002 : Using Design Sprints to Further Cultural Shifts with Douglas Ferguson
People approach innovation in different ways and bringing together varying ideas can be a tedious process. But what if there was a way to stimulate growth and development within the organization by encouraging input from team members? What if innovation can be put into motion by making them a part of the process?
This is exactly what Douglas Ferguson, the President of Voltage Control, had in mind when he set out to write his book, Beyond the Prototype. He offers six practical steps in rethinking the design process in order to help companies shift their company culture from the way they design things all the way to its launch.
In this episode of The Culture Design Show, Douglas shares with Steve Chaparro why he is a believer of the Design Sprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz. Douglas discusses why there’s a need for companies to realign the way they view collaboration in the design process and the importance of having multiple contributors from different fields and expertise in opening new doors for exploration and advancement. He also shares an incredible overview of each step he covers in his inspiring book so stay tuned.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Douglas Ferguson shares how his parents influenced his interest in tech and design, and what led him to start his company
- What is Design Sprints and why does Douglas love it?
- Douglas walks us through his five-day design sprint with his team and how it got him thinking about cultural shifts
- The importance of co-creation and the need to move from closed innovation to an open innovation structure
- The importance of including employees in the creation of the organization’s culture and how to do it right
- How leaders can become facilitators of culture instead of being architects of culture
- Douglas explains why the real job happens after the design sprint is completed and its importance to a company’s culture
- Douglas shares why he wrote Beyond the Prototype, and shares an overview of each step in his book
- What is the kata approach and why Douglas believes that changing the way people think, work, and meet can lead to true transformations within the organizatio
- Douglas discusses how explains to companies what they can gain when they do the Design Sprint process
- The value of having a mentor or coaches that can support your Design Sprint process
Resources Mentioned in this episode:
- Douglas Ferguson on LinkedIn
- Voltage Control
- Book: Beyond The Prototype
- Capital Factory
- Daniel Stillman
- Google Ventures
- Sprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz
- Steve Chaparro on LinkedIn
- Culture Design Studio on LinkedIn
- (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
About the Guest:
Douglas Ferguson is the President of Voltage Control and author of Beyond the Prototype, a book that provides six practical steps to take companies from design to launch. He is also a partner at Capital Factory, the center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas where people get to meet potential investors, mentors, and co-founders.
Douglas uses the Design Sprint method by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz to change the way we approach the design process from start to finish. He has worked closely with businesses and organizations to implement methods that help facilitate cultural changes in the design process starting from the employees up to the C-suite.
Sponsor for this episode:
This episode is brought to you by the Culture Design Studio, a consulting firm that helps people and cultural leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people through a series of facilitated workshops. They provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization.
Culture Design Studio has worked with organizations like Duarte Design, Design Thinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation
If you’re looking for more than just a consultant and want someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, Culture Design Studio is the one for you.
Contact them today to learn more about what they can do for you and your company.
Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai
Announcer: Welcome to the culture design show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers. We’re passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show.
Steve Chaparro: Steve Chaparro, here. I am the host of The Culture Design Show, a podcast where I feature leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world, including architecture, design, technology and marketing. What’s the one thing they have in common? They all believe in the power of culture and design.
This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. We help people in culture leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people. Through a series of facilitated workshops we provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization. We’ve worked with organizations like Duarte Design, DesignThinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi and the Office of Civic Innovation. If you’re looking for more than just a consultant, but someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, reach out to us to learn more, go to CultureDesignStudio.com.
Douglas Ferguson is an entrepreneur and human centered technologist with over 20 years of experience. He is the president of Voltage Control, an Austin based workshop agency that specializes in design sprints and innovation workshops. He’s also a partner at Capital Factory, which is the center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas. I bet you didn’t know that Texas is the number one startup state in the US. Douglas is also the author of Beyond the Prototype, a new book that outlines a practical six step plan for companies struggling with the shift from discovery to launch. Douglas, welcome to The Culture Design Show
Douglas Ferguson: Thank you. So good to be here.
Steve Chaparro: I’m glad to be here. We’re actually here in Austin, in your office, and I am so excited that I can make the trip out to visit you in in the wild in your home, home city and state. So, thank you for being on the show. Well, I look what I love to do is I love to just kind of dig into your past and your story. I’d love to hear. You know, where are you from? And what was it like for you growing up?
Douglas Ferguson: Oh, wow. I grew up in southern Virginia. Both of my parents grew up on tobacco farms. And I was the first generation in the family to go to college. And you know, my parents were the first ones to not be tobacco farmers. They both went into city jobs as they say. And my mom was a bookkeeper for a jewelry store and my dad started shoveling coal at the local power plant and worked his way up to foreman and eventually started to take correspondence course where he learned. He basically got an engineering degree through the mail.
