Recently I had the opportunity to interview Douglas Ferguson, author of the new book Beyond the Prototype: A roadmap for navigating the fuzzy area between ideas and outcomes..
Douglas Ferguson is an entrepreneur and human-centered technologist with over 20 years of experience. He is president of Voltage Control, an Austin-based workshop agency that specializes in Design Sprints and innovation workshops.
Prior to Voltage Control, Douglas held CTO positions at numerous Austin startups where he led product and engineering teams using agile, lean, and human-centered design principles. While CTO at Twyla, Douglas worked directly with Google Ventures running Design Sprints and now brings this experience and process to companies everywhere.
Without further ado, here is the transcript of that interview:
1. Writing a book is a lot of work. What inspired you to write it?
I’ve been working with many different companies facilitating Design Sprints and I’m a big believer in the process. But, what I started to see again and again was that teams didn’t always realize that the five-day sprint is the beginning of their journey, not the end. While a ton happens in a Design Sprint week, it just scratches the surface in some ways. There is a significant amount of work that needs to happen after a sprint to keep the momentum. Just like Sprint lays out a clear plan for a Design Sprint, I wanted to show people the essential ingredients you need after your sprint to be successful with continuing what you started.
2. What are some of the key reasons that companies use Design Sprints?
Design Sprints are applicable to many situations. Often times, companies use them to kick off a new project or to reinvigorate an existing product. They can also be useful when you want to explore a new feature or initiative. Beyond that, there are great cultural and organizational benefits that come from sprints because they are an opportunity to get a team or newly formed partnership aligned around a shared purpose or vision.
3. Is it ever too late to prototype and test an idea with potential customers?
I’m a big proponent of continuous discovery, so I’d say no. You could make the argument that if a product is in market and working then you wouldn’t need to test anymore. But, given that we’re operating in a complex, always-changing environment, it’s a good idea to always be in constant learning mode. The good news is that the further along you are in your process, the easier it is to prototype. You can take the existing experience and just make small modifications to test new ideas or refinements.
4. What role does (or should) storytelling play in the Design Sprint process?
It plays a very important role, both during and after your sprint. During the sprint, it’s about listening to other people’s stories. You need to practice active listening throughout all aspects of the sprint as you hear from experts, stakeholders, teammates, and, ultimately, users. You must listen intently to these stories, as they guide what’s prototyped during the sprint and how you proceed after.
Storytelling is also critical in the early days after the sprint. I always urge teams to craft the story of the sprint and the insights that they’ve gained so that they can be shared out. The Design Sprint story can be very powerful within an organization; but, if the team doesn’t share what happened, the learnings can be lost or other people can shape your story for you.
5. When it comes to Design Sprints, where do people most often go off course?
Of course, if you focus on the wrong problem you won’t get what you really need out of your sprint. But, another big issue is when the wrong people are in the room. This means not including a cross-section of the company to get all perspectives. It’s not about only including the most “powerful” or senior folks. We ran a Design Sprint for a well-known software company and the sprint team was mostly designers. We found that we were really lacking other perspectives and it hurt us as we prototyped. You want to have a diverse set of opinions and expertise in the room so you can look at your problem from all angles. For example, consider bringing in people from leadership, marketing, strategy, development, operations, logistics, engineering, and design.
6. What role does team formation play in Design Sprint success?
As I mentioned previously, selecting the correct participants is critical. You must have a diverse perspective. It’s also important that you include the right decider. Teams will often get this wrong. If your decider doesn’t have the authority or capital to push the project through after the sprint, you should find someone else. It’s also worth pointing out that many teams want to invite more than 7 people. Especially if you are working with an inexperienced facilitator, I recommend that you stick to the 7 person limit. You can always conduct a daily readout to bring others up to speed. This is a great way to keep the broader team informed and aligned on how things are progressing.
I have lots of advice here! It all starts with great planning. It’s the part of the process that people often forget because they usually don’t see it. You can’t throw a Design Sprint together on the Friday before you start and think it’s going to go smoothly. It really does take thoughtful planning and consideration to have things go well.
Another key element is having an experienced and skilled facilitator leading you through the process. While you can have someone from your team lead you through the process, unless they are highly experienced, I wouldn’t recommend it. When you have an outside perspective from someone who has done this before, the team can relax and focus on the work, not the logistics.
Another thing I tell teams is: do the full five-day sprint. Don’t try to jam a sprint into two, three, or four days because you’re busy. You won’t get the same results. Start with a five-day sprint and once you really know how they
work, then you can experiment with other, shorter formats.
Lastly, I think daily readouts are super important during a sprint. This is a way for the team to capture what happened in the day and make sure everyone heard and experienced the same thing. Additionally, daily readouts are a great way to involve the people who can’t be involved in the sprint and to keep them engaged with the process as it unfolds.
8. What exit criteria should companies keep in mind for successful Design Sprint outcomes? What should companies keep in mind to make sure they finish their Design Sprint strong and achieve a successful outcome?
I think that goes back to the storytelling aspect. Make sure you get together with the sprint team on the final day of your sprint and early the next week. Get on the same page about what you learned during your sprint. You were testing hypotheses through your prototype. What did your users tell you in testing? Was your hunch right? Were you off-base? What are you going to do next? Do you need more prototyping and testing? These are some of the questions you need clarity on as you wrap up your sprint and move into the next phase of the project, which might be building
a new feature or designing an entirely new product.
9. What happens (or should happen) after a Design Sprint ends?
In, Beyond the Prototype, I outline 6 things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, you’ll need to wrap up the Sprint, exploring any remaining unanswered questions or perhaps new questions that emerged from your user interviews on Friday. During Twyla’s Design Sprint, we tested various concepts in parallel to discover that users gravitated towards one of the idea of a “try before you buy”, but for some reason, they didn’t trust it. After a few more iterations and rounds of user interviews, we had designed a solution that users trusted and were anxious to start using.
10. What pitfalls should companies watch out for after completing their Design Sprint?
That’s exactly why I wrote Beyond the Prototype. You want to watch out for what I call the post-sprint slump. That’s when you stall out after your Design Sprint. It’s when you don’t keep meeting as a sprint team, move onto other more “important” matters, or let your prototype collect dust. You have to make a concrete plan for how you’re going to keep progressing forward. In the book, I outline six steps for after your sprint—some of the essential ingredients are storytelling, team structure, planning, and culture.
You can get your copy of Beyond the Prototype: A roadmap for navigating the fuzzy area between ideas and outcomes. by clicking the link.
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