Innovation Podcast: Sparks to change the world – Design Sprint Process

Francois Capel: Sparks to change the world. Innovation podcast. Hello everyone and welcome, you are listening to Sparks to change the world, the innovation podcast in French. I’m François Capel and today we’re going to talk about Methodology and not just any Methodology as we’re talking about the design sprint process.

What is the purpose of the design sprint process? How does it work? Why use it or not? What do we do with it? So many questions that I entrusted the task of answering to a fervent evangelist of the method, I named Stéph Cruchon. Hello Steph! It’s a great honour to have you on the mic.

Stéph Cruchon : Hi François Capel. Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

François Capel: So, we’re going to spend the next hour talking about Design Sprint process, if you don’t mind, but first I’d like you to introduce yourself. Who are you, Steph Cruchon?

Stéph Cruchon : So, my name is Stéph Cruchon, it’s my real name, but everyone knows me as Steph. I’m a designer, so I’m more of a digital designer at first. I worked for about ten years in the world of agencies, more in the web, in the development of mobile applications.

And then, for the last five years, I’ve been involved in the Design Sprint adventure, which is… well, we’ll explain it in more detail, but it’s a methodology for co-creation and innovation. And so I’ve been going from company to company for five years. We spend whole weeks in workshops and it’s very exciting. I am the founder of Design Sprint LTD, which is one of the companies that specializes in the methodology. And that’s it. I live in Switzerland, in the Lausanne area.

François Capel: You don’t only do that. You’re organizing a really big event in 2020, right?

Stéph Cruchon: That’s right. Yes, it’s just… We created an event called Itoday, Innovation today which was supposed to take place physically in 2020 at PFL, but there was a little health problem in 2020. As a result, the event became partly online. And then, we have very, very good hopes of doing it, of doing like a physical part this summer, in August, with a smaller group of people of 50-80 people per day. So, in August 2021 we will host Itoday masterclasses. And there you go, we do a lot of things in the field of innovation, just like you.

François Capel: Cool. I also suggest to the speakers that I have on my mic that they introduce themselves in hashtags. If there were hashtags that would characterize you, what would they be?

Stéph Cruchon: Hashtag design sprint? Swiss hashtag, I think it describes me well. Curious hashtag. That’s it.

Design Sprint

François Capel: OK, so, design sprint process? We’re going to talk about design sprint today. Tell me if you’re going to explain it to someone who doesn’t know. What is a design sprint process? What is it for?

Stéph Cruchon: I’ve just come up with a brand new metaphor which is extremely new, but I’m very proud of it. Design sprint process, for me, is SpaceX versus NASA. Let me explain.

In fact, in any innovation project, these are often quite large projects, which are expensive, and which require very specific skills, people. You have to get people from different fields to work together, sometimes with partners. These are always complicated projects to launch. And I call them NASA projects, i.e. going to Mars, projects that are very expensive, that take a long time and that are difficult to carry out. And now NASA is using SpaceX to carry out its space missions. Their mission is only to send the spacecraft into space. To do some initial orbiting of the project before going to Mars.

I think that a good way of understanding the role of a design sprint process in an innovation project is a workshop which lasts a week, so five days which we do at the very beginning of a project. The idea is to gather the right people around the table who will have an important role to play in the project. A mix of skills, technical people, marketing people, design people, business people, etc., and get them to work on this initial problem.

In five days, we’ll align ourselves with the needs, we’ll imagine solutions, we’ll vote for the best solutions, we’ll prototype these best solutions, we’ll make a rapid prototype and we’ll test them on real users or real customers on day 5 of the sprint. And the idea is really to launch this project in the best possible way, to learn at the end of the week what worked and what needs to be rethought before launching the project and investing larger budgets. It’s a quick way to risk projects. It’s also a quick and efficient way of aligning people and getting started on innovation themes that are complex and sometimes unclear at the outset, because we don’t know exactly where we’re going.

François Capel: And so what configuration should you be in to justify or start a design sprint? What is the job that the company that is going to ask you to do a design sprint, what configuration should it be in?

Stéph Cruchon: There are two ways of approaching a design sprint process. We now work a lot with corporates, large companies, or a company is faced with a problem that is difficult to solve by a single person or that requires a lot of thought, or that is really a very important problem. One of the problems can also be that they are blocked, they are paralyzed, they can’t move forward or otherwise, a little more optimistic view, I would say.

It’s that there’s a great opportunity that appears. And then, the company says to itself: We’re going to invest a week to explore this opportunity, give it the maximum of chances and then learn at the end of this week whether or not it’s worth investing greater resources and continuing, and to really make it a real project. It’s these two scenarios.

When not to run a design sprint

François Capel: And so, conversely, are there any configurations in which a design sprint process should not be used?

Stéph Cruchon: Yes, a lot in fact. That is to say that the design sprint is not going to replace all projects or become the innovation method for all projects. I would say anything that touches, any problem that can be solved by one or two very smart people who think in their office for a few days or a few weeks, it doesn’t deserve a design sprint process because at that point, you give the keys of the problem to the person and the person will find a solution.

The design sprint will work very well when it’s a problem, sometimes emotional or political or very complex, where you need a variety of expertise. Another reason why you wouldn’t need to do a design sprint process is for a very technical problem where there’s a bit of a fake. The result of an equation, that’s not worth it. And also, all the projects that don’t necessarily have a budget. It’s clear that putting 7 or 8 people in a room for a week to think about a theme has a certain cost and it has to be done for important projects, that is to say projects which will last several months, or even several years, and with budgets. I don’t recommend doing a design sprint process for a project with a budget of less than 100,000 francs, less than 100,000 francs of potential investment during the project. Below that, we are dealing with something relatively limited and it’s not worth launching an approach like that.

François Capel: So, if you run a design sprint, what is the result you should expect or could expect to have at the end, at the end of a design sprint process?

Stéph Cruchon: the result will really depend on the theme. In fact, the greater the challenge, the greater the impact of the result. That’s what you have to understand. You can do a design sprint. Initially, it came from the digital world. It was for launching apps or digital products.

I didn’t say it, but the design sprint process was invented at Google. It’s the innovation method used internally at Google. And we realized that the design sprint can respond to strategic issues, to real business issues, to marketing issues, etc. It can have a very significant impact on the development of a product. It can have a very significant impact, even in government now. Governments are starting to use design sprint process to solve major problems. In fact, the design sprint should be seen as an experiment, as a test.

