So, you ran a Design Sprint. Now what?
Turning good ideas into durable results
The Design Sprint (or versions of it) is in the toolbox of many who work with innovation. However, those who are well versed in the craft tend to have also experienced its limitations when it comes to creating lasting change. For all its value, you’re never finished on Friday and a disruptor by Monday. As comforting as it would be if there were, there is no silver bullet when it comes to innovation (no, not even the Sprint, though it’s often hailed as a holy grail of cutting the right corners). But fret not; this does not mean that the only way forward is to jump head-first into unknown territory without a parachute. There may not be a silver bullet, but there are still a few handrails, life vests, and maps.
As comforting as it would be if there were, there is no silver bullet when it comes to innovation (no, not even the Sprint, though it’s often hailed as a holy grail of cutting the right corners).
Now, the Sprint is not to be scoffed at. At Another Tomorrow we’ve run hundreds of them, also iterating the original into versions optimised for a range of different challenges and organisational realities. The 5-day version, for starters, is one that is often tricky for the right people to find enough time to commit to in the way required — and so we’ve worked out other formats that take that into account.
In my personal experience, the Sprint is an invaluable tool for aligning perspectives, cutting unnecessary lead times, accelerating decision-making, and rapidly arriving at solutions or ideas that are tangible enough to be reacted to and feedbacked on, so that you can make informed decisions of what to do next. If you understand when the Sprint is the right approach to choose, you can come a long way in unlocking challenges that may be roadblocks for innovation, and identifying high-potential areas of where to go next. But the Sprint, in itself, is not innovation.
After a Sprint, it’s not unlikely you return to budget meetings, IT backlogs, and an inbox that is just about one email short of spilling over. And if innovation (a phrase which we can debate the true meaning of in another article) requires persistence, iterations, and juggling the realities of these budgets, priorities, and organisational structures — how can you hold on to the results and leverage the potential that was identified?
Naturally, it’s always going to depend on what specifically comes out of the Sprint, and what prerequisites exist in your organisation. Usually, though, the very nature of the outcome tends to hint at what you need to do next. Perhaps it becomes obvious that you need more insights before you proceed with your idea, or perhaps the idea is well received, but you need to rethink the business model to make it viable. The outcome may paint a clear enough picture of what is left to do, and perhaps bring you ‘round for another Sprint loop down the line.
I would like to focus, however, on the instances where the WHAT is fairly clear but the HOW more muddy. It might be obvious that a given solution has potential, but navigating the complex organisation that lies in wait outside the fluffy, solution-oriented aura of the Sprint may still feel like the stuff of nightmares. Or, the looming cost of leaving a challenge un-addressed may be obvious, but this doesn’t necessarily make it obvious which solution is the best. The Sprint may have given you an idea, but you may not know enough to be able to prove the business case, the organisational structure may leave you bouncing between silos with never enough mandate, or perhaps it’s just always somebody else’s already strained budget that needs tapping.
Something we often utilise in these cases, is the Pilot. It’s one of our most valuable approaches when it comes to systemising exploration of the unknown.
Something we often utilise in these cases, is the Pilot. It’s one of our most valuable approaches when it comes to systemising exploration of the unknown. It’s that handrail, life vest, and map that lets us facilitate and navigate change in a methodical way, bridging the gap between good ideas and durable results.
It can be viewed as an umbrella approach within which we leverage tools and methods from a range of practices such as behavioural economics and nudging, prototyping, design thinking, and (again) sprints — to name a few. The main defining aspect of the Pilot, however, is that it has left the realm of only existing in theory. It’s your hypothesis embodied in its real context, for real users, run with live data. It’s often a scaled down, time-restricted Minimum Viable Prototype that tends to exist outside normal operations, but run as if it is the next-gen truth. It is your solution realised, continuously iterated, and finally — at the end of the set time-period — evaluated. Do we Proceed, Pivot, Prepare for launch, or Pull the plug?
It is, however, less about merely evaluating feasibility in relation to the things that normally limit us (budget, organisational structure, politics, IT backlogs) and more about evaluating effect and finding how to (or whether we can) create the feasibility that the desired effect requires.
To give you a sense of the use case here, let’s look at the Pilot we’re currently running for the Swedish postal service. It’s part of an effort to positively impact their customer satisfaction scores, by piloting the way the terminals are run and followed up, nudging on all levels a shift from productivity to customer experience. From terminal floors to management offices. It is not a single-function prototype, but includes experimentation with processes and routines, feedback loops, digital tools, data flows, new customer-focused KPIs, and leadership protocols. Initially in only one terminal, with drivers working a specific type of deliveries, it has then over time been scaled up to other delivery teams, and other terminals, as a step towards understanding how desired effects would or wouldn’t translate across these different variations. Is it possible to scale this nationally and replicate the positive effects? Though this is still only one of many efforts to raise customer satisfaction for the company, KPIs for i.e. delivery precision and positive customer feedback are all showing major increases in the terminals that are part of the Pilot.
There are many good things to be said for “starting where you are, using what you have” type of approaches, but it’s also crucial to not limit your visions to what is already in front of you and succumbing to existing organisational restrictions. The Pilot approach is more about mocking up the vision for what change and success could look like, and then back-tracking in creating the conditions required to make it a reality. Before a Pilot, you may have a hypothesis, a direction, or possibly a desperate need. But getting change right requires iterations along the way, something you won’t get creating only theoreticals. After a Pilot, instead, you suddenly have real user and usage data (not just self-assessed feedback along the lines of “oh yes, I’m sure I would use that”), you have the figures you need to make the business case, and often infrastructures in place for continued laboration.
The Pilot approach is more about mocking up the vision for what change and success could look like, and then back-tracking in creating the conditions required to make it a reality.
With the Swedish postal service, for example, an infrastructure which was originally put in place for collecting feedback from the drivers on other things, has now been used to collect input from their daily experiences with customers to impact decisions on how to prioritise and fund new business initiatives at Head Office. And don’t even get me started on all the adjacent possibilities that we have found alongside the core of what we were originally experimenting with, which is on a weekly basis breeding new initiatives for how the customer experience can be improved.
A lot of change would be easier to facilitate if complexity was embraced, rather than the silver bullet always sought after. Because complexity does not necessarily mean chaotic, and it does not mean impossible. Complex could mean infinite other possibilities, for you to find whilst exploring, each step on the journey unlocking brand-new potential. Also, while the unknown may be a complex thing, there are still structured ways to deal with it.
Perhaps a Pilot comes close enough to a silver bullet in that sense, because it’s in its nature something agnostic, versatile, and designed for complexity, applicable to a broad spectrum of challenges by providing a methodical framework for taming a whirlwind reality into a future you can leverage.
Either way, it’s revolutionising to watch legacy-heavy organisations completely reassess their own capacity when it comes to rapid change, and find out just how much they are actually able to achieve when they have the right toolbox.