for them to interpret it in a different way. The aim is to look at the information differently and make most effective use of it. We have involved a variety of other businesses in this process including gaming software writers.
Do you have any advice on how innovation can be embedded within an organisation?
The main challenge often cultural as many organisations are risk averse. People need to be brave enough to challenge things and balance risk with reward. We need to teach organisations to embrace failure; you always learn something.