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/

A Website Makeover Overnight and Other Recent Events

So the Steps Helsinki website finally got a complete makeover this weekend!

Feel free to check the new site out at http://stepshelsinki.fi.

I am fairly happy with the resulting look and feel, as well as with the new design-related photos and colors that I used in the design.

Migrating the site over to a WordPress Business Plan as well as a complete redesign of the site was in my interests since the very beginning of this year – but I have been putting this project off for some time now, since my weekends seem to fill up with social events.

Last night, I also took the time to revamp the rest of the contents of the site, and will also shortly start writing a blog about marketing and service design and related topics in Finnish to spice up the website.

So stay tuned for that, dear readers!

Steps Helsinki now has 80 followers over in Twitter, and nearly as many followers as that in Facebook and LinkedIn combined.

Joining Twitter, finally, has been fruitful and rewarding. I still need to speed up and to boost my sales, as the two deals I was aiming for to get started with fell through before the end of the year. I am very much looking forward to closing some deals soon.

My agency will be moving in next month with Pentagon Design Oy. This is great news, as their premises are located conveniently enough in the hip Suvilahti area of Helsinki, and only a 10-15 minute walk away from my place in Kallio.

And who knows, perhaps there will be some joint efforts design projects coming up too.

The “Upea Ura!” -festival event is coming up soon. I have been planning the event as for the theme of strategic and creative thinking together with Riikka Pellikka. Our invited keynote speaker in the event as for this theme will be Anne Stenros, the Chief Design Officer of the City of Helsinki. Also, Maija Tanninen-Mattila, the Director of the Helsinki Art Museum, and Piritta Kantojärvi, the CEO of Grape People, as well as Marianne Tenhula, a Service Designer currently working at the design agency Palmu, will be giving talks.

I will be facilitating a few practical exercises during the event. Looking forward to the festival!

In other news, it seems my studies at the University of Helsinki are currently at a complete standstill since last autumn. I did give a presentation on the issue of street art and the Berlin Wall last year in an international summer school conference of the Nordic Summer University (NSU), however, my beloved master’s thesis is a work very much in progress right now.

I will just have to see if this upcoming summer may offer me a chance to work on that.

I am mentoring a group of four students and my peers this semester. Most of them are currently looking for a job. It seems to me like my university background has always come second to my studies in the university of applied sciences when it comes to getting employed and my next career moves.

I hope, nevertheless, that I can inspire this group of students to get to know their strengths in the current job market and to find an intriguing position. I think university background gives a huge advantage for many vacancies.

Like many in the academia here, I am worried that we will shortly be facing tuition fees in universities and other arrangements that will greatly affect the equality of access to higher education.

I think it goes almost without saying that a university-level education certainly gives a substantially stronger background for getting employed in many fields besides studying in a polytechnic institute. The current budget cuts in the university world of Finland may come at a cost in the long run, because we do need workforce with higher education in Finland, to boost the economy and the startup-spirit.

The Emerging Trends and Seismic Shifts in CX, UX and UI Design

What are the major issues dominating the field of design right now? As the holiday season is now over, it is time to skim through the relevant details.

Let’s get started with a few statistics. By 2017, a whopping 89% of marketing people expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator at the global and local marketplace, says Gartner Group. Furthermore, 72% of businesses now say that improving the customer experience is their “top priority”, Forrester states.

This year makes for a highly interesting era as for the evolution digital and service design then.

In a recent article “Service Design Trends for 2017” John Knight describes the current “seismic shifts” in customer experience and user experience design right now.

The inevitable huge strides technology, internet of things and artificial intelligence are changing the landscape of digital services. “As smart machines start to replace human actors, UX will need to move from delivering simple usability to dealing with more complex domains that blend human and technological agency”, Knight states. Many others in the field of service design seem to agree.

While I do not consider this to be the main concern for many companies still during this year, in the very near future this shift will be one most designers and businesses will simply have to find a way to deal with in order to keep up with the others.

Knight views micro-interactions and micro-moments as another important trend for this year. “Beyond removing barriers to conversion, building value creation into all touchpoints and weaving it in as a design element. It will no longer suffice to make check-outs easy but instead UX will need to deliver sustainable engagement”, Knight says.

Accordingly, maintaining a sustainable and striking visual and contextual consistency over different devices and different mediums will be more important than ever before in service design. With more people spending more time on various devices, designers will need to maintain their attention and create engaging experiences. I think, like many others, that the use of video clips and fresh illustrations, and a bolder use of colour and typography, will be growing trends in UX next year.

Another emerging trend seems to be that UX design is a more widespread discipline than ever. “Just like the eponymous DJ, everyone is a UX designer nowadays”, Knight exclaims. I agree with Knight as for the fact that “has many repercussions for UX as a discipline, practice and job. In the longer term, everyone doing UX will require a tighter, more focused and stronger core discipline”.

