Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

An Analysis of Collaborative Problem-Solving Mechanisms in Sponsored Projects: Applying the 5-Day Sprint Model

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

An Analysis of Collaborative Problem-Solving Mechanisms in Sponsored Projects: Applying the 5-Day Sprint Model

Article excerpt

Abstract: In May 2016, the office of Finance and Sponsored Projects at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital conducted a 5-day design sprint session to re-evaluate and redesign a flawed final reporting process within the department. The department sprint was modeled after the design sprint sessions that occur routinely in software development and manufacturing processes fields. The Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) process was not consistent among all Sponsored Project Officers (SPOs), and the department needed to develop and implement quality control measures to safeguard compliance and assure quality in the reporting process. This study in adapting a software design process for use in sponsored projects assesses how this problem-solving mechanism can be utilized with success to replace the formal workgroup model and improve the research administration enterprise. Findings illustrate that several factors influence the success of the sprint application to research administration, including increased time spent dedicated to the problem and a gained shared understanding of the problem and possible solutions. Finally, findings indicate a strong preference for the individual problem-solving technique inherent in the sprint model in combination with the intense and deadline-driven collaboration mechanism.

Keywords: sprint, agile methods, efficiency, work group, teams, organizational science, sponsored projects management, RPPR report, collaboration, problem-solving

Introduction

Sprint design sessions are routinely employed by Google Ventures and at numerous other software companies both nationally and internationally (Knapp, Zeratsky, & Kowitz, 2016). The sprint model puts key members of the team in a room with a Decider and a Facilitator for six hours a day for five days to solve a problem, design a product, or develop a solution. Sprint team participants are forbidden from using cell phones or other technology while participating in the sprint session. By putting all stakeholders in a room, the sprint experience forces team members to commit to making progress, helps teams move abstract ideas and hunches into concrete action, keeps teams focused on what's important, and encourages prompt decision-making and follow-up (Knapp, Sprint, 2016). The sprint also often makes use of a "scrum master," whose job is to remind the team, via use of a bell or other sound device, when the team veers off-topic or begins developing solutions or ideas that may be valuable but are not applicable to the specific sprint goal. The sprint team must understand, map, develop, and test a working prototype in one week. A one-week deadline motivates sprint teams to produce quickly and efficiently.

Sprints are common in the development of websites, apps, and other software. Google Venture has also introduced the sprint model to manufacturing processes and seen successes emerge from its application in that field as well. The challenge in applying the sprint to sponsored projects is that research administration rarely develops a product or a single-user experience. Processes are multi-layered, over the span of a year or more, involve many players contributing to grant management, and must often be nimble and adaptable to changes in regulation or law. To meet the needs of research administration, the sprint concept would need to be modified to generate an improved process.

Current Problem-solving Mechanisms

Effective teamwork is key in research administration, and in all organizations. The Harvard Business Review published a study in 2016 that found that "the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more" (Cross, 2016). The challenge is to make the most of these collaborative experiences. Sponsored Project offices typically employ long-term workgroups or committees. In these collaborative environments, team members meet for an hour each month or twice a month to analyze a process, project, or department need and to make recommendations for improvement and implementation. …

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