What is a “Sprint”? CA DCSS Tackles New Problem-Solving Strategy to Find Solutions to Big Problems

By: Alexis Ramirez, CA DCSS

A “Sprint” is a five-day process designed by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures to tackle problems in a collaborative, structured way. Most often, Sprints are utilized in product development in order to answer questions, such as what ideas will look like in real life and how customers will interact with the product, prior to releasing it to market. With a little ingenuity, the California Department of Child Support Services has adapted this tool for our use to address some of the largest challenges and most frustrating hurdles facing our organization. The Sprint process has already been used to confront:

• What do we want the future of the Child Support Program to look like for participants?
• How do we automate and streamline the CA DCSS Executive red folder process?
• How can we change the current Compromise of Arrears Program process to improve the usability of the program both for customers and caseworkers?

The Sprint team consists of a small group of six to eight people and a facilitator, or two, who help move the team through the exercises and guide the conversation. Each team has one “Decider,” who is tasked with making the largest decisions, including where the team will focus its energy and what prototype the team will build. With small membership and a clear decision-maker, the team is nimble enough to navigate the week without getting bogged down in the dynamics and never-ending debates that often derail larger workgroups. It also dedicates the team’s time for the week to solving this one problem, so ideas and decisions aren’t delayed by scheduling conflicts.

On Monday, the team starts at the end and envisions what its long-term goal is, what success looks like, and what contributed to achieving that goal. On the flipside, the team also envisions failing to achieve this goal, what contributed to the failure and why the goal was ultimately unattainable. These dichotomous visions are used to create a map that answers the who, the what and the why. Experts, either on the Sprint team or brought in from the outside, are invited to improve the map by offering their advice and expertise. At the end of the day, the Decider chooses a target on the map, which the team will laser its focus on for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday, the team examines current concepts in the market and what solutions excel at delivering their service. Pieces of these ideas are incorporated later into the prototype. The next step is where the magic happens: sketching. Individually, each team member draws a sketch of their solution. This process is structured and offers everyone a chance to create their solution without interference.

On Wednesday, the team reviews everyone’s sketches and votes on those elements they find compelling. The Decider ultimately chooses which components to integrate into the solution. A storyboard is created to plan the prototype, incorporating pieces of sketches, the map, notes, and all the other work done earlier in the week.

On Thursday, the team builds a prototype based on Wednesday’s storyboard. The team breaks into smaller teams or works alone on an assigned piece of the storyboard. At the end of the day, the team reconvenes to stitch their pieces together and launch the fully developed prototype.

On Friday, the team tests their prototype in front of five testers. The goal is to get honest and instant reaction to the solution. Whether the prototype is a failure or a flawed success, the team learns how to better attack the problem.

In one week, the team has tackled a nagging problem and gained valuable insight on the next steps needed to implement a solution. If you would like to learn more about Sprints, visit: www.TheSprintBook.com