The “design sprint” is a very effective method for making strategic decisions, even when you don’t have the time, explains Joffroy Moreau, the boss of Ekkofin. Belgian SMEs have already done this successfully.
About ten years ago, Google Ventures (now GV), an investment fund in the orbit of Alphabet and financing many technological start-ups, launched a new method of reflection in order to improve its operation. The problem that GV had to face was to quickly define the right projects, the best support for the companies in which it was going to invest and see what development strategy to implement, what products to invent, what problems to solve. However, classic brainstorming was far from providing a perfect solution: it took time, sometimes led to very poor results, favored those who were easy to speak up and who were at the highest in the hierarchy, and inhibited others who also had good ideas.
About ten years ago, Google Ventures (now GV), an investment fund in the orbit of Alphabet and financing many technological start-ups, launched a new method of reflection in order to improve its operation. The problem that GV had to face was to quickly define the right projects, the best support for the companies in which it was going to invest and see what development strategy to implement, what products to invent, what problems to solve. However, classic brainstorming was far from providing a perfect solution: it took time, sometimes led to very poor results, favored those who were easy to speak up and who were at the highest in the hierarchy, and inhibited others who also had good ideas. Jake Knapp, designer at Google Venture, therefore developed a more collaborative method in 2010 with two other colleagues, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, while they were in Stockholm for a week. During these five days, they invented what will be Google Hangouts (now Google Meets). They refined the method, applied it to hundreds of meetings at Google and other Silicon Valley companies. Then, they published a manual describing this new way of proceeding which they called the design sprint, a recipe for encouraging individual reflection, objective criticism and leading to a clear decision-making process that will win the support of all. The sprint is based on a few main principles. A single objective is pursued throughout the process. The work is collaborative. It is based on collective intelligence. The process is very structured. It happens over a maximum of five days. And in the end, we test the outline of a “prototype” with a small group of users or end customers. The whole process is done with a small team, ideally seven to eight people. On Monday, we choose the objective; on Tuesday, we outline various solutions that will be put in competition; on Wednesday, we choose the best (which can be a mixture of several proposals); on Thursday, we make a prototype which is generally only a rough sketch to help explain the new idea. And on Friday, we test this prototype with five users or end customers. “Unlike traditional brainstorms, design sprints drive innovation. They are the primary method of initiating projects large and small at Google. This time-limited process helps teams address critical business challenges by designing , building prototypes and testing ideas with real human customers.The process of a design sprint has evolved in many ways over the years, but the fundamental element of scheduling time and space for people come together remains central,” said Stephanie Peels, communications manager at Google. One might think that this approach is dedicated to Californian start-ups only. In fact, the design sprint has been adopted in many industries by many companies in many countries. And in particular with us by Ekkofin, a Walloon consultancy company for SMEs. “The design sprint as envisaged by Google is quite heavy, recognizes Joffroy Moreau, founder and CEO of Ekkofin. It mobilizes a large part of the team, it rather targets the development of digital applications and asks an SME to mobilize its CEO, its management and one or the other expert for a week is impossible.” However, the Walloon consultant was convinced that this mode of approach, mobilizing collective intelligence in a short time on a specific problem, was very effective. Ekkofin has therefore adapted the method and set up a program over three large half-days which was launched more than two years ago. “The first step is to pose the problem. Often the company arrives wondering how to support its growth, how to establish a product development strategy, how to sustain its development in the context of a family transition, how to change the model to become a scale-up, how to define a strategy of differentiation in order to grow in a very mature market, how to develop internationally… In summary, there are often two themes: sustainability and growth”, explains the boss of Ekkofin. Then, you have to define the means to achieve it. “We will ask each of the participants (there can be two to eight participants from the company and two participants from Ekkofin, editor’s note) to write five ideas on five post-it notes to achieve this objective. We will therefore have 25 post -it that the facilitator (a person from Ekkofin, editor’s note) will put on the board. He will group them into thematic clouds: some proposals will concern more turnover, others communication… And then each of the participants will vote Each has 10 votes, which he can put where he wants and he can put several, see all, on a single proposal. We will then see concentrations of interest, priorities appear. We will choose the two main ones and these proposals will be refined.” In general, the first assignment is used to identify point clouds, the second to address the first priority, the third to address the second. And a strategic plan then appears quite clearly. “This sometimes leads to quite surprising conclusions: reduce the price of your product by 40%, stop a particular distribution channel, send the CEO on vacation for a few weeks, move a warehouse, etc.” And, icing on the cake, these design sprints work much better in videoconferencing than brainstorming, because the way they are structured means that we don’t constantly cut each other off. Ekkofin thus carried out the exercise with the teams of an industrial company whose CEO was an excessively discreet person. “This company had come to find us in order to sustain its development in the context of a family transmission. And the number 1 priority identified by its teams was to develop communication, to make it known about know-how. However, notes Joffroy Moreau , when we prepared the exercise with the CEO, this theme did not even appear in his 10 priorities, which focused instead on the opportunity to make acquisitions and international growth. company therefore arrived saying: we must communicate our know-how better. And the boss played the game: the company appointed a manager responsible for communication, hired a com’ agency, was more active on social networks , redesigned its website… It took time but it paid off.”. Insurgate, a start-up specializing in the digitalization of services for insurance brokers, has also used the method. “We are a young company and we had already made two ‘pivots'”, that is to say two reorientations of our business model, explains Antoine De Beys, co-founder of Insurgate. We have now found it and we wanted to do a sprint to have the opportunity for a structured strategic reflection, in order to integrate the various parameters: organizational, financial ambitions, see if fundraising is needed, how to position yourself commercially.” The work was carried out with Ekkofin and it notably allowed, explains Antoine De Beys, that the questions asked are more impactful. “There is a preliminary deconstruction work which will make it possible to define the financial objective and strategy of the company but also of the people who collaborate there to be sure that the plan towards which we tend is the right thing for the company but also with the right people, he observes. The reflection finally led to a three-year strategic plan, a commercial pitch and support to structure the presentation to our directors.” The strategic change made after three sessions can be radical, as evidenced by the real estate brokerage company We Invest.” When we started with her, she was in the process of creating own offices in Liège, Namur… We broke this development and we reoriented the company towards a franchise model which we took a year to prepare”, explains Joffroy Moreau. Walmat, a construction materials trading company, also went through the design sprint. “We came to the conclusion that the company should not do like the others, observes Joffroy Moreau again. It should not target large cities, large construction sites, but be in the medium-sized towns of Wallonia in agricultural areas, where there is an economic fabric with more small craftsmen, small customers.” And this model made it possible to ‘offer great resilience to the crisis. Because when major construction sites came to a halt due to covid, competing companies suddenly lost a large part of their turnover. Ekkofin also passed the exam for it “We observed that everything went through the CEO – me in this case – and that this constituted a bottleneck, specifies Joffroy Moreau. So we set up a new structure and a year later, the company’s turnover increased by around thirty percent. The sprint made it possible to have an interesting unlocking effect.” Like what, shoemakers can sometimes be well shod.