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Lose Control To Achieve Greatness In Your Design Sprint 

One of the most powerful tools in the Innovation Leaders’ quiver is the design sprint. We use these to transform our business quickly and effectively and avoid investing money in ideas that might misidentify problems or the assumed solutions to those problems.

However, many sprint facilitators have a tendency towards too narrowly or too broadly framing the challenges they hope to solve. This desire to control sprints can be counterproductive to the actual purpose of running them, which is to explore and learn about the problems we hope to address.

Design Sprint Definition

In two recent cases, I’ve been helping innovation leaders reconsider sprint plans that had lost sight of this. In one case, a partner defined the challenge of the sprint based, retroactively, on the solution he already had in mind! While that might be a good way to validate an idea, it doesn’t really provide any room for the team to innovate.

On the other side of the spectrum, we worked with a leader who was so eager to extract ideas from the design sprint that the challenges were broadened from the core issue (digital document sign off) to consideration of the entire customer onboarding experience. While brainstorming such a wide topic could produce hundreds of ideas for improvement, such an approach means losing focus on executable solutions.

So how do we navigate between these extremes to create sprints that are not only a good experience for stakeholders but lead to good outcomes? We have found that the key is relinquishing control, allowing space for discomfort, and trusting that the overall process will yield results. As a design sprint facilitator, it is not your role to control the outcome! Rather, your purpose is to allow team members to explore the problem space and organically arrive at their own conclusions. In fact, we challenge you to boil down the primary success metric of each design thinking or design sprint exercise to this simple goal–are your team members learning?

Here are tips to help you craft a successful design sprint plan:
Tip #1

Ask yourself, “What are the big problems involved in the part of the business we’re hoping to improve?” Several years ago, we worked with a major retailer to help them improve their order management process. Spending time to identify the primary problems affecting their systems yielded a list of about 20 issues we considered. Rather than framing the challenge around order management in general, we were able to contextualize it as “how do we solve these specific problems plaguing our system?” This allowed us to achieve immediate improvements by solving the most critical problems on that list.

Tip #2

Allow sponsors and stakeholders to vote on which problems and challenges should be prioritized. This accomplishes two things.

1)  Getting buy-in from leadership keeps them invested in the project and focused on the challenge.

2) Understanding which challenges are most important helps the team identify opportunities to combine challenges or explore challenges from angles that address more than one issue.

Tip #3

After you have defined your challenges and problem statements, keep in mind that you now have a funnel of issues to work on in the future, even if you don’t address all of them in your initial sprint. You may also choose to take your top 3 issues and break your group into 3 teams with each team focusing on a primary challenge. This has been a game changer for clients to discover how powerful it can be to have a dedicated group working on solutions for a specific issue.

Tip #4

As you enter the prototype stage, remind yourself not to exercise too much influence over which models are chosen to meet challenges. Remember, every person in the design sprint should have a sense of shared ownership over the final solution. The more you, as a facilitator, steer the prototype development towards the model you like, the less ownership other members will have. The final product will be your baby, but not the team’s. That is not success.

Embrace letting go of control over your design sprints to discover your new superpower as an Innovation facilitator. To help you get started, we’re sharing our Design Sprint Facilitators Guide, which offers helpful information such as determining when to run a sprint, what roles need to be assigned and how to prepare for your kickoff. Looking for additional help? Schedule a complimentary strategy call with us to take a deep dive into an innovation challenge your organization is facing.