The Value of Design Sprints Explained

Many companies are now becoming software driven and they need to deliver genuine value, build useable, intuitive and desirable interfaces so that people can operate them quickly and effectively with their mobile and other devices. This is harder than it seems and takes a great deal of time, skill and talent to achieve.

Design sprints bring people of various backgrounds together to collaboratively find solutions within a highly complex system of business, technical, and human context to ultimately result in products and services that people need and desire and are happy to make part of their lives.

How to succeed in delivering a design sprint and wherein lies the value of design sprints to begin with?

I recently had the chance to skim through a few excellent books on this topic. In “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz from Google Ventures explain and outline the Google 5-day Sprint method.

It all begins by setting the stage – outlining the big issue you wish to solve in a week, getting your sprint team together and scheduling a sprint room for the five days.

As for the sprint team or the group of people participating, no more than seven people, with the facilitator not included, is recommended for the sprint. Based on my own experience, this is the ideal group size.

Who then, is needed to participate in the sprint? Knapp and others recommend, that the group includes these people, in addition to the Facilitator:

  • Decision Maker – such as the CEO, Product Manager or Chief Design Officer
  • Finance Expert – such as the CFO, or a Business Development Manager
  • Marketing Expert – such as the CMO, or other qualified person in Marketing
  • Customer Expert – one who regularly meets or chats with customers
  • Technology Expert – such as the CTO or any other person with expertise on technology
  • Design Expert – such as the Design Strategist, the Designer or the Product Owner of the software

Sometimes, some of these roles can be combined. But Knapp and others emphasize, that a Facilitator must be the one that keeps things running, keeps track of time and tasks, and leads the sprint on. It makes sense to hire one or two professionals for this task. Also, some extra experts can be invited to participate and give their views and insights on the issue on the very first day.

It is highly recommended by Knapp and his colleagues that each day, 7 hours with a 1-hour lunch break is spent on the sprint. This will allow for 6 working hours for the group each day, divided between various scheduled tasks.

Knapp recommends starting the sprint each day no earlier than by 10 a.m., so that everyone is present having already checked their emails for the day, as well as being very persistent that no laptops, phones or tablets are allowed in the room. If anybody needs to take a call, they can take it outside the sprint room.

Sometimes, the group may have to reframe the original issue to be solved with human perspective and empathy. For the very first day of any sprint, Knapp and others suggest setting and agreeing to a long-term goal is needed. Challenge mapping is recommended, but picking a target for the sprint is equally important.

Before setting out to pick the target for the sprint, it is paramount to ask the group of people participating, where the company wishes to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now. Sometimes, there may be a long-term strategy involved, but it is recommended to allow for some time for discussion on this topic.

In “The Design Studio Method”, Brian Sullivan emphasizes that preparation largely determines success when it comes to sprints, and suggests scheduling a Problem-Definition Meeting, before the sprint. I find, based on my own experience in facilitation, that this method might work better besides or alternatively combined with the Google 5-day sprint.

Arranging a Problem-Definition Meeting before the design sprint incorporates several benefits:

  • Defining and outlining the original issue, problem or opportunity you wish to solve during the sprint, before the sprint team gets together for the first time
  • Understanding any prior existing requirements or commitments
  • Explaining the methodology of the sprint to the key stakeholders
  • Identifying any such pieces of information you may need to do some research on beforehand
  • Securing alignment between the key stakeholders of the company
  • Committing key people to participate in the sprint beforehand
  • Determining the schedule and scope of the sprint

Sullivan also lists the various advantages of a cross-functional team:

  • Diversity – With a variety of people from different departments, you will have unique perspectives based upon each person’s expertise.
  • Cohesion – Participants complete assignments together using their individual talents to further the bigger goals of the team.
  • Synergy – With a variety of perspectives, the interactions of the group should lead to a greater creativity, as people build upon the ideas of others.
  • Consensus – Your project will have a final plan for execution, or at least a product vision set in place.

The core mission of design is to seamlessly translate business efforts and technology into products and services that deliver human value. At the end of the day, products are simply tools and services that are part of a human ecosystem of tasks and much deeper — almost spiritual — human drivers. Products and services empower humans and enhance human abilities.

There still remain organizations that see design thinking as unnecessary rather than essential to driving organizational change and innovation. Without doing proper research on the customer’s lifestyles and needs and then generating and evaluating various design ideas in a group of people with diverse expertise, in design sprints, however, your product or service might fail in delivering value to the target customers.

This, to me, sums up the value of professionally prepared and facilitated design sprints.

Read more in an article “How Using Design Thinking Will Fix Design Thinking” by Bert Brautigam:

https://thenextweb.com/contributors/2017/04/27/design-thinking-will-fix-design-thinking/

Get “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, 2016, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz”, or “The Design Studio Method”, 2016, by Brian Sullivan on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sprint-Solve-Problems-Test-Ideas/dp/1442397683

https://www.amazon.com/Design-Studio-Method-Creative-Sketching/dp/113802256X/

Contact Iiris via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iiriskonttinen/

Visit the Steps Helsinki website (only in Finnish): https://stepshelsinki.fi/

Happy Independence Day 2017 Finland!

