Ever got the sense that your brainstorms are just not delivering results?

In this post I’ll compare the Sprint process used by Google Ventures vs Brainstorm for innovation projects and bringing ideas to market.

As someone who has facilitated many innovation workshops or brainstorms I was interested to learn about the Google Ventures Sprint methodology that promises the ability to “solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” which is set out in a new book by Jake Knapp et al.

The author starts from the observation that the many traditional brainstorms he has run have not in the end been successful in producing results. He and his colleagues have optimised the Sprint process to address these short-comings, based on running over a hundred such events with a diverse set of clients from Coffee Shops to Robots to Clinical testing.

So I thought it might be useful to compare and contrast the traditional brainstorm or innovation workshop model with the Sprint approach.

First of all how does a Sprint work?

Well as a headline the process is essentially a rapid-prototyping /problem solving event that takes place over a five day period culminating in a day of customer testing on the last day.

The way the five-day process is laid out is as follows…

Day One – Identifying the question to be answered or challenge to be addressed and gathering expert opinion

Day Two – Reviewing existing solutions and individually sketching potential answers

Day Three – This day is all about deciding which candidate solutions to progress and producing a storyboard for the prototype to be tested

Day Four – This is set aside for producing the prototype to be tested

Day Five – On this day customers are invited to evaluate the prototypes developed and assess how well they address the critical questions

How does this contrast with a typical brainstorm?

I guess the main differences versus a more conventional process are as follows..

1.     The recommended group size is relatively smaller ataround seven people but the time commitment is more intense.

2.     The emphasis is more on individual working alongside each other to develop a smaller number of solutions with greater depth rather than quantity of ideas.

3.     There is a more rigorous approach to deciding which routes to progress recognising that in the end someone has to decide and that decider is nominated to make the calls.

4.     The emphasis is on “making it real” and is focussed around what the actual customer experience will be like and getting to realistic prototypes for testing.

So what are the advantages of a Sprint?

Having compared and contrasted the methods I think the main advantages are as follows..

1.     Speed – you get to answer your critical design questions quicker by the end of the week, so even if you are barking up the wrong tree you learn about that in a short space of time. Often in conventional brainstorms the ideas are worked up over subsequent phases and into evaluative research that takes place weeks later.

2.     It avoids the risks of groupthink by allowing individual working and structured decision making and avoids the risk of he who shouts or sells loudest wins.

3.     The process allows for more thought through solutions and possibly braver ideas to emerge – it’s not about quantity of ideas.

4.     The decision making process is more explicit and weighted.

What could be the downsides..?

1.     I could see that a lot of researchers I know would disagree with the research method given the small number or respondents involved – circa 5 – and would argue that such a small sample size would lack adequate rigour.

2.     To prototype at this kind of speed , depending on the market, you may need access to resources (eg. 3D printing) and or building blocks to be in place beforehand.

3.     It could be hard to get five full days of commitment from key people who will have busy schedules.

4.     You might have trouble getting down to just seven participants and could risk putting people’s nose out of joint by leaving them out.

Conclusion

My view is that the Sprint represents a really useful addition to the armoury of potential solutions and the team that developed it have clearly thought through and addressed a lot of the issues that adversely affect the effectiveness of the traditional brainstorm.

As with any tool it is important to select the right tool for the job at hand and understanding the contexts in which using that particular tool is going have most impact.

Want to know more?

If you have an upcoming innovation project and you’d like to discuss whether a spring is the right approach for you then please get in touch.