As designers, we work every day with driven companies who want to become more innovative and get closer to their customers; no easy challenge if it hasn't been done before or isn't requested by the current organisation. And if the goal is abstract and vague – which is nearly always the case in innovation projects – it's easy to lose track and be afraid to move forward at the pace needed in today's market.
Having misgivings like these is not at all unusual and is nothing to hide. There are plenty of examples out there of failed innovation projects that exceeded both their time frame and budget without having the desired effect. The most common reasons are that the level of
complexity was too high and that everything took longer than expected. Sounds familiar, perhaps?
In EVRY we draw on inspiration from the startup world to tackle this issue, and are making more use of the design sprint, a method developed by Google Ventures which involves developing and validating a new concept for a service or product in the space of one intensive week, using a small team with different skills. The purpose is first to determine whether or not we're on the right track before proceeding towards investing in a large-scale implementation project. A great side effect is the furious pace – often just one week – before we have a finished concept ready to present to the customer.
Unfortunately, design sprints are only suitable for certain types of problems of very limited scope. That's why we spend more time on customising our own innovation process, where we pick out the best bits and make certain parts more or less comprehensive. Among other things, we place more emphasis on insights and reputation analyses in order to safeguard the customer's assets from all sides. And we don't want to just stop at the concept stage, but also enable development and implementation of our first minimum viable product (MVP) once we validate that the concept is headed in the right direction.
The processes in a design project are often unstructured, messy and initially full of half-finished ideas. This phase can feel uncomfortable, but we can find answers faster by ramping up the pace and ruthlessly prioritising ideas. One key success factor is having the right key people in the team. We always – and I mean always – work together with our customers and their customers. This makes it easier to understand where we should focus in order to create something of value.
Once we've created the prototype, that's when creativity really comes into play. A prototype doesn't have to have a digital interface; there are no rules here. If we're discussing services, we can role-play the future experience. What response should a family with young children get when they apply for planning permission? What steps must travellers go through at airports to have the best conceivable air travel experience? What key people do inhabitants have to contact in the event of water damage in their apartment? If we instead develop an innovative digital service, we can create a clickable prototype that can be tested directly on customers. The essential thing is create and test something in order to gather insights and learnings from the right target group. This will tell us if the concept is viable and has the potential to bring about change and improvements.
If the value of the idea is successfully validated, we can proceed to an agile implementation project to create a first release of the minimum viable product. In the first stage of the implementation process the organisation must also be reviewed. What changes need to be made before whatever we've created can be used? Is there a need for new roles? How can the dynamics in the existing process be changed? Changes are rarely popular, but by starting off on a small scale it will be easer to create ambassadors and introduce the changes gradually.
But what is it like to participate in this type of innovation journey? Participants often describe it as great fun, but intensive. Moreover, strong ties are forged with the end users because they are often treated like rock stars during the process. Working in design-driven projects is also highly visual and creative, which is something many appreciate. For me personally, it's my favourite way of working, and I never hesitate before diving into new, unknown territory. Working in design sprints makes us braver and faster, and makes it easier for organisations to creation services that accurately reflect their strategy.