Using Design Sprint to accelerate innovation (part I of II)

This is part I of II on how we conducted a Google Ventures inspired Design Sprint at SEEK. We share our experience in the hope that seeing others’ perspective on the technique will inspire you and help you run (and share) your own.

Recently at SEEK, we identified a market opportunity that was not addressed by any of the products on our current roadmap. We hypothesised that the best solution might be a significant departure from what we do today — in other words, radical innovation rather than progressive improvement.

To come up with ideas on how to address this opportunity, and quickly test the ideas, we decided to use a process similar to the Google Ventures Design Sprint.

Here’s how we went about it.

Why Design Sprint?

Before we get into the ‘how’, let’s look at the ‘why’.

We started with an opportunity — a market segment that was currently not well served by us, or our competitors. We asked ourselves “what’s the best way to come up with some novel ideas, and test them quickly?”

The Google Ventures Design Sprint offered an approach that is structured, yet flexible enough to allow us to tailor it to our problem and our team.

By allowing a small, dedicated, cross-functional team to focus on a single task for a whole week, we were able to shortcut the usual debate cycle and compress months of work into just a few days.

Another reason for running a design sprint was to practice innovation. Innovation is not something that just happens. You have to practice innovation, and this was our opportunity to do just that.

The key ingredients

Ingredient 1 — Time constraints

The best thing we did was pre-schedule real users to come in for testing during our sprint. Knowing they were coming gave us all a solid (and daunting) goal to work towards — get the paper prototypes ready by day 3 or else! This helped us stay focused, drove efficiency and forced us to resolve differences of opinion quickly.

Ingredient 2 — The right team

Getting a group of individuals who are open to new ideas, keen to collaborate and work together is critical. The team should be cross-functional and have representation from as many parts of your business as possible.

A great design team is a cross-functional team

To illustrate the point, our team of 12 included product managers, developers, a marketing comms manager, strategy, designers, a sales lead, a researcher and a business analyst.

Ingredient 3 — A great facilitator

Without the right facilitator, even the best team could fail to deliver during a design sprint. If you need to cut corners, buy cheaper supplies — don't cut corners on this one. Get someone who has done it before, is impartial and able to keep the group motivated and on-track for the duration of the sprint. An external person is more likely to fit the bill. We were fortunate to have Michael Stoelwinder from Elabor8 help us with our sprint.

Ingredient 4— Wall space

You will need a lot of wall space. A lot! Do not underestimate the amount of material your group can generate in a week.

Starting to make the most of the wall space on day 1

Post-it notes, butcher’s paper, mockups, cards — these will all make their way up on the wall and should remain there for the duration of the sprint. You will keep referring back to things you created on day one throughout the week (and after), so make sure they can stay up on the walls.

Ingredient 5 — Supplies

There are a number of sprint supplies lists, including the one from FastCo. Here are three things we found particularly handy which are not on the aforementioned list.

  1. Butcher’s paper. Plaster your walls with it for something you can draw on and stick notes to at the same time. You can get this in rolls.
  2. Sharpies and Copic markers are unbeatable for sketching good-looking lo-fi designs. I explain why in the next post.
  3. Grid paper device templates (free).

Deviating from the Google Ventures format

Conceptually, we followed the Google Ventures Design Sprint fairly closely, with four key differences, which made sense for our context.

Deviation 1 — Earlier and extended user engagement

We scheduled the first group of users to come in at 1pm on day three. Effectively, we started testing two days earlier than suggested by Google Ventures. This meant we were able to get feedback earlier and were able to incorporate some of the learnings into our designs earlier.

Product manager, Rob, intently listening to feedback during a user feedback session

It is important to point out that all four user feedback sessions (three users in each one) were conducted with rough paper prototypes. The success of this hinged on the team being comfortable with presenting very rough ideas to users.

The volume, richness and detail of the feedback received confirmed that we were on the right track and energised us for the subsequent days. Don't dismiss the value of paper prototype testing in the design process.

Deviation 2 — Testing multiple ideas with users

Testing with paper prototypes means that you don't spend as long prototyping, which in turn means that you have time to test multiple ideas with users, before converging on one idea.

This is the most significant deviation from the Google Ventures format, since they suggest converging on a single design before prototyping and testing with users on day 5.

Effectively, we were able to bring users deeper into the design process and allow them to help us drive product direction to a greater degree.

Deviation 3 — Extending the sprint

Squeezing in additional user testing sessions during the sprint meant that we spent day 5 converging on a single idea, with the benefit of user feedback. At this point, we decided to spend two additional days the following week coming up with detailed, digital prototypes and testing those with a different group of users.

Deviation 4 — No executive votes

The Google Ventures process suggests that some team members have “more valuable” votes which lead the team. In our case, all votes were equal. I am not sure if this would work in all environments, but given our company’s culture, it was the right approach. It meant that everyone was empowered to put forward suggestions without holding back, which contributed to generating a larger volume of divergent ideas.

In part II, we focus on techniques and activities we conducted during the sprint, calling out key tips which helped us succeed.


This whole process would not have been possible without the commitment and passion of the entire team involved:

Jason Gregory (Product), Rob Alford (Product), Jesse Stratford (Strategy), Rob O’Donnell (Strategy), Julia Tehan (Marketing), David Pryce (BA), Rob Scherer (Design), Mimi Turner (Research), Bala Pedagandham (Dev), Bron Potts (Dev), Brendan Gibson (Sales), Vedran Arnautovic (Design) and Michael Stoelwinder (Facilitator).

Final thanks go to Mike Ilczynski (Managing Director) and Doug Blue (Product Director) for empowering and encouraging us to go through this process.