We’re going to get together around a very important challenge. We’ll try to find solutions together. We will prototype them very quickly and test these solutions. This is the beginning of something new. The power of the method is not just that we’ll stop sticking Post-it notes and imagining things, it’s that we’ll really prototype them, making them as tangible as possible. Sometimes you get things that look like a finished product, especially if it’s a digital product. We can have a real fake app, a real fake website that will present the service approach, etc. And then we’ll know at the end of the week whether it has potential or not.

So, it can go from simply exploring an idea and realizing that it wasn’t the right one and the right way to having a product already, which can then start the construction phase directly at the end of the script.

François Capel: Design Sprint is described step by step in a book called Sprint. It comes from there. We just showed it to you…

Stéph Cruchon: You don’t have the video. Imagine that you have been shown it.

The Sprint book

François Capel: In fact, this book is quite extraordinary, because I find that… the method is described step by step, in a precise way. So precise that at the end of the book, there’s a checklist with even what food to bring for the workshops. And yet, the question I want to ask you is: is it enough to have read the book to run a design sprint process?

Stéph Cruchon: Yes and no. In fact, it all depends on whether you have the right person to lead it or not. The method in the book is great and it works if you have the right person to lead it, to prepare it and to organize it and if you have the right people around the table.

In fact, I would say that the method will account for a third of the success of the sprint, another third is the quality of the starting challenge or the starting problem, hence its interest. And then, the last third is the quality of the sprint facilitator as a person and as an experience.

So, for my part, I had a bit of a stroke of luck when I discovered sprinting, that I was the right type of person to lead it. That is to say that I already had more than ten years of experience in User Experience Design, i.e. UX Design, on projects that were often large, big websites, big applications, innovation projects, so I had a background that allowed me to understand the interest of the method. Then, there is also a certain… I don’t know how to explain it, but a certain… Between people, you have to be able to explain things. You have to be able to be in front of people, to energize them, this side, a bit of a teacher, a bit of a teacher, to pique people’s interest a bit, and then you either have it or you don’t.

There is the experience of the facilitator, and then there is the ability to communicate, which is very important.

François Capel: Okay. I wanted to talk a little bit about you, now let’s get into the method. So, as I said, it’s good, it’s very well described in the book. And so, the interest is not to go back, to say what was written in the book, that’s not the goal.

Nevertheless, for those who are listening to us and who don’t know the method, I wanted to see if you’d like to explain the process a little. The Design Sprint is a problem-solving method which is done in five days: on Monday, we map the problem. On Tuesday, we propose solutions. On Wednesday, we agree on which solution we choose. On Thursday, we make a prototype and on Friday, we get feedback from customers on our prototype. Have I summarized it correctly? Very roughly?

Stéph Cruchon: it’s great and in fact, it’s much better than me explaining it. I understand that is not, I leave it a little,

Design Sprint Day 1 – Map

François Capel: But I cheat, it’s written. On Monday we map the situation. In short, what does that mean? Mapping the situation?

Stéph Cruchon: So, this is clearly the most difficult day. But in fact, to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. That’s the basis of things. When I come to a design sprint, I always say to the team: Help me.

Basically, I come with the method, with… I know how to design products, I know how to design services, etc. So, I’m going to help you with this design process, but you are the experts in your field. And that’s something that’s really key. In 2021, as I speak, it is no longer possible to hire just one or two mercenaries from an agency and tell them: we’d like a new product that does this and then they’ll come up with the genius idea. Why? Because we know we’re not going to be able to do it. Because we know we have to solve it.

It’s so specific and so sharp that you have to work with the best experts in the world in the field who are the people we work with. So we’ve done as many sprints with cosmetic brands, with people in factories for chemical safety. We did sprints in the banking and trading world and we worked with experts.

This first day, we’re going to ask them to basically unpack everything they know about the problem, to say: we’re stuck on this project because for this reason, this reason and then there’s a competitor who appeared and then there’s Covid, we’re going to list all the problems. It’s almost a negative day. A bit sad. Because I’m a bit like a dentist who opens the patient’s mouth and looks for cavities. So we’re really going to try to find out what’s stuck. What is blocking?

But it is very important for the rest of the process that everyone expresses themselves. And also something extremely important in the design sprint is that we sign, of course, confidentiality agreements and very important things are said during these moments, during these sprints. So, people feel confident and, as a result, give out the real information, which is very rarely done in companies in general, even when we go to hackathons or when we do approaches like that, a bit of innovation.

People never talk about the real problems, they never show figures and never say what’s wrong. Whereas in the sprint, we’re a small team of seven or eight very specialised people and we really talk about what’s wrong.

François Capel: On Monday, you get the team to deliver the problem. The team does not have to think about a problem before calling you?

Stéph Cruchon: Yes, it is. Because you don’t come for nothing. So, there must already be a… In fact, the problem is going to be typically typical. It’s a bank. There is a new start-up that appears, for example the Revolut bank, which is a completely online bank that talks to young people. And then I am a good, very traditional Swiss bank and then I say to myself how I react to this bank. It would be a good example for me. A good sprint challenge is how should we react to this new market disruption?

So we go in with this basic problem. And then, for a day, the people who are there will share their knowledge, their feelings, what they have learned, and perhaps what they have been looking for before the sprint. And we’re going to share the information as much as possible so that we can do something useful with it during the week.

The Map

François Capel: So one thing I didn’t really understand in the book, which is very detailed, and yet I didn’t really understand that aspect. It’s this map thing.

Stéph Cruchon : Yes, the map.

François Capel: Yes, you kind of agree with me. I feel like it’s a little bit fuzzy in that aspect. At least when you read it.

Stéph Cruchon: You are absolutely right. That’s why sprinting is not an easy task to facilitate because there are things, it’s really User Experience design techniques that are not given to everyone. I know Jake Knapp well so far.

So Jake Knapp, the inventor of the design sprint at Google, has become a friend. And then, when I met him, one of the first things he asked me, he said: What did you think of the book? And so on. I said: it’s great and just this part of the map where I, well, that’s complicated for me, actually. And then he said: yes, indeed, it’s not a part that we described very well, but in fact, it’s familiar to UX Designers.

