29 April 2024 | 10:00
Jiwat Ram

Design Sprints and Project Management

The delivery of projects requires creativity and an open-minded approach. The client expects that the project team will deliver a product or service that is markedly different from the existing products or services to reap the benefits of investing in the project. The value proposition of a project, as such, lies in the ability of the team to build a creative product or service. Not surprisingly, every project has a design phase where the project team uses their creativity to develop a blueprint for an innovative output to be delivered to the client.

Creativity, as such, is the underpinning mechanism for successful project management. However, designing creative products or services is not always easy and often projects end up creating the output that does not add much value for the client and projects fail. Additionally, the stiff competition in the marketplace requires developing new products and services at short notice with a minimal amount of development time. This adds further pressure on the project team to use their experience and capabilities to develop creative products and services one after the other.

To overcome challenges in building creative products or services on an ongoing basis and foster creativity among project staff, the use of a design sprint approach can be one potential solution. The design sprint is defined as “a process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers” (Backes, 2023). The approach allows project teams to co-innovate or co-create by using cross-functional knowledge and skills to build solutions in quick response time that can create value for the client.

The concept is certainly not new. The use of sprints in agile project management is well documented. In sprints, project teams use short time intervals or time bursts to create something tangible at the end of the interval that client can see and verify if it meets their needs. 

The design sprint, on the other hand, focuses on creativity in a time-bound manner to design, develop, and test a solution that solves a problem faced by the client. The question, then, is what one needs to have to use design sprints in project management. To answer this question, we have looked at some key factors that could help in using the design sprint approach. Needless to say, the discussion of the factors below is neither conclusive nor exhaustive and is merely meant to put together some preliminary thoughts on the subject.  

Factors that could help using Design Sprints approach.

  1. Innovations championship

To use the design sprint approach, there should be an appetite for building creative and innovative products and services. The passion for innovations and fostering knowledge integration to develop solutions that set the benchmark for creativity in product and service development is key to using the design sprints approach. The innovation championship mindset will help project organizations accept projects that require working with clients to transform their dreams into reality. The quick time to market and capturing ever-changing market dynamics are some other elements that will induce the need to use the design sprint approach.

  1. Cross-functional co-creation capacity

It is important to realize that no one has a monopoly over knowledge. Hence, the key to the successful use of the design sprint approach is having the capacity to bring the best minds together from various functional domains and draw upon their knowledge for creating innovation solutions. The parent organization needs to plan to develop cross-functional co-creation capacity over a period of time, as it is not going to happen overnight. Once the platform is set, project teams can use this capacity for project work purposes to plan and execute design sprints to create innovative products and services.  

  1. Risk entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial mindset is vital to using the design sprint approach for project management purposes. When organizations encourage entrepreneurial spirit, people are expected to feel empowered to pursue innovation and creativity and take calculated risks to complete their tasks. The thought process will then be that we have the support to do our best, and if something does not work out, we won’t be marginalized for pursuing innovations in work and thoughts. When risk entrepreneurship is encouraged, people will be mentally ready to do their best when they are asked to use the design sprint approach for product or service development for the project.

  1. Knowledge brokerage

One of the key factors in using the design sprint approach in projects is the flow of ideas and expertise among people and groups. People with different sets of knowledge, education, and backgrounds should have an open mindset to exchange ideas and expertise without any reservation. Then only, the team using the design sprint approach will be able to put together all that knowledge to solve problems faced by the client through the creation of an innovative product or service.

  1. Holacratic Teams

Organizational hierarchies and the impact they have on people and organizations as a whole have been the subject of some thorough research. It won’t come as a surprise to say that when an organization has a culture of self-managing teams that can autonomously organize and collaborate on their work, they (the teams and people) are more likely to have the capacity to learn from each other and the environment, ultimately leading to innovation and creativity in their work. Hence, fostering an environment of holacratic teams is vital to effectively using the design sprint approach in project management.

Concluding thoughts: 

The intense competition in the marketplace requires a deep appetite for creating products and services that look apart from the rest and are able to captivate potential audiences. Project management is the vehicle to achieve such goals. Hence, it is important that project management use all available tools and approaches to build innovative products and services that are accepted by the users.

In this regard, we have discussed the design sprint approach and its potential utility for project management purposes. As many organizations use agile project management and sprint-based development, the platform is already there to use design sprints in agile or non-agile types of project management. To build further thought, we have looked at some of the factors that could help organizations use the design sprint approach. Surely, the discussion is limited, and more work is needed to expand upon this discussion to create comprehensive knowledge on the approach and its utility for managing projects more effectively with a high degree of value proposition.

References: 

Backes, M. (2023). The ROI of a Design Sprint: Why It’s Worth the Time and Money.

© 2024 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

Written by
Jiwat Ram

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

He has a growing portfolio of work on issues related to artificial intelligence, machine learning and large language models (LLMs). His work has been published in top scientific journals.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the contemporary issues confronting project management and business management in various industry based outlets.

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