We hear it all the time: Projects are stuck. Teams are bogged down. Organizations just can’t move forward on a nagging issue. Leaders want to jump-start change.
Design sprints can accelerate progress, focus on critical decisions, and get teams unstuck. Design sprints work because the right people are free of distractions and can focus on answering a key question in a limited amount of time.
Sprints originally started in agile software development. Today, the practice is popular among both start-ups and established companies for prototyping and testing new products. In the book Design Sprint, authors Richard Banfield, C. Todd Lombardo, and Trace Wax say sprints are a framework “to maximize the chances of making something that people want.” So in product design, companies prototype and test products or features early in the design process to get feedback and recalibrate faster and before they spend too much money on the wrong thing.
Internal project sprints tackle internal issues, so an internal sprint might design a way for teams to collaborate or develop an activation plan for strategic priorities.
And internal project sprints don’t test a product with consumers at the end of the week. They might test new employee metrics with a team of employees or validate and test a new process with the teams that execute that process.
As the name implies, getting to a key decision faster is a significant benefit of a sprint. But Sprint author John Zeratsky said in Harvard Business Review that a sprint isn’t just about speed. “It’s also about momentum, focus, and confidence.”
Focus is important. Putting people in a room and giving them a deadline to answer a key question is motivating. They make quicker decisions, and they don’t get bogged down in details.
Sprints require an investment in time and money; the payoff is that sprints accelerate projects and project teams.
When are internal project sprints most successful?
- When organizations have been struggling to change and can’t get started. If teams are stuck talking about an issue and never acting or a project is mired in internal bottlenecks, a sprint can break the logjam.
- When several internal teams own different pieces of a challenge but no one can see how it all comes together. A sprint can give all the teams an end-to-end view, so they can see and prioritize opportunities.
- When leaders need to clearly diagnosis barriers and enablers to success. A sprint can help to assess corporate culture and identify options and metrics, so leadership teams can know where to make changes that will move the needle.
- When company leaders have landed on a new strategy and need to quickly develop a plan to implement it across the company. A sprint can reach across functional roles to assess what’s needed and the best ways to activate the new strategy across the organization.
- When internal teams are overwhelmed by the complexity of a challenge and are too busy to tackle it or have no time to resolve key issues. A sprint can articulate options and accelerate decision-making.