Design Sprint Series Q&A with Joe Kleinwaechter
To innovators, product and UX managers, design sprints are a go-to tool for achieving powerful results in a short timeframe.
At Bridge Innovate, we have worked with many teams to tackle complex problems using the five-day design sprint methodology inspired by Google Ventures (GV) and Jake Knapp’s bestselling book Sprint. While there’s no question that design sprints can be a great way to disrupt and drive innovation, sometimes clients struggle over certain aspects of the process.
For some people, the solution sketching on “Tuesday” can be the most troubling portion of the sprint. For others, it’s the prototyping on “Thursday.”
Obstacles, however, differ from person to person. For Joe Kleinwaechter, the difficulty he often sees lies outside the design sprint.
The most challenging part of a sprint is typically selling the vision to the company decision-makers, he said.
Joe, a master of innovation and creative thinking, has run dozens of design sprints over the years. As the Vice President of Innovation at Worldpay, a global leader in payment processing technology, his mission is to keep the organization cutting edge and competitive.
“My job is to equip Worldpay to solve the right challenges,” Joe began. “My role is to find the right problems to solve, use the right methods before employing expensive resources and get these solutions out the door for maximum effect.”
To do his job well, Joe said buy-in from the right people is crucial to the success of a sprint. We spoke with Joe to get his take on GV’s five-day design sprints and some of his seasoned tips on procuring executive buy-in.
Joe, let’s start with context: What do you like about design sprints?
“Design sprints are a great tool to help make sure you’re solving the right problem before you commit expensive resources to deliver a solution. In general, the concept of coming up with a design in a morning is unfathomable. In three to four hours, you’ll have something to talk about and move forward. It’s really cool.
A design sprint can mean a million different things to people. I classify the GV design sprint as a newer model, but this type goes back a way. The GV design sprint, however, is a culmination of ten or more years of Google’s work. They had week-long, much larger, participatory lock down sessions back in the day, which were the precursors to what we see today.
Jake Knapp and others at Google tidied it up into a practical, prescriptive formula. In his book Sprint, Jake Knapp, said there are rules--with very few exceptions--to be successful. While I don’t typically like prescriptive books and methods, I do like this one.”
From your perspective, which days of the design sprint are the most difficult part?
“None of the days, in particular, are inherently more difficult. However, I hear from many that the biggest challenge lies outside the sprint. To the C-Suite, locking the right people in a room for the right amount of time--even though they are essential people--is often seen as a waste of time and resources. This is, by far, the biggest challenge. You can’t underestimate that.”
How have you overcome this challenge? Or how have you seen others handle this issue?
“The concept of time is fascinating. Suppose there is a salesperson, and he or she might ask me, ‘Can we get lunch tomorrow?’
I might say, ‘Maybe. I’m busy.’
He or she might come back with, ‘OK. How about in two months time, then?’ And I am much more likely to accept the lunch appointment.
We’re willing to accept things farther out. We won’t typically consider when they’re close in. So when orchestrating design sprints, I schedule significantly in advance. I organize and get the commitment of time because without the involvement of time with the right people it will fail; I don’t care how good you are."
Are there other tactics to increase the odds for executive buy-in?
“Do your prep ahead of time in proving the value they can expect to see at the end of the sprint. Start your initial meetings by framing the value. I typically tell the decision maker, ‘I will have a design that is tested in front of a customer in a week. If you give me a week of your time, I will have a deployable design in your hands by the end.’
The same technique you use to do a sprint needs to be applied with execs. Treat them like customers. Understand what’s keeping them up at night. Show why they should dedicate a week.
Discern the problem and then position the result of your week in a way to solve said problem. If the problem is cost, show how this help could help with the cost. If it’s about the resiliency of a product, angle your pitch accordingly. This is chess, not checkers. If you don’t know what the exec’s challenge is, you’re going in blind. The same technique in early discovery on Monday and Tuesday is what you should be doing well before you plan initial meetings with the decision makers.”
Joe is a bonafide thought leader in tech and innovation circles. He recently spoke at the Innovation Research Interchange. His column, The Stranded Starfish, provides thought-provoking insights into looking at problems and the world from different angles to arrive at novel solutions.