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/

The NSU Summer Gathering Proceedings

So I am currently participating in the Nordic Summer University conference – organized this year in the astoundingly beautiful Saulkrasti, near Riga, in Latvia. The place is a tiny and peaceful coastal town with stunning views of the Baltic Sea. This year’s gathering has around 170 participants from various countries around Europe and elsewhere, with emphasis on the Nordic academia as usual.

Many students are joining in from the Baltic countries as well this year, with also a few from Russia.

The Nordic Summer University, or NSU for short, is a nomadic network for interdisciplinary research, operating in the Nordic and Baltic region.

The summer conferences have been organized ever since the 1950’s, and this organization is the oldest academic, independent co-operation body in the Nordic countries.

The summer conference kicked off already earlier this week. I arrived here yesterday myself after spending a few days by myself in Vilnius first, so I have not yet had the chance to hear more than just a few presentations at my study circle. I am very much looking forward to hearing many more excellent ones still during the following days.

I am taking part in the ongoing study circle “Appearances of the Political”, curated by Carsten Friberg and Raine Vasquez. This year, we are focusing in-depth on the theme of “Action and Activism”.

Here is how the theme was described by the organizers of the conference in the original CFP:

Since the 1960s the active forms of the political have been manifold, from marches, demonstrations interventions, and happenings, to more radical forms such as occupations – and even violent forms such as terrorism.

In recent years, we have witnessed a revitalisation of mass movements through use of internet and social media, including the creation of new movements like Occupy and Indignados, and new activities like the hacktivism of Anonymous. In relation to the environment, we find guerrilla gardening along with local protests against corporate use of natural resources, engaging people across traditional political groupings.

Many forms of activism also face political resistance defining – or redefining – the political space that is threatening democratic rights with agendas of terrorism, challenging or reshaping the space for political activism.

I have had an excellent time here! I think many people who have a vested interested in these topics would benefit from taking part in an NSU Session at some point of their academic careers. The NSU is a very special organization in the sense that it forms an independent, nomadic body of academics.

We need institutions like these now more than ever, as many Nordic and Baltic countries are facing substantial cuts in the budgets of the historically preceding, established academic organizations.

My own presentation will take place next Monday afternoon. The upcoming presentation is entitled “On Contemporary Infrastructure and Activism – Extrastatecraft and The Fate of Art in the Age of Terror”. Below is a link to the published presentation – just in case you are interested in reading it.

https://www.academia.edu/34071366/On_Contemporary_Infrastructure_and_Activism_Extrastatecraft_and_The_Fate_of_Art_in_the_Age_of_Terror

Find out more about the Nordic Summer University by visiting http://nordic.university/ and join in for the next upcoming session by ordering the newsletter!

About Analytics, Conversions and On-Site Surveys

Recently, I have given a lot of thought to conversions. A static website may attract a lot of traffic, but unless there is an initial CTA (otherwise known as “call-to-action”), that traffic may be of no use at all.

According to a recent study by Bain & Company, around 80% of companies say they are customer centric, yet only 8% of their customers seem to agree with this.

When it comes to online shopping, this gap is evident.

You already have my contact info, and you know exactly what I bought – why not use that information and ask me for my opinions on-site, as well as at least some feedback about the online store and my purchase experience, or at the very least the product you just sold me?

As we all know, around 90% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. Proper SEO and SEM are, naturally, of a very high importance when it comes to attempts to increase the conversion rate.

Also, to be more precise, conversions only take place when targeted traffic meets the relevant offer. It all starts with knowing who is your target audience – and with knowing what they need or want.

It is highly recommended to begin by asking the right questions.

  • Who are the target customers? And what is their ongoing life situation?
  • What do they want? And what is the biggest pain point related to that?
  • What are the exact needs of the customers that aren’t being met right now?

Surveys can be used to significantly increase conversions by directing visitors to the correct pages on site. It all starts simply by asking questions related to customers and their specific needs, or feedback on whatever is displayed on the current page being browsed.

Qualitative research can offer more insight than anything else for coming up with conversions. Whereas quantitative figures tell you “what, where” and “how much”, the qualitative information tells you “why”.

The primary goal of qualitative research on-site is to gather an in-depth understanding of a website user’s behaviour, and the main reasons for that behaviour.

It makes sense to first inquire the user’s intent – to dig into what exactly is the specific problem they were solving by visiting the site in question. Moving forward, the next relevant questions might be, for example, what mattered to them when choosing the product or service, what kind of comparisons did they do prior to purchase, or how many and which other sites they looked at, and so on. It might also make sense to ask about friction – fears, doubts and hesitations the users experienced before making the purchase.

Your basic Google Analytics tools help you in defining your questions and in placing the surveys on site.

With Google Analytics tools, it is easy to spot the exact:

  • Best performing content (Which pieces of content work best? Try and get a clear view on this one!)
  • Best converting keywords (Which keywords rank? Aim to rank better for these and similar words.)
  • Best converting landing pages (Where is the incoming traffic landing on – and does it convert?)
  • Best converting traffic sources (Where exactly is your traffic that converts visitors coming from?)

To best avoid bounce and churn rate increase, I suggest giving the conversion surveys as well as their placement on your site a lot of thought. Less is more.

Exit surveys, annoying pop-ups and prompts to subscribe to another newsletter are proliferate. With Google Analytics tools, you can easily target the relevant customers with your on-site surveys – it does not matter if they converted, or did not yet.

On the Lean Methodology and Metrics

I think setting up consistent metrics makes all the difference in relation to the lean startup model thinking. The practice of creating Minimum Viable Products is becoming a prevalent way to create new products and services. But in order to keep on improving our MVPs, it is essential to figure out the relevant metrics in relation to the customer’s overall happiness and satisfaction with the product or service.

