After running our 5-day training bootcamp for our friends at RGAX — the transformation engine of one of the largest global life and health reinsurer, Reinsurance Group of America, we sat down to discuss some key takeaways from the training and life afterwards. One of the main takeaways we focused on are the struggles experienced during a design sprint and the rewards reaped if ran successfully — i.e. what defines a successful design sprint.
Hurdle #1: Not understanding the problem
Jonathan Hughes, VP Strategic Development RGAX, speaks to the importance of the first day. We call this day “Problem Framing”, which is where you understand and frame the problem. Even though it’s the most important day of the design sprint process, Jonathan also emphasizes it’s the most difficult day as well. To quote Jonathan, “the first day is always the hardest in the design sprint process because it’s just the nature of it — we’re constantly trying to keep away from solutions by just focusing on the problem but everyone’s used to wanting the solution immediately.” So, how did Jonathan and his team power through? We asked just that: “Your (Design Sprint Academy) material has made it easier and helped us set up for success from the beginning. The tools you provided work across the board with all groups and personalities and dynamics. It helped us be flexible and to adapt on the fly.”
But, why even go through the struggles of the first day if it’s so difficult? Well, because if the stage isn’t set properly or there is no common understanding of the actual problem, a design sprint is bound to fail. Setting aside time for Problem Framing helps you to address all relevant perspectives of a problem, engage your team towards a common purpose, and gain the confidence you need to know you’re tackling a problem worth solving in a design sprint. And even more than that, it helps you gain the stakeholders’ support before running your next design sprint.
Okay, we’ve jumped over the first hurdle of day one with getting people on board for Problem Framing. So, what’s the next hurdle?
Hurdle #2: Not understanding the benefits
The whys. Why are design sprints important? Why are they beneficial to me or my team or my company? The benefits of a design sprint aren’t so obvious and if people don’t know the ‘why’ behind something, they’re less inclined to give it a try. To erase this sense of hesitation, it’s essential to explain the reasoning behind design sprints and to answer all the ‘whys’.
Chase Huey, Manager of Digital Ventures RGAX, discusses the importance of stating the ‘whys’. He explains, “I used to assume the benefit of a design sprint was self-evident, when it isn’t because not everyone is going to get it.” If the ‘whys’ aren’t explained from the beginning, then your team wastes time having to explain what a design sprint is and why it’s beneficial and why we do what we do — all the whys. In order to jump over this hurdle, Chase suggests you “invest time in setting the table on a design sprint, ensuring alignment from the beginning, especially with Problem Framing.” Chase goes on to emphasize how important it is to explain the why of each part of the design sprint process and the reason behind why we’re doing each activity and how it fits into the big picture and ultimately, the end solution. A crucial step in successfully running a design sprint is building best practices and tools around the ‘whys’. As Chase says, “it can’t just be a framework of filling in the blanks but there needs to be logic grounded on rationality, scientific methods, and so on. It’s so important to understand the WHY.”
Hurdle #3: Not having dedicated facilitators
And finally, the last hurdle: not having a built-in team to run design sprints. Without a dedicated design sprint team within a company, it becomes a struggle considering everyone already has a day job to do. It’s difficult to run a design sprint while also managing all the daily work on your desk. So, what’s the solution to juggling all the multiple hats being worn? You create a space where facilitators and others involved in design sprints can share information. This helps keep the team up to date and speed, ensuring everyone is learning the same methods and are prepared to help run a sprint whenever needed. Chase tells us his team has a “slack channel for anyone certified to run sprints and in addition, they also share collateral documents on a cloud-based portal or via email.” Similarly, Jonathan and his team have a Whatsapp group to share materials and sprint documents.
Now that we know the hurdles of a design sprint and how to overcome them, let’s talk about what makes a design sprint successful. One part of it is switching the focus to a long-term engagement rather than the quick sale. But, what exactly does that mean? Chase explains that “a design sprint is successful if there is a long-term engagement that leads to a tangible outcome.” He compares a design sprint to the RGAX website experience. Potential customers come to the RGAX website, where they might read about our solution offerings or watch our company video; perhaps they engage with our most recent blog posts, which ideally leads to deeper understanding of RGAX and a potential opportunity to collaborate. It’s not a fast sale. RGAX measures success by building partnership networks with insurtechs and by developing long-term solutions with and for insurers. This is similar to how one might approach and look at design sprints. Each should lead to a longer-term project that has a stronger solution — all because of the design sprint.
And the second part of the successful design sprint recipe is the actual proof. It’s directly seeing results after testing the original ideas and assumptions. That means you aren’t losing money in the end, and as we all know, money is what really talks. Jonathan gives this example: “we had a really great idea initially and thought it would 100% work. But, we wanted to run it through a design sprint just in case, and despite our initial belief, it completely bombed the user test. For us, that was eye-opening knowing that a properly run design sprint basically saved us $100,000 and a huge headache.”
So, put on your stretchy pants, jump over those hurdles, and breakthrough that red tape at the end of a design sprint race to collect your “Keeping Dollars and Sanity” trophy.
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