When you’re faced with a new and challenging project, it can be difficult working out where to start. The same applies if you’ve reached an impasse with an existing project, or you want to inject some momentum into a process that’s stalled.
At a time when you need your team united with energy and momentum around an idea, it’s not uncommon for progress to come to a stuttering halt. Opinions, approvals, endless analysis and arguments can drag out decision-making and result in a designed-by-committee dead end.
So, how can you try new ideas, learn fast and make decisions quickly?
Design Sprints are receiving increasing profile as a better way to generate insights, make progress on an idea and design and test a prototype. They use a facilitated five-phase process to rapidly validate a new customer proposition, product, or feature within a restricted time frame.
Developed by Google Ventures and made famous by Jake Knapp’s book Sprint, the 5-day process is designed to step you through a week of intensive cross-functional work that leaves you with a working, user-tested prototype of your idea. Then, armed with proven customer insights, you can make informed business decisions based on real data instead of assumptions or opinions.
It works by getting key people from different parts of your business in a room to contribute their thoughts on the challenge you’re grappling with. This bypasses the maze of conflicting priorities that can exist inside and outside your organisation and avoids you getting lost in the maze of BAU committee-based decision making that hamstrings many organisations.
While the final call is made by a nominated decision-maker, a Design Sprint’s effectiveness and success rely heavily upon the contribution of ideas from all participants.
Why a Design Sprint?
So, what makes the Design Sprint process successful compared with other collaborative approaches? Primarily facilitation. Experienced facilitators balance the chaos and order to reach the sweet spot between encouraging a diversity of ideas and achieving a unified approach that gets results. Here’s how it’s done:
1.The inside word
Facilitators are given insights into all the participants in the room and any underlying politics that might exist before the Sprint begins. This allows them to prepare for situations, including interpersonal conflict, that might impede progress.
All contributors need to feel confident they can voice an opinion or concern, have their ideas acknowledged and be able to challenge those of others. With an understanding of any underlying issues, facilitators can be ready to mitigate potentially explosive partnerships and tactfully shut down unconstructive conversations or judgements.
2. Welcome to the Dotmocracy
Post-it notes, lots of Post-its, large and small, are a facilitator’s best friend. In a Design Sprint, all ideas go down on paper. Everyone can write ideas down, everyone can see them, and everyone can vote for their choices using a clear and simple process, dot-voting. The voting serves as a group signal to the decision maker, but correctly done fosters discussion and helps build consensus while avoiding “decision by committee”.
3. Method, not madness
Design Sprints are run according to a strict methodology. For example, time-boxed activities throughout the sprint include both quiet and loud time, undertaken individually and in groups. Mixing it up ensures that people with different working styles are given the opportunity to be creative and expressive in ways they’re most comfortable with.
4. Rules of engagement
Design Sprints are run by two facilitators – one to lead the direction of the activities and the other to keep participants engaged and unified. A facilitator’s role is not to provide ideas, but to create an environment that elicits ideas from participants in the best possible way.
Phones, laptops and other digital distractions are out. This ensures commitment from participants, and the slight separation anxiety they’re likely to experience also works to keep people in a beneficial state of uncomfortableness.
5. Facilitator feng shui
Everything down to the layout of the room plays a part in how a Design Sprint facilitator successfully manages a group. The ideal setting is to place stools in a circle, which helps boost collaboration and enhance the impression of equality. This is necessary for neutralising particularly overbearing contributors and neutralises dominance by overbearing individuals, regardless of their position or rank within an organisation.
We also use a lot of whiteboard and wall space to document our progress and have information quickly available when we need to.
6.The final say
While everyone can contribute equally to ideas, design-by-committee roadblocks are avoided by having one final decision maker (agreed before the sprint starts). The nominated person has unquestioned authority to make decisions on the spot during the sprint.This person must face the group with their decision in a forum that allows it to be challenged and discussed in a positive way. However, given the open and equal nature of the ideation process, participants should by this point feel comfortable that their voices and ideas have contributed towards the final decision.
Cross-functional collaboration is a critical part of understanding and designing any customer experience, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. At Jade we’ve seen first-hand how the Design Sprint framework – together with the direction of an experienced facilitator - helps to break down silos, allowing you to leverage valuable insights and perspectives for a more successful outcome.