“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds”, wrote Keynes in the preface to his general economic theory in 1935 – a book which would have a lasting impact on economic systems all over the world. Obviously, the statement intended to open the minds of readers to his ideas and thinking. But it is valid even beyond its original purpose, especially if we look at climate change and humanity’s failure to mitigate the extent of global warming: For decades now, scientist have issued warnings, calculated scenarios and trajectories, recommended policies and came up with new ideas and solutions. Still, global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing and we are most certainly not on track. When it comes to limiting global warming “well below 2°C” – the goal of the Paris Agreement – we are in a race against time and losing. It is evident that we need to find ways of escaping from old ideas to make room for radical innovations, which might very well be disruptive to our current status quo. We need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society“, as the IPCC puts it – a transformation in time.
But our recent experiences show that this is a concept that is not only applicable to the business world, but can be used in all kinds of contexts: Public organisations, non-profit organisation, even educational institutions. And, while the design sprint is usually used to develop digital innovations, it can be a fruitful approach in the analogue world as well. Over the last couple of years, we, coac GmbH, have conducted multiple design sprints and gained valuable experience in setting up and conducting design sprints. Resultant, we have made a couple of improvements to the original concept. In this handbook we will share our experience with you and demonstrate how a design sprint can support all kinds of development processes. From the preparation up to the planning of the individual days of the design sprint and the post-processing it gives you all the instructions to conduct a successful design sprint yourself.
But the pull of the old ways, of socialisation and familiar thought patterns remains too strong to give room for necessary but possibly disruptive innovations. In the business world, this dilemma is known as the innovators’ dilemma: Established products and services generate – at least for the foreseeable time – continuous and safe revenue. New or significantly changed products, in contrast, can every so often not compete revenue-wise after market introduction. They are higher in risk. Most importantly though, disruptive innovations leading to new products require considerable investments; they require money, time and people willing to escape from old ideas. However, disruptive innovations might very well cater to the needs of future markets and customers.
We strongly believe that design thinking and – in particular – the design sprint offers tools that foster unconventional thinking and creativity in (almost) no time requiring only a small budget. As such design thinking approaches can tackle the issue raised by Keynes: to not only create new ideas but also escape the old ones. By selecting a small but diverse group of participants and applying the right set of methods, the design sprint allows the development of a prototype for any kind of innovation – be it technical or social. It can help different kinds of organisations or initiatives (big businesses and small startups, civil society actors, researchers and even public authorities) on various levels of activity (within organisations or in new joint ventures targeting the local or regional level, one or more sectors or even cross-cutting challenges) to develop new products, concepts, strategies, measures and visions.
And if you are not yet convinced, we can promise you that creating this prototype will be a lot of fun in the making!
In the summer of 2019, we gathered a multi-disciplinary team of representatives from politics, science, business and NGOs to come together with our developers at coac to create a digital concept with the goal to advocate for the use of hydrogen technologies in the Rhenish lignite mining region. While the region discovered hydrogen as an alternative to lignite as an energy source and an economical driver, local companies are struggling with the widespread establishment. In this context the hydrogen design sprint took place to identify problems and find a solution. The result was the prototype for the digital “H2pro3” platform which connects the different players involved with hydrogen.
WHY THE DESIGN SPRINT?
Established structures must be left to be truly innovative. Innovations are achieved best in a new environment and a new team with many different perspectives, as we will explain in detail the next chapter. The diverse team of participants in a design sprint unfolds completely new dynamics. Combining such a multidisciplinary team with a great set of design thinking methods, the design sprint is able to create innovative concepts and visions that are otherwise hard to achieve.
Even the best ideas lose momentum if they get stuck in implementation. One could say that sluggishness is the innovation’s kryptonite, especially in today’s fast paced societies: Maybe important innovation drivers within the organisation change; maybe external parameters change; maybe another innovator is faster. And a prolonged innovation process increases the risk that budgets run dry. Therefore, it is vital to get fast and tangible results.
Innovations can seem to be risky. Organisations tend to reject new ideas because they believe they are too expensive. Design sprints are the most cost-effective way of getting an innovative project of the ground and the testing and refactoring of the prototype minimizes the risk of failure in the further development.
But design sprints are not only an effective, quick and cost-efficient way to get truly innovative, participating in a design sprint also benefits the individual participant as well as his or her home department or organisation. During a sprint, participants establish or strengthen their interdisciplinary networks as the design sprint often bridges gaps between silos. Participants absorb different perspectives; improve their communication skills and the capacity for teamwork and get a sense of entrepreneurship. Participants learn new tools and methods, which can be applied to other processes and increase problem solving skills. Both, strong interdisciplinary networks and efficient problem solving skills are important in times of increasing complexity on the one hand and specialization on the other.
WHAT IS THE DESIGN SPRINT?
But what exactly is this design sprint, we praise that much? Basically, the design sprint is a workshop concept involving the newest design thinking methods dedicated to creating a prototype for a new product within only 5 consecutive days in four-hour workshops each day. As the approach is highly flexible, we have not encountered an innovation challenge that we could not successfully tackle with one or the other adaptation of a design sprint.
Over the years, we evolved the workshop concept to make it fit a variety of organisations and projects developing all kinds of concepts, visions and measures from the first brainstorming to a sophisticated prototype. With this manual, we will share our experience and our learnings with you starting with two of our more comprehensive amendments right away: While the original concept, developed in its popular form by Google Ventures, covered 5 days, we usually add a 6th day for “refactoring” leading to an even more sophisticated outcome. Moreover, we advocate stretching the sprint over a couple of weeks, with a two-week break between sprint days. This is for two reasons: First of all, our participants who usually carry a significant amount of responsibilities cannot leave the day-to-day business for a whole week. Second, a two-week break gives all participants the necessary time for processing and reflection the outcomes of the previous sprint day.
The design sprint concept is very versatile and can be adapted to any kind of idea. While it is also possible to have an analogue result, our coac design sprint targets at digital projects. Nevertheless, most of the following methods can also be applied to a design sprint in a non-digital context.
In the next chapters, we will let you know which factors to consider when preparing a design sprint and introduce each single day of the design sprint in detail. We will tell you everything you need to know from the purpose and goal of the day to giving you specific instructions on what to do. And of course, we will share more of our learnings and insights with you. So stay tuned!