Seven things I learnt from a sprint process

Last year I posted this video at the start of an internal programme I was participating in called Digital Disruptors. It’s been a interesting few months looking into new technologies, the mindset and operations of a start-up, the processes of idea generation and working with new colleagues from around the firm.

Over the last three days, we got together for the last time to do a design “sprint” process. We brought our big picture concepts together from the last six months and were given a new project to take from start to ‘finish’ (well, presenting on our idea/creation). There’s another group doing it next week, so I won’t spoil the outcome or the ‘thing’ – this is about what I learnt from the process of the sprint.

What’s a sprint?

I believe it was started as a process by Google Ventures, but feels like it’s probably been around in different guises before that. Essentially, it’s a four/five day step-by-step process for answering and solving product or business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. We did an abridged version of what’s in the video. If you want to read more into it, this seems to be the bible of ‘sprint’.

So what did I learn from the learn from the last few days with my fellow disruptors?

Seven things I learnt from a sprint

>1 Focusing on a specific end game restricts idea generation

How many times do you go into a brainstorm, or have ideas in a process, when you know full well what the outcome will look like? Well, this sprint proved the need for that to be binned. We had no idea at all what the end result was. Although some ideas were canned for just not being ‘us’, we def tried to make sure those limiting beliefs were kept to a minimum

>2 Different techniques bring out different results

Who knew!?! Guess it’s a build off the #1, but using the various sprint tools and techniques has shown me that having one idea can quickly build on, or pivot to another, or help you achieve a different goal. One activity we used was the “Crazy 8s” technique. Divide a piece of paper up, so it leaves you 8 boxes/grids. Start with one idea and write/sketch it down for 1 minute. Each minute (set a timer), move onto a new box and iterate your idea. Spontaneously. Build on it, change it, adapt it. And repeat x7. You may be back where you started, or you may have drilled down your concept into someone different. In eight minutes. Powerful. 

>3 Democratise the creation process

In this process, we all had the big picture problem to solve, and we all agreed on the problem statement and two year goal we would be working to solve. But then we all then created our own ideas to get to that end game. Giving everyone input at the start meant we were all invested in the end product, even if it wasn’t our idea that was taken forward. Some of the core principles of our end product, came from the ideas that we ‘discarded’ as the core idea to move forward. 

>4 Diversity of (team make up, ideas and thought), brings a more considered end result

Those in the D&I space have been saying this for years – but the more diverse, the wider your group’s backgrounds and ideas, the wider considerations your end game will get. And you’ll get a better result. Simple really.

>5 Structured focus brings results

We’ve been closeted together for 3 days, on an idea that none of us knew about on Monday morning. No distractions of the day job, emails, people, social media(*coughs*). Yet we’ve created a concept, considered, ‘built’ and presented a prototype idea from scratch. Who knew that distractions were..well..distracting…

>6 Having a decision maker make decisions is critical

In each group, we had an independent person in the role of the decision maker. In a real sprint she would have been the project sponsor or leader. Where we all had one sticker (to vote, or put on ideas we liked), she had 4. Where we had red dots for our main votes, she had a big green one. She could veto any idea and get us onto the next stage.  This really plays out the importance of having the right people in the room. And then, of course, the team need to work through on that decision. One it’s been made, it’s done. Get with the programme and move on – even if you may disagree with it, or feel aggrieved that it wasn’t your idea!

>7 It’s about the process, not the result

For us, we were working on a mythical thing rather than a real one (well, for now..) So it was great not having a ‘real’ specific – meant we could focus on the process. As has been the limiting belief that “It’s just not the way [insert your employer/company here] does this” or “we can’t afford to do this so there’s no point”.  Going through the ideation (not a fan of that word…), the talking about then, the voting on them, having a decision maker to make and stick to a decision, the iterating. All the things a lot of us probably never do.  Was really worthwhile to do it on an idea which isn’t ‘real’ so you get to learn the process of doing it. Next time, it could be a real idea, product, initiative, with a real end result for our business.

NB Our idea “won” but I wrote most of this on the morning of the final day before we knew that! Maybe my edits have been tainted by victory…

As a PR/Media/Comms bod, this is the sort of thing Ive never participated in, as it’s very operational, processy and just not the way we do things… but I think it’s something that will definitely be in my mind as we work through our next challenge – whatever that may be!

Have you ever done a sprint/agile learning programme before? What did you learn and take away from it?  Which bits do you still do now?

1 thought on “Seven things I learnt from a sprint process”

  1. Great post. You have articulated very well the real value of a sprint switching off for 3 days just focusing on the problem through different lenses which can yield great results. well done to the commitment of you and all the disruptors in this group. All the best for the future


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