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Do virtual design sprints fall flat on their face?


Alyson Edmunds, Head of Digital Innovation at O2, talks about virtual design sprints at the Digital Innovation Festival

Last year at the NWG Innovation we had great fun. Think big tents, ice cream vans, yoga and approx. 3k attendees all creating a great buzzing festival vibe and generating some amazing ideas.

Roll forward one year. Everyone is at home sitting behind their laptops, not always in a comfy home office, probably juggling the demands of work and home and, let’s be honest, idea generation is probably not top of mind.

When we were asked to participate in the 5 day Digital Innovation Festival we agreed, but I’ll admit we did so with some trepidation. The past two years were big boots to fill and we were concerned whether we could create a fun-filled festival atmosphere and generate quality ideas… remotely. No small feat, right?

O2 was headed up by our fantastic Team Captain Warren McCormack.  Initially, we scratched our heads and wondered if MS Teams whiteboard would be the best solution – in the end we decided functionality is currently too limited.  Right now we’re evaluating a digital ideation tool called MURAL and decided to give it our biggest road test to date.

So, MURAL had the floor. The sprint in question was: ‘How can LTE-M / IOT supercharge organisations to create greater operational efficiency’, and NWG asked us to create a year’s worth of work in a week, which is a tall order in anyone’s book. Every day we brought to life LTE-M/ IOT with a subject matter pitch.  Day one we explored the opportunities of LTE-M, generating lots of ideas and homing in on the two most important challenges to the water industry. We journey mapped these. When day two rolled around, we used the ‘How Might We’ technique to take big world ideas to springboard from. On day three we storyboarded, and on day four, the grand finale, we created the prototype and tested with senior key stakeholders.

The Shortlist of Ideas?

Flipper made its debut.  A great name for a low cost LTE-M device which sits down a customer’s manhole cover to alert on repeat sewage overflow incidents in residential homes. Sewage is an important business challenge for many reasons; water companies are subject to huge fines (think £m!) and residents suffer a smelly surprise.  Something no one wants.

The second idea generated was a Smart Water Optimisation Trigger across multiple agencies and organisations using IoT sensors to understand when and where flood waters might hit. Interestingly, potential new revenue streams were identified, such as selling analytics to property developers and insurers.

Both ideas are in their infancy, but after presenting to senior stakeholders the two ideas were considered to have legs to move to a PoC / further investigation stage.

What did we learn?

I caught up with our Design Sprint Master Jeremy Sherwin from O2 LAB to get his feedback after the week and these were his pearls of wisdom:

  1. Create an experience. Think about company branding and values and also your corporate tone of voice. Being online doesn’t mean being vanilla. This is a great opportunity to shine. You want attendees to be talking about the experience!
  2. When designing your workshop think hard about what the outcome is your trying to achieve. Clearly frame the challenge and then start at the end and work backwards from the outcome.
  3. Share information within the team effectively and prototype quickly whilst it’s still fresh in their minds.
  4. People get distracted by their day job so make it FUN and encourage them to be engaged.  Ensure there’s plenty of breaks and don’t over fill the days.


The week was crazy challenging and equally brain frazzling, but we had enormous fun. MURAL came up trumps and from the design sprint we came out with two ideas the whole team can be proud of. Many thanks to the NWG team for giving us the opportunity to move virtually and it definitely felt like we achieved a years’ worth of work in a week… Watch out for Flipper – it’s the future.


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