The Mihir Chronicles

Beyond The Prototype | A Roadmap For Navigating The Fuzzy Area Between Ideas And Outcomes by Douglas Ferguson

July 03, 2023

I. Brief Summary

Another text on product management and design thinking by a human centered design technologist. Ferguson combines years of experience at Google and IBM and shares design sprint frameworks. He helps in getting from problem/idea to tested hypothesis within a short span of a week (design sprint).

II. Big Ideas

  • The 6 stage roadmap for ideation to outcome: wrap it up, share your story, chart the course, expand the inner circle, cultivate the culture, get guidance.
    • Wrap it up:
      • Your Design Sprint doesn’t end with a hard-stop on day five. One of the key post-Sprint activities is reflecting on how your hypothesis and questions were answered through testing.
      • Schedule a formal team retrospective for the Monday or Tuesday after your sprint.
      • Come to a consensus on what you learned, what you still have questions on and what might be next.
      • Reflect on how the sprint went overall: was it a big win, a learning moment or a bummer? Whatever it was, the learnings are the important pieces to take moving forward.
    • Share your story:
      • Remember, if your sprint team doesn’t tell the story of what happened, someone else will.
      • Don’t procrastinate on crafting your narrative. You can begin by simply talking with the sprint team about what you achieved. Start this conversation at the end of your last sprint day.
      • If you have any unexpected or potentially controversial learnings, think about how you want to approach these conversations with colleagues.
      • Capture the beginning, middle, and end of the story of the sprint and find a way to communicate it with key stakeholders.
      • It’s always effective to share cuts of video or audio clips from your user interviews to support your big findings.
    • Chart the course:
      • After you’ve reflected on the outcomes of your sprint, your next big task is to make a concrete plan for the next phase of work.
      • Depending on your specific organization, you might be making a plan for any number of next steps, from designing and developing new features to additional prototyping or research.
      • Often, organizations find themselves in the space between Design Sprint and development. You may need to bridge this gap by having a team go into more in-depth prototyping and design before development.
      • If you need more exploratory work to get you closer to execution, there are many ways to deconstruct the Design Sprint—from parallel sprints to sprinting on important features from your development backlog.
      • Decide how you are going to track and measure the progress of your effort.
      • Determine your communication cadence for sharing project status reports with your stakeholders and leadership team.
    • Expand the inner circle:
      • Your sprint team will probably need to grow based on the needs you identified in your project plan.
      • Create a RACI matrix to determine governance structure and responsibilities from the very beginning.
      • Build a diverse team that has the right mix of leadership, entrepreneurship, skills, and vision.
      • Ensure that your team is poised to work collaboratively. If possible, have the team sit together and create a war room for meetings and regular pin-ups.
      • Consider bringing in a design thinking facilitator if you are going to need additional sprints.
    • Cultivate the culture:
      • Culture can make or break your post-Design Sprint success. Be sure to support the right environment for innovation.
      • Understand where your organization is and if they are ready to embrace the sprint culture every day. An openness to experimentation, moving fast but deliberately, and curiosity is essential.
      • Failure will be part of your post-Sprint life. You’ll design and test things that won’t work. Consider ways to continually communicate your learnings to keep people abreast of successes and failures.
      • Don’t forget to give your team moments for decompression and breaks from the intense work they are doing.
      • The success of your Design Sprint may lead to interest from other organizations or business units. Be prepared to consult or assist other teams that are sprint-curious. Find easy ways to help spread the culture you’re inspiring and “infect” different parts of your company with the goodness!
    • Get guidance:
      • A coach is someone who can ask you tough questions and provide you concrete, actionable guidance in achieving your personal and professional goals.
      • If you are not experienced in leading innovation work, consider regular check-ins with a coach who can help you navigate tricky moments and provide general counsel.
      • The first place to look is within your organization. See if there is a neutral party, experienced in innovation or design thinking, who is willing to meet with you to bounce ideas off of and to help you navigate the organization.
      • If you can’t find someone outside, look for an outside consultant or coach. The investment can be in-depth or light, and many coaches are open to designing an engagement plan that supports you and the time and money you can commit.
  • A RACI is a simple matrix that outlines the roles and responsibilities of a complex project. Having a RACI in place ensures that all stakeholders and team members know their part, who is doing what, and who is the ultimate decision-maker.

III. Quotes

  • A prototype is just a quick simulation of the real thing that you create to uncover deeper insights and expose the riskiest assumptions about your idea.
  • A lot of organizations have barriers towards new visions, products, or directions—whether explicitly or unintentionally.
  • No matter where you ended, it’s all good. That’s the point of a sprint—deep and directional insights in five days instead of diving into months of development and then finding out when it’s too late to make a change.
  • I think if you start well, you finish well, and if you start poorly, you finish poorly.
  • There are innovators whose success is the learning, not the dollars. Those innovators will come up with the thing that works because eventually there will be that intersection—the learning will lead to something that works in the market, and then it’ll take off.
  • It’s not so important to have the right degree, to have the right set of experiences. It’s more important to have the right mindset and to have the willingness to go and do stuff that is uncomfortable or may seem like it might be beneath your station.
  • Vulnerability is another attitude to cultivate in your corporate culture.
  • One way to make sure you build a culture that leans into failure (aka “learning”) is to communicate your stumbles, as well as your successes.
  • Developing coaching relationships with my clients is about long-term accountability, not just innovation events. There are some simple ways to do it, like a phone call to talk about ‘rose, thorn, and bud.’ What's something good that's happening? What are some challenges? What's on the road ahead?
  • We’ve realized that the strength of a facilitator is directly proportional to the success of the sprint. You can’t have low-level facilitators and expect the same results.