Wow, I remember as a kid, you know, really interested in this trick trigonometry books and stuff. And this was just really fascinating. Because I was always really into math and whatnot. And so my dad was studying advanced mathematics, you know, through the mail. And so yeah, he became a turbine specialist and was the engineering really large projects at the power plant, which is really fascinating because watching this kind of almost like American dream, as we often refer to it kind of unfold before my eyes and also he was always really interested in, in computers and in technology in general.
And so, we had a Commodore 64 when I was a young kid and I remember writing software for him in high school that helped him with some of this power plant outages. So that’s when I first started to get a real love for writing software and building systems and kind of procedural thinking. And went to school at Virginia Tech where I studied math, biology and chemistry, which like has nothing to do with computers. I got a I found I had such a love for it. I didn’t. I was kind of scared of actually, you know, doing it for work because I thought it might take something away from it. And same thing I didn’t want to study music.
I have been a musician most of my life and toured around bands and stuff and also didn’t for that same reason. I didn’t want to turn it into something that someone told me how supposed to do it or, you know, or, or there was this right or wrong way because I just enjoyed it so much. And needless to say, I enjoyed it so much that I started doing it for a career.
Like after college just started working for some startups here and there and writing, writing testing software and that’s what led me to Austin because there was a great startup scene here. Then started to get promoted and manage teams and kind of at the very end there before starting voltage control, had started launched a few of my own startups, mostly holding CTO roles or, and as a CTO, I was very product focused. There really fast or real kind of deep fascination with process and how to organize teams and motivate them, get them excited.
So when I discovered the design sprint, through Jake’s early blog posts and whatnot, and then further cemented by the fact that Google Ventures led our series A and Jake got to come down and do a design sprint with us, then just really fell in love with the process because it really baked into, you know, one week, a lot of the things that I’d seen over the years and experimented with myself, but done so in such an elegant way, and also help people get past this son of knowing doing gap, like so many people knew that they should be testing for customers and doing these things, but it really kind of forced the hand. And then once they realized how easy it is. And I Oh, I can I can do this. It starts to build some capability.
And, you know, that’s what I mentioned in the book about the sprint mindset because often, people talk a lot about we got to get the problem framing right before a design sprint. And I, I agree it’s important that sometimes you know that I don’t worry so much about the problem if I know that they’re going to walk away with a new mindset, if it’s going to shift the culture of that organization, I don’t care if they don’t walk away with a straight, like a revenue outcome of that particular workshop because the revenue is going to come if you shift the culture.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, you’re, I’ve often said that the while there might be a primary outcome to that design, Sprint or a workshop or whatever. I’ve always believed that the secondary outcome is the culture change, but you’re flipping it, you’re saying that the culture change is in fact even more important than the desired product outcome. Or at least as equal?
Douglas Ferguson: Yes, it can be more important. The thing is, you just have to set clear expectations. If you have a stakeholder or a sponsor that has different expectations, then it may not work out well for you if you’re pushing hard on the cultural stuff. But if you have those conversations up front, and they understand it, and they see the need and the benefit for the shift, then that can be a great thing to focus on. And generally, there’s some problem we’re focused, we’re working through through the sprint, we’re not going to belabor it so much that we wait around for the perfect opportunity, because we know that even if whatever we solve for is incremental, that the cultural shift is going to be massive, because then they can continue to iterate and continue to evolve. So that in things that they discover, and the following weeks could be even more impactful than whatever comes up during that week because we built a muscle, right?
Steve Chaparro: So, for those people that are listening that may not know who Jake is and who Google Ventures is and may not even know much about the design sprint. If you can give us a little bit of history behind that.
Douglas Ferguson: Sure. Yeah. I follow a methodology around the design sprint that comes from a book by Jake Knapp and Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky. These guys were all at Google Ventures, which is a venture capital company firm that was owned by Google. And their portfolio companies included slack and Blue Bottle coffee, lots of companies that we’ve heard of. and Jake Knapp had worked at Google, and he was working on Gmail at the time.
And if you’ve heard about the 20% time, Jake had a 20% project at Google, which was focused on kind of how we meet how we digitally meet and now we know that product is Hangouts. And he was working with a team that was distributed and quite a bit of them were in Europe, and he noticed that it was really Hard to get traction on the project. They’re kind of move little little bits and spurts and it was hard to get, build and maintain momentum. And so, they were planning a meeting where they were going to get together and work on it like they had in the past.
He thought to himself, well, what if I tried to design the best meeting or the best week then so we spend our time together as optimally as possible? And he did. And he came back and he thought to himself, wow, we got so much more done. There are things I would change. But this is the seems to have some, some legs to it. And so, after working on it more thinking about it more, he managed to craft a role for himself at Google, where he was actually going around from team to team like if you had a project, do you want it to start? Well, you could actually have Jake come kickstart your project.
And then Google Ventures caught wind of it and they thought, wow, it’d be really great for you to do that for portfolio companies. And so, he did and that’s how he and the other is a mass. So many great stories. that we find in the book. And so, they really road tested that thing and beat it and try to six ways to the sunset. And then that’s what we that’s the checklist we now have in the book and and then there are companies like Voltage Control and AJ&Smart and others that have tweaked the process and, and, you know, added little hacks and little riffs on things. And so, there’s kind of a discipline, a domain of kind of expertise and practices that that are have evolved out of out of what happened in the book. And it’s, it’s kind of a cottage industry, if you will, around around this around this work.
