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Sprinting to a decision: A new Airbus approach to innovation is recognised

Innovation is central to Airbus’ position as a leading aircraft manufacturer, and the company is continuously developing new, efficient approaches to its work.

1 October 2013 Feature story

As part of this search for improved methods, Airbus created the SPRINT concept – which was recently honoured with a prestigious innovation award in Paris. Evolving out of a 2010 challenge to Airbus’ Emerging Technology and Concept team (then known as Innovation Cell), SPRINT tasks teams with developing new ideas and solutions in a condensed time period.

“We had to develop some ideas in a tight timescale, so we merged elements of agile management with features of design thinking to help structure our work,” explained Gregor Dirks, Airbus Chief Innovator at the time. “We found that we worked beyond our usual capacities and met the demanding deadline, so our next step was to see if the same would happen with employees from other functions.”

Airbus then launched two pilot schemes following the new SPRINT parameters, where small teams of five to eight members were given a maximum of 100 days to explore high-risk, high-gain problems and create a proposal ready to pitch to decision makers, along with a working prototype. Dirks noted the SPRINT team members devoted half their time to the project over a three-month period, before returning to their regular jobs. “They came out exhausted, but pleased with their achievements,” he explained. 

One of the pilot programmes developed a 1:2 scale robot, designed to rethink the cargo loading system to reduce an aircraft’s overall weight, which has been passed on to Airbus’ research and technology department for further evaluation.

After the 100-day period of both successful pilot projects, senior managers were able to make decisions about the innovative concepts’ future at Airbus. Dirks said these intense SPRINT projects require high-level support, but elements of the prize-winning approach can be spread widely through Airbus.

“Part of the reason for the success was the positive engagement of management, as well as important inputs from other functions,” added Dirks. “A ‘light’ SPRINT version also could prove effective in many areas.”

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