In fact, the idea is : Everything that’s said on Monday, it’s not enough to just listen to it and write it down on a Post-it. You have to try to make the issue tangible and visual. That’s the goal. And this experience map, we’re going to try to put ourselves in the customer’s place and map out, in fact, how the customer is going to hear about the product or the service, how he’s going to discover it, how he’s going to start using it? And then, how will they promote it or talk about it?

It’s not just talking about it, but making it visual, putting it on a wall or something and making it tangible. And that will allow, in fact, to prioritise the problems. Because if you have four very important problems, and you think they’re at the same level of importance, but in fact you place them chronologically on this map, you’ll immediately see the most important problem, which is the one at the very beginning of the experience or which is going to… if you haven’t solved that problem, you won’t even be able to get to the next problem. You know what I mean? And it’s a tool that’s, that’s super key, that’s just beautiful, but you have to execute it. It’s one of the hardest things to facilitate in the sprint, but great.

François Capel: Do you think he’s going to rewrite the book to better explain this or not? Is there a 2.0 version of Sprint planned or not?

Stéph Cruchon: So, on the subject of the map, if you go to the Spring Book site, the Design Sprint site, there is a little addition called the Note-n-map and, modestly, it’s our exercise in fact. It’s us who brought this innovation to the map, which is an exercise that we used to do and that Jake, as a result, has integrated more or less into his methodology, now and then which is going to be just a means, a little more guided to carry out this map. So, yes, it is possible to carry it out in a more step-by-step way and that’s what we did.

Design Sprint Day 2 – Sketch

François Capel: Great. And so, on Tuesday, we propose solutions through sketches, drawings or diagrams. Can you tell us more about it?

Stéph Cruchon: Yes, it’s a great day because it’s actually a bit of a creativity day. So, after this first day, which is always a bit sad because we only talked about what’s wrong.

This is the day that makes everyone much more excited because, in fact, we… Excited, I don’t know if it’s the right word, excited, I have the word in English but you see the thing, much happier to participate.

François Capel: I think it’s true what you say, because in the workshops, there is an energy that comes out that is not present in the other working meetings.

Stéph Cruchon: Completely. It’s that once we’ve told you roughly, that’s what we defined together. That’s what the problems are, we discovered them, we discovered the cavity. It’s just a pleasure to go and put a filling in.

That’s the thing. We know what to do and then, what’s great about this second day, is that it’s the creativity day. We’re going to imagine solutions, but we’re not going to do it like we would in a brainstorming mode where people shout out solutions, throw post-its, I’m schematizing but sometimes it looks a bit like that. We’re going to do it very calmly with the work alone together technique, which means that all the participants are going to work a bit in their own corner with the same starting information, but they’re going to develop their own strategy or their own ideas, their own solutions separately, in the same format.

So, we explain exactly what we expect at the end of the day. We call it a concept board, solution sketch and each person, in fact, will go their own way. They will produce their own solution and we still have time to do it. So, we’ll spend a day working out solutions which are not just something written on a Post-it, but which are very often quite sharp and quite solid, and which can give rise to new products or new services or ambitious projects. And that’s day 2.

François Capel: So, the team must have already done a little bit of research on potential solutions before going into this day?

Stéph Cruchon: Actually, that’s a very good question. Often, people come to a sprint with a certain number of preconceived ideas because some of them have been working on it for months or even years. So they already have all their personal knowledge and desires, things they wanted to test anyway. But there is also everything that we discovered by listening to each other on the first day. Because in companies, what happens, I see it more and more, in fact, I’ve been going to companies of different sizes for five years.

But there’s something that comes up all the time, and that is that people don’t talk to each other. I’m appalled at the extent to which companies with 1,000 employees that have all the best people in the world in the field, but don’t share information within the company. The simple fact of spending a day with people from other departments who have knowledge themselves and sharing it will generate ideas that are often much more powerful because we know how to listen and we have the same knowledge. We have all the parameters in hand to come up with much more powerful solutions than just being in our own silo or talking to the same two people all day.

So, it’s a bit of a mix between what we learnt during the sprint and what we already know because we have a long history in the company. Afterwards, as designers, we often come together in sprints. We are often completely neutral and fresh, which means that we are not really biased. We will also try to participate in the creation of solutions.

For the time being, we’re not going to bring in things from the company that they already have, but we may bring in a more external or critical viewpoint because we come from the outside but we’ve also seen a lot of things in our career. We’re not going to bring in ideas from other companies. Of course we sign NDAs and we have never revealed anything, but after working with many companies in the insurance world, perhaps there is an idea from that world that I could integrate into banking, for example. And that is really quite powerful.

François Capel: And so, to find these ideas, there is an ideation method called crazy 8.

Stéph Cruchon: Among others.

François Capel: There are others? What I mean is that crazy 8 is a method of ideation which is relatively fast. And yet, there are other methods of ideation which exist on Earth, which allow us to have a little more, to find solutions which are a little more differentiating, a little crazier, in inverted commas. Have you tried to experiment with other methods of ideation instead of crazy 8? or do you really stick to the recipe as written in the book?

François Capel: Let me take a short break to understand what crazy 8 is. It’s actually quite simple. Take an A4 sheet of paper and fold it in half, three times in a row. When unfolded, your sheet of paper will have eight squares. Crazy 8, then in 8 minutes, that’s one minute per box, you have to diagram an idea. And so, at the end, you have 8 ideas.

The strength of this method is the speed of its execution, which forces participants not to calculate too much and to remove the filters of judgement or analysis that are obstacles to the development of a creative idea. This can, depending on the circumstances, be a difficult exercise, but the conscious or unconscious preparations for developing these ideas in a design sprint are normally sufficient for it to be relevant.

However, there are other methods of ideation that allow you to come up with ideas that are a little more in-depth. These methods, which are much more time-consuming, seek to change the participant’s view of the object of reflection or use other people’s ideas to construct more elaborate ideas. For example, you will probably find in the literature ideation methods such as the Bono hats, Scamper or Walt Disney. The six three five or 6, 3, 5, etc. Many methods, all good to try with their own advantages and disadvantages. I would like to refer you to episode 1 where we talk about the creative aspect of innovation with Bruno Poirier. Let’s continue.

Stéph Cruchon: So, we tried a lot of things and I tried a lot… in fact. I think that the first reflex of a person who takes the book in hand, because it is so prescriptive, there are so many things which are explained and described in this book, one says to oneself: but I am more intelligent, I know better methods, but I am smarter or I have seen other things, well, I know better. And I really made all the mistakes, i.e. I discovered the book in 2015.