And I personally am really fascinated by the fact that it’s so powerful in so many different contexts. So if you look at the work in the book, and the types of Companies that Google Ventures invest in, there are very specific type of company, right software company in a very specific stage in the journey of the company. And the fact that it’s been able to kind of cross or transcend these different types of companies is different industries, these different, even different departments within the company is pretty powerful and I think fascinating to me.
And when people ask me, Well, how do you do design sprints for sales? Or how do you do design sprints for HR? My answer is always. It’s about the prototyping. And you have to apply the prototyping mindset because you’re not necessarily going to use Mural or, or Figma or Invision you, you might have to use other tools you might you had to get resourceful and creative, but ultimately thinking about what questions are we trying to answer? And who can answer them and what kind of interface Do we have to create So we can get those answers that we seek.
Steve Chaparro: So, what are some of the steps in within the design sprint? So, you know, we know that the Google venture model was five days, AJ&Smart has adapted it to what they call 2.0, which is four days. And you probably have somewhat of a similar version yourself. But what are some of the the overall agenda for that particular week?
Douglas Ferguson: Sure. Yeah. I mean, oddly enough, we still stick to the five day we find it, especially if you’re trying to have change within an organization, cultural change, that it’s good to take your time and really kind of seep yourself and have the experience and the methods for day can really work with agencies coming in and helping you get to some product design, and you’re really expecting them to deliver the results.
But if you’re going to do the work internally, I think the five day is still ideal. You can get away or four days, but really, you’re moving quickly. It’s just less time to for innovation. And I think now, the original format, five days, the first day, we’re going to map out our problem space. And so, we’re going to look at getting really aligned on a goal where we’re headed. We’re going to bring in some external experts, they might be internal to the company, but external to the sprint team. And we’re really curious about them listen to what they have to say, through our own conversations.
Within the sprint team, things we’re learning from the experts will start to map out the problem space so that we can kind of visually understand what we’re dealing with and what the kind of milestones are and this kind of journey at the user or, or any actor that’s interfacing with our product or service is going through, and at the end of the day, we’re going to pick a target on that map that we’re going to spend our time the rest of the week focusing on. On Tuesday, we will start off getting started By some malgus inspiration, some lightning demos, and then we’ll take that inspiration as well as all the work we’ve done on Monday to start individually sketching out solutions. On Wednesday, we’ll decide on what solution we’re going to prototype. And we’ll end the day making a storyboard to lock in all our decisions. So that on Thursday, we can go really heads down on building that prototype. There’s no more questions or decisions to make because it really locked it in. And then we would build it all in one day. And then on Friday, we test it with five users. So, it’s really about getting that prototype built, testing it so we can get the answers and ultimately insights.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, so I have a background in architecture and there’s a workshop format that we have used in our industry and it’s called a design charrette, and it’s basically you’re gonna heads down for three, four or five days. And you’re going to get you know, basically a prototype which is really schematic design in the world of architecture and get feedback from a client.
But what I’ve been fascinated about is, again, as you’ve said, how this can be used for so many different things. It’s not just product design. It’s not just service design, business model design, but you can actually prototype branding, marketing messaging, you can even prototype and internal policy. What’s been interesting, though, has been a little bit of pushback from like, say once particular space that I work in is civic innovation. And so, you’re working with city governments. And one in particular, the Office of civic innovation for the city of Long Beach is the in-house innovation consultancy. So, the idea of being able to spend four or five full days in one week for a, you know, basically a self-described bureaucrat has been really hard. And so, we’ve had to kind of pull different modules from that process.
Although, what I really love about the design sprint format is that you’re not just going to it and people love going to ideation and then just stopping there. They don’t take it to what the design sprint does. And it’s actually prototyping and then fully testing those things, which I think is a powerful sort of distinguisher. In within the design sprint.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I agree. And you know, even then people still can get stuck. You know, I talk about the design sprint slump in my book. And momentum isn’t important to me to really maintain because what if you have the luxury of getting, because it’s difficult, you know, to bring together a group and get them passionate and aligned on a vision and then start to make progress. And if you have that, then, you know, it’s worth the effort to make sure to maintain it. And I agree people can get together and throw ideas around.
But the layering and the constraints and the feasibility and these things can start to stop people in their tracks and I sent your earlier point around using bits and pieces of it, I absolutely love to think about and encourage people to take the mindset and borrow the philosophy and put that in their everyday meetings. In fact, we just launched our 10 meeting mantras this week. And a lot of them were inspired by things we learned in design sprints. And these are things that you can do in everyday meetings to change the way you work together. And I think design sprints are heavy artillery. If you don’t just do a five-day design sprint every week, it would not make sense. He wouldn’t get other things done.
