/ Design, Lean, Life at SC5

Design Sprints at SC5

For several year now, we at SC5 have been developing design sprint model. We are trying to meet the needs of companies looking for fast validation of new digital business ideas. The work began with our service designer Harri Kilpiö attending a five-day design sprint workshop by Google Ventures at UX London 2014.

Since then we’ve had many opportunities to shape it further to a format that works for us. This work has brought in many moments of delight from both our customer and our staff, resulting in great project seeds, such as the Lassila & Tikanoja Raksanappi. We have learned something new everytime and use that to improve our model further.


Design sprint started up the development of Raksanappi application.

This story explains what we aim to do with design sprints, how we conduct them and what sort of feelings that has evoked.

Why sprint?

In this age of digitalization, many companies coming from the “old world” may feel that they have difficulties catching up with quickly moving incumbents. Traditional ways of building digital products through “IT projects” have been painful and slow.

Design sprints are an injection of steroids into R&D veins of organizations of any kind. Instead of looking at product development as a marathon, design sprint takes the track by 100 meters at a time. This gets companies started to a full speed in minimal time. And not only getting started, but also getting to the finish line ahead of the competition.

Playing with a rubik's cube

As we see it, the main objective of a design sprint is to learn about the feasibility of a digital service idea as quickly as possible. Before hundreds of hours of internal committee time and consulting hours have been wasted in thought experiments “I think this might be a great idea because…

But ideas are not amenable to real world testing. Only valid way to figure if an idea works in real life is to make it in real world and test it.

The quicker you learn, the better product decision you can make at bigger go/no-go investment gates. What you should learn is about how correct assumptions you made to start with.

What happens in a sprint?

Design sprints are periods of intensive team work. The 5 day design sprint is our typical approach. This means we assemble a team of ideally seven participants. This involves 2-3 SC5 designers and developers, and 4-6 customer employees. Customer staff should represent different business units and include a 1-2 person(s) who has true power about making product decisions.

Everyone involved is expected to make room in their calendars for a whole week of uninterrupted teamwork at least 6 hours a day to make most of it. This sounds a lot, but you’ll also be amazed of the results it can bring.
Two happy SC5ers on a couch.

Get in the mood

SC5’s team brings complementary expertise to the client team and the necessary facilitation skills to make it happen. As we’re trying to build something real, we need a full coverage of talent associated with modern software development on board – in our case – digital service creation.

We tend to follow the Google Ventures model for the structure of the week.

The daily themes are:

  1. Map ideas
  2. Sketch ideas
  3. Decide among ideas
  4. Prototype the idea
  5. Test the idea

As the week is done, we have explored a multitude of opportunities in the space originally visioned by the the client company, AND usually discovered a new, refined opportunity within that space. That idea gets fast tracked through a design and development process and by the final day, we have a real prototype which has been tested with representative users!

Read more about it here: http://www.gv.com/sprint/

Wonderful sprint experiences from both sides

The sprint always takes everyone by surprise”, says Harri. Particularly big organizations will find this way of working surprising in many ways. It is incredibly fast in terms of tangible results. Also the mere experience of doing creative work with colleagues from (and us of course) different business functions is empowering. To us, that’s a friendly reminder of how counter-productive some classical management structures are in the face of digital world.

One of the most exciting weeks over my 38-year career in banking!

— Ari Heikkilä, CEO of Pop-Pankki Konnevesi, after attending SC5 Design sprint
(Our translation of: ‘yksi 38-vuotisen pankkiurani mielenkiintoisimmista viikoista’)

Another eye opener is the contact with real users. It seems many organizations have a way to distance themselves from the customer. When design sprints bring them into contact with real users, this always sparks new energy and gives motivation for doing everything! And of course, the feedback users provide about the idea is extremely valuable to realize the full value of the sprint.

For us outside consultants, sprints are quite overwhelming – in a positive manner. Extremely intensive one week strengths often start from novice level of domain understanding. It ends up with a good confidence of having learned enormously by working with hard core domain experts. Having created together something awesome keeps us going.

It demands a lot but also gives back much!

Try it yourself and understand why those who’ve tried this way of working have liked it so much! Be brave and contact us for ideas.

Text: Lassi A. Liikkanen, Data-Driven Design Specialist at SC5, @lassial