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Recovering from early design sprint disasters

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It’s safe to assume that the design world has officially discovered the value and power of design sprints. However, we’ve also learned how much effort it often takes to get others from your organization to commit to them. So once you get the nod to move forward, you want to do everything to keep from squandering the opportunity.

But what happens if you try and everything goes wrong?

How can you get others to trust you and try again?

That’s what we’re going to tackle today.

Design sprint disasters

All images courtesy of New Haircut.

Resetting perspectives

If your first sprints are messy, rest assured that you are in the overwhelming majority.

Honestly, when was the last time you mastered a new skill on the first attempt? In fact, in Mastery, Robert Greene’s collective research shows that true mastery develops after 10,000+ hours of learning and practicing. Mastery reveals itself when you’ve evolved a skill into your own art form.

Related: How to successfully marry design sprints and product development

So, what’s the big deal if your first few sprints aren’t masterpieces? The answer is: mindset.

When companies reach out to New Haircut when they’re beginning their innovation journey of uncovering new products and services, they tend to have predisposed expectations about what they can achieve, how it will be done, and how long it will take.

Ideas like:

  • Building an innovation lab as a first step
  • Buying innovation via startup acquisition
  • Hiring pricey management consultants
  • Collecting thousands of ideas from their global staff and running a hackathon on the top dozen or so
“Treat your first design sprints as a learning exercise.”

Companies, big and small, that begin with this outlook about innovation fail 9 times out of 10.

Best case, existing people are fired and new people are asked to start over. Worst case, they generate a long list of excuses why they cannot innovate and go back to what’s safe.

Likewise, when it comes to using a tool like a design sprint, these companies suggest ideas for their first sprints, like:

  • Conducting them over a conference call
  • Squeezing them into 2 days
  • Running several ideas through a sprint “to speed things up”

And because a design sprint is a design-thinking tool that enables innovation discovery, every company that presumes they can bend their initial sprints based on their own agenda and inexperience, will equally fail. And at that point, they have a decision to make—they can blame the tool and the team, or they can assess what they learned and restart.

Design sprint disasters

Today, we’re here to talk about having the conviction to try again, in which case I’m offering 2 steps you can take to get design sprints back on the docket:

  1. Instilling new mindsets
  2. Build on top of what’s working

Instilling new mindsets

To set the record straight, your first design sprints should be seen strictly as a learning exercise.

That mindset allows your team to focus on otherwise encouraging results you may have overlooked, like:

  • Improved relationships. If the only thing that materialized was 2 people (or 2 departments) sitting in the same room for the first time in years (or ever) and having a collaborative experience together, that’s a win!
  • Invalidation. Sometimes our first sprint challenges are those that have been the topic of conversation within your company for months or years. Hopes are high because people have attached certain expectations based on the amount of time they’ve already invested in them. But a very real finality of any design sprint is that your solutions are not valid. The silver lining is that you avoided all of the time and resources building those doomed solutions. Similarly, you now have a foundation about what won’t work so you can pivot into what will.
  • Compare. Though it’s highly presumptuous, I want to believe that the good things that happened during your sprint show better indications of success than what you’ve been doing previously.

Summarizing and sharing these benefits with the larger team will be pivotal. They need to understand that you’re trending in the right direction and shouldn’t give up so quickly, before you get to realize the benefits.

Design sprint disasters

Build on top of what’s working

Once you’ve reset expectations and the team has aligned around a common understanding and vision about the goal of running your next round of design sprints, it’s time to put a plan in place to move forward.

But before jumping into your next sprint, I encourage you to recommend that your team signs up for some training. Let experienced facilitators and trainers shoulder the responsibility of not only introducing design sprints, but enabling your team to learn and digest the framework.

Afterward, the team may form a collective opinion that sprints are too important and valuable not to:

“Learn what it takes to win consistently.”

Otherwise, if you think your team is ready to move forward, next you’ll want to spend 1–2 weeks identifying the most important challenges to run your next sprint(s) on.

With several people committing to spend 5 days on something (plus travel), make sure you run through our recommended pre-sprint exercises to ensure you’ve chosen the best possible sprint challenges.

Design sprint disasters

Final thoughts

We live and work in environments that demand constant success. And while winning is an important long-term goal, learning what it takes to win consistently is critical.

If your first attempt at design sprints was filled with fear and uncertainty, you’re doing something right. Rally the team around the idea that new things are new. Learn from your missteps. Then keep going.

Looking for corporate training? New Haircut offers customized 2- and 3-day training programs. We tailor the training based on stage of your company, people attending, and participants’ experience with design thinking and sprints. We’ll use one of your upcoming projects to add relevance to the results. Get in touch to learn more: workshops@newhaircut.com.

Keep reading about design sprints

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Author

Jay Melone
Jay Melone is the Strategy Partner at New Haircut, a software design firm. They combine design thinking, design sprints, and full-stack software development to offer digital innovation-as-a-service to their client companies. They offer Duco to teams looking to prepare for their own upcoming sprints. Watch his DesignTalks on how to prepare for your first sprint and get executives on board with sprints.

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