At Freeformers, we use a variant of the Google Ventures design sprint to solve learning problems. Google Ventures describe it on their site as “a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers”.
Discipline is key to a design sprint; that is what makes it so effective, especially around roles and timekeeping. Everyone should have a specific role to play in the room and be there on time. A dedicated facilitator should be chosen to capture everything that happens.
Each activity in the sprint must be planned with a specific time limit and kept to using a visual timer. These deliberate restrictions enable creativity and incredible levels of productivity.
The sprint lasts a week and follows a set structure:
Monday – understand the problem and pick a focus
Tuesday – come up with potential solutions to your problem
Wednesday – decide which solution is most appropriate and work out how to test it
Thursday – now you have the chance to create a prototype
Friday – the big test; when you put your prototype into the hands of real people
So how does this sprint idea solve problems?
It establishes momentum by removing the distractions of daily office life. If you can’t do it off-site, shut yourself away in a dedicated room; people need to be focused on the one goal to make a huge amount of progress in a short space of time. Schedule time for participants to check Slack or email so it doesn’t interfere with their primary focus. I’ve found that afterwards many people carry over the idea of batching email into specific times of day.
It creates something learner-centred as it can be tricky to keep your learners in mind if you are designing a programme over a long time-frame. In a learning design sprint, you interview learners at the beginning of the week and test the solution with them at the end. This ensures that the solution you create has a direct link to the original learner need, which can be proven and then iterated on.
It ensures you solve the right problem as most learning solutions are created to meet a business need. On day one of your sprint, you must have understood the problem you are solving from the perspective of all involved – from learner to boardroom. The right input must be there from the start so it is crucial to invite people from the business to advise as experts.
It generates more than just great ideas as simple brainstorming sessions do not work. This sort of ideation with a strict time limit, followed by sharing and discussion, leads to a wider range and higher quality of ideas.
It defines the best solution as most of the time our choices are biased by the opinion of others. Anonymous voting on the best ideas in a sprint helps you focus on the best ideas, not just the one from the most senior person.
It gets buy-in from the rest of the organisation as by involving a range of stakeholders in the process you will engage them more effectively in the tangible outcome you have to show them at the end of the sprint; rather than it being an abstract concept or strategy.
It creates a safe space to fail fast as if your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) doesn’t work, you can learn from it without having lost months of work. If it does work, you can learn from it and make it even better.
The final result of all of this is that you finish the week with a tangible solution that is tested, validated and ready to go. And if this sounds like the type of approach that suits you, the good news is we are hiring and would love to hear from you. Take a look at our current roles here: http://freeformers.com/jobs/