With the unique Slush 2016 tech event of last week now behind us here in Helsinki, Finland sets out to celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017.

Independence day celebration being about history and looking back on our accomplishments, 100 is a very nice round figure for not only reflection on the past – but also to contemplate where we want to go next.

It goes without saying that there is a major cultural paradigm shift going on for our country, and as for the rest of the world, perhaps too. Over the next one hundred years, Finnish companies, like others, will have to make services and products that put the needs of the customers first, without compromises.

The global stage, especially the digital, is a very competitive one.

Finland has a long tradition of approaching product and service design from a technological standpoint. Perhaps this is a key element in what originally placed Nokia cellphones, as well as many other innovations, firmly on the global market. But equally importantly, we tend to base our design on the needs of our customers, as well as to approach industrial design and IT from a Nordic aesthetic standpoint.

Take the Iittala products, spatial design by Alvar Aalto, Visit Finland’s brand, and the Helsinki-Vantaa airport as prime examples.

For me, this year’s independence day celebration incorporates mixed emotions, as our current government seems to emphasize values that differ from many things that I most value in Finnish culture.

Finland is currently facing heavy cuts of budget on the overall education and cultural sector, and the startup spirit of the Slush event seems to have not hindered our decision makers from reducing the education budgets in Finland to the bare minimum.

However, without our education system and most Finns in the field of IT and design being professionals with a polytechnic institute or university level background, we would hardly be able to host such amazing events as Slush and we would certainly not have witnessed the success of Finnish design and technology globally.

Independence day celebration here in Finland also being largely about fighting the Russians during the Second World War it is a very curious fact that in the ongoing crisis in Middle-East – caused chiefly by the absurd and offensive politics of the United States – is a cause of little or no concern for many Finns – even so much so, that a small minority of us Finns would present racist attitudes towards refugees fleeing from war.

With that being said – I am very happy about being born a Finn and here, as there are still many heavy issues to tackle in many other places in the world.

Finnish women won the right to vote a hundred years ago, and Finland, in fact, was the very first country in Europe to grant women that right.

Equality between the sexes and equality among people from different backgrounds being a key element in how our parents built this country, I wish we as Finns could promote these kinds of values more, both in our own country as well as globally.

About Slush and the Helsinki Startup Scene

The annual startup event Slush, held in Helsinki, has become well-known as one of the most hip ones worldwide.

And Slush has been growing exponentially. In 2011 the event had 1,500 attendees, in 2012 the number raised to 3,500, and the year after that to 7,000. Two years back, in 2014, the amount of attendees was about to double and the event had to be relocated to Messukeskus Expo and Convention Center.

Last year, in 2015, the event attracted over 25,000 visitors.

This year, the program of Slush will focus, more than ever, on stories from world-conquering founders of successful tech companies, such as David Helgason, Co-Founder of Unity, Ilkka Paananen, CEO & Founder of Supercell, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, CEO & Co-Founder of Klarna, Niklas Zennström, Co-Founder of Skype & Founder of Atomico.

According to the Slush blog, a new survey on around 700 founders of successful startups confirms the notion that hotspots in the Nordic countries are increasingly gaining reputation as best places to found a startup in Europe. In this survey, as in many others, Berlin and London naturally dominate the charts.

However, in this survey, Stockholm and Copenhagen are ranked among the Top 10 of best cities to found a startup, with Helsinki as a close runner-up.

Maria 0-1, or MariaZeroOne, a brand new startup hub, opened downtown Helsinki with a cool opening party yesterday. I attended the event, and was able to get a sneak-peek preview of the premises. As many of the key players in Helsinki ecosystem have now moved in to Maria or are about to move in soon, this venue is likely to become one of the largest and most inspiring of the Nordic startup hubs.

The hub spans across former Maria hospital area, with the renovation project still going on. The refurbishing of the buildings will continue into 2017.

By the end of the year, Maria will be the new home for 60 start-ups, as well as for many selected investors and accelerators. A few big investors have premises there too, including Superhero Capital and Butterfly Ventures.

“Maria 0-1 will be the centre for events and players driving the growth, as well as being a supporting community for new growth companies,” says Voitto Kangas, director of the venue. “We want to create the meeting point where the ambition will meet the latest technology know-how as well as the drive to succeed internationally”, he explains.

It is now two months until the next Slush event in Helsinki, with the registration still open. With many well-known VIPs from Silicon Valley such as Steve Jurvetson, Caterina Fake, Arielle Zuckerberg, and Ankur Jain also joining Slush this year with direct flights from San Fransisco organized by Finnair, it is no wonder the hype is huge.

Jenni Kääriäinen, Chief of Design at Slush, has been part of the Slush organization since the beginning. Kääriäinen works hard to visualize the soul of Slush for a flock of thousands of visitors every year. For many years, the venue has been decorated and furnished much like a giant rave party, adorned with lasers.

In the Slush blog, Kääriäinen recently revealed that this year, the Slush participants who enter the venue will walk in Messukeskus under a thousand dreamcatchers. This choice made as for the main interior decoration theme of the event seems to me like a very well chosen one.

Read more about Slush and register for the event: http://www.slush.org/