Design sprint

Aug 28 Design Sprints at the Enterprise Level

The benefits of utilizing design sprints on a larger scale—and what to look out for.

You likely have heard a lot about design sprints recently. Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz of the Google Ventures design team wrote a book called “Sprint” that teaches an approachable, low-cost, one week process for improving and innovating quickly. The sprint process focuses on finding key improvement opportunity areas within a process or experience, generating ideas on how to solve that problem, creating a rough prototype, and testing with customers to get directional feedback.

The book and methodology have led more and more teams to adapt “Design Sprints” even outside of agile software development, where the methodology has been used to get a defined amount of work done in a set amount of time, often two weeks. But only a few have implemented sprints at an enterprise level, bringing together cross-functional teams, and enabling them to spend 100% of their time to solve a business challenge in a few highly focused days.

Given the complexity of most large organizations, how do you successfully implement design sprints at that scale?

We recently worked with an enterprise client who had cast a vision to adopt an agile and customer-driven innovation approach. In order to demonstrate to the organization what that could look like, they created a cross-functional team to focus on a strategic business opportunity and brought Rêve in to teach and apply design sprint methodology in real time. Through the course of the engagement, we worked with them as one sprint team to prove the effectiveness of sprints. At the same time, we were working on a latent customer issue that had previously been identified through primary research and needed a resolution.

As one participant noted, “what worked about the process was having dedicated time from a cross-functional team that all had the freedom to participate in each activity as equals.”

Here is what we learned in running enterprise-wide design sprints.

Why sprints work—even at an enterprise level

  • Sprints do a great job of turning a complicated effort into something more bite-sized and actionable so that progress can be made and iterated on throughout the development process.
  • Likewise, design sprints are useful for creating new, or refining existing, products, and services that benefit from a prototype that can be tested with actual users by using the same iterative and time-constrained concept.
  • Lastly, the benefit of having a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time can’t be overstated: most people are surprised what they can get in two days once they’ve been freed from meetings and emails.

Sprinting with cross-functional teams: what to keep in mind.

However, sprints aren’t a cure-all. Here are a few things watch out for:

  • Sprints don’t fix all the issues that may be impacting overall performance, nor do they take the time to fully consider the feasibility of actually producing the final product or its business viability. These other aspects still need to be explored to successfully go to market.
  • Often in an enterprise setting, the cross-functional team that is identified to participate in a sprint have had little experience working outside of their silo and if they have, ran into differing opinions on what direction to take that slowed or stopped a project altogether. In these cases, it’s even more important to lean into the benefit of a Design Sprint to reduce politics and increase collaboration to create a shared outcome that is meant to be tested and improved.

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The results

Without sprints, organizations often struggle to know what to focus on, what to design, or how to design it. To deal with those unknowns, many enterprise organizations often spend too much time deliberating internally or just going forward with what they believe is the correct choice and sinking time and money into it only to find out that they missed the mark once it hit the market. To avoid a long path to market, poor customer adoption, or delays due to an inability for your leadership team to agree on a direction, employing a design sprint can be an effective way to break the stalemate and move forward efficiently

In the case of our recent client engagement, the result was a team that was confident in applying what they had learned. As one participant noted, what worked about the process was having dedicated time from a cross-functional team that all had the freedom to participate in each activity as equals.”

The team also produced a customer-tested, high-fidelity prototype that could move quickly into production months sooner than their previous process, and applied approach for a new way of working that could be documented, socialized, and quickly adopted. This new process cut down a typical timeline that had taken close to 8 months to develop an untested prototype to 2 months, with a full prototype that had gone through a round of user testing to validate the concept. In our experience, design sprints at an enterprise level can prove to be an effective way to bypass some of the traditional internal roadblocks of decision making and facilitate innovation at a rapid rate.

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