At the beginning, I did four-day sprints and I did sprints, I put on other workshops, I put my own methods. Also, I have to admit, because I felt more comfortable with other tools sometimes, I said to myself: yes, I don’t feel it… the margin I don’t feel too much, I’ll skip it, then I’ll do something else instead, then I had a little bit of that reflex. In fact, I realize that it’s shared. Everyone has the same reflex.

Afterwards, I learned from my mistakes. Every time I did a workshop, it didn’t go so well, because you can do things that work very well with three teams, and then you have a fourth team, which cuts your thing and doesn’t work. Then, after a while, I thought, well, I’m going to start trying exactly what they do at Google Venture. I’m going to try to follow the recipe in the book and then I saw how powerful and thoughtful it was. What you have to understand is that before they wrote the book, they ran the sprints for five years.

In fact, they started leading sprints at Google in a hidden way in 2010. they published the book in March 2016. For five years, they experimented. They ran over 150 sprints with some of the best startups in the world, we’re talking Slack, Uber, Medium, Blue bottle coffee, etc. And they improved, improved, improved until they said to themselves: now we’re writing a book because it works in every case.

And it’s true that I’ve tried everything. I have iterated, tried, explored and modestly, there are only two moments of the sprint that I really modified. It’s the map that we do a little differently with this Note-n-map and the storyboard which we can talk about later. But in the end, the ideation method with the crazy 8, which is part of the four stages, works extremely well. And we do it like in the book. Short answer, we do it like in the book.

François Capel: But I mean in terms of differentiating solutions and creative solutions, because what I see is that on Wednesdays, people come up with ideas and say: I’ve got another idea that’s even better than the one I came up with yesterday. Sometimes, it takes a little time to mature. You know what I mean?

Stéph Cruchon: In fact, that’s precisely why it’s interesting because in the sprint, you discover the problems and needs on day 1. Then, in fact, you sketch out your ideas on the afternoon of day 2, at the end of the afternoon. So you have quite a lot of time to think, you have something quite mature. Afterwards, we’re experimenting… it’s not really that we’re experimenting, that we’re doing it like that, in remote mode. We finish day 2 at 4.30pm. And then normally, in a classic sprint, I would tell them: at 5pm, it’s good. Here, I’ll take the pens back and then I’ll leave and you give me your idea. In this case, as we are remote, I tell them: we finish the workshop at 4 or 4.30pm and you send me your ideas by email. You can take a photo of what you’ve sketched at home whenever you want by tomorrow morning.

And what’s really interesting is that there are people in the team who will send in their sketches or their ideas at 5pm because they’re really in 9 to 5 work mode. They do it like that, but others actually, they’ll send it in at 11.30pm or even I’ve had it in at 2am sometimes. What’s really interesting is that people do… How can I put it? They really sketched out their ideas when they were most productive, when they really wanted to do it. It’s not that I steal time from their family life or force them to work in the evening because they have time to do it, but they prefer to wait and they do it quietly in the evening. It’s almost a pleasure. You know what I mean? it’s a pleasure. They are proud of their thing. Some of them take a little bit longer to mature it and I see that since I’ve been doing it, the ideas are even a little bit stronger than what I could have at the end of a typical day of a non-essential design sprint process.

François Capel: It’s well known that ideas come to you when you’re in the shower, when you’re driving, when you have nothing to write down for that matter.

Stéph Cruchon: There’s something about the shower and me, it’s really that. I realised. The more I led the sprints, the more I realised that it’s always in the shower that I have ideas. And I was starting to laugh about it and I realise that it’s general. So I think one of the next books I’m going to write is coming up with ideas in the shower or I don’t know, but there’s definitely something to it.

Design Sprint Day 3 – Decide

François Capel: That’s for sure. So on Wednesday we decide. What exactly is going on?

Stéph Cruchon: So on Wednesday, so on Tuesday, we have all these individual ideas. In fact, everyone has created their ideal solution and then, on Wednesday, we will discover these solutions. You have to imagine in a traditional sprint, I don’t like that word because it’s just that now, we do it in distance because of the Covid, we do it via Zoom, etc. But in the good old days, it’s a lot more complicated. But in the good old days, a year ago, back in the day, we would put these solutions on a wall, a big white wall side by side, and we call it the museum. It’s like being in a museum, you have all these paintings next to each other.

Well, here we have solutions, which have been sketched with the same model. They look the same visually, but of course they were written by different people. They are not signed. You don’t know in the team who did what. It allows, in fact, the power, it allows you to create teams where there would be… a CEO of a company and at the same time, a trainee who could participate in the team and you don’t know if that solution comes from the CEO or the trainee.

You vote for the value of ideas, not for people. And that’s really a key thing in the methodology. It’s great for aligning teams. Since we don’t know who came up with these concepts, we’re going to dive into the concepts and see their value as ideas and not where they came from. And often, we realise that there are so many notes, tips, you’re in a brainstorming session, there’s Romain, you hate him, Romain raises his hand and says: yes, we could do that? Well, no. We’ve already invalidated Romain’s idea because we hate him. Well, this will allow us to really align people on the value of ideas.

François Capel: Nevertheless, the decision-maker has more power at the end of the day over the solution that is adopted.

Stéph Cruchon: Exactly. It’s not really the end of the day. It’s at midday that the decision is made, that’s a detail. It’s at midday that the decision is made. There is a whole voting process like that, very democratic, and we discover the ideas. We talk about them. We have the opportunity to present them. The identity of the authors who can defend them is revealed. And then there are little debates that are organised around each idea, which really allows you to understand their potential, the power, sometimes you have to pull the thread a little to get more information. And then, at the end of the day, we’ll have a bit of a consultative vote. We’ll say to everyone: now, you vote for the two or three ideas that you prefer. You will have to defend them. Often, we find ourselves in the position of having to defend other people’s ideas, which we find better than our own, and we say: Well, I think we should prototype this because it seems to me the most interesting to test.

But there is still the very important role of the decision-maker who will make the final decision. So, on average, at 12.30 p.m. on the third day of What are we going to prototype? Initially, this was something that was not in the methodology. It was meant to be very, very agile, neutral, democratic, etc. So it was very flat, but they discovered that there had to be someone who had the final word, in fact, someone who carried the weight of the decision. That’s what’s important. It shouldn’t be just anyone. It has to be the person who holds the purse strings because what is decided during a design sprint is often something very important which will have a weight on the future, I would say.