Steve Chaparro: And physically, it’s impossible to do that every week.
Douglas Ferguson: It just yeah, it would grind you down. And so, it really does happen. And that’s why that problem framing stuffs so important. I would say, if you don’t have a big enough problem, then you know, that’s the number one reason why people start to get antsy about it being five days. So how do you usually really dig into that? Like, what is what is? What is it that’s causing you the heartburn around this five-day commitment? Is it – is the problem not big enough? Is it? Do you not have funding? Can you literally not afford it? And a lot of cases when people think they can’t afford it, it’s actually they can’t afford not to, because otherwise, you’re just going out of business slower?
Steve Chaparro: Yeah. Well, so I know you’ve worked with a lot of different companies, probably different industries as well. And I would imagine that there are some things that are probably required from a mindset perspective of leadership, that if they’re going to bring this process, either one into their team or two into their company, what are some push some areas of pushback that you’ve seen from leadership?
Douglas Ferguson: In the time commitment is a big one, we were just talking about that, you know. The interesting thing is I’ve seen a pretty big shift as far as a, the acknowledgement that design matters. And creation is a powerful thing. Open Innovation has gotten much more popular than closed innovation, you know, there’s like, there’s less and less of this mindset of, well, we got to keep our thing a secret. And more about, well, let’s, let’s share it and find out what we can learn.
And so that maybe that that’s I still see that to some degree where they, they feel that this is a real differentiator in the market. And so, you know, co creation or sharing the idea is difficult because they want to, they want to make sure they keep that close to the chest, you know, there are ways to work around it with like, testers being under NDA and whatnot, but, but it’s definitely a an issue also, you know, this this work and these concepts are completely predicated On this notion that you, you iterate quickly with small batches and test often and learn as much as you can. And if people are in a waterfall mindset, or they’re letting the regulations kind of rule them, if you will, then that can also get in the way and prevent, really seeing the benefits of what this stuff can offer.
And the thing is, the thing I recommend there is like, you know, there’s always there’s always leeway. And there and also, there’s a difference between the regulation and how we’ve reacted to the regulation historically. So really, having just having real conversations with folks and finding out what’s actually possible, given the new you know, the way things are today, and do we have to keep behaving the way we’ve always been behave or responding the same way we’ve always responded to those regulations. Are there new ways to interpret them or are new things that we can do to protect ourselves so that while we also still make use of this new kind of thinking.
Steve Chaparro: There’s been a lot of talk and I’m not sure if you’re I’m sure you are but familiar with the term VUCA this VUCA world and, you know, it’s, we are in this ever-changing world. It’s volatile, it’s uncertain. It’s complex, and it’s ambiguous. And the best practices that we’ve employed over say the last 20-30 years have served us well to get us here.
But as Marshall Goldsmith says, what got us here won’t get us there. And so, because things are changing so fast, I’ve noticed two things. One, the executives, the C suite is no longer the smartest layer of people in the company. I’m not there. Well, that may be the case as well, and two consultants. The subject matter experts are not necessarily Subject Matter Experts have a particular culture within an organization, and even a subject matter of just certain things out in the world, because I believe sometimes I’ve seen where consultants will come in, they will do all the work, all the research, determine the insights and strategies and even ideate and come up with the recommendations. And they leave this really thick recommendation, literally, you know, put it, the louder the thump the better for a consultant in terms of that strategic recommendation.
But then many times come because the companies themselves were not part of that process. I call it the birthing process of that strategy. They don’t understand why certain recommendations were made. So, they don’t know how to translate. And sometimes in conversation with the consultant, they may say, Man, that sounded really good and we’re having a conversation but when I actually have to go and implement it, like, I don’t remember anything we said, and so therefore, very small percentage of the recommendations get implemented. And then sometimes those strategies were based on circumstances that happened 12-18-24 months ago, and things have changed since then. So, what I’ve come to understand, and I love your thoughts on it, is there’s no better subject matter expert of an organization’s culture, then the employees. And so, what can we do to invite those employees into this process? How have you seen that being done at organizations that you’ve worked with?
Douglas Ferguson: I see it being done a lot at organizations we work with because that is completely how we work.
Steve Chaparro: That’s great.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. We have this, we like to refer to ourselves as we don’t bring the answers. We extract it.
Steve Chaparro: There you go. I love it. And I’ve used that word too. So yeah, fist bump,
Douglas Ferguson: Fist bump, boom. Yeah, you know, the that’s why I don’t love being called a consultant. You know, I agree with and I also believe strongly that people have to create things, if they want to have a deep sense of ownership, I don’t believe I don’t believe in buy in.
