As people across Australia and the world adapt to working remotely, many organisations are feeling the pressure to continue delivering – or even, begin to deliver – major digital projects.
At DB Results, we’ve been refining our virtual delivery model for a number of years, and we know it’s possible to deliver rapid value at a distance. So as digital becomes the new normal, we challenged ourselves to bring to life the challenges, possibilities and solutions to make virtual project delivery smooth, seamless and successful.
What better way to prove that distance can’t slow us down than transforming our fan-favourite speedathon into a highly interactive virtual event?
So on April 8, we put our very first Virtual Mega Speedathon – a digital, socially distanced hackathon sprint – into action. Here’s what we learned.
Do what you know
The speedathon events are part of our bread and butter. Participants are split into teams, guided by DB Design Thinkers and developers trained in using OutSystems. Each team has 30 minutes to come up with an idea, and then just 90 minutes to develop a working solution. At the end of the night, all the teams come back together to pitch their solutions, with glory and themed prizes on the line.
We’ve run a lot of speedathons in the past, so when we decided we’d run the event just two weeks later, we had a clear action plan, with plenty of timelines and templates that could be reworked and reused. Our facilitators and developers also had plenty of experience with these events, and found that the techniques they’d use in-person translated easily into a virtual space.
The not-so-new normal
In reality, we work remotely all the time. Our consultants are regularly working with teams who are interstate or overseas. This is especially true for developers: we regularly have project teams spread across Melbourne, Sydney, Thailand, the Philippines, and other locations across the world, so they’ll often work with other developers who are continents away, or be sharing their work with customers via distance.
Running a speedathon digitally is par for the course, then. OutSystems is hosted online, so with a solid internet connection both developers in a team can work simultaneously on the same project, and use screen sharing to update the rest of the team with their progress.
Our Design Thinkers also found they were able to use the same facilitation techniques they normally would: little things like starting with ice-breakers to replicate chatter and networking, and keeping a close eye on the group to make sure everyone’s involved and engaged. By staying active and aware of how the team was working together, we found it easy to build team spirit and cooperation even from far away.
Know your tools
Before the event, we did a lot of testing to make sure it worked for all our developers and facilitators. This gave us a chance to learn how to deal with the common glitches and issues that we had, so we could set up contingency plans – e.g. hotspots from phones if the internet crashed, making sure all devices were charged up ahead of time – and we knew how to troubleshoot on the night.
Making sure you’ve got the right technology – and knowing how to use it – will make the biggest difference. For this speedathon, we settled on Zoom for its breakout room feature, which let us replicate the team collaboration we needed. But as everyone goes digital, competitors are adding new functionality regularly, so keep an eye on the latest developments.
The little things
We found that the hardest thing to recreate is not the event itself, but the social aspects around it. How do you let people network when you can only have one conversation at once? How do you provide hospitality when we’re not in the same room?
Our speedathons are normally fairly casual, social events, so we set up some additional rooms which we called “The Bar” and “The Lounge”. People could move into these rooms to take a break, socialise and have a chat – about what their team is doing, or anything else. We also supplied a set number of UberEats vouchers for our guests: dinner on us.
Embrace the opportunities
Taking a physical event digital can have its bumps, but it also offers up so many opportunities. Where we’d normally be limited to local participants, this time we were able to have staff join in from offices across Australia and Asia, bringing us together in a whole new way. And now we know it works, we can keep running events virtually even when our lockdown is lifted: our team in the Melbourne office can help facilitate events in Sydney, or Thailand, or Hong Kong, and still work in their client offices the next day.
Some quick tips:
- Keep up to date with the technology and the capabilities. As the world changes, technology is changing quickly to accommodate it, and we’re seeing brand new innovations regularly that can help you work better at a distance.
- Stick to your guiding principles. Facilitating a meeting or a brainstorming session works the same way as it would in real life: set expectations, make sure everyone’s engaged, do your team-building exercises.
- You might find working digitally is harder work, because you need to stay switched on the whole time – but you might also find you’re more productive!
So, is it possible to implement a project at a distance? Absolutely. It might be different, but with a little creativity, you’ll find you can deliver just as well digitally – and might even find your team working better than ever.
If you’d like to see how it works in action, keep an eye out for upcoming events, or get in touch with us to run an event for your organisation.