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You Can Thank Us Later — 5 Reasons to Start Using Design Sprints Today

Ben Broad

Ben Broad

Reading time: 8 minutes

From Ideas to Action in Just 4 Days

A Design Sprint is 4 – 5 day process for rapidly solving complex challenges, identifying opportunities for innovation, and testing big ideas fast. It supercharges development, fosters respect, accelerates collaboration and guarantees future insights no matter what.

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old

Peter F. Drucker

In today’s rapidly shifting world, common ways of working are often failing to deliver tangible results or meet expectations. For too long, many businesses have been trying to solve current and future problems with last century tools and mindsets. The results? Endless meetings, disorganised silos and mis-aligned teams. This approach ultimately doesn’t help get to the root of many problems, provide viable new ideas or support efficient solution design.

Enter the Design Sprint

Originally created by Google Ventures in 2015, a Design Sprint combines the most powerful aspects of Design Thinking, social psychology and product development. A Design Sprint brings together a cross-functional team to help you discover new ideas and create high quality prototypes. These concepts are then tested with real users before you’ve spent a penny of your real budget building anything. The real beauty of the process is that it allows you to essentially time-travel!! (Yes, you read that correctly!) By testing your concepts early with end users you are able to acquire their feedback which allows you to conceptually think forwards, evaluate different possibilities before stepping back to the present in order to decide on the right path forwards.

The method takes you from looking at a critical business challenge to the validation of a potential solution, at minimal cost in just a matter of days.

Image from: https://www.gv.com/sprint/ — A Sprint radically shortens the development time needed to learn what is required to launch a successful product, service or strategy.

So, if you and your team are hitting a wall or trapped in inefficient silos, then here are 5 reasons why Design Sprints can help positively transform your team, organisation and innovation practices.

1. Efficiency

In larger companies, starting new projects and launching new services or product are often laborious processes, with countless planning sessions and meetings.

How the Sprint addresses this:

Within just 4 days any Sprint team will quickly:

• Gain a shared and common understanding of the business challenges they face
• Identify the right challenge to solve, ensuring maximum effectiveness, not just efficiency
• Spend time with end-users developing empathy and acquiring unique insights for future development
• Leverage the model of working ‘alone together’ which ensures everyone has the space to bring their best ideas forwards and have their own voice heard at the table. There are no domineering HIPPOs (HIghest Paid Persons Opinions) in a Sprint!
• Visualise and rapidly build multiple ideas to ensure future decisions can be made from a collective, aligned viewpoint and easily shared with crucial stakeholders.

Once a team has mastered the core Sprint tools and ingredients they can also apply all of these techniques (like time-boxing or rapid ideation) into their everyday workflows and team structures.

Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things

Tim Ferris

2. Collaboration

In a silo-ed environment nobody has the full picture which leads to people feeling defensive, frustrated and de-motivated as they feel left out of the loop. If you can’t view the rationale behind a certain decision it is all to easy to think another team is at fault which tends to lead to blame and defensive behaviour. If there is no communication there is no respect. Without respect there can be no collaboration.

How the Sprint addresses this:

• Although bringing together a team from diverse departments for 4 full days may not appear to be effective on paper, the outcome always exceeds expectation. And this is no over-exaggeration.
• A cross-functional Sprint team is more cognitively diverse thus delivering enhanced creativity and problem-solving abilities.
• Solution quality is nearly always higher in more cognitively diverse and cross functional teams
• Cross functional teams minimise business risks by ensuring that diverse perspectives and communication streams are centralised and transparent.
• A Sprint deliberately creates a level playing field. It enforces equal participation from all areas of the business and if you work together for a week and everyone’s expertise gets to shine, you can’t help but develop respect for the people in the room.
• Collaboration supports respect which in turn generates a further willingness to collaborate in the future.

Collaboration is the stuff of growth

Ken Robinson

3. Empathy

Empathy is perhaps the single most-overlooked ingredient in innovation. This is a huge problem because empathy is a core ingredient of ensuring any successful innovation. For instance, In the ‘Information Age’ many companies overly rely on knowing their customers through algorithms, statistics and Excel sheets rather than by simply observing and talking with them.

