Alfredo Espitia Beltrán

Dec 15, 2020

4 min read

Give me five… Days

According to Genesis, Elohim created the world in 6 days. On the seventh day he rested…

I have been an atheist for a long time but I like to read texts of different spiritual currents: Bible, Koran, Torah, Book of Mormon, Popol Vuh, Pāli Canon. In almost all of them there is some narrative about the creation of the world or the universe at the hands of powerful beings that do not require more than a few days for their purpose. But they were gods and we were mere mortals, so how is it possible for a teacher to expect us to deliver a solution in just five days?

Maybe the gods knew about the Design Sprint and didn’t tell us.

I am supposed to write this reflection as a student of the Master in Interaction Design, but I also have things to say from my role as a teacher in an undergraduate program in engineering. For four years I have been an instructor of the Practical Engineering course, in which students must develop a project following the guidelines of a methodology called the Engineering Design Process, nothing unusual and more or less the same structure as the others: understand the problem, propose solutions, select and design a solution, prototype and validate. However, lately it has become a real challenge for me because I feel that the students have no interest, they don’t find motivation and they don’t see it as a useful subject. Having discovered the Design Sprint and developed a project under this methodology has given me back the illusion and many ideas to work with my guys.

You can always work in a group

After working in a group of 5 people distributed in a strip of 16,000 km -from South America, passing through Europe to Hindustan- and with more than 10 hours of difference in our watches, today I have no doubt that you can always work in a group. In my classrooms I have always encountered conflicts between students who don’t know, cannot or don’t want to work in groups, and I must confess that I didn’t have much moral authority to reconcile them because myself had always been reluctant to work with other people. However, this time I was fortunate to be part of a great team and my perspective on it has changed radically. Allow me dear reader, as a recognition to them, to introduce them: Özge (Netherlands) without a doubt the leader of the group, strong and formative; Hazel (India) besides being the lovely voice of the group, her interventions were always very successful and timely; Anu (Switzerland) the balance of the team, sensible and very committed; Ivo (Portugal) with a great critical sense, I felt identified many times with his ideas; and well me, Alfredo (Colombia), I imagine that I was the quietest of all, because my English is not very good and because I felt that I had a lot to learn from my colleagues.

Despite the obvious logistical difficulties, we were able to meet synchronously about 10 times over 4 months, a great achievement! It is now much clearer to me that the technologies available today are effective and sufficient to break down geographic and cultural barriers. What initially seemed to be the most difficult, was a proof totally passed.

The sprint for a challenge

A Design Sprint is a way to face a particular challenge and present a solution in just 5 days. I know, it seems crazy, but it works. For our learning process of this methodology, our challenge was twofold: learn to perform a Sprint and Design a system/product/service that fosters the participation of women in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) workforce, all that remotely. So it was very important to have three fundamental tools:

  • MIRO: A board where you can make as many silly things as you want to share, discuss and mature ideas.
  • SLACK: A chat full of tools to keep the team connected and working.
  • MEET: Our synchronous conference room.

We really cheated a bit, for each “day” of the Sprint we had 15 days of planning, but hey! we were learning… Each step of the process was interesting and taught me many lessons: On Monday, in order to better understand the problem, I met with some of my students to learn first-hand what it means to be a woman in an environment full of men like engineering. The girls were very spontaneous and let me know many things that I should have known before as a teacher, there were even tears. On Tuesday, while researching existing solutions to our design challenge, I discovered that Bob the Builder has a partner at work: Wendy, and she is not a simple helper, she keeps the business in order and when she must take the tools to build, it is not a problem for her. If you look at it carefully, Wendy is that hidden figure that represents the situation of many women. On Wednesday I ate my ego and I had to admit that my colleagues presented better solutions than mine. On Thursday I was a bit embarrassed because Ivo and Özge did the heavy work. On Friday I had the role of facilitator and it was not so bad. In the end, there were many reflections on our successes and mistakes.

Finally I must say that the experience was great and I hope to transmit to my students many of the things I learned, I will surely have to adapt them to their reality and give them freedom to feed it and propose new ways of doing things. Who knows? suddenly one of them can create a small universe in just 5 days.