In an article in Forbes magazine online, Shep Hyken says, almost as if stating the obvious, that this year customer service is getting better (even if it doesn’t look like it), value and experience created continue to trump price, and that personalization eventually creates a better customer experience. Coming back to Knight, he says that “this shift will require a much more agile approach to design where rather than single solutions there will be multiple segmented and highly tailored interaction patterns.”

When it comes to personalization, privacy, security and trust will be the next issues involved. As Knight states, “The robustness, clarity and visibility of organisations trustworthiness and security will become a primary part of the customer proposition”, and I firmly believe that statement is true.

Data supplied enables every customer experience to be personalized, starting with the browser cache and cookies and with our latest online orders lists. However, it seems a growing number of people are not that willing to share even this much information with the corporate world.

Engendering the feeling of trust in a product or service is now an important task for any good CX or UX designer.

I am currently working full-time for the small service design and marketing consulting agency Steps Helsinki since the beginning of this year. Exciting times!

As the discipline of service design remains largely unknown in many companies over in Finland, not including many big companies and startups of course, I will need to work hard to cut the first deals.

It seems to me that traditional marketing and graphic design is by far easier to sell here in Finland than service design, but I find these two must come second to well-designed digital services and streamlining the overall customer experience. To me, it all starts with an approach that involves multidisciplinary stakeholders from the start and takes them through the entire process of design.

Also, happy to tell you that the blog has had around 1,000 unique visitors last year, even though I have only managed to push around three posts per month online. A warm thank you to you all for reading.

I wish for an excellent new year for all!

 

 

 

DYDJ and Stepping Out on an Adventure

These last two months have just flown by! And what an intense period of 8 weeks it has been! So the big news is this.

I will be opening a small marketing and service design agency, Steps Helsinki, in central Helsinki, on 4.11.2016.

My main business idea is to promote strategic service design for the Finnish companies that have so far not established their own service design departments – and the secondary business idea is to offer other agencies and big companies that would like to outsource a part of their service design tasks the chance to do so.

So the official opening and the housewarming party for the agency is in 5 days, next Friday, 4.11.2016. The invites have already gone out, and I will open the website for the agency in a few days as well. My new business cards should also arrive next week.

The new cards will state, that my new professional position is a planner and a strategist, as well as the CEO of Steps Helsinki Oy.

The very final decision to start my own business was made approximately 2 months ago, during the two-day workshop I attended called “Design Your Dream Job”.

That excellent and well-planned workshop was organized by Hellon, an award-winning service design agency operating in London and here in Helsinki, at their office.

The workshop was hosted and facilitated by a group of three ladies, Zeynep Falay von Flittner, the current Lead Designer of Hellon, plus Ida Rainio and Pamela Spokes of Hellon.

And what a ride it has been since.

I could not be happier that I had the chance to participate in the workshop, along with many other peers with university background. I found the “DYDJ” workshop an enjoyable experience, and most importantly, the workshop certainly gave me new insight into my own business idea as well as insight on my best professional skills and passions.

I must also state, that this workshop was in a fundamentally important role in pushing me towards staring my own agency, even though I had considered that option before.

Around 15 years ago, I also happened to attend the Junior Achievement study program when I was studying in Ressu Upper Secondary School in Helsinki.

Our company, Nexus Ny, consisting of four 18-year-old teenagers about to take their matriculation exam, was based on B2B idea, with the sales targeted at marketing research companies. Our company fared well, and was awarded with the “Best Company” annual award of that study program back then. I was not the CEO, though, back then, in that company, but the Sales and Marketing Manager.

The company co-founders back then were Xian Sun, Ilona Mäkinen and Gary Klaukka.

A few years later, I was also employed as a project manager by the Junior Achievement of Finland.

However, entrepreneurship, for quite a long time, has certainly not seemed like a very lucrative profession, even though some of my friends with a JA background have chosen that path early on, and have been very successful.

Take, for example, Mikko Jaatinen, a co-founder of the Nordic Business Forum.

Having given my upper secondary school times, my passion for problem-solving and my professional skillset some thought during the intense workshop by Hellon, I set myself a goal to found my own business by the end of this year.

And another happy coincidence soon came my way.

Upon walking around the Kamppi area of Helsinki, on another Friday night in September, while being on my way to the opening party of Columbia Road, co-founded by Futurice, nearby… I stumbled upon an empty office space located, in fact, on the same street, as CR.

Now, approximately 2 months later, my little agency occupies this space in the Kamppi area of Helsinki. Hope the logo will be on the front door starting next week also.

So I think it is safe to say, that once you really put your mind to the task ahead, the universe will suddenly start working on ways to ease your journey…

For those of you that are interested in my services, I will publish a website for company, at http://stepshelsinki.fi, on the day of the opening, that is, on Friday 4.11.2016.

In the meanwhile, you can skim through all the relevant details on the new agency at https://facebook.com/stepshelsinki/.