Because this whole notion of building buy in is I think, flawed. It’s like this idea that I’m going to come up with, come up with this amazing thing and then convince everyone that it’s great. So, making sure that everyone has contributed to the shaping of the solution means that they’re going to have a deep sense of ownership and connectedness to the solution, and then they’re going to support it. I could go into a lot of stuff there. I want to come back to the VUCA stuff, because I’m a huge fan of complexity. And I love this this concept. This is quote that’s like, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, and you don’t bring a cookie cutter solution to a complex problem. And so, what happens when an expert comes in, is they’re going to provide a cookie cutter solution because that’s what they do. They’re gonna lean in on their knowledge. And it’s the curse of knowledge, right? They can’t know what it’s not what it’s like to not know the things they know. And that’s gonna influence everything that they bring, as far as suggestions of how to operate.
Now if… and I would argue that if you if you do need consultants, because they’re going to provide context on some very complicated piece of equipment or machinery or process or protocol, then have them at the table. But they should not be the ones facilitating and designing the answer. They should be at the table so that they’re part of the diverse equation that you that and the diversity of thought that’s in the room. We like to talk about room intelligence, so you want them part of the room intelligence. But ideally, there’s a facilitator is unbiased and very skilled at like making sure that everyone has a voice and is comfortable and that we can make quick decisions and move forward as quickly as possible.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, there’s a and so part of this conversation, I’m just, I’m gonna say more things about things that I’ve been wrestling with and, and, and in you as a, as a user or tester of, of principles, I love to hear what you have to think about it. So, I, I come to the world of architecture. And I would say part of this best practices, whether it’s the last 3040 years or more, that a lot of the design of organizations is this top down, command and control, hierarchical type of structure. They know best, they’ve determined strategies, and just communicate downstream so that people just fall in line. I’ve come to think that with as generations start to get older, in even the millennial generation, and the Generation Z, that these younger generations are no longer going to talk about With maybe my generation, the Generation X generation kind of tolerated in the past, and they’re going to want to have, say, want to participate in the design. So, I believe, and again, using architecture language, I believe that leaders have to move from being architects of culture, to becoming facilitators of culture. How does that or does that not resonate with you?
Douglas Ferguson: Completely resonates. We’ve been talking a lot about how facilitation is the future of work. It’s not just about how we have to leave, it’s also going to be super important as more and more things become automated, as much as machine learning and AI began to take over certain things that are, frankly mundane and it’s great that we will have to do them. We’re really gonna have to lean on our human faculties, more. And what is the one roll that and the one methodology that is the most effective at helping us tap into? What’s most powerful about humans? That’s facilitation.
Steve Chaparro: Mm hmm. I mean, you this week, tomorrow is going to start three days of, of two master classes in one conference. It’s Control the Room. And it’s all about the art and science of facilitation. I mean, I had a creative director at a very large design agency, say, Hey, we realize that a lot of our clients now are want us to be more than just creatives where we do the work for them, they actually want to co-create with us. So, we need to become this triple threat of creative, a co-creative / facilitator and a coach, but we don’t know how to be good facilitators. Can you teach us and I’m still In a sense, I mean, we believe it, we believe we’ve been drinking the Kool Aid. But now I think people are starting to realize that the skill of facilitation is becoming more and more important. What have you heard? I mean, obviously, you believe this, but what have you heard in the marketplace about that skill?
Douglas Ferguson: Well, it’s less about, I don’t know if I’ve necessarily heard things. It’s just about what I’m observing. So, I’m seeing more companies build facilitation practices, or have facilitation training as part of an internal capability building. And one thing that’s really fascinating when you look at companies like Home Depot and Cisco and whatnot, that are building these facilitation practices with inside their company, is that once they start that those teams become swamped, because the other departments and groups that are starting to learn about them and Start to use them start to see the benefits and want more and more and more.
So that is telling in itself, the fact that these teams are just, you know, when they start to form and start to do the work that they just get. They’re just getting hammered with requests. That’s, that’s, that’s pointing out I need a very deep, deep pain and need that’s unfulfilled.
Steve Chaparro: So, let’s go into your book now. So, your book is called Beyond the prototype. What led you to write this book?
Douglas Ferguson: After doing countless design sprints for companies, I started to, you know, notice a trend. And then after I thought about the trend more, I realized that you know, I’ve seen this before, not just out of design sprints, and even though I tell the story from the perspective of design sprints, it is really applicable to anytime that you’re getting together to ideate or think about solutions
You know, we’re in the before we started the chat, you know, you were telling me about how people can get really excited about ideas. And, and then they can, it can go nowhere. And, you know, hackathons are maybe the worst example. You know, it’s like, I don’t even know. I mean, it’s like, okay, sure, it might be a fun way to meet people over the weekend. But what really comes out of it right? Or some great way to market your new API, just get people to hack on it and use it.
And but I think real innovation and real work requires perseverance and persistence. And, you know, you have to drill. Sometimes people get lucky. But I mean, it’s very, very rare. Most of the time you come out of a design sprint with more questions, and you start it with and so there’s this there was a rule book or Handbook of how to how to do that. And so I thought, why don’t I make a swing at this and ultimately, I was less interested. interested in coming up with the right answers and more interested in starting a conversation and trying to put myself at the epicenter of that conversation or as close to it as I could, so that I could start to understand even some of the struggles that I wasn’t seeing and, and start to have a dialogue about, well, how did other people fix this and how my I have approached it and whatnot. And so, so far, it’s been a really amazing journey.
