I’m incredibly proud to see the publication of the Sprint Relay Playbook. What started out with an informal conversation at the first Feedback Labs Annual Summit in 2016 amongst leading thinkers and doers on how international development needs to be more agile and adaptive led to a workshop at the Obama White House with the support of WH OSTP Deputy Director of Innovation Thomas Kalil. The concept of the Practical Adaptation Network, which piloted the initial Sprint Relay, puts forward that change management is doable and needs to include not just the thought or innovation leaders, but those that are responsible for the practicalities of improved operations and programming such as procurement, HR, IT, technical and other staff.
The FBL team carried this vision forward with an initial Sprint round, and many if not all of the organizations involved found this approach to problem solving novel, refreshing and even empowering. We are facing increased hyperconnected and complex problems in both number and scale. This can often be seen as daunting and perhaps futile to address, leading to a lot of theorizing and talk, but little or not enough action. The 100-day sprint is about recognizing that actions lead to change and that incremental change in simple and manageable steps can lead to radical change.
It’s been a privilege to work with the Feedback Labs team on this Playbook - and on supporting the Sprint Relays that emerged out of the Practical Adaptation Network conversation at the White House last June. As that meeting was winding down, Dennis asked me to suggest a way to help move the conversations that took place into action - to avoid the all too familiar pattern of deep and energizing conversations among committed and thoughtful people that lead to… deeper and more energizing conversations at next year’s conference... In true adaptive fashion, the concept emerged in response to this ‘itch’, and it evolved and adapted over the months that followed. In essence, it is an application of RRIs 100-Day Challenge choreography, designed with a number of constraints in mind: no governance structure; very little preparation time; dispersed teams - both geographically and organizationally; and no binding forces among players other that shared interest.
No doubt the concept and tools will continue to evolve in the coming months - as more Sprint Relay Teams run through the Sprint track, pass the batons on to others, or falter along the way. My hope is that as a result of this, we will see more conferences end with participants organically organizing themselves into Sprint Relay Teams - and committing to moving the needle, even in a small way, on something that they collectively care about.
“Have you tried just doing what makes sense?” In 1993, my project at the World Bank was stuck, and my team and I were in our boss’s office reciting a long list of reasons that the bureaucracy was holding us back. “Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me,” he said. “What if you stopped complaining and started thinking creatively about how to get around those obstacles?” We left his office fuming, but the next day we consulted senior advisors and were surprised to learn that some of the so-called rules existed only in the organization’s lore or culture, not in the actual rule book. Advisers and peers helped us navigate around other rules. And our boss even helped us change one or two formal regulations that senior management agreed didn’t make sense.
When Samir Doshi proposed the Practical Adaptation Network at the Feedback Summit in 2016, the memory of that conversation in 1993 came flooding back. It also sparked another memory - of meeting Nadim Matta, who, more than twenty years ago was already pioneering something called “rapid results.” – aiming to help government and Bank teams create tangible results for aid projects in under 100 days. This seemed like a crazy idea, since I was used to projects unfolding over five or six years; but it worked, and it changed my concept of what is possible in much shorter time frames.
Over the past year, Feedback Labs has worked closely with Samir and Nadim to create the Sprint Relay process. Special thanks to Sarah Hennessy, chief author of this Playbook, who also managed the PAN Sprint, which we describe at the end of this Playbook.
I am pleased to present Version 1.0 of our Playbook, and, with your feedback, we look forward to making Version 2.0 even better.