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Time to sprint: Innovating fast in large organisations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Igorstevanovic / Shutterstock)

Along the journey of growth, businesses all too often become casualties of their own corporate inertia, sacrificing the speed and agility that had initially elevated them for large scale growth. But rather than accept a slowdown as an inevitable consequence of growth, they need to put ‘speed’ back on their agenda or risk being leapfrogged by quicker competitors. Marketing Director, experience design studio 383, Dan Archer shares his insight on how the Design Sprint concept can help big companies strike the right balance between scale and speed, keeping them relevant and minimising the risk of design and build investment down the road.

Companies such as Spotify, Netflix and Slack have set an unprecedented benchmark when it comes to achieving exponential growth while simultaneously maintaining an enviable cadence of innovation and iteration. Far from falling into the corporate inertia trap, they have successfully navigated their way through the size-versus-speed minefield, coming out the other side both bigger and faster than ever before.

In their efforts to follow in the footsteps of these giants, large organisations have often looked to the start-up world for transferable processes and ideas, but it hasn’t been without challenge. Vast cultural, technological and organisational differences have stood in the way of a ‘good fit’, making the crossing of processes from one world to the other almost impossible.

However, the Design Sprint – first conceived by Google Ventures – has proved itself to be one process that is both executable and effective. Initially set up as a five-day programme to help start-ups solve big problems fast, the concept has since morphed into an important method for some of the world’s largest technology companies to innovate quickly whilst at scale. Moreover, it can be used to help these larger organisations hypothesise and validate new business models and product ideas.

Sprint in action: Spotify keeps on running

Using an adapted version of Google’s five-day Design Sprint to explore and prototype a new service, Spotify launched a new aspect of the core Spotify product specifically designed around the music needs of runners.

When Spotify initially launched the ability for users to not only explore music by genre, but also by moments, the data team noticed a sharp uptake in users discovering new music by activity: ‘sleep’, ‘workout’, ‘dinner’. Identifying this shift in behaviour, Spotify went on to explore opportunities that might exist around running.

With a goal to prototype a service that would allow runners to ‘feel like they were dancing’ when running, it wasn’t long before a product idea emerged.

In just five days, Spotify had been able to investigate a hypothesis and validate user intent for a new service without writing a line of code or designing any interface.

What was crucial to the overall programme of work was that by utilising the sprint process up-front to prototype the experience, the team had ensured that any further investment was directed towards an already validated feature.

Sharing this experience with the Canvas Conference audience in 2016, Darius Dziuk – product manager at Spotify – revealed how a large scale organisation (in this case, a company with a 2,000-strong employee portfolio), was able to maintain agility by giving small-focused teams the autonomy to explore an opportunity within a Design Sprint framework. Moreover, by utilising the Design Sprint at the outset of the hypothesis, he highlighted how Spotify was able to validate the opportunity quickly and, crucially, minimising the risk of design and build investment later in the project.

Recipe for success

For any largescale business suffering from a speed deficit, learning how to run a Design Sprint could be the vital ingredient you’re missing.

One of the key reasons that Design Sprints work within large scale organisations is because of their focus on isolating small teams around specific problems, providing the framework and autonomy to prototype and test in a closed environment.

C-suites are increasingly recognising the power of Design Sprints, as they demonstrate, time and again, how they can help businesses explore some of their most important customer problems in a fast, efficient and collaborative way. As a result, buy-in to the concept is on the rise. By solving the scale-plus-speed equation, these businesses will have a stronger chance of survival in a highly competitive marketplace.

Looking through the lens of a CEO, it’s important to understand the major benefits a Design Sprint can bring to the business. These include:

  • Running a Design Sprint at the earliest opportunity in a project can significantly reduce overall cost – it won’t greatly impact timings of major projects, but it will shave weeks off the total development timeline
  • The five-step Design Sprint process will help your organisation to value simplicity – clear goals will help teams to identify processes that are convoluted. The prototype itself might not be as valuable as the perspective on existing business models that participants achieve
  • Your innovation budget will go further as your organisation gets faster – the efficiency of the programme will enable your business to achieve more in a specific window of time, meaning you get to ‘place more bets’
  • Sprints allow you to explore the future before the future becomes a problem – even the big players are not shielded from disruption, so Design Sprints can help you explore possible future scenarios before they even happen
  • Small teams can think big, and big teams can scale quick – what’s so compelling about Design Sprints is that it allows businesses to leverage the best minds in their team and simultaneously draw on the scale of their organisation: problems can be tackled at pace and then, leveraging size and infrastructure, large organisations can take proven sprint ideas to market

Dan Archer, marketing director, 383
Image Credit: Igorstevanovic / Shutterstock