The mechanics of a Skill Sprint

A Skill Sprint is an intense real-world learning experience for teams looking to embrace new technologies. During a Skill Sprint the participants learn new skills by directly delivering something to their organisation. The discipline is based on research by a number of academics into the way people learn.

Skill Sprints can be used as a way of introducing people to tech - providing them a way of delivering their “first value” to their organisation whilst learning in their real environment. Skill Sprints can also help established development teams effectively adopt new techniques or technologies such as DevOps or Kubernetes.

At its heart is the concept that people learn most effectively by “doing” and that the best place to learn a new skill is “on the job”. Attempting to up-skill people by putting them in training centers or bootcamps neglect the reality of how people learn and emotionally adopt new things.

Step Zero - The Skill Sprint Leader

The Leader of a Skill Sprint should be a subject expert in the technology that will be adopted. They should have many deployments under their belt and have a deep understanding of the caveats and special cases. Their job is to lead the process and ensure that the team is enabled at every moment. They should ideally have some teaching experience - be patient, creative with great communication and collaboration skills.

Step One - Define the Minimum Viable Product

The first step in adopting any technology should be to define the first business impact that this technology should have. The Minimum Viable Product should affect the work of at least one permanent employee - hopefully for the better. It is important that something actually changes for the Skill Sprint to be successful. There are no "Proof Of Concepts" here - real things have to change.

Step Two - Assemble the Team

Two or three permanent members of staff should be committed into the Skill Sprint. They will need to be excused from their work for the duration of the sprint. These members of staff will do all of the work required to complete the Minimum Viable Product within the sprint. If the task is not accomplished by the end of the sprint they should be able to continue on until the delivery is complete. Throughout the process the Leader is not permitted to touch a keyboard.

Step Three - Plan to expose risks and caveats

New technologies have to be integrated with existing process and technology. The Leader will work with the team to expose risks, uncertainties and possible sticking points. This shouldn't take more than a few hours - if it's getting laborious then the MVP is probably too ambitious.

Step Four - JFDI

Removed from interuptions - email, slack and other nuisances the team delivers the Minimum Viable Product. The Leader guides the process - bringing the team back on-course where necessary to ensure that the team stays focussed and on goal. The Leader will have to maintain the focus of the Skill Sprint - moderating discussion and maintaining discipline.

By the end of the process the team will have delivered a working product in the new technology and will have the skills and ownership required to push things forward. Ideally the Leader will take the team 90% of the way within the Skill Sprint - leaving them in a position where things can be completed under their own steam.