Over the past year we’ve all learned a lot about design sprints — the 5-day process incubated at Google Ventures to help companies solve big challenges. Here’s what the executive suite as well as leaders on the business side of operations need to know…
Truth and secrets
If you’re like most business executives in larger companies, you probably keep an eye on the startups in your industry that continually disrupt and threaten your vantage point. You watch as they routinely launch newer, better solutions to problems your customers are shouting for. And while your company spends months analyzing and obtaining group consensus, your startup incumbents are designing, prototyping, validating and launching in days. The really good news is you can be just as savvy.
One of the most popular weapons these startups are now wielding is a new process developed by Google Ventures called design sprints — a framework designed to help your company discover viable, customer-validated solutions to your biggest business challenges, while also shrinking product development timelines from many months to 5 days. Design sprints also provide the tools to bring stakeholders together from across all business and technology departments, while checking ego at the door.
New Haircut has been conducting design sprints for the better part of a year, on our own ideas as well as for the companies that hire us to design and develop their digital solutions. What we’ve found in working with companies like Coach, J&J and XO Group is that their sales and marketing leads are rarely part of the intimate design processes. At most, they’ll summarize ideas in some emails and meetings, hand it off to the technology team to build, and then wait until they’re asked for feedback, months later. But as we’ve introduced design sprints into these organizations, business leaders are joining the conversation and contributing to the solutions their customers actually want.
The big wins for business executives is that design sprints:
- Solve even the most complex business challenges
- Foster efficient collaboration across business units
- Provide the best chance for launching viable customer solutions
- Significantly condense project budgets and timelines
Let’s dig into each of these with the goal of helping you realizing the power of design sprints to achieve your business goals.
Solve big problems
Your company’s biggest problems tend to be the ones that take the longest to resolve. Cross-functional teams need to get buy-in, ideas get passed back and forth over emails, and resolution generally tends to isolate one or more of the teams that didn’t agree with the solution.
Instead, on day one of your design sprint, all of the stakeholders will paint a picture of what they’re hoping to achieve and what success will look like to them, as well as failure — you define your sprint goal. The very next step is to list out all of the problems and pitfalls that would threaten your goal from being met. This step allows everyone in the room to proactively keep the doubts and risks in front of them throughout the sprint week. And if at the end of the sprint those questions have all been affirmed, you’ll have validation from real customers that your solution is viable. More good news: this was all accomplished in 5 days.
Fostering efficient collaboration
We’ve all tried brainstorming meetings. They don’t work because they’re typically dominated by those with the biggest titles, egos and charm. What ensues is lots of head-nodding by everyone else in the room. Meanwhile, the best ideas are often conceived by the more creative, yet quieter types.
Design sprints give you the power of a diverse group of backgrounds and skills, while allowing individual ideas to flourish. And because sprints are tightly controlled by role, sequence and time, there won’t be any opportunity for entitlement or tangents to sideline your progress.
Your teams will learn to work through failure rather than accept it, or worse, blame the “other” department. With a design sprint, you’re all in the room together while ideas are evolving into real, practical solutions.
How many times has your company spent a tremendous amount of time and energy to launch a new customer offering that falls flat? It’s simply not good enough to wait weeks or months to get solutions into your customer’s hands.
For example, we’re working with a healthcare company, called Zubia, that spent over 1 year building a web platform they suspected their market needed based on their personal struggles. Unfortunately, their investors and customers completely rejected it.
Low on cash and time, but clinging to the belief that there was still merit in the problems Zubia was trying to solve, we helped them run a design sprint. Getting it wrong again was not an option. But as we’ve experienced time and again, within 1 week of running a sprint, we had validated a new mobile solution. 12 weeks later, this solution has been launched to market and is quickly becoming a major success story.
Zubia’s design sprint not only saved them time and money, but incorporated vital input from their customers from day one.
Reduce budgets and timelines
We all want things built cheaper, faster, better. Typically though, cheaper and faster means quality suffers. Sprints, however, give us the tools to accomplish all 3.
For example, Mentorina is an education company that had invested 6 figures in an idea to empower teachers in classrooms with adaptive learning tools. But after 18 months of development, all they had to show for it was anotherlearning management system. Like Zubia, they got lost in the weeds of building features they were comfortable with, rather than incorporating critical customer insights and prioritizing the core value prop of their solutions.
After 1 week together, we had not only realigned the Mentorina stakeholders, but delivered a plan of action to launch their platform in a fraction of the time and money they had previously spent.
Building great ideas into elegant, thoughtful, engaging solutions is hard. Even harder when you and your customers are not included in the creation of those solutions. But design sprints now give you the ability to have a seat at the design table. And with faster, better solutions that your customers are using and promoting, the better the overall health of your business. And the better the odds you can keep your competition at bay.
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