The one thing everybody gets wrong about Design Sprints.

And how to get it right.

You’ve built a team of T-shaped people, you’ve done the hard yards to sync up your DevOps paradigm, you’ve elevated design and engineering and you’ve got Design Thinking going on, but the product builds are still stalling. Some teams are stuck in analysis. Others are having a hard time aligning the business requirement with the technical limitations. In the spirit of experimentation, you figure a Design Sprint might unblock things.

The logic checks out – a sprint is not too taxing, it fits the Agile situation, people can focus, and the process can move along in a burst of creative friction. It’s a low risk way to get unstuck. You probably need an outsider to facilitate, so you hire an awesome design company like SuperUltra to run the sessions for you. They’ve been there before so that should help.

Well here’s what’s going to happen.

People will overcome their reservations for a while. SuperUltra will bring a new energy to the design process and some unlikely people will get quite enthusiastic. Information will be shared, research gathered, personas drawn, journey maps sprawled out. Ideation will put a few interesting ideas on the table, and rapid prototyping will embody them. The feedback will be polite. The enthusiasm will fade, and the next attempt will be just that little bit harder.

To be fair, some design sprints can produce pretty ok product concepts, but the vast majority of them produce pretty lame concepts. We know; we’ve been there before. After the sprint, it gets harder and harder to take a chosen concept forward because it’s just missing ‘that’ something that gets people excited to launch things. 

Let’s rewind.

The most successful products we’ve seen and the best ones we’ve been involved with had one thing in common. They were built on a profoundly valuable insight from the customer’s world. This doesn’t always come easy and it seldom comes from within the building. I’ve sat in many client interviews where I had a 40 000 volt “aha” moment and my colleague from your business felt nothing. The surprising part is that if our roles had been reversed, she would have felt the jolt and I would have been yawning. It’s not about the person so much as the point of view.

It’s hard to have perspective on yourself. It’s also hard for a customer to be as honest with you as they are with people who don’t care about your business. For the sake of this interview, I don’t care about your business. I don’t care about your rearranged IT priorities, driving a business case, sweet talking department X for a few favours and generally making space for this new possibility. I know we will do all of that later and we’ll hopefully be killing it, but right now I only care about the insight. At some point my ignorance is going to help me to see a correlation that you would miss. We’ve seen some make-or-break insights in our work. For example, no one ever signed up for Nursing to do admin. Those tech-averse customers were half tech-averse and half junk-averse. Unexpectedly, the customers just wanted it to run a bit faster. Each of those insights printed money for our clients.

We think that the easiest way to get to these insights is to study the data and to have a few friendly chats with some customers. We don’t like continuing the design process until we have a weapons grade insight. Once we have one, we will take any hill with it. Some of these insights burn brightly for all to see, others are fragile and must be protected from harsh judgement until they become stronger, but that’s another article.

So use design sprints. Or don’t use design sprints. Whichever suits you. But either way, do take a weapons grade customer insight into your ideation. It won’t just make for better concepts, it will make rallying support easier and it will make the chances of success much higher.

By SuperUltra