A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the agile approach the OER Research Hub team at the Open University are adopting, and in particular the use of sprints. This week I’ve been in Milton Keynes with the team for their latest sprint week and have had the opportunity to experience first hand a research sprint.
As I said in my previous post, the notion of a research sprint has intrigued me. Could this software development technique really be adapted and more importantly be effective in a research context? Well, it seems it can. As part of my Evaluation Fellow role I was interviewing all of the team during the week and there was unanimous agreement of the value of the sprint. Particularly in (re) focusing attention on key project level deliverables and sharing of findings within the team.
The project is taking an active collaboration approach and this week the core team were joined by three of the project fellows (Kari Arfstrom from the Flipped Learning Network, Thanh Le from Vital Signs/ Gulf of Maine and Daniel Williamson from Connexions/OpenStax). It’s probably too early to say just exactly what the fellows think of the sprint approach – they are probably just over jet-lag today! But it certainly seemed like a perfect way to quickly focus attention on activity and give a wider perspective of what is going on in within this quite complex project and establish strong connections within the core team at the OU.
I have to confess I don’t have a lot of personal experience of being in a sprint, but I did participate in a couple of scrums for a software project a couple of years ago, and the experience this week was very similar. Profs and project leads Martin Weller and Patrick McAndrew take the role of product owners and, with the project co-ordinator Claire Walker, had devised a list of tasks/products. These were prioritized and allocated by the whole team on Monday afternoon using a combination of voting and post it notes.
Each morning this week a short scrum meeting is taking place where everyone shares what they have done and what they are going to do for that day which is directly related to the agreed tasks. Standing and the catching/throwing of a small smartie box plays a vital role in keeping the meetings running smoothly and to time. Shared google docs with task lists are also keeping track of progress. The team are also keeping a shared reflective diary of the week. It’s not appropriate for me to share any information about this, but I do think that shared reflection is vital when participating in a relatively new way of working – not least just to ensure that lessons learned are shared and (hopefully) incorporated into future projects. As the project has four distinct areas of research, I found the sprint reminiscent of a programme meeting in bringing a set of smaller projects together and focusing activity on key areas.
Although I had to leave half way through the week there was a palpable sense of things getting done and that by the end of the week the project will have a number of deliverables ready to go and a clear focus for others over the coming months. This includes a series of webinars starting next month where Rob Farrow will take the lead around OER and policy changes at institutional level.
I’m not sure if it actually makes a difference by I did particularly like spending most of my working week in a “superpod”. As you can see from the picture below, you too could quite easily convert an office into a superpod too 🙂