How a 5-Day Prototype Resulted in Record Sales

Adopting Google’s Product Design Sprint

I stole from Google.

Google’s doing a lot of things right. Not everything, but a lot. Their design sprint process is one of those things: a design-thinking centred approach to product development. I trialled the 5 day product development sprint with digital products at TheFARM. Since then, we’ve adopted it as a new way of working. Here’s why, and what we’ve learned in the process.

Why Do It?

Complex Problems Require Different Approaches.

It would be naive to think that TheFARM — or any agency— could work in isolation and reach a brilliant solution to a complex problem. It’s not a factor of time: solving complex problems is only achieved by fully understanding why a problem exists. It was critical to choose a technique that allowed us to view the whole problem.

Define Purpose, Not Requirements.

Purpose focuses teams in ways that requirements documents can’t. In this new process, agency and client are forced to focus sharply on the purpose of the work. What makes your heart beat faster? Redesigning a film festival ticketing website? Or: designing an experience that captures the very smell the movie theatre popcorn — and in turn — inspires ticket sales?

Bringing Other Perspectives Into The Work, Sooner.

There’s no room for a process that leave out the user. People expect a lot — localisation, personalisation, “Uberisation” — of their online experiences. Prior to this process, we were spending a lot of time ensuring we were delivering what the client required, and very little time figuring out what the user wanted. This ultimately fails the client and the user. Getting upstream and understanding clients’ business objectives, while simultaneously understanding the user’s pain points and expectations, encourages teams to design things people actually want to use.

Diversity Trumps Ability

Too often, teams — and clients — are restricted by their ‘role.’ We want to de-silo client and agency teams and empower them to make decisions for maximum impact. Research on problem solving shows that when choosing problem solvers, diversity trumps ability. We want to promote problem solving diversity, because we want to propose not just a solution, but the best solution.

There is No “Consumer”

Too often our industry relies on research from ‘research agencies:’ reports that are sold for thousands of dollars by sources who have a vested interest in telling you what you want to know. About the “consumer.” There are no consumers. Only people. Getting the team to talk to people; to hear the frustration in their voice when they talk about using a product or service, helps build empathy — a key ingredient for good design — in ways that reading a report or seeing a bar graph simply cannot.

The Sprint

The product design sprint is a process that Google calls a “greatest hits of business strategy, innovation, behaviour science, design thinking”, to eliminate endless debates and compress months of work into one week. In 5 days, we go from problem definition to prototype.

We adopted the process to do three things:

  1. Bring diverse perspectives into our process, sooner
  2. Improve output
  3. De-silo & empower client and agency teams

Ultimately: we want to build something with our clients — a journey built on trust, transparency, and a leap of faith. Full disclosure: you have to be ready to shake up internal process — ironically, replacing it with one that builds in more uncertainty, rather than less. Our instinct was that this calculated risk would foster a different, better output than before.

We work in 5 day sprints, with senior level clients sitting alongside developers, strategists, producers, and creatives. We advocate strongly for 5 consecutive days of working together with decision makers on the client side, because there is no motivator like momentum. We want to work faster, better, and more effectively than ever before.

The Outcome

I’m not going to lie: It’s a rush. We’re dealing with the unknown. Instead of a client walking in & waiting for ‘the big reveal’ — we’re all walking into something where we don’t know exactly what the outcome is — and in that way, it is exciting. We work fast, decisively, and with an eye for execution.

In terms of the output — our instinct was right. We just launched Sydney Film Festival as an output of this process. We understood user perspectives not from reading research, but from talking to people. We defined the most important user story, and the metrics for success, on Day 1. Our key metric? Ticket sales. On launch day, Sydney Film Festival debuted their single biggest day of ticket sales in 60 years.

We’re going beyond technical briefs and instead solving business problems — thanks to brave clients who are willing to go on that journey with us. And the risk, has rewards. Sydney Film Festival, our inaugural design sprint client, had their single biggest opening day of ticket sales in 60 years. It works.

Clients are more engaged than ever before. It’s a testament to TheFARM’s client services team that they value transparency over working in a black box: the thought of a truly transparent workshop with clients would send many a client services person screaming from the room. No number of WIPs, one-day workshops, or 3 martini lunches can compare to the level of interaction that we’re getting over 5 days of intensive problem solving. It creates friction.

There’s still work to do, particularly in the transition from sprint to production. It’s not a one-size-fits-all-solution, and there’s certain projects that require a different approach. We’ve gotten better at capturing our sprint output in a product charter, but we’re still looking for ways to improve. Letting oxygen, and light into the ways we work, will make it better: your feedback, and questions on this process, are welcome.

What processes have you used to engage clients in new ways?

Thanks to Roger Gehrmann, Kirsten Dunlaevy, and Dave Langridge for reading drafts of this.

sydney via seattle. believer. growth @futuresuper. ex strategy @forthepeopleau. experimenting with writing.

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