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Innovation at speed: How Design Sprints can fast track your product development

Jez Sherwin, Experience Design Lead & Digital Creative Director for The O2 Lab, explains how successful businesses are using design sprints to develop new products and to find solutions to business challenges.

At Northumbria Water Group’s (NWG) Innovation Festival in Newcastle last month I delivered a Design Sprint focused on finding innovative solutions to fostering happier, healthier and safer employees. It was one of a number of Design Sprints I have delivered lately and they are proving to be invaluable to organisations seeking fast, innovative solutions to business challenges.

So what exactly is a Design Sprint?

A design sprint is a fast, fun and collaborative process for answering critical business questions, testing innovative ideas and solving business challenges. It shortcuts endless rounds of debate, feedback and redesign, compressing months of design and testing time into a single week. Over five intensive days, small cross-functional teams within an organisation seek innovative solutions to business challenges through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.

Design sprints were originally created by Google Ventures in 2010 and were quickly adopted in a variety of industry sectors to support product launches and prototyping. At O2, we use design sprints internally, but also with our customers and partners.

Case study: Northumbria Water Group (NWG)

We ran a Design Sprint at NWG’s 5-day Innovation Festival last month, focused on the mental health issues related to workplace happiness. 70 people took part, including water industry experts, NWG customers and employees. The result was a number of prototype applications designed to help employees feel more valued and less stressed at work.

Lynn Perry, Northumbrian Water’s Head of People Transformation was impressed by the quality and range of the creative and innovative ideas that contributors came up with:

“The Innovation Festival was a fantastic experience and a real opportunity to get a range of really diverse people and experience in one place to see how we can make a difference for those people most important to our business – our employees.

“Now is our chance to really take the ideas forward and turn them into something that can really help people, connecting them to others who have had similar experiences, and to information that might likewise help them to deal with difficult situations.”

Read more about this Design Sprint here.

What are they used for?

Design sprints are often considered as a tool solely for developing new digital products. But we see substantial benefits in using design sprints to support a variety of business applications. Here are five examples:

  1. When launching a new product or service.
  2. When extending an existing solution or service to a new platform.
  3. When adding new features or functionality to a product or service.
  4. When looking for ways to improve an established solution.
  5. When designing the user interface or user experience of a solution.

How does a design sprint work?

It’s a fast and intense five-day process, with specific goals to reach by the end of each day.

Day 1:         Your team members define the challenge that needs to be addressed, and chooses a place to focus as well as a target to reach by the end of the sprint.

Day 2:         You record a large number of competing ideas for addressing the problem.

Day 3:         You decide which of the many ideas recorded stand the best chance of achieving the target and decide what to prototype.

Day 4:         You create prototypes of the chosen idea(s).

Day 5:         You test the prototypes and key features with users and potential customers, and analyse the test findings.

Who should take part?

To get the best value from a Sprint, you need to put together a cross-functional team comprising 5-7 people. If you have a larger group than that then you can break them up into a number of smaller teams, each working on a separate prototype or solution.

The composition of the team is important. You are looking for solutions that may affect the direction of the business, so you must include people who are able to make strategic decisions, like a director or member of the senior leadership team. You must also include people who will be working on the product or solution after the Sprint, such as engineers or product managers. In our experience the more diverse the team, the more innovative and creative the results that the Sprint delivers. That’s why the Sprint O2 delivered for NWG included some of their suppliers, customers, key stakeholders and industry experts.

Running Sprints with O2

At O2 we have The Lab, a specialist innovation team focused on the business opportunities that new technologies can bring to ourselves and our customers. Our team at The Lab has run Design Sprints for a range of organisations, including NWG and IOCOM, a technology startup offering advanced, collaborative video communication and conferencing solutions.

If you need help to enter new markets, design new products or develop new functionality for existing products then a Design Sprint can deliver innovative solutions rapidly and compress months of work into a single week. We’d love to help you deliver it. To find out more, or to get in touch, you can connect with me on LinkedIn.

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