Solving a Problem: Alone Together
Solving a Problem: Alone Together
This year, the students in the Second Year of the Master of Interaction Design taking part in the MGA 682 Interaction Design Project were to conduct a Remote Sprint exercise to help them solve a difficult problem, presented by the instructor.
Times being what they are, all 3 challenge options were related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Among them was one that sparked my interest, as I found it the most pertinent and important: it was addressing the shift management strategy of nurses in hospitals that took on COVID patients, and the challenges that arose due to the unpredictable nature of the constantly changing situation.
Thie problem at hand was complex and the timeline to come up with a possible solution for it was short (September — December), so it was helpful that the project was to be addressed as a group. I was certainly lucky to be put on a team of 4 other talented students from around the world, each of them with unique talents and perspectives that made for interesting conversations, productive meetings, and most importantly, great results. My team partners were Otilia Pop, Danka, Jurjevic, Peter Kubin and Satoko Ohira.
The roadmap the team was to follow in striving to solve the problem at hand was a Design Sprint — a process best described by Jake Knapp in his book “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”. Due to the online nature of the program, as well as the restrictions brought forth by the pandemic, this process had to be modified to become a Remote Design Sprint. It had also been lengthened in terms of time frame, as none of the students would realistically have an entire 5 days straight to work on just this project together.
An important helpful tool the team used in tackling the problem was Miro and its Remote Design Sprint template, which was already created and saved the team a lot of time, effort, and energy when it came to understanding and creating material.
I found the beginning of the project to be overwhelming and confusing. Although I have a design background and run through unofficial Sprints (or parts of a Sprint) almost on daily basis, I have never gone through a proper Design Sprint process in its entirety, as outlined in the book. This, with the fact that we had to read the book just before going through the steps, was a bit intimidating, especially combined with a tough problem at hand. It was definitely helpful that one of the team members (the one that had gone through the process of a Design Sprint before) took on the additional challenge of bringing the rest of the team up to speed beyond the information contained in the book.
In retrospect, the preparation and understanding of the Design Sprint process were very important, as it set the stage for the months that were required for the team to work on the challenge.
A bit chaotic at first, as all the team members found their way through the project and the teamwork, the process became more organized as time passed. It was helpful to have an insightful team that did not shy away from taking on extra roles and work and was always open to dialogue, be it in a synchronous Zoom meeting or on a chat in Slack. These, and other online tools, such as Miro, Figma, Google meet, Google Drive, and email were tools, without which the Design Sprint would not be possible given the times and the format of the course.
The progress of going through the sprint went quite smoothly, as most of the time the team found that the members were on the same page regarding ideas, decisions, and strategies to move the project along.
The Remote Design Sprint offered some difficulties. Among them, the biggest challenge, in my opinion, was the combination of having to complete the process in a few months with relatively large breaks in-between, and on top of this to do it all with a team that had to meet and work remotely and asynchronously. In my opinion, a big advantage of the original Design Sprint is that it is an intense, continuous, and in-person process, which is focused on the one problem at hand for almost an entire week. In a remote sprint, little things, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions are partially or completely lost, but they can often be very important in conveying non-verbal information pertaining to the project. Also, modifying some activities to be remote and digital (such as sketching together or pinning things to boards) was not as intuitive and easy to do in a virtual space.
Also, during the Friday testing stage, while the online nature of interviews and interactions allowed the team to recruit participants from around the world and get a richer pool of opinions, it was not ideal, as some participants did not feel comfortable with screens, video and especially the recording of their sessions on the screen.
Another difficulty was overcoming the obstacle of having to be hands-on and in the moment use (digitally or physically) with communication tools, such as sketching, doodling, and quick information capture. Not all the team members were visually inclined, or at least they did not see themselves as such. Therefore it was tough for them to be creative on the spot and have confidence in their abilities. This was unfortunate as everyone did very well and brought valuable information and ideas to the table. Having been involved in projects that encouraged people to experiment with visual materials and techniques, I feel like I have let the team down a bit in that respect because I could have probably offered more guidance and encouragement on how to address the anxiety that comes with having to communicate visually with having little to know “official” training.
The last big challenge was recruiting representative participants (nurses in the field) to test our prototype. Nurses have very busy schedules (bettering which the team, ironically, was working on) and were scarcely available for this part. A big thank you goes to Otilia Pop for finding most of the participants and conducting 80% of all the interviews!
The Rewards and Surprises
This part of the project was tremendous. Starting from the feeling when the team was onto a good idea working together, feeding off each other’s ideas, and ending with the spark of excitement seen in the faces of our prototype testing participants, the project offered many positive things.
The first surprise came early in the Sprint process — through our initial research, the team came to a conclusion that it is not only important to help nurses manage their schedules and shifts, but also turn attention to supporting their mental well-being. Our final prototype offers a way to help address in in the for of ratings and comments after each nurse has completed her shift.
Another surprise was the branding and visual language of the app, which was not the focus of the project, yet emerged naturally as the team was going through the exercise. It was very well received by the participants of our tests.
A third slight surprise was that not all participants who tested the prototype of our solution said that they would find it useful. This was not connected to the quality of the prototype and stimuli, but rather the engrained culture when it comes to shift scheduling and management in the particular hospital environment.
Finally, a big reward was having the opportunity to go through the process of a Design Sprint thoroughly, dedicating consistent time to it was definitely a big positive, as the more practice one gets, the better. I thought the process was very interesting, challenging, and helpful, so getting more experience in it will be very helpful to me in my current job and throughout my career as a designer.
I consider our Design Sprint to be a success, not because we have solved a problem (it would be impossible given the magnitude and complexity of it and the little time he had to do it), but because of the process we went through:
- Made us all think about an important issue in the field of nursing that would otherwise be invisible to us.
- It generated internal discussion and planted seeds of potential solutions in the future or at the very least inspiration for future Master’s research and professional work.
- It created a dialogue with real people about their real challenges in several countries in the world and showed that the need to help nurses with their time on the job and their mental health maintenance is real and needs attention and effort from multidisciplinary teams in order to be solved.
In the future, I would hope someone would be able to take the challenge of nurse scheduling challenge in real life and I would be very much interested and eager to be part of that project.