Problem solving using sprints at Innovate East

Last week Screenmedia attended the inaugural year of Innovate East, an innovation festival run jointly by Anglian Water and Essex and Suffolk Water. The event focused on the core challenge areas for the water industry, with sprints formed to problem solve around the categories of Social Purpose, Natural Capital, Digital Twins and Leakage.

Keri and Kirstie, Screenmedia’s dynamic Projects and Business Development duo, attended the event and got stuck into the sprint focusing on ‘How can we plug the current gap in digital skills’. The event lasted 3 days, scheduled around the networking, pub quizzing, pool playing, presentations and office yoga; we worked to follow a fast and furious sprint framework, resulting in an Augmented Reality prototype on day 3!

Understand the problem

Before jumping to any solutions in a sprint, it’s critical that the team understands the problem, and some of the key contributors to the challenge. This stage helps everyone to identify with the key issues, and with that in mind morning 1 kicked off with the problem definition:

“In a changing world where digital is now a core part of many roles and set to grow further, how do we develop the current workforce and the workforce of tomorrow with the skills they'll need to succeed? In this sprint we'll seek to fully understand the current and future skills gap, we'll get under the skin of the problem and work together to come up with innovative solutions.”

Having been given our problem, each group within the sprint was tasked to dig deeper into the problem to come up with 2 core questions that we would look to ask ourselves within the next phase of the sprint. The aim of this exercise was to zone in on specific areas within the core problem, and focus in on questions that could begin to be tangibly answered.

Many of our fellow team members in this phase had great industry experience within the water and construction industries, and together we identified the following 2 questions to explore further:

  1. How do we change the perception of the water industry to attract new digital talent?
  2. How do we upskill current employees to cope with digital change?

Explore ideas to solve the problem

With the team now familiar with the problem, it was possible to begin exploring some possible solutions. At this stage it’s important to employ a ‘quantity over quality’ policy where every idea, regardless of feasibility or infeasibility is considered and has a place on the board. By creating an inclusive and enthusiastic atmosphere, we encouraged everyone to contribute and helped the quieter members of the group effectively communicate their ideas to ensure nothing was missed.

Themes began to form within our post-it notes and we started to group similarities together, developing a few key areas to focus on within each of our problem areas:

  • How do we change the perception of the water industry to attract new digital talent?
    • Increasing positive publicity of the water industry externally to show the digital advancements that are being made in order to entice digital-minded candidates to the industry
    • Increasing education at all levels to advertise the positions that are available and influence curriculum
    • Cross-sector learning and collaboration to get a better understanding of how other companies (perhaps more digitally attractive industries) market themselves and attract digital talent.
  • How do we upskill current employees to cope with digital change?
    • Make the change easy, really focus on the individuals and the user experience
    • Practice what you preach to focus on the right leadership techniques to promote change and adapt to individual’s needs
    • Learn from change in other companies to understand the impact of incentives, mandatory CPD etc
    • Company support and resource to ensure the employees receive the right time, space and support to develop

Throughout the sprint process, it’s also important to articulate ideas clearly to ensure that decisions can be made quickly, allowing fast movement onto the next stage of the process. The team discussed each solution idea with each other, and then used coloured sticky dots to highlight our 2 favourite solutions:

  1. ‘Externally promoting the digital activities and future vision for the water industry ’
  2. ‘Making the employee user experience so intuitive it’s effortless’

With the last bit of brainpower from day 1, we began the ‘quantity over quality’ process again with our new found solution statements, trying to write down slightly more tangible solutions to the problem areas and readying ourselves for another round of grouping and focusing on day 2.

Actually I lied, the last ounce of brainpower on day 1 was used on the pub quiz. Our team didn’t win...but nor did we lose!

Choose the best ideas and develop them

In our inflatable tent on morning 2, the first exercise was to read through the ideas from the night before and group like-thoughts together. Seeing similarities in our notes allowed us to identify clearer solutions within our problem areas.

To help us to focus in on one clear idea we created a matrix, the x axis showing effort (high-low) and the y axis showing impact (low-high). Grouping our solutions in this way allowed us to identify opportunities that would be low effort, with high impact but also allowed us to discard those which required high effort for low impact. Taking emotion out of the equation and concentrating most on value led us to the following key solutions:

  1. More digital presence around construction or works sites to engage the public and educate about the industry.
  2. Digital education materials for schools and universities with more focus on the construction/water industries to get students thinking earlier that it could be a viable path.

Both ideas scored medium effort, but high impact and following another quick dot-vote we decided to take forward the ‘digital presence’ idea to the next stage (selling the idea)!

Before any great idea takes flight, you need to get some wider buy-in from your business. In this exercise we created a one page advert with a headline, enticing image and initial article paragraph. The idea being that the one page advert should convey enough of the idea to get other people excited, but also allow others to suggest some further ideas for the solution in order to take your thinking to the next stage.

We focused in on one tangible product for our solution idea, an AR app that can be initiated at construction sites/roadworks to show greater insight into the site and lead viewers to understand detail about the roles involved in the maintenance/improvements.

Our product was very well received by the wider group, but to further aid the understanding of the journey from initial interaction, our team set about creating a 10 stage user journey visualising the individual stages from arriving at a site, through to the person becoming interested in opportunities, applying for a job and actually working onsite in a digital role. The journey used a comic book format using imagery and some humour to describe a journey that was easily understood by anyone visiting the tent, which also helped to describe the brief for a prototype the next day.

Create a prototype

By Day 3, our team were in the great position of having a firm enough concept to take to prototype stage. Screenmedia were not in attendance on Wednesday but were in contact with the rest of the team throughout the entire day, still contributing to name suggestions and offering general support and enthusiasm!

By mid-afternoon the team had created a rudimentary prototype, using AI to initiate an app that showed digital models of construction sites with links to the roles involved in the construction and job postings for careers in the water industry. The prototype and user journey were presented to the festival team that afternoon, and since then there is funding being applied for to try to take the idea to the next stage!

All in all, Screenmedia had a fantastic time working away from our day to day to contribute ideas and insight to an important challenge in the water industry, and we look forward to the next festival!


If you or your company are interested in solving a challenge or are interested in exploring the sprint process and its results in more detail then please get in touch!


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