Increase strategy adoption through design sprints

By: Gerardo Cañamar y Andrés Oliveros

All around us today, business models are being radically transformed by digitization.

-Jim Miller, exIBM, exIntel, exAmazon, exCisco, exGoogle

Design Sprint: a tool for every troubled leader

A Design Sprint is a product and service design tool created by Jake Knapp widely adopted by companies such as Google Ventures, LEGO, Slack, Nike and NASA to define a problem, prototype a solution and test it with real users… all in one week.

Here you can read another article we wrote after taking a workshop with its creator, Jake Knapp.


Oscar and Gerardo with Jake Knapp in Austin, TX

Design Sprints have become popular because they are founded on these beliefs:

  1. The best ideas come from individual creative work
  2. Voting for the best ideas works best when done anonymously, on anonymous ideas, as opposed to what happens in a brainstorm session
  3. More importance is given to getting quick feedback from real users than to perfect planning
  4. Mastery of iterative execution is given more importance than constant reinvention.

We want to tell you how a Design Sprint helped us improve an internal strategic process.

Our client’s need: help me shorten a strategic process

During the summer of this year, an organization with a very traditional structure asked us to rethink and streamline one their strategic processes. After discussing it internally, we decided that a Design Sprint was a great alternative, and the client accepted.

We started with a call. Marijó, head of one of the company’s business units, joined a Hangouts session and started with the context.

-The industry in which we are is transforming. No one has complete certainty about what the organization’s strategic commitment should be. What we know is that we need to follow up and support our clients during the use of our products. An important part of our budget goes into these support programs, and I know that they will become increasingly relevant.

After a small and silent pause, she said:

-Today, these programs are approved in one year, we aim to do it six or less months.

She told us that one of the reasons why the process takes so long is because of the existence of a committee made up of several stakeholders that evaluate the risks associated with these programs.

We understood from the beginning that we were going to make many people uncomfortable by rethinking this, but we also understood the ultimate purpose of the process – be better and help customers to have a better quality of life – so we got to work.

Day 1: map the problem, set goals and draw possible solutions

Day 1 is the most difficult, since everyone comes to the room with different ideas about the problem to solve, about the feasibility of the different solutions, and about the Design Sprint. It helped a lot that Marijó opened the initial session with words that gave context and direction to the participants.

We first work on mapping the problem. Design Sprint works best when efforts are focused on addressing the most relevant part of the problem – think about the 80/20 concept.

Map of the problem they addressed in a Design Sprint cited in Jake Knapp’s book

The audience was willing, but it was not easy to get everyone’s attention at all times. One of the mistakes we had made had to do with the number of attendees. What Jake Knapp says is that the Design Sprint is designed for approximately ten participants. On Day 1 almost fifteen arrived. The fault was ours because we did not insist enough on this issue.

Eventually the people with the most information and authority over the process we were working on stayed in the room.

Mid-morning surprise

Something surprising happened mid-morning: the CEO of the organization came and she asked us for a few minutes to speak to the team about the importance of the project.

-For the company, these programs are strategic, so we want to accelerate them.

The morning ended with the Lightning Demos, where the idea is to investigate solutions from the same industry or from other industries that can help solve the problem:

  • One of the ideas that generated more traction was to simulate the airline-type web check-in, which would greatly reduce the workload for the approval committee.

  • Another person spoke about apprenticeship programs to achieve the same goal: the hypothesis is that if there were very robust training for the person charged with pushing customer support initiatives, the committee should have fewer objections.

In the afternoon we had sketching sessions, which aim to generate possible solutions to the problem defined in the morning.

Great first day!

Day 2: make decisions and create the prototype storyboard

Day 2 started with voting. The idea is for participants to vote on which solutions and which elements of those solutions should be prototyped.

It was not an easy exercise: the audience split in two on how to get into the problem.

Here the figure of Pedro, the Decision Maker began to be very relevant. The Decision Maker is the one who, obviously, has the last word on many decisions during the Design Sprint.

As a last exercise we did what is known as a user test flow and even with Pedro present, we took a long time to select just one path. We ended the day without a good storyboard of the prototype that we would build on Day 3. The good thing is that the Design Sprint is flexible, so we waited for the beginning of that day.

During Day 2 we also made sure to recruit users for Thursday’s interviews. Since we were not working on a product or a service, the users would have to be people from the same organization. We managed to get five people of this profile to give us an hour of their time.

Day 3: Prototyping: materialize the solution

At this point, the team -even with a night’s rest- was tired. Considering all the stakeholders involved was taking us more time and mental effort than anticipated.

As if that were not enough, the concept was so disruptive that we did not manage to land the storyboard. It was until noon that we grabbed a laptop and plugged it to a projector that the prototype creation began to flow.

Little by little, it took shape.

Day 4 – User interviews: moment of truth

Six Design Sprint participants offered to arrive at seven in the morning – two hours before the originally agreed – to continue polishing the prototype. As you can imagine, there was coffee everywhere. The good thing is that we were beginning to see the light and benefits of the Sprint.

At 9 o’clock in the morning, we were ready to receive the first -future-user.

As a parenthesis, I would like to highlight that there was so much expectation about this, that almost ten people, including some managers, showed up to be observers and evaluate the interaction of the user with the tool that we had prototyped.

Fortunately, the prototype we designed as a team had a very good response from users, even better than we expected. One of them came with the reputation of being one of the most critical people in the organization, and he was, but with an overly positive tone.

Design Sprint’s war room


The biggest learning we take away is that an exercise like this reveals a lot of information for an organization’s operations and way of working.

To the question of can you use a Design Sprint to, for example, increase strategy adoption? Our answer is: definitively yes!

If your area is stuck with a serious problem, dare to organize a Design Sprint. Reach out for us and we will help you facilitate it.

About the author

Gerardo Cañamar

Socio Director & Consultor Sr.

Gerardo tiene una fuerte inclinación hacia la resolución de problemas complejos mediante la co-creación e iteración. 🧩

About the author

Andrés Oliveros


Andrés le ayuda a líderes a aumentar su influencia usando storytelling - LinkedIn Top Voice 💬

18 de June de 2020

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