Creating a sustainable water future with design thinking

Partnering with Arcadis, Fort Wayne City Utilities embarked on Sprint Orange, a 2.5 day interactive experience that leverages design thinking and co-creation to rapidly design, prototype, test and articulate new ideas that can solve emerging challenges.

Fort Wayne City Utilities (City Utilities) continuously pushes to improve the operations of its water system, prioritize sustainability and take a business-minded approach to providing reliable, high-quality drinking water, stormwater and sanitary sewer service to the community it serves at affordable prices. So, it’s not surprising that City Utilities was all-in when an opportunity arose to reimagine solutions to its most pressing challenges.

Partnering with Arcadis, City Utilities embarked on Sprint Orange, a 2.5 day interactive experience that leverages design thinking and co-creation to rapidly design, prototype, test and articulate new ideas that can solve emerging challenges.

Framing Challenges and Assembling Teams

Realizing maximum value from Sprint Orange starts with framing challenges and assembling the team to solve for them. We’ve learned the best challenges are:

  • Human-centric;
  • Defined enough to be manageable;
  • Address a genuine business challenge;
  • Embrace technology as part of the solution;
  • Engaging, such that the teams want to dive in and solve it.

Together, we determined the three challenges best fit for a Sprint Orange approach, which focused on two overarching themes:

1. Improving the experience of customer and stakeholder interactions, whether these interactions were related to payments, accessing relevant information or receiving updates, and

2. Developing a central performance dashboard to properly track, measure and report the appropriate key performance indicators.

Each of the challenge statements aligned with City Utilities mission of supporting public safety and health, and to enhance regional economic development by delivering high quality, affordable water, wastewater, and stormwater services in ways that protect the environment.

We formed three teams to include a variety of roles and responsibilities, including people from public relations, customer service, information technology, engineering, business analysts, operations and development services. An Arcadis subject matter expert facilitated the sessions and coached the teams through the Sprint Orange process.

Reimagining Solutions

Day 1 of the 2.5 day experience focused on refining the challenge statements by ideating concepts that could be potential solutions and then conducting exercises to elevate the best ideas. On the second day, teams developed prototypes, tested ideas and collected feedback. And on the third (half) day, the teams presented or “pitched” their ideas to each other as well as a wider audience that was completely new to the Sprint Orange process.

These presentations can be compared to a start-up’s pitch to a venture capital firm. The teams have one minute to introduce themselves and the issue and seven minutes to pitch their idea in a creative and engaging way that focuses on the human story and resonates with the audience. With help from ecosystem partners, rapid development of mock-ups or prototypes are used to support the pitch.

Reflecting on the Experience

Our Sprint Orange with City Utilities was an incredible and immersive experience that resulted in three outstanding and achievable solutions to specific business challenges. My personal takeaways include:

  • While we already partner with our colleagues to solve project and organizational challenges, it is not often that we have the opportunity to problem solve with cross-functional teams and external partners in a focused, innovative environment. The structure and design of Sprint Orange fostered productive collaboration that lent itself to powerful results.
  • The three problem statements seemed unique when we first started the exercise, but in the end, it was clear that the solution had commonality that could ultimately result in a single resolution that could address all three challenges. It is clear that presenting solutions and prototypes early to the organization as a whole and further co-creating with this broader audience can have significant organizational and human-centric impacts.
  • Digital technologies are only part of the solution. I found that the deeper understanding of the customer base and stakeholder needs result in different levels of technology solutions.
  • A broad ecosystem can lead to more innovative and sustainable solutions. The challenge statements addressed with the City of Fort Wayne are similar to other utilities, private firms and organizations, and we can have a greater impact on our customer base by co-creating beyond one utility or industry.

We also received feedback from the City Utilities participants:

  • Matthew Wirtz, Deputy Director: “As mentioned to you, the feedback we got from our teams was totally positive. They appreciated the opportunity to brainstorm as part of cross-functional teams on some of the critical issues in our strategic plan, as well as being able to interact with some very top-notch participants that Arcadis brought to the workshop from around the globe. Thanks for bringing all that talent to Fort Wayne and partnering with us in such a great exercise. We look forward to further reviewing and implementation of those results.”
  • Michelle Kyrou, Engineering – GIS Analyst: “I wanted to mention how much I enjoyed participating in the Sprint Orange Strategic Planning session last week. I have been involved in different workshops, but nothing like this before. In only 2.5 days we were able to define the problem and design a solution that is within reach. Our Arcadis facilitators were great and we could not have gotten as far as we did without them. I thoroughly enjoyed working with our City team and getting to know each of them better in this co-creation team building exercise. I enjoyed listening to the other presentations and the ‘orange’ comments/questions in addition to seeing how each of the solutions are somewhat overlapping and can be integrated.”

Continuing our Innovation Journey

Leveraging Sprint Orange to bring together water utilities with their customers, subject matter experts, digital specialists and data scientists, can lead to exceptional and sustainable outcomes for people, profit and planet. Organizations that participate in Sprint Orange enhance their ability to create innovative, human-centric solutions to pressing challenges. Participation requires open minds, fresh perspectives and a level of collaboration that may not always feel natural but is worth it.

Thank you to all participants, facilitators and planners who made this Sprint Orange possible!

As digital can be a powerful catalyst for utility innovation, find additional insights to “Being a Digital Water Utility”.

Additional Information About Sprint Orange

Sprint Orange is an immersive, fast-paced, intensely collaborative experience that draws from design thinking and design sprint methodologies. Design thinking identifies the human need behind a business challenge, which encourages tailoring solutions and ideas specifically to the people they are created for, and ultimately leads to human-centered services or products. A design sprint focuses on answering business questions through rapid design, prototyping, and testing ideas. This combination of human-centered design and rapid prototyping leads to innovative solutions in a short period of time.

Both methodologies are commonly practiced by tech start-ups that need to design new products and technologies and bring them to market quickly. Through Sprint Orange, we aim to leverage this new way of thinking to help reimagine solutions for natural and built asset and improve quality of life.

Ertan Akbas

Vice President, Water Digital Lead, North America Ask me a question