Intensity. That's what it takes sometimes to find needed answers in short order. Planning helps too. Those concepts describe the past two weekends at Synthesis as we embarked on a Design Sprint with a new concept product.
A "Design Sprint" is methodology that includes assembling several really smart people for multi-day guided meetings to address and answer some big questions about, well, anything. We applied it to implementation of design and product direction with a new product idea, but it is more than just that. The discussions include a lot of back-up information to answer the big questions.
The Design Sprint Manual
In large measure we used the principles taught in the book "Sprint" by Jake Knapp. (You can find the book and a lot about the techniques at GV.com.)
The book explains a five day process of addressing big questions in an intense week. We didn't have the luxury of a complete week (gathering volunteers from several places), so we did it over a couple weekends instead. The separation of a week was nice in some ways and distracting, and perhaps a bit disjointed, in others. Yet, our organizer, Lawrence Wagner from Spark Mindset, did a great job of structuring the process and fitting our needs to the available time. He also did a good job of keeping our focus on the Design Sprint rather than letting us run on all the tangents that such discussions typically bring. Thank you Lawrence!
Making It Work
We set out to examine the new product concept with an eye to answering two very important questions:
- How will customers interact with the device?
- Does this product make sense in the market?
There are dozens of questions surrounding and supporting these two big ones. Here are some example questions to tackle:
- How many features should the product have (effecting how the customer interacts with it)?
- How should it mount or sit, and where would a customer use it?
- Since it's electronic, how should it access power?
- How would roll-out go? (Just possibilities.)
- Who or How will funding occur? (The normal big question.)
- Though we all agree it's cool ... What price will make it viable in the market?
Those, and more, are tough questions. And, really they cannot be answered in a few days of meetings, but we took a great stab at understanding the background to support them. Most of our time was dancing through the big questions by ideating and envisioning use cases and possibilities for enticing product function as well as customer interaction. We also examined many out-of-the box ways of attracting customers and funding. After honing our vision, we took a more directing approach to the big questions.
The Question Quandary
As we embark on new projects, there are always questions. Though we would all love easy answers, I find that truly understanding the requirements and how the product is used brings the answers faster. Also, variations in understanding will change the design, so using a methodology like a Design Sprint is a great way to quickly hone your collective vision so answers to the big questions have context and meaning.
I went into the meeting thinking it absolutely made sense in the market, but half way through I was totally convinced otherwise. (Though I did not voice this to anyone.) By the time we were done, my view had changed again, and I am back to believing it is both possible and practical. I also think the world needs it, but it will hinge on some key events. Those keys for success uncovered by our Design Sprint are absolutely treasures I would not have considered without the brain power of the great people that helped. - Did I mention that I'm super thankful for the time and help given by these smart friends?
Part of the design sprint includes creating a prototype. As a group, we thought through and decided on a few key customer interactions we felt were important. These are the "Why's" for building. The prototype includes some variations to test where we weren't sure which way is better. That went really well with Dave building a fantastic piece of hardware to replicate most of the design ideas to test customer interactions. Of course, a quick prototype is always chunkier and uglier than in production, but Dave did much more than just bailing wire and duct tape. He built the vision of the combined ideas of the previous days.
Design Sprint Results
When Dave first unveiled the prototype, we were impressed. We helped him hone some of the programmed sequences, then all fell in love with how it worked. As much as we loved the prototype in the meeting room, when we took it outside to test, the presentation in the 'wild' was completely different. We were surprised a little at the difference, though positively pleased.
The end results of testing were not as we anticipated. In some ways it is better, and in some ways it is disappointing. The real treasure in testing is seeing the prototype in action. It's seeing all the brain work of the days before transform into an interaction which is remarkably pleasant.
The Design Sprint identified a few customer options, and we tested all of them we could, including video of the tests and customer reactions. Very cool. Now we have a new view and know the engineering direction. Innovation will set the business strategy as we also know much more about the business side and directions to go.
A Design Sprint is all about learning and improving. That was exactly the case for us. We went away with new ideas, better understanding, and a ton of work to do. We also have a much more honed set of questions to investigate. Gotta love the results when a few brilliant minds focus on a single problem.
Side Note: If you want to become a Strategic Partner on a really cool public safety product, let me know.