And the worst thing is to decide on things during a design sprint process which, in the end, cannot be realised or executed afterwards because the sponsor is not going to give the means or the teams or the time necessary to develop the idea afterwards. So you want to be sure that the sponsor will approve of these ideas or at least think that there is value in prototyping them.

François Capel: And there was no far-fetched idea ….So, I don’t contradict the fact that you said that the method has indeed been proven and tested. But nevertheless, the crazy idea of having a consumer there, at that moment, a client who says: “Oh, I’m interested in that” or “I’m just interested in that” to guide the teams and to help the decision-maker to decide in the end?

Stéph Cruchon: It’s interesting what you say. I’ve never thought about it. I don’t think anyone in the design sprint community has ever thought about it. We sometimes have consumers or clients on the first day, to share their feelings, etc. I could talk about this in more detail, but it’s not something that I’ve done before. I could talk about it in more detail, but what you have to understand is that these ideas, even if they sometimes look like children’s drawings because they’re not very beautiful. It’s what people were able to draw with their means. But they are conceptually very powerful and they are above all very confidential.

So it can be complicated, I think, for some companies at this stage, because you almost have a backlog of potential innovations, I would say, and I think it can be complicated at this point to have a consumer or someone who arrives at this point without having the knowledge of what was said before and the context. And I think there is a risk at that point. That’s why nobody has ever thought about it, but it could be interesting in a notion that is perhaps a little less commercial, but more in open innovation mode. It could indeed be interesting to have people at that point.

Design Sprint Day 4 – Prototype

François Capel: And so, on Thursday, we make a prototype. What does a prototype mean? In the book, they mostly recommend using PowerPoint presentation software or the Google solution whose name I forget right away.

Stéph Cruchon: Google Slides.

François Capel: In short, it’s often prototypes like that. But are there other prototypes? How do you see this day?

Stéph Cruchon: So, the prototype, you have to take it under the… how to say the definition of a prototype in Design Sprint process, it’s a tangible way of making the concept tangible. In fact, we’re going to go from the stage where we’ve had a brilliant idea, but it’s on a piece of paper, to something that looks real and that we can show to the target audience. It doesn’t mean that we’ll have a finished product, of course, but we’ll have the representation of a finished product.

Jake, in fact, in the book gives the example of the western films of the 1950s. When you watch a western, you know that it was filmed in Hollywood in front of cardboard sets. You know that they are not in the Sierra Nevada, where I was born in American geography. Anyway, you know they weren’t shot in the Great Plains, they’re in Hollywood in front of painted sets, but you believe it. You watch the film, but at no point do you say to yourself: Oh yeah, but maybe it’s just a set? No, because you are in the story.

A prototype of a design sprint process is really something like that. We’re going to try to find the easiest and quickest way, in fact, to make the concept as realistic and tangible as possible and at no point should they think: ah, but we’re just showing a PowerPoint with three ideas on it. No, they have to believe in it. They have to have the impression that the product can be launched in one or two weeks. That’s kind of the idea. And for that, we use really shortcut techniques.

We are designers, so we have the ability to create websites or mobile applications. So we’ll often designate the real fake site that’s going to present the product, the real fake homepage that’s going to sell the service, it’s not really that we’re going to release a website, that’s not the point of the thing. It’s just to make the concept tangible but it can also be the real fake PowerPoint and it doesn’t necessarily have to be something very, very graphic.

It depends on what you want to test. I know for example that Jake has done something along those lines. Jake worked with the city of San Francisco on homelessness. And then they wanted to actually test a funding strategy around the homeless issue with elected officials in the city of San Francisco. They thought, the most powerful way to test these ideas with them is to do a real fake budget. So, in fact, they went into Excel, they took the real budgets and they modified them accordingly in Excel, with the new allocation figures. And in fact, the prototype was an Excel file with real figures, but with different budget allocations. And that was what they needed, it wasn’t something… It wasn’t necessarily something graphic or beautiful, but it was the right tool for the people, the city councillors, to understand and be able to project themselves. That’s what’s interesting.

François Capel: Did you make any… because I see in the book, they made for example a crazy prototype which is the robot and which delivers toothbrushes in hotel rooms. Did you make this kind of crazy prototype?

Stéph Cruchon: In the book, actually, it’s not that they invented a robot. The robot already existed, but they prototyped it basically… They stuck an iPad on the head of the robot that really existed. They prototyped the interaction of when I got my toothbrush. That’s what they did. But yeah, we did some crazy prototypes.

What I like to do, typically, is to prototype artificial intelligences or actually, you put someone behind a chatbot or behind WhatsApp, and then the person will type and then think it’s an AI. In fact, it’s just us writing and then people are bluffed, when in fact it’s just us answering what. So this is really simple stuff. During a design sprint process, you can really test very powerful things, with very simple means. We made prototypes… a crazy prototype is that we made a prototype for a machine worth several million without building the machine.

But by prototyping, in fact, it’s not the flyer, it’s a bit of a sales brochure for the machine. We also made a prototype for an architecture sprint where we made 3D views, in fact, of future spaces, in one day without building them brick and water, a new building or making a model. But just like that, with 3D views of the spaces, we were able to give them the illusion of what it was going to look like so that they could project themselves. He did it. The aim of the game is to find a creative way, in one day, to make the thing tangible and testable, when in fact we’re not really doing it for real, we’re not really going to build the machine. We’re not really going to invest millions in a funding strategy. We’re going to find a simple and elegant way to do it to get the same information.

In fact, what I didn’t say with the design sprint process, but which is very important to understand, is that you have to see it as a time machine. We’re going to imagine concepts. We’re going to project ourselves one or two years ahead of time, for example, and we’re going to say to ourselves that we’re going to try to make this idea tangible and we’re going to see how people would react if this idea existed, if we put it into practice and deployed it in the world.
And that’s where there’s really a powerful accelerator because you see right away without actually doing it, you see right away how it’s going to work.

Typically, you were talking about Innovation Today at the very beginning of the podcast, we prototyped the interest of this conference in this way by making a real fake site with the speakers, the people who were going to speak by showing that and then we immediately saw if it was going to exist, would people buy the tickets or not? In the meantime, there was the Covid, two or three small changes. But in any case, when we imagined it, we had the validation that it would work because we had the right speakers.

