Leading by Learning

February 2018 — #Class of 2018, #Virginia Dooley

Leading by Learning

In October, during the new cohort’s orientation, SLP fellows were asked to choose a session topic to deliver to our peers. I quickly leapt at the opportunity to lead the “giving back” session. After a career in international development and philanthropy, it was a familiar topic in a sea of startup concepts that were mostly new to me.

On the sidelines, in the wake of a particularly tragic incident, I had reconnected with the leaders of a local community organisation. They were overworked and stressed as they were faced with delivering their regular programmes whilst providing extended and specialised support around the clock to an especially vulnerable segment of the community.

I sensed an opportunity to fill two needs with one deed. Was there a way to help local community leaders while delivering an impactful giving back session with and for the SLP fellows? Maybe, but what would this look like?

With carte blanche from Steven Hess, trustee and program lead, to design the session differently than past cohorts, I reached out to my amazing study group of SLP peers Dom Fennel, Stacie Graham and Rumbi Pfende and the always helpful Ada’s List community of women in tech for advice.

The more people I spoke with, the more it became clear that a hack or design sprint might be a good fit for this session. Time was the main challenge I had to contend with – we had 3 hours not 5 days as recommended in “Sprint” by the Google Ventures crew. But with the enough planning, the right tools and great facilitation, I thought there was a chance we could pull it off.

After much anticipation and planning, finally it was sprint day. Deloitte Digital generously hosted the session at their Clerkenwell office – the perfect creative space for a sprint. Since this was an optional class in the SLP curriculum, we had fewer participants than usual, but that suited just fine. As we unloaded our assumptions about the evening on post-its and jumped into personas and storytelling, I admit I had a tough time reading the silence in the group. But once we broke out into groups, things flowed easily – a testament to strength of the facilitators, commitment from participants and the resources we chose to guide us.

Being in the room for this process sparked a level of creativity and energy that was palpable. There were several new and very viable ideas discussed that I’m excited to help take forward for further consideration. Later during our reflection, I learned that the silence I had witnessed earlier was actually the group being totally captured in the moment.

The best part of this experience was that our impact was immediate. In the words of our guest speaker/community leader: “That was brilliant. It was such a clever process that I’m excited to take back to my community.” I went home that night with renewed excitement about the power of SLP and the potential for entrepreneurs to make a significant social impact through their businesses and with their time. I was reminded that:

  • Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
  • Even if the process was imperfect at times, empathy motivated us.
  • I put my faith in this group and they totally delivered.
  • I absolutely love problem solving for social impact and could very happily run sprints every day.

Lessons & Resources

  • It’s really important to make sure the audience has every opportunity to ask questions and get as much info as possible about the challenge and context. Even if that means going over time a bit and make it up elsewhere (which I acknowledge goes against every guide to sprints!). This was an especially difficult challenge with a context and constraints totally new to everyone. The extra time helped to boost the level of empathy which can help propel you through what can be an exhausting or exhilarating process.
  • If I could do it again, I might try to separate each section out into one hour sprints. It might seem crazy, but scheduling wise, it’s easier to tack on an hour to a class than to dedicate a full day or more. By doing this, we might have figured out how to get through a plan for prototyping and testing.
  • While there are so many great tools it there for design sprints, ultimately the two most useful resources came from local here CHAYN and IDEO:
  • CHAYN’s hack pack was a life saver. It’s clear this tool was crafted from experience with addressing tough social issues and then stripped down to the most essential elements which served us perfectly given our accelerated agenda.
  • I found IDEO’s guidance on crafting the challenge with just specific enough “How Might We” statements to be super helpful. Comparing vague or too specific examples of the ideal challenge statement helped me to develop something that was just right.