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Design Sprints: Q&A with Shay Howe, Director of Product at Belly

A couple of weeks ago we introduced design sprints on our blog.The concept, originally developed by Google, has caught fire amongst a variety of companies and industries including a few here in Chicago, like Belly, a customer loyalty company

In anticipation of our design sprints Meetup on June 28, I had the opportunity to find out more about how Belly put their own spin on the concept from their Director of Product, Shay Howe.

Q: How did you first learn about the concept?

Shay Howe (SH): I first learned about design sprints from Braden Kowitz, one of the co-authors of Sprint, a few years back. Having peaked my interest, I invited Braden to speak at Prototypes, Process & Play last August to talk about Google Ventures’ design process, how they work with their portfolio companies and about design sprints in general.

Q: What made you want to try the concept for yourself?

SH: After Braden’s talk, reading the subsequent book and talking to others in the community I knew it was something we should try at Belly as a way to tackle some of our more challenging problems.

The concept is set up to help short circuit the product development process, which can take months, to be done in a matter of days, speeding up any trial and error. We’re always open to better ways of developing products at Belly and design sprints looked to better allow us to pull together cross-functional teams, take deep dives into big problems, quickly collect qualitative feedback from our customers and readjust. All of which is extremely valuable.

Q: Did you have any internal pushback when it came to implementing the process at your respective companies?

SH: Honestly, not too much. There is a general sense of trust from the team at Belly to try new things. They were willing to give me time to implement the process, to even fail at it, and ultimately get it right.

That said, I didn’t spring the idea of a design sprint on the team overnight either. I began talking about design sprints, even facilitating a book club to read Sprint, well before we tried our first one. Once everyone understood what a sprint was and the potential value, getting the first one going wasn’t too difficult.

Q: What’s the best advice you can offer someone who is looking to implement their own design sprints?

SH: When it comes to implementing a design sprint you have to be willing to fail. Not every sprint will be a success, and more often than not you’ll fail. Sprints may create more questions than answers. You may need to run multiple sprints to solve some of your more difficult problems. Understand, this is okay so long as you’re continually learning and inching closer to the solution in the process.

In fact, that was one of my biggest realizations with sprints. The process is part of the outcome, meaning that you will very rarely find clear solutions to your problems. You will, however, learn and create a shared understanding of the problem at hand, who has that problem, when they encounter it, and what viable solutions there may be.

What you learn during a sprint is equal, if not more important, than the actual solution.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to sprinting?

SH: One of the most difficult parts of a sprint is choosing the appropriate size problem tackle, or what to specifically focus on in a given problem. The book suggests that you choose one of the “toughest problems you face” and then gives you a process to narrow it down and target the appropriate part of the problem. We’ve found this easier said than done as the process can artificially narrow the problem set.

The best I can tell, learning how to pick the right-sized problem is through experience. I wish the book addressed this further, however, you have to learn from your mistakes and experiment with picking different types of problems.

Ultimately, though, the goal of a design sprint is to learn more about a problem and to take the first steps in solving it. And with that, design sprints help you get started.

Q: Are they worth it?

SH: We genuinely enjoy design sprints! Sprints will bring your team together and allow them to bond in ways they might not otherwise experience, and we’ve found the outcomes, failures and all, well worth it.

Tom

Tom Cullen

Tom, a very proud and active alumni of St. Bonaventure University, began LaunchPad Lab after an eleven year stint running trading firms and building software in the high speed world of finance. He constantly thinks about how to use software to make enormous impact, and he loves working with clients to maximize their potential. Tom preaches design thinking, business innovation strategy, and works a side gig as a superhero (the latter being a great source of joy to his 1 and 3 year old daughters).