Design Sprint Day 5 Test

François Capel: And so, on Thursday, we only have one day to make a prototype, which is quite short. On Friday, we test with consumers. What exactly is going on?

Stéph Cruchon : Can we reveal our secret François Capel or not?

François Capel: Go for it.

Stéph Cruchon: That you had participated?

François Capel: Of course.

Stéph Cruchon: Actually, François Capel was once a tester on one of our design sprints. We’re not going to reveal why and for whom, but of course he was a tester, maybe tell me about your experience. How did you experience it as a tester?

François Capel: Look, this is going to be difficult. I just don’t want to reveal what I signed up for, but I thought it was interesting because people are such experts. At least, that was my feeling. People are so expert that they are really into their solution and suddenly they discover the outside view of their client. And that’s when the knife falls and they say to themselves, or at least I had the impression on one or two speakers, that they said to themselves: we’re off the mark, guys. And that’s really the feeling that I got from one of the tests that I have, I don’t know what your perception of the day is.

Stéph Cruchon: That’s exactly it. In fact, that’s often what happens when you test ideas in general. It’s that you realise… That’s the advantage of this time machine. You imagine your advice. You imagine where you would like to be. You imagine how it could happen and we do everything to make it as tangible as possible. Then, as with any product, you launch it on the market and then you learn from the consumers. Except that you will have invested years of work, very large budgets, etc. to bring your product out and then you will learn that and people will give you this feedback.

They had imagined this solution for something, for city dwellers, people who live in the city, and you don’t really live in the city, so you had a very different point of view from other people and it was very interesting to have your point of view precisely because they had never imagined this scenario. At least, they didn’t imagine it. And they saw to what extent their solutions or their apriori or their ideas could be applied in certain contexts, but there were other contexts that absolutely had to be forgotten or drastically rethought because it wouldn’t work like that. And that’s what’s so powerful.

It’s going to allow you to redefine solutions, etc. simply by testing them. 5 solutions of a design sprint process when you haven’t invested yet, when you haven’t built the solution yet than to build it and launch it with a giant marketing campaign only to learn the same thing much too late, because by the time you can’t change anything.

François Capel: And so, I come back to my Wednesday when we decide. Isn’t the idea to also have a kind of backlog to submit? Because OK, we’ve prototyped a prototype, an idea that is put forward. But if we see that it doesn’t work at all, don’t we want to say, but if it was more like this or if it was more like this, just thinking about our backlog. Are these things, are these approaches that can be considered this Friday?

Stéph Cruchon: So yes, absolutely. When you did the test, but I won’t reveal anything. But maybe you didn’t realise that you didn’t really test just one thing? You actually tested several ideas that were combined. Some were validated Green-lighted and some were invalidated in a very clear way. And what’s really interesting is that I myself… yet I did sprints, I designated products, etc. But on the morning of day 5 of the design sprint process, I don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, or with great difficulty. On the other hand, it becomes crystal clear when you do the user tests because you immediately put it to the test. You can see very clearly what will work and what won’t.

So, I wouldn’t venture to make a backlog before having already validated or invalidated things in the project, but yes, you can indeed test several interesting things, which was the case here. And then the idea is to keep what really has potential and interest and then remove everything that doesn’t work. But in fact, the backlog at the end of the sprint, yes, it’s really something you have to do.

I always advise teams to do a sprint wrap-up on the Monday or Tuesday after the sprint and then to take what worked and then to start putting in the backlog what needs to be continued. And sometimes, what appears in the tests is that an idea which would have been invalidated or not selected for the tests or for the prototype, turns out to be a very good idea. Sometimes we’ll pick it up and push it further.

François Capel: And so, rightly so, excellent transition. How do you close a design sprint process? Do you make sure that actions are taken for the next step in order to maintain a level of energy that has a good follow-up, etc. so that the idea doesn’t… OK, you have an idea, but eventually it falls by the wayside because there’s no longer that momentum behind it?

Stéph Cruchon: That’s a bit of a problem, but the problem with everything, with general innovation, is that it has to be driven by energy and then by people. I always compare… You are also in innovation, so I don’t know if this metaphor speaks to you, but you know when you want to start a fire, you start a fire.

At the beginning, you just start with a match and then you have two or three small embers. Then, you have to be very careful to blow on these embers, to fan the fire so that all of a sudden, it goes out. And I believe that every innovation project is like that at the beginning, it is extremely fragile. Then you come up against people who say no, it will never work, or gatekeepers, or legal problems, or budget problems.

In the end, it depends on a very small number of people who believe in it, who will take these ideas forward and who will get what they need: time, budget and energy to really get it off the ground. I would say that’s our role in the Design Sprint. It’s to have these people in the sprint who are going to be passionate about this idea and who are going to want to do something with it. Then we’re kind of the orbiter, we’re SpaceX. We’re going to send the thing into orbit and they have all the cards in their hand to at least get off to a good start.

We have a whole strategy called the Design Sprint Quarter, which I always give to the teams to tell them how you can execute, but the responsibility is yours. You’re the ones who are carrying this project now. After that, you can keep paying me for months. That’s great. I’m happy to come, but it’s up to you to carry this project and it’s up to you to create this rhythm which is important for innovation. But at least you create that initial momentum. You know, I don’t know what it’s like with you and what you’ve seen in your career, but there are so many projects or ideas that had incredible potential that are nipped in the bud very quickly because yes, you don’t believe in it, you’re not sure. You prefer to wait and all that, and in fact the thing never gets off the ground.

At least the sprint guarantees that the thing has started and that you have a prototype, you have tests and above all you have proof. If we believe in this potential, you can show the prototype, you can show extracts of tests, you can say: we must go ahead. We have something that is concrete.

Design Thinking vs Design Sprint

François Capel: I read a bit about design sprint at the beginning, when I was coming to the method. And I often see, and it’s funny, wars between design thinking and design sprint. I don’t know what you think of this? Do you oppose these two methods? What could you say to reconcile the two sides?

Stéph Cruchon: So, clearly, I don’t oppose design thinking at all to design sprint. Quite the contrary. But I am opposed to the observation. I saw the other day on Linkedin, there was a heated debate, someone said: design thinking = design sprint? No, not the same. So, it’s funny because I’ve just made some slides on this.