How the Sprint addresses this:

• Design Sprints flip this issue around by building the Sprint around the end customer. On the final day of the Sprint your team are testing a real prototype in front of real users so you have got to be ready by then.
• Testing your prototype with your end users is all about curiosity and showing your customers respect. In doing this you are not only able to better step into their shoes but they will be relaxed and open enough to share with you the crucial insights and obstacles that will either make or break your prototype.
• By interviewing internal business experts and testing with end-customers all within the same process, business needs and customers needs can be easily synced together and any gaps identified.
• Empathy development and application doesn’t stop once the Sprint stops. The Sprint teaches and encourages the use of empathic, human centred design and this can be applied in all walks of life and at all stages of business development.

People ignore designs that ignore people

Frank Chimero

4. Fail Fast to Succeed Sooner

It might sound a bit paradoxical but, embracing failure is one of the most critical and often overlooked steps in product, service or business development. Many companies are incredibly risk-averse because they believe they would not be able to absorb or recover from any type of failure or that what they are attempting is at the very limit of their capabilities. Without a mindset of experimentation in place businesses are losing out on valuable learning opportunities and the ability to de-risk projects via iterative learning.

How the Sprint addresses this:

• Rapid ideation and time boxing help cut through our ingrained instincts to focus on fine details and precise results. This leads us to being able to generate lots of ideas quickly (giving us options) and not get stuck on one particular idea trying to make it perfect.
• Visual thinking and the sketching of ideas are integrated into the process with ‘no right or wrong’ style. Again, this helps to move people away from the perfectionists fixed mindset and embrace the chance of failing (or in the worst case scenario have someone giggle at your dodgy sketching skills!)

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently

Henry Ford

5. Clarity, Culture & Momentum

It is worth considering that many projects, especially large transformation projects may go on for 6–18monthsImagine starting work on a project and only after 12 months realising, “hey team, I’m not sure we are actually working on the right problem here.” I’m guessing you would feel pretty frustrated and de-motivated, not to mention feeling like the problem space has once again become foggy.

How the Sprint addresses this:

• By mapping out the overarching problem space and then picking out and prioritising which areas are most important to focus on now you and the team will start work on the right challenge.
• To have good ideas you need to have lots of ideas. By generating multiple ideas the team are able to quickly identify what is a good, bad or ‘needs more work’ solution.
• Finding solution options quickly is a huge team motivator and when combined with the active testing of ideas with users, helps ensure greater clarity in next phase development.
• If managed correctly, creative innovation, higher collaboration levels and increased customer focus continue to develop well after the Sprint phase finishes.

If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together

African proverb

When you showcase your prototype, your results and the clarity of your findings to the rest of your organisation, trust us, they won’t believe how much progress has been made in just 4 days of work. Plus, you will have achieved this all without spend virtually any money (just coffee, chocolate and some cheap interview incentives).

Furthermore, the results of any Design Sprint go far beyond the simple outputs, colourful post-it notes and recorded customer interviews.

From our perspective, the true beauty and power of Design Sprints is that no matter how the testing process and interviews go you will have pulled together an expert team (sometimes helping total strangers become friends) and discovered a veritable goldmine of information showing you what to do next. You will have taken a powerful shortcut to long-term success.

Lastly, (but certainly not least) Design Sprints help teams tap into crucial mindsets such as empathy, experimentation, respect and collaboration. These are cornerstones to any thriving innovation culture. The Design Sprint might not be a silver bullet to all problems but, innovation mindsets, when correctly implemented and scaled, are vital to ensure long term, sustainable change and transformation.

So, whatever your team, whatever your problem, whatever your doubts. SPRINT it out!

If you would like to know more about how these tools and tactics can be employed in your business, get in touch.

We really look forward to creating some exciting Sprint Stories with you.

I see everyday as an experiment rather than a judgement on my character

Jake Knapp (original creator of Design Sprints)

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