A Design Sprint overview for SOLID West

I recently had the opportunity to speak at SOLID West. SOLID West is a conference run by David Cowen of the Cowen Group. At SOLID West, leaders in the legal profession come together to discuss how they are bringing innovation into their businesses in Ted Talk-style sessions followed by round tables, facilitated conversations, panels, and town hall conversations where participants can interact with peers to discuss what they’ve learned and how they can apply it in their own businesses.

Talking with legal professionals about Design Sprints.
Talking with legal professionals about Design Sprints.

“You were a jolt of energy much needed after a long day.”

After a day of talks about corporate legal innovation and the business of law, I end the day with something completely different. My talk was a seven-minute overview of Design Sprints and how they can extract major value in a super short amount of time. One of the attendees said, “You were a jolt of energy much needed after a long day.”

My talk was a seven-minute overview of Design Sprints and how they can extract major value in a super short amount of time.

I recently spoke at SOLID West about Designs Sprints.
I recently spoke at SOLID West about Designs Sprints.

In the talk, I discussed work we did with the Liberty Mutual legal team who were seeking to partner with another company in the market to create a more valuable solution than either company could create independently. Voltage Control was brought in to facilitate the interaction to ensure each organization came into the partnership on a level playing field and got the most value possible through a Design Sprint.

Designs Sprints are a 5-day process developed at Google Ventures where a team comes together to map out a problem and brainstorm solutions in a way that brings individualized thought into the problem space and limits the natural tendency toward groupthink.

After introducing diversity of thought and rooting out assumptions, teams come together to decide on a solution that is prototyped and tested with fice people. This all happens within five days, giving teams a clear path forward in solving impactful problems and answering key questions.

For those of you who couldn’t be at this event, read below for the transcript from my talk.

Transcript from my Design Sprint overview for SOLID West

Douglas: My name is Douglas Ferguson, and I’m the founder and president of Voltage Control, a workshop agency specializing in design sprints and innovation workshops. We help companies solve tough problems using integrated decision-making techniques, and all of our workshops are predicated on a philosophy that nobody is as smart as everybody, layering a diverse set of tools and methodology such as lean, agile, design sprints, thinking wrong, and liberating structures. We guide companies through complex operating environments and equip them with the tools required and critical for innovation transformation.

Douglas speaking on stage

Speaker 2: Fantastic. Do you have a presentation you want to show us?

Douglas: I do.

Speaker 2: Fantastic. It’s all yours.

Douglas: Excellent. So I talked a little bit about Voltage Control, and today I’m going to share a tool that we use, it’s one of the arrows in our quiver, and the impetus for me coming today was a project that we did for Liberty Mutual, and they approached me because they were wanting to kick off a project with another company in the market that they felt if they were to bring together the capabilities of their company and match them with the capabilities of this other company, that they would have this combination that would be much more valuable than either of them could create alone.

But there was a problem. Who was going to facilitate this gathering, and how would they make sure they got the most of their time together so that one company wasn’t positioned above the other one with respect to authority in the room. And so I worked with them to design a workshop that was modeled very closely to a design sprint, and so that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

It’s a five-day process developed at Google Ventures, and we started off on Monday mapping out our problem space and then moved to Tuesday where we’re going to individually sketch solutions, followed by Wednesday where we’re going to decide from those solutions which solution has the most promise, we’re going to prototype on Thursday, and then Friday we test that prototype with five users.

Now, if there’s nothing else that you take away from my talk today, I want to really drive home that sketching happens individually. So what that creates is this divergent nature. So we’re all individually putting out our ideas on paper, which is also important that we don’t encourage this groupthink, or allowing the loudest person in the room to have all the authority, we’re going to individually explore our ideas.

So we diverge, and then the following day we converge. We decide together. And that’s something that you can lift and move into any meeting that you have. It’s a very powerful technique. You can split your meeting in half, do some individual work followed by some group work to analyze everyone’s thoughts. Because some people require a little more time to think through their emotions or what they’d like to present. So definitely think about the individual paired with group work is very powerful.
So I’m going to dive into the Monday activities.

What we do, is we start with our long term goal. It’s very important to orient. We want to understand the purpose, why we’re here, and ideally how we’re going to measure the success. And then we’ll start to question that goal, and get pessimistic. This is a very powerful tool because we can put all that pessimism behind us. We get it out of the way very early on Monday. Also, we can convert those pessimistic questions into valuable metrics. Like, these are binary questions. Can we achieve this, yes or no? Is this thing really going to get in our way? Were we able to get past this hurdle?

And then we start to map out our problem space. There’s many kinds of maps we could create, but ultimately we want to visualize the problem space so we can have some shared understanding and alignment across what we’re dealing with. We’ll bring in experts. Sometimes these are team members that we can’t fit into the workshop because it would be too many people, but we want to get really curious about what we don’t know and bust our assumptions.

And then during those interviews we’re going to use a framework called How Might We’s, where we just focus everyone’s note taking in a consistent format, which makes it easier to sort, and we can make sure that they’re all optimistic and focused on positive outcomes. And then we select our target at the end of the day.

So as I mentioned, sketching is going to be individual. We start off with some lightening demos so that we can get inspired by other analogous inspirations that might be out in the marketplace. We’ll use a four-step sketch process to sketch our ideas including a crazy eight exercise that unleashes and creates rapid variations, which is exciting, and then our sketches will be … Let’s look at this.

It’s not super artistic, but it’s very clear. Our ideas are crystallized in a way that everyone can understand each other’s ideas without the author selling it. And so what we’re going to do to decide on the next day is that we’re going to hang all these solutions on the ceiling. Sorry, we’re not going to hang them on the ceiling, we’re going to hang them on the wall in a gallery, and we’ll do a walk around to view and place some dots on the areas that look the most compelling, or this is a really great idea. So we do this quietly. There’s no group thing, there’s no talk, and then we quickly critique all of them, using those dots as heat, so we know exactly what to talk about. Like, what’s drawing out the most compelling pieces of these sketches.

And then we storyboard a winning idea based on the votes. So we really lock in what we intend to build so that on Thursday we can move very fast and build a lot in one day. So I’m going to show you some prototypes that have been built through design sprints. This is a packaging for Blue Bottle Coffee as they were thinking about new distribution mechanisms, you know, how do we actually send this out through the mail, and what does this look like, and what’s this experience we want to create?

Also, another prototype was a new, kind of exciting innovative type of health care solution and this was the office that people would walk into and experience. So this prototype was a script, and actors actually acted out the interactions that the users would have when they were in the office.

And then on Friday, we test it with five users. These are one on one interviews where we explore reactions to what we’ve created. So it’s not really a usability test, it’s not a focus group, we’re really trying to say, “What do those people understand about what they built? How are they interpreting what we tried to communicate?” And the interesting story of Blue Bottle Coffee is their users talked about coffee much like people talk about wine. They didn’t use this provenance-type language that typical coffee manufacturers will use, so they changed it all to match their customer and it had a profound impact on the way it resonated.

So we’ll, of course, revisit our questions, and then at the end, we’ll know what to do. Often we might want to repeat parts of the sprint, we might want to use this prototype as a reflection around how we start to build upon our lessons and apply those insights.

So thanks a bunch, hopefully, you can apply some of this in your work.