In fact, design thinking is very similar to the design sprint, but in fact, it is a bit the ancestor of the design sprint in the sense that it is these steps. Understanding the needs, defining them, imagining solutions, so the principle of ideation. Prototype and test. It’s really excellent. All this is philosophically perfect. The problem with design thinking is that you are basically told, philosophically, what to do. But they don’t tell you how to do it. We don’t have a recipe. You don’t know how to do it. I compare it to cooking. It’s like design thinking tells you Italian food is great and here are tomatoes, here is the olive oil. And then you can cook Italian food, it’s great.

The problem is that design thinking, a company which has not facilitated its process, methods and tools, leads to absolutely nothing because people have tomatoes, they have garlic, they have olive oil, they don’t know what to do with them. The design sprint is therefore derived from design thinking but it is a very precise recipe. I compare it to the Margarita pizza, which is part of Italian cuisine, which is part of design thinking, but which is a way of accomplishing all these steps in five days under guidance. So I would say that this is the best way for a company if they want to learn about design thinking and test it for real, on a real project, they mobilise a team for five days and we carry out a real design thinking process which is very guided for five days.

François Capel: I’m going to play devil’s advocate on this one, isn’t that… Can you use the same recipe for different problems?

Stéph Cruchon: So of all the innovation recipes I know, the design sprint is probably the most versatile. It has been used for all types of problems. Afterwards, it’s not the do-over style that solves everything. And above all, it’s not going to solve what long-term design thinking could do.

In long-term design thinking, you have a whole phase of empathy, of preliminary research which is not present in the design sprint. We have five days. In fact, you have to choose between doing design thinking or design sprint. In fact, the design sprint fits in very well with design thinking, or you have to do long-term research and design sprint on more specific projects or at specific times, etc.

The two combine very well and you can do both in the same way. The two combine very well and I have no problem with companies that do design thinking. I’ve worked with companies like Autodesk, which do a lot of design thinking. I have worked with Somfy, with companies like that, which are very advanced in design thinking methods. And they are the most interested in the design sprint, because in fact they put it in their design thinking toolbox. It’s not at all in opposition.

In fact, if you turn the Design Sprint book over, the third quote that actually sells the book is Tim Brown, the CEO of IDO. In fact, IDO does design sprint and sees it as the child of design thinking. It’s simply a way of doing design thinking in a more guided and less, shall we say, fuzzy way. Design thinking is an attitude. It’s a philosophy. The sprint is really the recipe that leads to good progress.

François Capel: And finally, if we combine all these bricks that exist because there are some now, in terms of innovation of tools, there is a plethora. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult to know which tools to use and when, etc. But wouldn’t you advise doing a little bit of empathy work before doing a design sprint?

Stéph Cruchon: Yes, yes, of course. Afterwards, how can I put it? What is powerful in design thinking? What I have seen very often in companies, in the empathy phase, they will hire a very intelligent researcher or a person who will do interviews and who will do lots of things. Then afterwards, he will write a report. And this was not at all the idea of design thinking at the beginning, where this empathy phase, it’s rather the team which is doing this design thinking approach which is going to go and do interviews themselves, get in contact with users, put their boots on and go into the field, etc. And I think it’s just a question of the team being able to do this.

I think it’s just doing research, because it’s only a phase, and then you buy it from a research specialist, it’s not going to take you very far. The real power of design thinking is when the teams themselves go out and meet their target audience.

But research is not excluded from the Design Sprint at all. What you have to understand is that you have this first day which is the problem mapping part, and the Maps part where you can invite people who have done research or even users to talk about their problems. I have a good example. We worked with the Jules Gonin ophthalmic hospital in Lausanne and they had some very particular problems because some of them were working on the redesign of their website.

In fact, it was a site that was supposed to be used by people with very poor eyesight or even people who were not poorly sighted, but all of a sudden, they got something in their eye. And then I can’t see very, very well. I see blurred. I have to be able to use the site, if only to call them. So there were problems that were so specific and precise. We said to ourselves that we should include someone who was very visually impaired in the sprint team to have a little empathy and help us design better. And for several reasons, but mainly practical ones, we couldn’t have an extremely visually impaired person on the team, but we did have the mother of a blind child who is a patron, a donor from the hospital who gave three days of her life to come with us to the sprint for free. This is also part of her patronage. She actually came to participate in the team, in the co-creation and she brought us this understanding of how it is for a visually impaired person. That’s great, so that empathy, we can have that in the design sprint. There’s also one thing I didn’t say, but which is very important: when people come to a design sprint, they are sometimes people who have worked for 10-15 years in the company. And they come with their 15 years of career and experience in the sprint. It’s not that they come from nowhere. So, we also have a lot of empathy in sprinting.

François Capel: So you are a design sprint facilitator. Do you always use the same recipe? Isn’t that a bit routine or do you see diversity in your job?

Stéph Cruchon: So I have this question all the time. And besides, this is perhaps what pushes, let’s say, newbie facilitators, young facilitators to say to themselves: But I am more intelligent, I am more creative. Then I’ll create my own sauce. I’ll create my own sprint, my own recipe. After me, humbly, I really tried everything, etc. And I came back to a model very close to what Google venture was doing because it works. And I have to say one thing, I never get bored because you can always improve what you do.

But more importantly, in fact, we’re always doing it with new teams on new problems. You know, there’s this show where I don’t know, I don’t watch TV anymore, but it was called “live my life”, where you would go for a week in a company and for me, that’s it. Live my life. I’ve spent five years of my life working in over 100 companies. But working for real with teams, eating in the canteen, listening to their problems, their tricks and their daily lives. And we did sprints, but crazy stuff with completely unbelievable domains. I did sprints in a factory with chemicals. I’ve done sprints in architecture, sprints where I talk about it with cosmetics to sell, banks, sprints where I put on ties, sprints where on the contrary, for completely tech start-ups. You really have adventures every time. I think I would be bored if I always used the same method, with the same team, with the same product.

And besides, I’ve spent the last few days with people at Google who told me that sometimes they feel a certain weariness because they use the sprint more as a method of internal productivity rather than on very important problems. Then, as a result, it’s always the same team, with the same recipe. And then, in the end, it gets a bit boring if you do it with the same people. But we don’t have this problem because we bring it to companies and each time it’s new teams and you see the eyes of the people who are having a great time, who say: I’ve never spent a week like this in my life. It’s incredible.

François Capel: How do you personally prepare yourself with such a diversity of problems, problems to solve? How do you prepare yourself mentally or even physically for a sprint? I don’t know. I take you to a company that makes breakfast cereals. How do you prepare for that? Will I document it? Are you going to try to get some information to understand the problem or how you prepare?