We’ve done, you know, half a dozen or more workshops for beyond the prototype where we’ve looked at what where people are getting stuck and what they’re doing about it. And so that’s been really fascinating and actually starting to work on version two of the book just got just got a publishing deal out of the Netherlands, and really excited to incorporate some of some of those learnings but I think a lot of it’s still holds true. It’s just I got some new stuff to share. And some, some tweaks to make it maybe a little more a little more digestible for some folks. And, you know, coming back to that point around, you know, everyone is finding themselves in the slump, post design sprint. And I noticed develop these six steps are things to think about post design sprint.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, I love the graphic that you have in the book. So, it’s a show like a spectrum. So, on one hand, it’s the ideas and many times that’s where it stops. But then on the other extreme is, is the outcomes. And so that six steps, basically is the bridge between those two and you say that the first one is wrap it up. What is what do you mean by wrap it up is the first step?
Douglas Ferguson: A pitfall a lot of people fall into is assuming the design sprint is the thing and a lot of that expectation comes from the rhetoric around Oh, you’ll get six months of results in one week. And while that can be true, we had to also make sure that people understand that there’s still a lot of work to do after the design sprint, you’re not going to have code ready designs, there’s going to be more discovery and work to do to understand what it is that you need to build and and how to meet the user where they’re at. And that’s what wrapping up is all about.
It’s about looking at what were our sprint questions, and which ones were answered and which ones were not answered. How do we go about revising the prototype? And getting to more clarity and specific insights or an answer on those questions? Also, when we ran the interviews, did we surface Any other questions? Is there anything else that we’re kind of unclear on or we need to drill down more on then we want to go we’ll go there as well.
And often some people will call that an iteration sprint, and sometimes you got to do three four or five iteration Sprint’s in the case of Twila. we iterated quite a bit on this one feature that, you know, showed a lot of promise, but the user didn’t trust it. They’re like, Oh, this is that’s interesting, but I don’t know, what are they up to? Please? Like, please guys do and they’re trying to like to trick me. It’s like sounds too good to be true. All these kinds of things, right. And so basically, we just kept iterating on the treatment and the, the, the, tweaking the pricing a little bit tweaking the language until finally, we just got consistent, like, Oh, yeah, that looks great. I totally do that. And so yeah, the wrap it up pieces, like before we even, like we, we know, we want to move forward on this thing. We’ve the momentum is great; we need to lean in on it. But if we don’t get to specificity around what this thing is and what the build is, then like we’re gonna we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re gonna go back to old practices and probably do it wrong.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, I think that’s so important. You know, whether it’s, you know, people call it a debrief or even group reflection I like in even in one- or two-day workshop, I’ve seen how valuable it is. have just that time to, you know, when we talk about tension and release is that release a reflection period where you can just kind of, you know, we’ll wrap up what was done, but consider all the lessons that were learned throughout that particular engagement.
Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely, we just, we just launched our many mantras, and one of them is debrief for durability. And I think it’s important to debrief on every meeting. And if you’re doing a workshop, you can totally debrief on every activity. Sometimes that doesn’t make sense, because activity is going to build upon each other. But there definitely should be punctuation throughout the day that you’re allowing debrief for two reasons.
One, you want to make sure that the lesson landed, especially if they’re actually going to, there’s some learnings or there’s some synthesis that needs that’s happening, then if you don’t debrief, it’s not going to stick because that’s how people learn. It’s like having the reflection moment and then also to make sure we’re all aligned, which leads into the next step which is sharing the story because we were in the same meeting, it should sound like it. And if you disband your design sprint team, and they all go back, and because this is a diverse team, so they’re all going back to different parts of the company, and they’re out there saying slightly different things, then that doesn’t create a very robust outcomes, not very resilient, because people will hear different things and they’ll say, well, these guys don’t have their act together. What are they even doing? Like they said this, she said that, and even if you mean the same thing, if it’s not, if it’s not super consistent, and may not be as coherent.
And then the other reason that you want to kind of really think about crafting that narrative, and what it is you’re going to say is that if you don’t have something prepared and rehearsed, then you might go to an emotional spot. And so, someone says, how was it then it was like, Oh, it was a lot of fun. A lot of fun is my kryptonite. Like I want people to have fun but if that’s what they’re telling everyone in the organization that’s not going to lead to cultural change. Because the point is not to just come have a lot of fun. The point is to come do the best work we can together in the field, like we’re doing everything we can to utilize everyone’s strengths. And when we do that everyone feels super empower and, like, actually worthwhile, like, it’s important to feel that that sense of self-worth.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, I think I think that empowerment, you know, like, man, we did something awesome. It was hard work. We are we are tired as all get out. Because we exerted a lot of mental emotional, physical energy, but it’s like, you know, you look like you’re, you’re a guy that works out you’re after you’ve had a good workout. You’re really tired and spent but it just feels good. Because you know, you were really productive.
