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Default CategoryMar 09, 2016

How to Execute on Innovation – The Introduction of Design Sprints

Justin Bell

The pace of change today in technology and its application to businesses leaves continuous business innovation as the only way to maintain any kind of competitive advantage in the long run.

Many companies are talking about the need to innovate.  For some, they are referring to the up front “ideation” process of coming up with “the next big thing” or the next incremental improvement.  For many others, the challenge isn’t in having the next idea (they have plenty), but instead in the ability to rapidly execute against those ideas as a “micro-investment” and either validate or invalidate the concept.

The reasons this is challenging are that traditional companies are not setup to handle this rapid experimentation.

  • Governance: Traditional governance and funding models expect more “knowns” and a true business case before approving projects and budgets – the nature of this innovation model is to explore ideas to see if there is a business case and to define what some of the actual requirements and user experiences should be.

  • Mindset: To successfully innovate, it is important to adopt a “fail or succeed fast” mindset that does not let perfection get in the way of learning and validating ideas.  Initial prototypes, proof-of-concepts and even MVP releases can be far from perfect and don’t even need to be permanent and still be extremely valuable to understanding whether or not a concept meets a user need and is marketable.

  • Staffing / Organizational Structure & Skill set: To move fast, innovation teams need to be relatively small, dedicated, cross-functional (you don’t want to have to wait on resources from other departments / teams, etc.) and ideally co-located.  Eliminate all barriers to good collaboration and communication.

  • Skill set: In addition to the team structure, there are some critical skills that help a team be effective with innovation – specifically rapid visual prototyping.  There are a number of new tools.  Our UX team prefers InVision for this visual prototyping.  I have started incorporating visual prototypes into a lot of projects that aren’t straight user experience work.  For instance, when working with a client on a digital strategy project, I’ve found visual prototyping to be one of the key factors in helping to refine and crystalize the vision for how the organization will use technology to better reach there customers.  We define personas, describe their attributes and goals and then develop visual prototypes that help everyone on the team, from CEO to developers to see how technology can be used to meet the needs of each persona.  The visual prototype is never the final design, but it helps to crystalize the vision far better than any powerpoint or excel spreadsheet ever can.

  • “Mainstreaming” – There is also a challenge to define a good process for what to do with the innovative ideas and concepts that are successful.  As I mentioned above, the key to good innovation is to allow for a light-weight process and non-perfection (e.g., not fully functional, not fully integrated, not scalable, not using architecture standards, etc.) to move fast, but once a concept or product is determined to be valuable there needs to be a good process and approach defined to making it production or enterprise ready.

Google came up with a concept for innovation they call Design Sprints.  Design Sprints are a framework for teams to solve and test problems.  I’ll deeper dive design sprints in my next post.