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Are you sane enough for a sprint?

16 November 2017

There’s been a fair bit of interest, even hype, around digital development in the form of design sprints in the last few years. But what are they, and do they offer a better way to create and improve digital products, versus the tried-and-tested project management and design approaches we’re more used to?

At Forum for the Future, we recently decided to find out. We took the plunge and opted for a design sprint to figure out how to grow an online community of system changers, connected to our School of System Change.

The process, originally devised by Google Ventures, combines elements of business strategy, innovation and design thinking into a week-long, intensive workshop, where you create an answer to a design challenge, often in the form of a prototype product or service. For ours, we picked a couple of super-enthusiastic (and talented) members of that fledgling community to help us in the sprint, along with the head of the school programme, and a facilitation agency.

The key things that appealed to us were that we didn’t need to know exactly what we wanted before the start; that the process required and involved our customers or other users in the week; and most importantly that we would come out of the week with a working prototype, not just a plan for one. It would take away the uncertainty about whether we were spending time and money building something that users wouldn’t want, because they were there in the middle of it, helping with the build.

Neil Gunn, 2017

The overall value for money question can often be tough to answer. You should always look at different ways to approach a design challenge, and at different partners to work with, depending on what you’re seeking to create, how much time and money you have, and how engaged your stakeholders are. Design sprints can offer a way to build a number of those elements into the actual design process, which in our experience has led to a better design, with a solid rationale behind it and less uncertainty about whether we’re building the right thing for our needs. It was money well spent in our opinion.

Outputs from the week included some great thinking on what the community was, what members wanted, and how we might deliver it; some actual, built elements of the online space (landing page, Slack channels, sign-up process, email design); and really solid next step plan on how we would grow.

The design sprint approach might sound a bit full-on, even high-risk, to you or your budget-holding boss, but if you haven’t tried one yet, then either every digital product build you do is a great success (liar!), or you could be missing out on a better way to build digital things.

Are you sane enough to try one?


Image: Neil Gunn, 2017

Neil Gunn

head of digital transformation , Ramblers

Neil worked at the leading UK fund manager and financial services platform, Fidelity FundsNetwork for 10 years before moving to the charity sector. 

He worked for WWF-UK for six years in various roles up to head of digital in 2015. 

He's now at the sustainability and system change non-profit Forum for the Future, where he leads on all things digital, most recently a new digital-centred brand.