Design Sprints: an elegant way to innovate

Innovation: everyone is convinced that it is necessary. Unfortunately, in practice, the process of innovation can sometimes be inefficient, take far too long, cause resentment or simply miss the mark. This is where the Design Sprint can help. This method, developed by Google Ventures, imposes a demandingly tight format and rapid pace on innovation processes. It can be difficult to identify which issues lend themselves perfectly to this method, and which issues benefit from the application of other methods. Thanks to our extensive experience with Design Sprints, at several campuses, iO can guide you through this process with confidence.

Design Sprints an elegant way to innovate

The Design Sprint was created by Jake Knapp at Google. It is built upon the idea that, in a maximum of one working week (it was originally 5 days, but nowadays the format is set at 4 days) you bring as many relevant disciplines together as you can in a pressure cooker work session. You start by identifying the customer’s problem and bringing clarity to the design sprint question. Then you brainstorm about possible solutions and test a prototype of the chosen solutions with real end users. The Design Sprint is a specific method of Design Thinking.

4-day Sprint

The Design Sprint aims to validate a solution to an issue as quickly as possible. In the 4-day Design Sprint, what needs to be done and when it is done is decided minute by minute. Every participant in the Design Sprint makes an active contribution so that all expertise is used optimally. Days 1 and 2 are spent exploring the problem and devising solutions. After 2 days, the concept is in the pipeline and on day 3 we work on a prototype. This prototype is validated with user tests on day 4.

2 days with stakeholders

In the beginning, when the Design Sprint was not so well known, we encountered some resistance from clients. Product owners and marketing managers struggled with the idea of asking all key stakeholders to block their calendars for a week. At iO we have already made accommodations for this. It is often enough to ask the stakeholders to attend for the first two days. We use the two days to ask all the big questions and to clarify the problem. Possible solutions are devised and the solution that offers the most development potential is selected. On days three and four, the design team and the client work to develop the prototype and test it with the intended target group. This requires minimal investment.

Everyone on the same level

We know from experience that the close cooperation that develops in a Design Sprint is beneficial to both our clients and our colleagues. You can work much more efficiently when everyone is on the same level. By bringing all stakeholders and departments together, from the beginning of the idea to the tested prototype, everyone feels responsible for the decisions that are made along the way and for the outcome of the process.

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Formulate a problem, not a solution

A suitable question for a Design Sprint identifies a problem, not a solution. If the client already has a specific solution in mind, it’s impossible for a Design Sprint to add any value. For example, the following issues are unsuitable because they already contain a suggested solution:

  • "We want an app that guides people on how to make healthy food choices."

  • "How can we give the exam waiting room a calming appearance?"

  • "Where can we apply conversational interface to our services?"

The trick is to find the question behind the question. During day 1 of the Design Sprint, you will start sharpening the focus of the sprint question. Make sure there is enough slack in the question for multiple possible answers. Below you will find some less leading, more suitable issues:

  • "How can we encourage the citizens of our municipality to eat healthier?"

  • "How can we make the experience of the driving test less stressful?"

  • "How can we reduce the number of customer service calls about the delivery of the package?"

Find the right level of abstraction

A perfect issue for a Design Sprint is not too broad and not too specific but inhabits the golden mean.

  • Too broad: "How can we reduce waiting times in our hospital?"

  • Too specific: "The timeline on the page about treatment X is not clear, how can we improve that?"

  • Golden mean: "The course of treatment X is unclear for our patients. How can we reassure new patients and make what awaits them easier to understand?"

If you make the scope of your question too broad, you will drown in the details of the issue and you will puzzle endlessly. The inclusion of too many variables creates a so-called wicked problem. When the scope is too narrow, the team lacks space for creative thought and the same arguments circulate: "Which text/color/order is the right one here?" This restricts the progress of the design sprint and fails to use the multidisciplinary insights of the team. The group then works together to improve a snapshot instead of coming up with a solution to the client problem. A sprint question with the right scope looks just a little wider than the problem itself and makes space for different solutions: "Our patients indicate that the procedure of the treatment is unclear."

Formulate a user problem, not a business problem

The formulation of the issue should identify a user problem, not a business problem:

  • Business problem: "There has been too little growth in recent months. How can we attract more customers?"

  • User problem: "Young people think too little about their financial future. How can we make our financial planner more relevant and attractive to 20 to 30-year-olds?"

If you start with a business problem or a KPI question, you will spend 4 days fruitlessly speculating about hypotheticals with your team ("Why could the conversion rate have dropped?") At this stage you are at risk of finding solutions for 'potential causes'. It’s more beneficial to try to find out what the client thinks the underlying reason for the business problem is and work out a solution for it.

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The Design Sprint is a great method, but it cannot always be applied successfully to all issues. To carry out a successful Design Sprint you need to start with a strong question that comes directly from the client’s experience of a real problem. It is essential that the initial question does not already contain the suggestion of a possible solution within it, and that the question is focused on the correct medium and scope. At iO we love helping you to work through the sprint process.

Case Jeroen Bosch Hospital

How do you improve the waiting experience at the Emergency Department?

Everyone that visits the Emergency Department (S EH) of a hospital in the Netherlands knows that the term emergency can be a fluid and relative concept. The average wait for a patient at the ED in the Netherlands is almost 3 hours. This causes a lot of frustration. For the sprint the Jeroen Bosch Hospital (JHA) in 's-Hertogenbosch asked the question: "How can we improve the waiting experience for the patient at the ED?

Of course, in a Design Sprint it’s crucial that you have the right people on board. During the JHA sprint, a mixed team of experts from the hospital (nursing, coordinators, and managers) worked with a strategist, a UX designer and a designer. This resulted in a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and insights from different perspectives. For example, it quickly became clear that the effects of any digital intervention are limited, and that it was the design and process of the ED that held the most potential for smart improvements. Impact in this sprint came from changing the arrangement of the waiting rooms and the décor in the treatment rooms. One of the important changes that were made was in reducing the amount of medical and technical terminology that is used in communication with the patient. The solutions that resulted from this combination of findings and expertise were realistic, practical, and often easy to apply.

In a design sprint, innovation and design processes that can sometimes take months because of reviews, consultations, and the availability of clients, are tested and delivered in the space of just one week. It only took four days to gain insight into the care process, to improve the waiting experience and to design and test the innovative solutions. From Post-it notes and sketches, to working prototypes on the smartphone, in the hand of the emergency room patient in less than a week.

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