So let’s take a brief look at the lean methodology in relation to metrics. In a recent post entitled “Flow and Seductive Interactions” (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/flow-and-seductive-interactions/), I emphasized the need to create products and services that cater for the customer’s personal improvement, while giving us a sense of a true “flow experience” of micro-moments while performing relatively complex tasks. This is essential especially in multichannel digital service design.

But how to measure all of this?

Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup”, says that while we certainly need figures, the customers are individuals.

In his book, Ries states that “Numbers tell a compelling story, but I always remind entrepreneurs that metrics are people, too. No matter how many intermediaries lie between a company and its customers, at the end of the day, customers are breathing, thinking, buying individuals. Their behavior is measurable and changeable.”

I agree with Ries. So essentially, we need to figure out what works, and also understand why it works. Focusing on these questions, especially the “why” part, helps us choose the correct metrics.

In “The Lean Startup”, Ries states that in order to support the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, the metrics need to be “Actionable, Accessible and Auditable”.

First of all, let’s take a look at “Actionable” metrics.

Your company may attract 1 000 000 unique visitors to its website annually. However, this figure might not be as relevant as many people think. As Ries explains, “For a report to be considered actionable, it must demonstrate clear cause and effect. Otherwise, it is a vanity metric.” So the question we need to ask next is, where are the visitors coming from and why? And follow up by setting the metrics for that.

Ries also provocatively states that “All too many reports are not understood by the employees and managers who are supposed to use them to guide their decision making.” Furthermore, he says that “Unfortunately, most managers do not respond to this complexity by working hand in hand with the data warehousing team to simplify the reports so that they can understand them better.” I think this is true.

Based on my own experience, this might be one of the most important issues to solve in relation to metrics. I think setting up an accessible dashboard of the most relevant metrics should be a top priority in the analytics team. There is currently a plethora of excellent analytics dashboard software available. I personally prefer the kind that are accessible for any employee at any time, modular and visual.

Finally, Ries states that all analytics and metrics must be “Auditable”. An easy way to test hypotheses based on analytics is to interview the people that are using the product or service. Another feasible way to audit and validate the hypotheses is A/B testing. Playing around with various landing pages, for example, usually certainly pays off. Checking out the heatmaps of the existing websites also helps. Yet another practical way to test the hypotheses based on metrics is creating traffic via modifying the parameters of search engine optimization. I think regular auditing paves the way for regular improvements.

So the KPIs as well as other metrics should have a clear relation to the overall customer experience as well as the strategic goals of the company. Some of the most important KPIs still remain social media audience size, reach, engagement rate, website traffic, and the amount of leads and conversions. But understanding why visitors end up on our social media or landing page, and why they convert into customers is essential in order to create the next MVP as well as improve on the multichannel experience of the existing ones.

Setting up the most relevant metrics for these processes should be a top priority in the analytics team as well as in the C-suite.

New Year, New Challenges

I am currently looking for new work-related opportunities. In the meanwhile, I still continue working on the research publication of the Finnish National Gallery, http://research.fng.fi, this year.

As the future holds some new challenges, so does the present. I still have got my master’s thesis to finish, and that might take some time. I am trying to get back on it as soon as I can. The thesis has to do with street art and tourist landmarks, and is heavily inspired by Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia.

I recently moved into a new apartment in the Kallio area of Helsinki, and currently enjoy the option to work from home, with the cat. Yesterday was the first working day since my winter holiday of 1 month.

Work-wise, I enjoy collaborating with the collections department on the research publication.

The upcoming issue will include an article on Finnish memento mori contemporary art by Marja Sakari, the Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. This is the first time that I have had the chance to read through one of the articles with the publication schedule being very tight, and I must this article proved to be a very interesting one. I have some vanitas style artworks and other objects at home, and have a vested interest in art that deals with death.

I think this also makes me a Damien Hirst fangirl.

So stay tuned for the new issue of the FNG Research, it will be online by the end of the week. Previous issues from last year make for interesting reading, please do check out those as well.

On the Finnish Art Consumer

The Finnish National Gallery recently conducted a research on its audience online. Around 500 Finnish people of ages 18-69 years were interviewed for this study.

This research finds that, in general, “art” is of at least “some interest” to around half of the population in Finland (49% of the respondents), and a remarkable amount of people in Finland are “very interested” in “art” (15% of the respondents). However, not that many people visit art museums. According to this study, most people in Finland tend to visit art museums less than once per year (38%), with almost the same amount of people in Finland tending to visit art museums only one or two times in a year (36%).

The people most interested in art in Finland tend to be around 35-44 years old academic women.

What does your average Finn expect, or wish to experience, then, when viewing art?

Here, it is tranquility that comes first. The ideal art experience seems to consist of moments of zen or flow state of mind, of quiet contemplation of the beauty and pureness of art. This is equivalent to what other studies have found that most Finns feel when surrounded by nature. It is no surprise then, that elsewhere in the study, as the respondents were shown different images of artworks, the paintings of Finnish nature were liked best by most, indifferent of the demographic background factors of the respondents.

When asked where the respondents wish to see art, museums come first, with the majority of people wishing to experience art in an art museum (72%). Nevertheless, the vast majority of the respondents of this study would also like to see art on the streets (41%), or in malls and shopping centers (41%), or when using public transportation (29%). Only around one third of the respondents would also like to experience art online (31% said they wish to browse art-related sites by their computer or a mobile device), but also around one third of the respondents would like to share art-related content in social media (36%).

That makes around 2 million people in Finland willing to browse art-related websites and share the content. How should the Finnish art museums react to this?

Based on this study, I recommend taking the artworks online, and encouraging people to share content.