Douglas Ferguson: Right. And if you don’t think about what it meant to be productive and what the real meaning is there. That needs to be conveyed, then you’re going to go to that emotional slash physical space. And that’s going to be your answer. So that’s why we think it’s really important to end your workshop with a really solid narrative building closer or planet like really quickly after maybe it’s the following Monday or something. Just to make sure everyone’s aligned, we talk about what it is. And that way, when you get stopped at the watercooler, you can just you got it ready.
Steve Chaparro: Alright, so that’s share your story. And the third step is to chart the course.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, you know, once you’ve kind of wrapped it up and you’re thinking about what you’re telling people about what you did, and, and what all that means, you know, really thinking about next steps and getting really clear on you know, things like your, your governance, structure, your metrics around how you’re going to measure success and failure. real big fan of user story mapping from Jeff Patton. That’s a really great way to kind of map out like the roadmap if you will, because, you know, roadmaps are kind of tricky business, especially with startups, right? It’s like, ultimately, you just have a big backlog you’re trying to chew on, and you don’t really know, when anything is gonna be released, like anyone who has like a one-year roadmap with lots of fidelities, like, kidding themselves, right?
And so, thinking about it from a user journey perspective, and what are the kind of what are the kind of, I would say, table stakes or like, what, what are the must haves? Like, I really like this combination of Moscow and user journey, right, which is kind of how I think about user story mapping, right? Because it’s like, he’s got this notion of like kind of prioritizing each step of the way, all the things that could be at that step. And then you kind of draw this line at you must haves, right? So those go build the journey out but only build as deep as you need to, to really kind of meet the user need or that you Pain and I think that can be really fascinating way to think about taking some of this to life because it’s often the prototype you tested design sprint will not have the entire journey identify and you know, there’s it’s you’ve kind of gotten, you got into something that has value, something you can work on there’s going to be kind of missing pieces that need to be fleshed out and so really kind of mapping that stuff out was important.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah, I love this next one because you know, as a company is possibly embracing a new approach to solving their complex problems for the first time. They’ve seen success and their first whatever was a design sprint or some series of design thinking workshops. The next one is expand your inner circle. So, I have an idea of what your what you mean by this but share with what you’re talking about there.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. Well design sprint is typically seven people or so and often after a design sprint, there are other people you need to consider. For instance, let’s say that we had no idea that this project was going to require AI or ml or artificial intelligence or machine learning. And you in the course of working through this work, you realize like oh, wow, there’s a real opportunity for us to do some really special stuff here. Then we need to talk to the data science team and get them on board now because there’s, there’s some there’s some stuff that we don’t fully understand. And they need to be part of this as stakeholders.
Often you don’t know what you’re going to find before a design sprint, and after and so after the design sprint, you realize what it is you’re building and so you realize, wow, there’s I know I need to involve these other people now. And maybe even ahead of time you might know who these people might be. But, but certainly after design Sprint’s should be pretty clear that well, we need to we need to get some other people involved. We need to build some, you know, some advocates See, around this, this work that we’re doing.
Another thing to consider too is often the design sprint will reveal. If it’s truly innovative, the solution that you discovered, it may not have a home in the organization based on our business units and the structure of how we break down departments and stuff, there may not be a VP or director who this would neatly fall under. And so, then we have to think about well, who and the cross-cutting matrix, etc., whatever is even remotely tied to this and let’s convene a conversation. So, you just had to think about, you know, like, from a racing standpoint, who all you need to bring into the circle because, you know, it’s gonna be more than the seven that’s for sure.
Steve Chaparro: Yeah. And I think also when you’re when you’re able to, so one, you need to expand it to include other people that you didn’t have in there before that you realize you now need. But I think another thing that I was thinking about in this particular area, too, is use that as you start to share that story and tell people Hey, this is what we did. It was fantastic. It helped us, you know, achieve some pretty great outcomes. And then other people start to see kind of like what you were saying about facilitation, when there’s a facilitation practice within an organization. People start to see the light, if you will, and they start to embrace it. But it has to almost start at a very small level. And then from a grassroots perspective grow organically versus someone saying at the top, this is how we’re going to do things.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I you know, it’s interesting anytime that there’s a top down initiative, this is how we’re going to do things that I feel like that can only works well if we take kind of a kata approach where it’s like, Okay, this is where we want to go, but you guys figure out how to do it and then the team organically increments there were there that can be that can work, which is great because leadership setting the direction.
So, everyone feels unified understands their mission, their purpose. But then they’re given the autonomy, autonomy to kind of like, like, just evolve their way there that can that can be powerful. Also, I guess this is a nice segue to cultivate the culture, which is another section. And because what you’re describing is, is exactly what I, what I discussed in that chapter, which is this work. To be truly transformative to organizations means that we need to change the way we think about the way we work together, and how we meet, and frankly, how we get work done.
