How does a business apply a design sprint to create lovable products and experiences? There are many answers — and because design sprints are still evolving, so are the answers. That’s why attending the annual Sprint Conference (#SprintCon18) from Google Design is so incredibly valuable: practitioners knee deep in design sprints compare notes and advance our collective understanding of this dynamic topic. Here are four take-aways from Day One:

  1. Focus on outcomes, not processes and tools. “Beware of finding a job for the tool.” This was a simple but powerful point made by N5 Founder Neha Saigal during one of the day’s “Sprinting with a Learning Mindset” lightning talks. Her point is spot on. A design sprint is supposed to help address problems that lack clear solutions. But as I have noted on our blog, there are times when a design sprint is not the right solution. Those situations include when a business has an already well-defined product and is ready for development instead of doing initial concepting; when a product requires significant research before testing, especially if no one on the development team has a clear perspective of customers’ wants and needs; or the scope of the problem is either too broad (e.g., entering a new market) or narrow (e.g., a small product tweak). In addition, they are not cookie-cutter tools – rather, design sprints need to be customized for different needs. It was great to hear Neha underscore these important points.
  2. Respect the human factor. The design sprint is a human process influenced by the people who participate in it. This learning was a constant theme throughout the day. For example, our icebreaker activity consisted of an exercise in which we used laminated cards to identify “design sprint monsters,” or difficult personalities who can disrupt a design sprint, such as “AllMightyTops,” who always insists on asserting authority. And during a morning presentation, Consultant and Coach Tom Chi cautioned, “Smart people will always come up with smart reasons for their guesses, but that doesn’t change them from being guesses. Direct experience drives clear decisions.” His point underscored the importance of not allowing personalities to drive decision making. A person who states an opinion about what the customer need is still asserting an opinion, however articulate they might be. For all personality types, it’s important to be empathetic. Understand what’s motivation each person in the room and adapt your style and tone accordingly to align different agendas and personalities around a single process and goal.
  3. Observe to learn. I was struck by Tom Chi’s discussion of the magic moment, or that time when your customer demonstrates a change in energy during the testing of a prototype during a design sprint. The magic moment is crucial because it directly informs where your prototype should focus. But the magic moment doesn’t announce itself. You have to closely watch your customer. Tom discussed being mindful of the customer’s energy level. “What’s way more important than getting through the prototype is if the person’s energy changes as they complete the task,” he said. “Energy means you’ve identified an experience that the subject really cares about. This energy means you are close to understanding how to change behavior.” And here’s why it’s so important that your design sprint participants act as observational journalists – observing and recording rather than leading the customer.
  4. Adopt new techniques. Design sprints are incorporating newer tools for problem solving, and the conference gave us a chance to learn some of them via practice. For example, Independent Design Facilitator and Coach Daniel Stillman moderated a session on abstraction laddering, a problem framing technique. Through exercises, Daniel showed us how abstraction laddering works. Essentially a group identifies an abstract problem – say, “How might I get in better shape?” and then through a series of “why” and “how” questions (“Why do you need to get into better shape? To feel better about yourself? To prepare for a wedding? And how are you going to improve – a better diet? Hiring a personal trainer?”) the team crisply articulates a more concrete problem to address. Abstraction laddering is an excellent way to, say, rally a design sprint team around a compelling, tangible problem.

I’m looking forward to Day Two – for the networking, learning, and the chance to share my own experience applying a design sprint with the City of Chicago Office of the City Clerk to make city government easier than a Starbucks. For more insight on applying design sprints, contact Moonshot. We’d love to help you.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product