Hacking Innovation with Design Sprints

Lisanne Boerop - 11 March 2019

Hacking Innovation Breakfasts

Hacking Innovation is a group for innovators with diverse backgrounds who together investigate how organisations can innovate smarter. 

We organise informal breakfast sessions as a fun way to meet like-minded innovators from different organisations who can exchange insights with each other, but also help us fine-tune our design solutions.

The last round table discussions we held in Amsterdam and Eindhoven, revolved around the topic of Design Sprints - a 4 day process for rapidly solving big challenges, creating new products, or improving existing ones.

What we notice is that every company, however different from each other, still runs into similar problems on their way to innovation. Here we share the main take-aways.

Design sprint

When you need to innovate rapidly, you want to test your assumptions as quickly as possible. Design Sprints make ideas tangible in - almost- no-time and lets you gather real customer feedback in just four days. It a quick way to test wether an idea is worth pursuing. A Design Sprint can also drive change: create alignment in teams, change the team’s mindset and/or create support for a new project.

What did we learn?

Design Sprint as risk management

Instead of committing time and budget to a direction which may not be the right one, Design Sprints provide you with real customer insights early on in the process. Turns out your customers are not that enthusiastic about the solution you prototyped? No biggie, it has only been four days, you’ve learned a lot about your customer and are probably overflowing with better ideas. Let’s pivot and continue!

Design Sprint as bridge builder

The people participating in the Design Sprint are key, so choose them wisely. Don’t restrict yourself to designers, but consider customer service, behavioural scientists, HR, maybe the CEO. Create a cross-functional team and you will be surprised about the outcome. Put different types of knowledge and personalities together for a broader, bigger solution.

Problems need an owner

An explicit problem owner helps drive a Design Sprint, also after the sprint is done. Do you experience a lack of ownership because the problem is not urgent enough? Or is something else going on? Not having a problem owner often has an organisational reason: you haven’t involved the right person, the owner doesn’t have autonomy, or is unsure what is expected of the role. Let people apply for problem owner position, by asking who feels strongly about the particular problem, could be an easy but effective way to involve a problem owner.

Never stop observing!

Innovation starts with getting to know your audience. What are their needs? Meet potential customers in their ‘natural habitat’ and find out. Be aware that people have the tendency to give socially desirable answers, so be sure to look for facts instead of ask for opinions. Or just observe what they are doing. Whatever you do, remember one thing: this is not about your solution, this is about their problem. So be humble and focus in listening instead of pitching.

Further readings

Inspiring books

  • Why We Buy: get an understanding of the science of shopping.
  • The Toyota Way: for insights on how the Toyota company managed to work on a culture that makes working lean work possible. It discusses their long-term vision, continues improvement and respect for employees and environment.
  • That’s Not How We Do It Here!: how to run your business the usual way and innovate the same.
  • Running Lean: a practical alternative to the Lean Startup book.
  • The Corporate Startup: a practica guide how established companies can develop successful innovation ecosystems.


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