The design sprint is an incredibly powerful tool for teams of all sizes to rapidly discover human-centric solutions to meaningful problems. Design sprints completely change how teams work together by inspiring a new, better way of working. Time and again we see teams become more agile, collaborative, and fulfilled when they integrate design sprints into how they work.

But what if design sprints could be used on a bigger scale, outside of a single team or company? What if design sprints could bring together enterprises, startups, venture capitalists, government institutions, and members of academia to change the communities in which we live? What if design sprints could be the connective tissue that powers innovation systems around the globe? That’s what we set out to learn as we joined the Chicago Connectory: an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem that accelerates the adoption of a connected future.

Innovation ecosystems — or interconnected partners who service the same customers together — have taken hold as a way for companies to grow through disruptive business models, emerging technologies, and co-creative partnerships. By design, the Connectory is an ecosystem that helps big and small businesses find ways to accelerate customer-centric adoption of IoT. It’s critical that large business and small businesses collaborate in areas such as IoT. On the one hand, large companies need start-ups to accelerate self-disruption, or be disrupted by someone else. Start-ups can help them avoid becoming left behind. On the other hand, startups need help from big companies to develop innovative ideas. For example, large companies typically possess marketing muscle and resources that startups lack. The Connectory attracts both types of companies to co-create lovable IoT products.

But what makes the Connectory a true innovation ecosystem is the participation of venture capitalists and members of academia, such as Chicago-area universities the University of Chicago, DePaul, Loyola, and Northwestern. The Connectory gives venture capitalists one place to find potential IoT firms to invest in, and the Connectory gives academics a living resource for learning and advancing the state of the art.

All these elements need to be in place for an ecosystem to innovate on a sustained basis, as we’ve seen with perhaps the world’s most notable ecosystem, Silicon Valley, where businesses, academics, and venture capitalists flourish. But the Chicago Connectory offers something else: a process for an ecosystem to collaborate. This is where design sprints come into play.

Each month at the Connectory, we conduct a workshop to bring cross-functional teams together to learn how to facilitate design sprints. Rather than attempt to cram the entire design sprint process into a single 90-minute session, we are conducting a series of workshops that break the design sprint into bite-sized modules. Each module emphasizes two main themes:

1.) A foundation of what design sprints are, how they can be applied, and why they matter.

2.) A deep dive into a specific aspect of a design sprint (e.g., “how might we’s” (HMWs), interviews, journey maps, sketching, prototyping, testing, etc.).

We’ve learned that for participants to really grasp the techniques and become active members in the design sprint community, the sessions must not only inspire people to experiment with a new way of collaborating, but also empower them with the confidence to apply the techniques over the near term. Inspiration and empowerment are the keys; therefore, we design each session to emphasize accordingly. At the conclusion of each workshop, participants and enthusiasts learn and apply new design sprint techniques right away.

The sessions attract a cross-section of big brands, startups, VCs, and academics, each of whom are motivated to understand how to develop lovable and innovative products. So far, we’re learning how to collaborate to solve real-world problems facing major urban areas. What really excites me are a series of design sprint workshops we’re going to offer as a result of our participation in the Connectory’s recent Connexion Mobility Conference, which focused on micro-mobility. Our workshops are going to tackle one of the most compelling problems of our time: how micro-mobility services such as scooters and bikes can service a city’s diverse neighborhoods and also create a more sustainable future. We expect our micro-mobility workshops to bring together the many players in Chicago’s vibrant technology community, including the members of the Connectory ecosystem with whom we are now collaborating.

These are exciting times for innovation. Where we go from here is an embrace of a new, more purpose-driven future.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product