The Design Sprint: break through the corporate telephone game The bridge between strategy and a solution that works

When you translate words into visuals, you soon realise how open to interpretation they are. When playing Pictionary for example, you can see first-hand how difficult it is to guess which word or sentence the player is trying to convey in a drawing. And this really becomes a never-ending story when someone else has to draw the word that was initially guessed.

Recognise this process? Image credits: Green Door Labs

The same applies to strategy and implementation. A strategic plan can also be interpreted in a myriad of ways. In large organisations, the strategic plan often ends with a hand-over to the implementation team: “There you are, now go implement it”. The implementation team then charts its own course. As a result, the outcome is often very different from what you, the strategist, had in mind. Moreover, the output often does not tie in with the initially proposed objectives. That is why it is vital that you think about the bridge between the strategy and a solution that works prior to the implementation stage.

Thinking about “how” and “what”

“But doesn’t this already exist?!” People often get this response when they explain their new (business) idea. While this response may be justified in some cases, more often than not it isn’t. Whether or not an idea proves successful is only determined to a limited extent by whether an idea is “good”. The implementation of the idea is far more important. The devil is in the (product) details, in whether a customer is satisfied after reporting a complaint, whether the idea was executed within the budget or in a customer-oriented company culture. The HOW is just as important as the WHAT.

Corporate telephone game

Companies that succeed in translating the new strategy (the WHAT) into new products or services (the HOW) will succeed. The others will fail and ultimately disappear. The WHAT, the strategy, is preceded by a long decision-making process, which involves a lot of consideration and reflection. There are a lot of insights and variables to take into account after all. Everyone has their own view on matters: some may have more authority because of their position, while others have more expertise in a specific field. Information is exchanged with every stakeholder and meetings are held to jointly arrive at a consensus. Because once you have devised a new strategy, it also obviously needs support. Otherwise it will never be implemented. Time passes, the motivation dwindles, the state of transition continues…

Design Sprint: the final step between the WHAT and the HOW

The traditional decision-making process for innovation does not work as far as I’m concerned. Usually the strategic plan is transferred to the work floor after being finalised. It contains statements such as “aims to substantially increase customer satisfaction”, “will develop products for target group X”, with an idea for a solution, how to measure this, specs and requirements. But nowhere does it explain HOW to achieve this. The implementation team implements the plan in its own way or charts its own course. And before you know it, the corporate telephone game between departments has started.

The Design Sprint does a better job of this as it bridges the gap between strategy and a solution that works. Between the WHAT and the HOW. The Design Sprint is inspired by Agile Product Development and Design Thinking. Google Ventures initially developed this method to help start-ups become operational and inspire them to discover new directions for solutions. VODW now applies this in large organisations, albeit in an adapted form. This allows teams to develop an idea, plan or strategy by creating a prototype of it.

What is a Design Sprint?

A Design Sprint is an iterative process, whereby the main elements of a new idea, product or concept are tested with the end user. This is done using a prototype. The company works on this during a sprint, for about two to five weeks. The prototype can be a conceptual version of a new insurance product on a couple of screens, or a specific point in the customer journey. It can be all kinds of things. The prototype is used in user tests at the end of every sprint.


The next sprint then starts with the insights from the user tests. The underlying idea is to create a concept, of which the critical elements were tested with the user, during several sprint cycles.

Accelerating with Design Sprints

Design Sprints are eminently suited for testing and evaluating ideas quickly so they can grow into new products or ideas. This implies that the stakeholders must be very specific. They are working on a prototype after all. A Design Sprint approach allows you to substantially shorten the traditional decision-making and advisory processes, by months even. Recurrent discussions are settled in user tests and the decision-making process is often accelerated by working with multidisciplinary teams. You can also rely on in-house knowledge from various disciplines, such as marketing, IT and UX.

Don’t feel like watching the entire video? Check 6:10 – 7:10 and then jump to 9:10 – 10:10 min.

The prototype as a deliverable

In the Design Sprint, the prototype is the deliverable, unlike in traditional decision-making and advisory processes. The deliverable can be for the Board who then have a better idea of what they are vetoing or giving the green light. Or for an implementation team, to develop a working solution of the prototype. Both parties are interactively shown “what” the concept solves and “how” the solution could be implemented for the end user. New user insights, important product details and experiments with new business models, for example, are already enshrined in this. During the implementation process, the implementation team will also run into fewer obstacles as the Design Team has already encountered and solved them. And if the prototype still gives rise to questions about the product (“But this already exists, doesn’t it?!”)?  Then the Design Team can refer to the user tests: the customer has already voiced his or her opinion.

#agile #design sprint #design thinking #minimum viable product