Stéph Cruchon : There are two schools. There are people who prepare their sprints enormously in the sense that they say to themselves: I have to be infallible; I have to know the field perfectly. I tend to say that it’s rather people who are a bit newbie who haven’t carried out many sprints because they know that they are not concrete in sprinting or recitation, so they have to be concrete in their knowledge.

One thing I realised is that you are going to work with people who know better anyway. You’re not going to impress them for 10 seconds. So, in fact, I come with my prior knowledge of 15 years of innovation, of design, of many things. So that helps me a lot. Afterwards, for cereals, I eat cereals, so I may have easier themes to grasp than others. I’m going to find out about things that are very, very specific, very sharp, that I have no expertise in. I did a sprint a fortnight ago on very specific cosmetics. I have no expertise in these cosmetics. So, in fact, my preparation was to ask a lot of questions to my wife, who knew a lot about it.

François Capel: Who does the empathy work for you.

Stéph Cruchon: Exactly, to know what I’m getting into. Not to say too much nonsense, but really, I think that we come in a rather humble way by saying we are specialists in the design process but we are not specialists in your field and we need you to… help us understand the field. But really, there’s a trick to it, and I’ve seen it in every sprint, because we spend five days, the first day, you don’t know anything about it. I know almost as much as they do. In any case, I can hold a one-hour conversation with a person on subjects which are sometimes very specific, because I have acquired all the acronyms, the wording, because you have only spent five days on this with people in the business. Then, the more you do, the more it helps because there are lots of related things you can use. So it gets easier and easier.

François Capel: And now you have to do these workshops online. How is it going? I saw that you did a review, Miro versus Mural and all that. How does that work? Isn’t it a bit more complicated to have the dynamism and energy that you normally have in a room?

Stéph Cruchon: Actually, my perception has changed so much since Covid. A year and a half ago, in fact, I was interested in these tools because I thought they were cool. I was a bit of a geek, so Miro Mural, to explain quickly, is a sort of virtual whiteboard, so you can stick post-its on the screen and move them around like that. And that interested me. But I was very clear. I was thinking there’s no way I could sell a single remote design sprint back to Switzerland. Why not? It’s so small. It’s so easy to get everyone in the same room. The question didn’t even arise.

We would go to the company’s headquarters and work together around a table. Sometimes, for user tests, we would bring people in remotely. We invited them to Zoom to carry out tests because sometimes you are looking for very specific people, very particular people, who you just can’t invite to Geneva, Lausanne or Bern. So we were already doing that. Now that Covid has arrived, I immediately realised that we had to find a way to do it remotely. And then I had my team. I told them: OK, let’s go. Yes, let’s go and we put our heart and soul into it, developing tools and techniques. And we were lucky enough to already have 4 years of experience in the physical design sprint.

And so we said to ourselves, how can we bring this physical experience online with these tools, etc., while guaranteeing the results, the energy and the pleasure of doing it? And so we did our experiments. The first sprints were sometimes a bit difficult. Because it was also at the very beginning of the pandemic, in March and April. Sometimes people can’t even turn on a webcam. At that point, there were a lot of obstacles.

Now, as I speak, it is February 2021. Everyone now knows how to use these tools because we have all learned and we no longer have any problems, almost no technology. Afterwards, what we do is that we make our days a little shorter. We take more breaks. I use music more, we make them dance a bit, we do things that make the experience fun. And I’m amazed at the results we’ve managed to obtain, which really, if I look at what we’ve achieved in a remote sprint compared to a physical design sprint from a year and a half ago, it’s equivalent, or even better in remote.

Even better because you were able to integrate people, experts from the other side of the world, without them coming physically and you were able to get their feedback, their insight and what you couldn’t have done physically. There’s also almost less fatigue. So there’s the tool fatigue of being online and so on. But people can also relax more easily. That is to say, during the lunch break, they will turn off the webcam. They read a book to their children and eat something good, drink tea and then come back more relaxed, cooler. There’s no such thing as a company, where they have to put on ties, do all that stuff… I did sprints in Geneva. I was already spending an hour and a half driving to Geneva, I was going crazy. When you think about these things, you don’t have that anymore. So yes, I am really very, very enthusiastic because we can do it in 2021 remotely and I can’t even imagine what we will do in two or three years. The technology is evolving, the tools, the software. For me, we are really in the process of finding the future of the working world with this.

François Capel: We’re coming to the end of my interview. Before we leave, I would like to know if you wanted to share any news of your own, if you had for example itoday 2021. I don’t know anything you wanted to share.

Stéph Cruchon: That’s nice, thank you. Thank you for doing the promotion. Our news is that we are currently in the process of completing the sprints for the months of April, May and June, so the months before are booked. But if you’re interested in sprints, check out our website, it’s And then, in August 2021, so it’s the 18th and 19th of August, we’re organising master classes with innovation today, itoday with Jake Knapp, who is the inventor of the design sprint himself, who’s going to come to us from Seattle.

So, at this stage, as I speak to you, it’s going to take place at the Swiss tech convention centre in person. We’ve done everything we can to ensure that it goes well at that time. Well, it will be summer. We’ll have vaccines. Yes, at least the old people will be vaccinated and stop dying. Please stop dying, but we’ll have small groups and actually we’ll do this… It will be between 50 to 60 people a day.

So also, the Swiss tech being the place at the moment where the Vaud Parliament meets and we have a crazy space. Probably, in terms of physical distance, there will be no problem at that time. So the event will take place on 18 and 19 August 2021. I think August 18th is Jake Knapp and August 19th is Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, the inventors of the Value proposition canvas business model and they also have this book called The invincible company which is the book to read if you’re an entrepreneur, if you want to create resilient companies, that’s it. They’re really global stars and we’re super excited and enthusiastic about this event.

François Capel: Many good wishes for this event and a big thank you. Thanks again for your time.

Stéph Cruchon: It was a pleasure. I hope that it has interested you a little bit and then see you soon.

François Capel: Thank you very much. Thank you, Steph, it was a real pleasure and honour to have you on my humble podcast. I wish you all the best for your future sprints and success for itoday. Let’s hope that the face-to-face conditions will be back very soon for better exchanges. As for me, all I have to do now is to to say goodbye but meanwhile, innovate but stay yourself.