Chicago companies adopt Google's design sprints

Written by Tom Cullen
Published on Aug. 02, 2016
Chicago companies adopt Google's design sprints

Decades of experience show that the design and innovation processes involve months of long, challenging work. From in-house brainstorming to prototyping to revisions it can be several months until a company finds a satisfactory solution to a business problem.


However, Google Ventures (GV) created a process that has put these traditional, lengthy timelines to shame - design sprints. Sprints unite members of development, design product, and marketing teams to help companies solve business challenges more effectively through a super quick five-day process of design, prototyping and customer evaluation.


Created by GV design partner, Jake Knapp, in 2010 the process was adopted by the Chrome, Google Search, and Google X teams. These teams found such success with it that they started applying it to companies in the GV startup portfolio and eventually “wrote the book on it,” giving other companies an instruction manual on how to adopt the idea.


And adopt, they have!


From large companies to small companies to those growing right in Chicago’s backyard, design sprints have become the modern way to navigate business challenges. We have been using design sprints at LaunchPad Lab for the past year and have seen significant improvements in our projects.


We had the unique opportunity to sit down with Shay Howe, Director of Product at Belly, a customer loyalty company, and Anthony Broad-Crawford, Chief Product Officer at SpotHero, an easy and affordable parking app, to learn more about how they each have put their own spin on the design sprints concept.




Q: How did you first learn about the concept?


Shay Howe (SH): I first learned about design sprints from Braden Kowitz, one of the co-authors of Sprint. Having piqued my interest, I invited Braden to speak at Prototypes, Process & Play last August (2015) to talk about GV’s design process, how they work with their portfolio companies and about design sprints in general.


Anthony Broad-Crawford (ABC): Prior to learning about GV, I had been experimenting with Lean UX and Agile UX for a better part of a decade.


Similar to Shay, I came across the blog posts and then the book, Sprint. For the first time, there was a written playbook from Google on how to implement one of their concepts for your own business.


It was laid out really well. Everything from ideation to exploration to identification to stakeholder involvement to management is all well thought of.


Q: What made you want to try the concept for yourself?


SH: After Braden’s talk, reading the subsequent book and talking to others in the community I knew it was something we should try at Belly as a way to tackle some of our more challenging problems.


Sprints are set up to help short circuit the product development process, which can take months, to be done in a matter of days, speeding up any trial and error. We’re always looking to improve how we develop products at Belly and design sprints looked to better allow us to pull together cross-functional teams, take deep dives into big problems, quickly collect qualitative feedback from our customers and readjust. All of which is extremely valuable.


ABC: When I came across design sprints as a way to do agile UX it was like a lightening bolt to the spine. Design sprints are the current manifestation of agile UX.


I could see that it was a really amazing platform that accelerates your delivery, essentially a way to see a big impact with big results really quickly. Or to fail even quicker than the current MVP (Minimum Viable Product) model.


Q: What’s the best advice you can offer someone who is looking to implement their own design sprints?


SH: When it comes to implementing a design sprint you have to be willing to fail. Not every sprint will be a success, and more often than not you’ll fail. Sprints may create more questions than answers. You may need to run multiple sprints to solve some of your more difficult problems. Understand, this is okay so long as you’re continually learning and inching closer to the solution in the process.


In fact, that was one of my biggest realizations with sprints. The process is part of the outcome. With sprints, you create a shared understanding of the problem at hand, who has that problem, when they encounter it, and what viable solutions there may be.


ABC: The most important piece of advice I can give is to be prepared.


This means obtaining the qualitative and quantitative data you need along with getting the right people in the room to solve the problem and making sure the right stakeholders are available for an interview, survey, and usability test.


Q: What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to sprinting?


SH: One of the most difficult parts of a sprint is choosing the appropriate size problem to tackle, or where to specifically focus on a given problem. The book suggests that you choose one of the “toughest problems you face” and then gives you a process to narrow it down and target the appropriate part of the problem. We’ve found this easier said than done as the process can artificially narrow the problem set.


The best I can tell, learning how to pick the right-sized problem is through experience. I wish the book addressed this further, however, you have to learn from your mistakes and experiment with picking different types of problems.


Ultimately, though, the goal of a design sprint is to learn more about a problem and to take the first steps in solving it. And with that, design sprints help you get started.


ABC: Size of the problem can be an issue, but it’s important to know that you can break down almost all problems by executing multiple sprints


For example, when I was with Fooda, we did three different design sprints for their mobile app – one for interaction, one for the activation process and one for purchasing process.


SpotHero has been doing design sprints long enough that we have been able to institutionalize a backlog of sprints just like we have a product backlog. With a backlog in place and weekly review, we can begin preparation long before the start of the sprint.


Q: Are they worth it?


SH: Belly genuinely enjoys design sprints! Sprints will bring your team together and allow them to bond in ways they might not otherwise experience, and we’ve found the outcomes, failures and all, well worth it.


ABC: Design sprints are a completely new, strategic way to do something. With this process, you can start asking moonshot questions and quickly obtain feedback on trajectory-changing solutions for your business. I am a big believer in this process and believe that if done correctly the results are well worth the investment. 




As design sprints continue to catch on we anticipate opportunities to learn more on the topic, which is why we at LaunchPad Lab are hosting our second Design Sprint Meetup on August 9. If you’re interested in learning more please consider joining our Meetup or feel free to get in touch with us.

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