Lessons from Past Projects: Gaining Digital Confidence With Your Team

The Context

For a leading private investment bank’s digital team we were asked to develop a learning experience. The goal of our learning experience was to foster digital confidence amongst participants.

The Challenge

Not unlike math and science, some people have a mental block which prevents them from getting stuck into learning about new technology. Similarly when exploring new ways to deliver value to clients using technology, some teams get stuck trying to bring the new idea to life successfully.

Our challenge is to help teams get unstuck by encouraging a learn-while-doing approach to tackling wicked problems.

We know from our experience that if an organisation wants to successfully embrace new digital technologies — as part of digital transformation — a pre-requisite is establishing a culture which encourages upgrading capabilities and improving confidence with technology as well as practicing the habits of leading digital teams.

Making is Messy Business

Our Hypothesis

We believe that learning about new technology and new ways of working is more productive when the learning is embedded in doing and the doing accomplishes a meaningful goal tied to an organisation’s objectives.

We asked: how might we blend learning to boost the confidence and capability of working with new technologies naturally into a day which upgrades the way teams of people work together? We designed a Digital Confidence Bootcamp in which lean mean learning teams would be established and challenged to complete a mission together.

We designed a day of learning that would see teams racing a custom-designed electronic race car. Our newly-formed teams would have to work together to assemble, test and refine then automate their car movements around a track. The mission being to successfully complete the fastest automated lap around the track.

Building a race-car to learn digital confidence and how to establish an effective team

The assembly, testing and automation components of the build were used as a medium to blend in learning about how to work more effectively as a team and as a way to naturally practice new ways of working.

Teams learned how to:

  • Establish a new team and unearth the capabilities of team members
  • Declare the mission and purpose of a new team to align action behind a common goal
  • Practice an effective and easily repeatable brainstorming technique to enhance the design of the race-car shell as well as develop a name for their team
  • Practice methods drawn from the design process by customising their race-car and enhancing the race-car’s software and design with our team’s assistance
  • Practicing the Coaching Kata method by manually driving their race cars around a track to establish assumed and actual lap-times so that over time, the team could accurately begin predict their race-cars total lap-time
  • Dive into basic software development with a visual programming tool that we created for the day to learn how to test and improve code
Team Cards: Check-in, Kata Card, and example team role cards

To complement each stage of the learning process we developed method cards to support team members in the process of trying a new way of working.

We had 4 facilitators moving between the teams who setup each stage of the overall mission for the day and contextualise the new methods and established why they were important to the overall objective of the organisation.

We setup a mini maker lab so that teams who wanted to experiment with the overall design of their race car could adapt and then test their new ideas with an engineer’s guidance.

Time to race

When it came time to race the cars around, the teams had successfully assembled a custom race car, practiced new ways of working and were hacking away at their race cars in code and adjusting their driving techniques in a bid to win the race.

Key Learnings

  • Give people a tool or guide to support the learning. We wanted to encourage teams to grow confident with technology via experimentation. Supported by method cards, teams could trial and then adapt methods in safe-to-fail experiments.
  • Plan and be ready to adapt to change. In our lab, we raced the cars on concrete floors and the race cars steered straight but on the polished marble floors on the day the race-cars struggled to get traction. Because each race car performed differently, teams had to quickly adapt their race cars and automation software to respond to the conditions. We let the learning emerge. We could have tried to change the track but instead opted to use the new challenge as a way to discuss the challenge of working in an ever-changing world.
  • Pause and reflect on the learning. In our own experiments we found it easy to forget why we were building a race car. The how we were going to build it often became the focus. We knew we couldn’t stagger the learning — teams could set their own pace — so instead our coaches facilitated mini design sprints during the day. Teams could work at their own pace but had to declare a hypothesis, test it and then reflect upon it. This allowed our coaches to blend theory into practice when it made the most sense to do it and we could ensure teams understood why they were learning to assemble a robot.
  • It turns out you can learn while making new friends, delivering epic high-fives and screaming for a race car to slowly make its way around a race track in your lobby.

Actionable Tips

  • Set the context for the learning in advance. Our clients used internal communications channels to establish the context for the learning within the broader ambitions of the organisation. Everyone arrived on the day aware of how crucial what they were going to learn was to the success of the business.
  • Declare a mission and outcome. Professional footballers use drills to practice an isolated component of their game but they know the outcome is improved performance on the field. With only one day to practice new ways of working we introduced measuring lap-times and a final race to establish a mission and metrics.
  • Design the learning experience to complement an organisation’s culture and ambitions. We apply human-centered design methods to design learning experiences. In short that means we involve the people we are designing for in the design process. In so doing we were able to design a learning experience which naturally engaged employees and supported business objectives.

We couldn’t have designed a learning experience like the Digital Confidence bootcamp without the full support and trust of our client. We can’t advocate that you “go and get really kick-ass clients” but we strongly recommend you seek out clients who share your purpose and buy into your approach.