Recently, we took on a disruptive innovation strategy challenge with a F100 client. In just a five-week sprint, we led them to deeply explore five divergent trend spaces and provide solid guidance and a strong runway for the client’s innovation strategy.
WHAT IS A DESIGN SPRINT?
First of all, let’s define sprint. A design sprint is a super-lean approach to help “answer critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.”
It’s worth noting that not every challenge is conducive to this type of model. Design sprints are often used by startups and bigco new ventures groups because they are fast, iterative and produce validated results. However, a sprint is not meant to be a catch-all to solve all problems at once; it is meant to help a team have razor sharp focus on uncertain aspects of a challenge and put intensive, iterative learning into practice surrounding that challenge.
Although Google Ventures outlines their sprint process in a rather regimented five-day plan, it’s also important to note that a sprint doesn’t have to be any specific length of time in order to get results. What ultimately matters is to adhere to the principles of the sprint approach by driving decisions under time pressure, coupled with iterative learning against the most uncertain elements of the new business model you’re attempting to create. The goal here is progress, not perfection; a successful sprint of any length can generate ideas for and robustly develop new strategy, products, marketing ideas and business models to get to market much faster than traditional approaches.
WHY DO A DESIGN SPRINT?
A sprint is perfect for those big, uncertain problems that keep getting postponed or prolonged because of conflicting priorities and multiple work streams and if the team isn’t clear on the right path forward. When we apply 100% dedication to a problem and focus only on deal-killing assumptions that have to be true to keep a project alive, it doesn’t take as long to solve for it. Setting aside uninterrupted time to focus on an important problem can be invaluable. Design sprints force teams to make faster decisions; there is no time to question outcomes or to look for more data to support certain aspects of a project. This process helps teams generate a large volume of ideas, build on them, learn from them and move forward in a compressed amount of time–which is how entrepreneurs work.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN WE TOOK A SPRINT APPROACH TO DEFINING INNOVATION STRATEGY?
Here’s a recent example of a project we led where we infused sprint principles to more quickly identify disruptive innovation spaces in emerging trend areas for a client.
The goal here was to build and accelerate our client’s innovation pipeline. We wanted to start consumer-first, exploring emerging trends to identify clear “where to play” opportunities; validate and prioritize consumer pain points and “jobs to be done”; and create trend-inspired, consumer-validated concepts ready for development.
With multiple trends and market forces at play, our client ultimately needed to understand where they should focus, and why.
We started with:
WEEK 1-2.5: EXPLORE THE TREND SPACES AND IDENTIFY THE OPPORTUNITIES WITHIN EACH
The first few weeks of our sprint were dedicated to exploring each trend space, looking for consumer pain points and jobs to be done within each.
First, we equipped the team with the tools and skills they’d need with training on key topics, such as:
Then, we led the team through several iterative rounds of learning via quick bursts of qualitative research that allowed them to continually build and test their assumptions surrounding their trend spaces.
In just 1.5 weeks, the sprinters identified over 200 pain points and 91 unique jobs to be done across the trend spaces.
WEEK 2.5-4: VALIDATION AND PRIORITIZATION OF JOBS TO BE DONE
Next, we needed to validate and prioritize the jobs to be done, in order to drive the right level of focus for our work.
So, again, we equipped the team with the tools they’d need:
Using a combination of quantitative consumer prediction markets, along with internal assessments and sizing, we each trend sprinter identified the top 1-2 jobs to be done within their trend space.
WEEK 5: IDEA GENERATION AND PITCHING
Armed with the right focus areas, the team was ready to begin building ideas against each trend space. We wanted to prove that we could develop real business-building ideas against each trend space as a way of evidencing how “ripe” that trend space was for the client company to focus on going forward.
As in the other phases, we needed to build some skills. So, we equipped the team with:
Sprinters prepared pitches for their trend spaces, and an initial Shark Tank pitch competition engaged a few key senior stakeholders to give initial investment nods to the trend spaces that felt most attractive.
Then, the sprinters, joined by an extended team, dove into an intense day of idea generation and development. They were inspired by trends and analogs and leveraged an interactive digital platform to develop over 400 ideas in just over five hours. The next morning, they developed the top 10 ideas for another lively Shark Tank pitch competition with senior leaders in attendance.
An energized multifunctional team, engaged leaders and a strong recommendation going forward for trend space investment.
During the final presentation of the results, the sprinters each shared a compelling video capturing the opportunity they uncovered in their trend space, along with the ideas that had been developed that the company could put into development immediately.
Within a week after the final Shark Tank pitches, management had already committed resources to two trend spaces based on the work done during this five-week sprint.
Any organization can apply principles of a sprint to their tough innovation and growth challenges. How can you take the challenges you’re thinking through and apply them to a sprint? Move quickly, iterate and give your 100% all-in effort, and you’ll be amazed by what your team can do.