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The Challenges of Sprinting

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint!”

“Slow and steady wins the race!”

These are both clichés that have been repeated to us by parents, educators and coaches as a reminder that being methodical, deliberate and strategic is the best way to get ahead.

However, Google Ventures has created a process that is putting these phrases to shame with its design sprints. Sprints help companies solve business challenges more effectively through a five-day process of design, prototyping and customer evaluation.

We’ve been trained through decades of experience that design and innovation process involves months of in-house brainstorming, prototyping and revisions until the company believes it has come to a satisfactory solution.

Then the concept goes into testing where they find out whether or not the customers will be receptive to the idea. Evaluation can take months in and of itself and if the outcome isn’t a positive one, the design process repeats. This is expensive and time-consuming.

And while it’s popular now to talk about the minimal viable product - or MVP - it’s only one step in a much longer process.

What Google has created is quite different.

Google takes the entire strategy, innovation, prototyping, design, and validation process that could take months and compressed it into a single work week.

The general schedule looks like this:

  • Day 1: Understand - dig into the design problem through research, competitive review and strategy exercises
  • Day 2: Diverge - rapidly develop as many solutions as possible
  • Day 3: Decide - choose the best ideas and hammer out a user story
  • Day 4: Prototype - build something quick and dirty that can be shown to users
  • Day 5: Validate - show the prototype to real humans (people outside of your company) and learn what works and what doesn’t work

This is no abstract theory.

The Google teams working on Chrome, Search and Google X all rely on design sprints.

They applied what they learned to companies in the Google Ventures startup portfolio and eventually “wrote the book on it,” giving companies an instruction manual on how to adopt the idea.

And adopt, they have!

We know many design teams that use sprints. For example, UrbanBound, a relocation  management software company, uses the design sprint method every week or two to start designing something that can be tested with users, like new versions of their app or new features like expense-reimbursement.

Belly, a widely-used, Chicago-based business customer loyalty platform, also uses design sprints. Belly wanted a way to get answers quickly to internal challenges and short circuit their product process so they implemented the concept and have since successfully pulled off several sprints. The company even invited co-author of Sprints, Braden Kowitz to come to Belly in August 2015 to talk about the process, how Google Ventures is using them and how to implement them as a startup.

We, too, are big believers in design sprints. They are a great way to test our product ideas quickly without having to invest too much money in them from the start. Sprints allow you to fail quickly, an approach we take with many aspects of our business, even our apprenticeship program.

For all of their strengths, design sprints aren’t without challenges.

1. Choosing the best problem to solve.

Identifying the best problem to solve is crucial to having a successful sprint week. Finding a topic that the team has knowledge around and they are passionate about are important as well as a problem that is solvable.

2. The pace is fast and requires undivided attention for a whole week.

Scheduling 6-8 people for an entire week can be very difficult. Getting the whole team to buy in to the process is not always easy. The moderator has a difficult job of pushing the project along to ensure that the group stays on task.

3. How do you identify the right people for sprint teams?

They have to have chemistry if they are going to be working that tightly over a short, but intense period of time. Their make-up may also have to change from sprint to sprint depending on the problem to solve.

To help you understand design sprints we are hosting a design sprint Meetup on June 28.

We have invited Shay Howe, Director of Product at Belly, to talk about his experience with design sprints. As a designer and front-end developer, Shay has a passion for solving problems while building creative and intuitive products like Belly, the world’s best loyalty program (in our humble opinion).

Shay will give us a deep dive into how Belly approaches design sprints, how to adopt them in a way that works for your business and how to get them started off on the right foot.

To join the Meetup, click here.

If you have any questions about design sprints before the Meetup or can’t make the event feel free to give us a shout and we would be happy to help.

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).