And in fact, you know, I like to bring these kinds of mindsets and these ways of working into everyday meetings. And one of our favorites is no prototype, no meeting, which our mantra is Do the work in the meter. If there’s a, if we just have a meeting to meet. I don’t, I don’t know who if it’s even more worth the time, right and people talk about. It’s funny when people talk about, we don’t have time for a five-day design sprint. And it’s like, I’m always really curious, like, I’d love to see your calendar and think about, like, how that time is being invested. And you should think about it as an investment. In fact, I love the calendar plugins that calculate the cost of a meeting. And this shows you the price of the meeting before you can, you know, it’s a little extra like confirmation box, where you have to see that and decide if you’re going to do it.
And really fascinated by the stuff that Zappos is doing, where they’ve kind of they’re evolving away from holacracy into this kind of, they call it market driven dynamics. And basically, it’s like each team has a p&l, and they had to create a list of services and they’ll negotiate a rate and rates with other parts of the organization. And so, if you want to, if you want me to work on something with you, then You that’s gonna come out of your budget. And so you really think about how you consume resources within the company so that, you know, this meeting, this meeting calendar pricing, like pop up is kind of similar in that regard, right? Like, let’s get really conscious about how we’re investing our time in these gatherings and make them as powerful as possible. And it’s not that we’re talking about going beyond just like, Oh, do we have an agenda? And do people show up on time? It’s like, no, let’s think about how we craft the agenda in a way that unleashes everyone.
Steve Chaparro: Right. And I think one thing to really, for people to understand to about a concentrated, say, a design sprint of four or five days, you know, not every single person is going to be literally dedicating eight hours per day every day. But I think I think what you can achieve in one week, you know, some people have said, you can achieve what might normally take on a calendar three to six months. Because of just how long it takes for projects to get rolling, and I think that’s the value that many people don’t understand is yes, you may have to dedicate five days in a given week for seven people , that’s where they do the math, or they don’t do the math is you’re actually shorting a product, you know, cycle time of three to six months down to that one week. How have you explained that to people in the past?
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I mean, I think he did a great job just now. And we’ve, you know, we’ve got a little ROI deck that kind of explains some of these things. And actually, I have this really a model to show it to you. It’s a little postcard we made and essentially it shows you what happens when you build software based on hunches and assumptions, and then get it wrong, and then have to iterate. And we call that the MVP model.
So, if you take the MVP model, you build something you test it, and then you tweak it and iterate. It’s a lot better than going waterfall and like taking a year to go build the best thing you can imagine and then realizing it’s all wrong. But even better, is if you create a simulation of it, and test that. And the best way for medium to large, giant companies to get to the point where they can build prototypes is by bringing the people together to make the rapid decisions.
And so this is kind of like explaining those scenarios and the cost tradeoffs. And you know, you’re right, a lot of people are looking at the direct labor costs, when they should be looking at opportunity costs. What can they gain? What is the upside for this investment, again, coming back to that investment, because at the end of the day, they’re still making a lot of investments and meetings like in the time that people were spending just day to day and how well is that investment paying off versus what the upside of this other approach could be? I think That’s how people should think about it.
Steve Chaparro: So, the very last step is get guidance. What’s that all about?
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I’ve always been a huge believer and proponent of mentorship. And listen to the people who have done it before. You know, Jake plays an amazing path. There’s a lot of great stuff in the book. There’s certainly a lot of forums and great content out there. We’ve got a blog that where we’re constantly providing tips and new ways of thinking about
Steve Chaparro: It’s an awesome blog. Absolutely love it is some really practical tips on that blog. So, thank you for that.
Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely. And, and certainly, you know, like, you could get a coach you could, you could find someone in your organization that’s maybe done some facilitation before. There’s mentors out there that you know, might be able to just help you out. Plenty of people like to give to pay it forward, if you will. And of course, there’s lots of coaches like Daniel and I, Daniel Stillman, who’s going to be running the masterclass is with me this week and speaking at the conference. And, and then of course, you know, I’m a big believer in external facilitators. That’s why I started my agency.
And so, you know, if there’s budget, highly recommend bringing an external facilitator because your team can focus on the hard work of creating the solutions and driving outcomes. And, and you can have someone that’s external focused on the process, the methodology, keeping the time allocated, and everyone paying attention to all the nuance to make sure everyone’s has space and whatnot. And I think that’s very critical. And that is a way to have even more momentum potentially even avoid the slump entirely. Because you kind of vested in this front and you know, people with experience around this stuff also can help you set some things up from expectations that also help you kind of not kind of veer into the pit, if you will.
Steve Chaparro: Appreciate it. Thank you so much. This has been fantastic stuff. I hope that people can reach out to you. We’ve been talking to Douglas Ferguson, the president of Voltage Control and the author of the book, Beyond the Prototype. So, Douglas, if people want to learn more about you, where can they go?
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, just come to voltagecontrol.com. Lots of stuff there, writings and resources you can download and, and also the book’s at beyondtheprototype.com.
Steve Chaparro: Alright, Douglas, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
Douglas Ferguson: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.
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