Design Sprint Q&A: The Home Depot's Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has one gear: Go.

Monday through Friday, Ryan helps The Home Depot save time and do more through design sprint strategy and facilitation.

Saturday and Sunday, he races BMW SPEC E30, early model 3-series sedans and coupes, in the National Auto Sports Association.

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“At the start of a race, total chaos ensues and a car ahead spins and comes back on track (right), the entire field avoids a head-on collision as we are side by side!” - Ryan

Design sprints and racing are both fast passed, which suits Ryan well. “I cannot go slow. Simple as that,” he said.

Racing requires you to have snap reflexes, anticipating what comes next. If someone wrecks ahead of you, expect to have maybe four or five car lengths to react before a multi-ton collision.

“It’s like playing chess at 100 miles an hour,” Ryan explained. “You have to manage your surroundings, keep your eyes up and analyze what’s on the horizon. Situational awareness and mindfulness are important while forecasting what another driver a few feet ahead of you is going to do.”

The situational awareness bleeds over to other areas in Ryan’s life.

“Principals in racing are applicable in business and design,” he said. “Like in driving, you have to manage what’s ahead and make the best of it, while staying calm and taking advantage of each opportunity. Speed to market is critical for innovation to be successful; by building on an idea that materializes into a testable prototype within days has massively increased our effectiveness.”

Ryan is an expert in speed and agility—both on and off the track. As a part of our ongoing series, we caught up to Ryan one afternoon to ask him for his insights on Design Sprints.

Ryan, how has The Home Depot implemented a robust design sprint program?

We have taken a modified approach from the GV Sprint framework with three different tiers. The first is a one-day program, which is a problem-framing workshop. The next is a three-day sprint and then the classic five-day sprint. The three-day is a light truncation of the full five-day.

I try to position the type of sprint to fit the problem we’re trying to solve, along with the scale and prototype we expect. If it’s more of a journey experience, we use the five-day model to give the designers more time to build a prototype. It creates a pressure cooker effect across the whole project, you have a short time to accomplish a lot of work that will be sent to user testing at the end of the sprint.

How did Home Depot’s design sprint program begin? Any tips for other companies?

Home Depot had a grassroots start to design sprints. Brooke Creef and I kicked off the program in early 2017 with our initial sprint solving for a personalized experience for the homepage for homedepot.com. We worked closely with our immediate UX infrastructure to gain buy-in, ran the sprint and then built the case study. We shared how we’d follow a particular method—that we’ve since slightly modified.

For the first one, we followed Jake Knapp’s model to a tee, just so we could have a baseline. We finished with a solid case study that tested well. Once we took that to our VP, he was head over heels—not just because of the creative output, but because we had already tested and had stakeholder alignment in such a short amount of time.

For other companies: The real critical piece to making a successful sprint is making sure your stakeholders are present, laptops are closed and they are committed to the time. I would definitely recommend getting out of the building so you can all have some fresh air and unplug from the day-to-day to do some creative work.

Another key to a productive sprint are cross-functional teams. At Home Depot, we aim to get a diverse group included in our sprints—such as scientists, stakeholders and others outside the creative field.

How have you all managed to scale the design sprint program so well at such a large corporation?

The scaling came out of the need to run many sprints at the same time. We currently have 50+ different squads, each focused on a particular project.

We’ve aligned our internal strategy within a larger strategic planning process. We have planned out our 12-month roadmap and are working with C-level and others to understand the value and mission of these pressure cooker-like sprints.

Also, the way we’ve pitched innovation for Home Depot is key to our growth. We decided that we didn’t want to go after the sequestered innovation labs [MPT6] approach. Instead, our focus is an inline innovation approach, which is all about real innovation inside road-mapped items. We work with strategic product partners to develop the roadmaps. That way, running sprints become real projects, rather than prototypes sitting on the shelf. It is more of a holistic way to manage growth.

What has been the most challenging aspect of a sprint? And how are you all working to overcome it?

The research leading to a sprint has proven to be the most challenging. More specifically, the amount, volume and quality of research before we initiate a design sprint.

We do research via shop-alongs and qualitative analysis. We sit down with customers. The jobs to be done framework is the ultimate output. Once we have the jobs to be done for that segment, we can act the sprint and understand the problem space and the pain points. We’re able to see how products can help with those issues.

If I had all the research we needed, I would stand up 30 sprints tomorrow. That’s the main obstacle to a lot of the sprints we have right now. So, we’re scaling up our research team and investing heavily in hiring researchers across all our 50+ squads.

Ryan and his team at the Home Depot are experts at building out design sprints. Follow some of his team members on Medium to stay up to date on the latest and greatest on this subject. You can also find and connect with Ryan on his LinkedIn page, here.


Matt PulfordComment