Developing Digital Sprints

Member Article

Sprinting into 2017

What do Silicon Valley start-ups, the BBC, and Usain Bolt have in common?

They’re sprinting their way to success.

And with an increasing number of high profile businesses and agencies waxing lyrical about the phenomenal results being derived from design sprints, it’s an approach that will go from strength to strength in 2017.

So what are design sprints and is this new innovation method all it’s cracked up to be?

“Top UK brands such as Center Parcs, Hillarys and the MS Society are just a snapshot of firms that are now adopting design sprint processes as part of their digital product strategy” says former executive product manager at the BBC Tom Bradley, now design director at Code Computerlove, who explains why sprinting is moving from the running track to the digital design process.

“Put simply, innovation is a new way of doing something that has business value – it’s not just coming up with big idea. That’s easy. Working out if an idea will work and having a tangible plan to deliver it is the hard part, but design sprints have given us a method that make this easier too.

“Design sprints have been popularised by Google Ventures, and more recently the BBC, and in their most generic form describe a process to rapidly prototype products and test ideas with potential customers.

Each design sprint follows a five-stage process, usually over five days…

• Day one: understand the problem

• Day two: diverge to come up with lots of ideas

• Day three: converge on the best ones

• Day four: make a prototype to bring the idea to life

• Day five: test with a 6-8 people.

“Design sprints are becoming popular because they provide a robust process, in a fast and cost-effective way; so in a world where long cycle times can mean things can change faster than you can learn, old ways of working just aren’t viable any more.

“Speed of learning is now key.

“We’ve been using the design sprint process for the past 12 months now, applying our tailored version of it across a number of business problems and sectors. All have succeeded in unearthing new thinking that has the potential to deliver positive business results.

“The biggest “aha” moments come when people learn together.

Nobody wants to be in the team behind a fully formed idea, that’s taken the whole budget (and some) to deliver, only to find that it wasn’t the right idea for users after all.

Design sprints can take a wealth of ideas and validate them with immediate feedback, challenging assumptions and pre-conceptions often associated with long-standing businesses or those organisations that rarely take a step back to challenge the status quo. They force you to look closely at what your customers really want and need.

The assumptions fall away, and you discover the things you know real people actually need and can use. Once you do that you create the opportunity to find genuine innovations.

For example, we recently worked with a leading charity to radically change their digital offer, including an overhaul of the structure, breadth and layout of their content. We had a strong concept that everyone involved felt was going to provide real innovation in this sector, but when we completed a design sprint, we found that users couldn’t relate the idea. Their mental model of the world was different to ours. After a short period of time we were able to rule out a large piece of work that would have been a significant investment to build and then inevitably further investment to replace soon afterwards.

Design sprints eliminate risk: testing new ideas before making a significant investment.

Another example of this was when working with a broadcaster. We were looking at ideas for new audience propositions that blended creative arts with traditional news reporting. We were able to use the sprint process to rapidly explore numerous concepts from the perspective of artists and audience members, gaining insights into their lives and how a new editorial offer might fit with their existing behaviour. We were able to identify the design principles that would be needed in order maximise the chances of successfully introducing a new digital offer into this space.

We’ve often needed to bring multiple stakeholder views to the table, some of which can be in direct contradiction to each other. The design sprints process allows us to work together to focus on developing a consensus around business goals, explore and evaluate lots of ideas, and then test with real users to work out which concepts have the most potential. This collaboration allows stakeholders to input creatively into the decision-making – and then see for themselves which ideas are most valuable from the perspective of their customers.

These scenarios highlight how collaboration lies at the heart of everything. The methodology eradicates the misunderstandings and endless conversations between departments associated with the old design process, that involved lists of requirements, wireframe specifications, pictures of websites and lots of assumptions of how people will actually interact with the product once it’s built in full.

Three other factors have made design sprints effective today:The rise of design thinking as a business tool; digital products becoming business critical services and the change in role for digital from a one-way broadcast towards making customer conversations integral to the way a company operates.

So there must be a down side of the process?

Design sprints can be a challenge for clients because it requires them to give up their time to be involved. They also need to be prepared to question their assumptions. Finally, and crucially, as there isn’t a ‘ta da’ moment where an agency unveils the big idea, it can lack a certain amount of theatre if the story of what has been learned is not equally well crafted.

However, these minor points won’t be stopping us. Developing new customer experiences in 2017 is going to involve a lot of sprinting, and we’ll be at the starter’s gun ready for the race to bring innovative ideas to market ahead of the competition. Furthermore, at Code we’ve found that design sprints fit well with our modern engineering practices, where the emphasis is also on the delivery of products through a series of short iterations, so we’re in great shape to deliver results for every opportunity that comes our way.


This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Kirsty Hunt .

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