David Udvardy explains how Skyscanner adapted Google’s five-day design sprint for complete product development projects
Google Ventures’ five-day design sprint is a method of assessing startups and product ideas in just, well, five days. Your startuppers drop in on Monday to introduce their business, you come up with some alternative solutions on Tuesday, decide on one via some fierce discussions on Wednesday, rush to your favourite prototyping tool on Thursday, so by Friday you are (supposedly) ready for some real humans to come and tear your concepts apart. You spend the weekend recovering.
At Skyscanner, we were so fascinated by the seemingly contradicting idea of strict constraints applied to creative processes that we decided to try and transform the five-day sprint. We wanted to develop a version that supports complete product discoveries, typically lasting several months.
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A sprint or a marathon?
The most important benefit of the sprint is that it sets clear boundaries for the individuals and enables the team to work in synergy. Applying self-judgement and killing ideas too early can prevent the birth of enough directions. Truly great product ideas come from connecting seemingly unrelated thoughts via elegant shortcuts, which are easier found by trying many things. On the other hand, when it comes to killing ideas, everyone needs to become the worst critic so only the best ideas survive.
The sprint promises both creativity and output. Obviously GV5 was never meant to be used for extended periods, so we had to change a few things.
Trust in the process
The sprint has an overwhelming number of rules, and not everyone will feel comfortable with those. Results coming in slowly will test your patience, and charismatic leaders will start pushing the team towards decisionmaking too early, limiting the number of alternatives discovered. You need to trust that there is a solution out there; you just need to stick to the schedule.
Introduce job stories
We wanted to make the results of research more actionable and inspiring, so we got rid of personas and user stories, and replaced them with job stories. A user story frequently couples implementation with motivation and outcome, prescribing a certain solution. On the other hand, a job story focuses on situation, motivation and expected outcome. It is easier to expand to apply it to unexpected situations.
In order to make the process more robust and remove dependency on the team members’ skills, collaboration is largely missing from the original sprint. However, as an established product team, you are more likely to have a track record of successful teamwork. We introduced a few sharing sessions into the process. Reviewing the same topic iteratively does the natural selection: the group will lean towards the best ideas and perfect them. These will also make decisions a lot easier.
To avoid burnout, we used Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking , which infused new energy into the brainstorming. Introducing ‘delight sprints’ — tackling such crazy ideas as ‘what if the defining shape of the digital world were the circle instead of the rectangle?’ — after every few feature sprints helped us recharge, too.
We had to adjust each part’s length a bit. As we were focusing on just a feature in each sprint rather than an entirely new product, we could decrease the research part (first day). Having a dedicated researcher in your team can make up for the limited time. As we were aiming for depth, we needed more time generating ideas (second day), building them (third day) and refining by iterating. Luckily an established team makes decisions a lot quicker, so we could save some time there. The result is an eight-day long sprint, but with smart overlapping we could still start every sprint on Monday.
Dedicate a war room
We squatted in the same meeting room for months, building up a visual history of our adventures on the walls. It made introducing the project or getting a status report a lot easier. It also acted as a recruiting tool to lure new members in.
I would be happy to help or hear about your experience if you decide to adopt our sprint method.
This article originally appeared in issue 272 of net magazine.