JournalDec 2015

How businesses can benefit from short sprints

Working in sprints is something both small and big businesses can do to help their teams be more creative. But we can’t talk about sprints without talking about agile businesses first.

When it comes to innovation—a buzzword on most agendas these days—there’s something that still isn’t practiced enough, and that’s agility. If we look deeper into what that actually means, this definition is pretty spot on:

"Business agility refers to distinct qualities that allow organisations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision.”

At the moment, startups are leading the way in being agile. Basically, they can’t afford not to make speedy changes to their product or service with their limited resources. For larger companies, changes have always taken much longer—until now. Behold the Digital Age, where technology has ramped up the speed of just about everything. The rate at which we work, travel, communicate, consume and even date has skyrocketed, and businesses are struggling to stay relevant in this fast-moving, ever-changing environment.

So how can businesses be agile?

One way of keeping up with the times is to get teams to use sprints to streamline their projects. Being agile is not exclusive to the startup world and there’s more than enough information out there that explains why agile practices are a competitive advantage in the digital age.

Here at Hanno, we use sprints to stay agile. Sprints were originally conceived for development teams but work perfectly for design, too. We moved away from the traditional design agency processes that take on projects for weeks, or even months, at a time. Our approach is quite different, and we wanted to share some advice on how to go about it:

  • Work in rapid, weekly sprints. Our product design sprints can take as little as 1-2 weeks. It allows our team to cover ground quickly and build longstanding relationships with our clients when they see how much work we get done in a short time.
  • Be prepared for change. We always use an iterative process in which we constantly design, test, and improve our deliverable based on the feedback we get from users. We’re prepared to kill our darlings if their feedback is going help us make a better product. We learnt that building rapid prototypes is cost-efficient and helps us to adapt without wasting time.
  • Co-creation: work with your stakeholders. Past experiences have shown us that co-creating our digital solutions with clients and their customers is vital to understanding and solving problems from a human-centred approach. We’ve also realised that keeping clients in the loop reduces misunderstandings on the direction we’re taking as a team before the final version is launched.
  • Create self-managed teams based on trust. We’re flat and open, meaning there’s no ‘waterfall’ or top-down management. Decision-making is done as a team or individually. The key here is to build a company culture that trusts teammates to take the right initiatives.

Let’s make one thing clear: we’re a team of 9, and I’m fully aware that the challenges we face in terms of decision-making are hardly comparable to a team of hundreds (let alone thousands). But here’s the thing: nobody says you can’t start self-managing in smaller teams and scale it up later.

3 reasons why design sprints are effective

So regardless of your company’s size, here are the main benefits you’ll get out of working in sprints:

  1. Sprints help you to plan and devote enough time to collaborate on your project. Their short duration makes it easy for teams to have daily check-ins. This would be much harder to do if a project lasted for months.
  2. Teams are more focused on short sprints. When a deadline is only a couple of weeks away, we have to stay on track and move fast, so we can’t let ourselves get bogged down into insignificant details. The same applies for businesses who want to keep making progress and solve bigger challenges. As designers, we also find it much more effective to work only on one project at a time. Solving tough problems is hard: if we’re having to think about two (or more) clients at once, that’s even harder. There’s only space for one top idea.
  3. Sprints can be more profitable. Rather than doing a month of fragmented work, a business can spend two weeks doing the same work full-time. It’s a way more efficient use of everyone’s time, and money.

Like all things though, sometimes we need a little handholding…

The first times you run a sprint, it’s normal to feel like it’s a bit confusing, so you might need an outsider with experience to help your team in the beginning (more on that below). It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s where the learning curve kicks in. Practice makes perfect so ultimately, anyone can do it.

Ok, so sprints are the new black. But I want to know more!

Not to worry: we often get asked how we operate so we created an open-sourced Playbook which contains all the FAQs (and more) that we wanted to be completely transparent about. Yes, we’re big believers in transparency and we share our insights here. We love to speak to businesses and help them become agile—if that sounds good, then give us a shout.

This post originally appeared on Hyper Island’s blog.

Posted by
Laïla von Alvensleben

Laïla was a designer at Hanno from 2015-2018, helping us implement ways to work more effectively as a distributed team.