Sprinting successfully with 20 executives

September 1, 2016

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Here at FCV we talk an awful lot about the benefit of "learning by doing". As service designers and strategists, we encourage our clients to abandon debate in favour of trying stuff, and we advocate a "fail-fast" approach that values prototyping and testing over heavily debated decisions and lengthy development cycles.

So when a large Government client needed to clarify the future of their experience, we knew an FCV Accelerator would be a great way to foster innovation and validate some of their ideas in a highly compressed timeframe.

The FCV Accelerator is a facilitated sprint that takes our clients from idea to a tested prototype in 5 days. Google Ventures has made this approach famous with their recent book “Sprint”, and while there are several ways to do this, the overall method works amazingly well to help organizations solve many different problems. 

We saw our upcoming Accelerator and the launch of the Sprint book as a timely coincidence and decided to adapt their process into ours. What made this sprint challenging was the number of people involved: 20 participants and a diverse FCV team to facilitate and coordinate the effort, managing everything from user recruitment to catering.

Managing the chaos

All of our tweaks to the Google Ventures process were made in the spirit of managing such a large sprint team. We split our participants into 4 teams and assigned each a facilitator familiar with the methodology. We worked together for the first half of the week through unpacking, sketching, and deciding, and then ran 4 sprints in parallel from Wednesday afternoon to develop and test 4 different prototypes. With a varied skillset including UX, content strategy and industrial design, our army of facilitators helped each team to maintain the tight timeline and provided confidence during times of uncertainty.

We also took a more formal approach to research planning. On Thursday, our in-house research expert delivered a crash-course in qualitative research to one person from each team, and helped them craft their research plans. We used our internal resources to manage screening, recruitment and scheduling, as the 4 prototypes meant we needed to lock down 20 participants very quickly.

Finally, we made sure that we set aside time on Friday for the whole group to come back together, share their learning experiences and their prototypes - and enjoy a beer!

Here are our 6 tips for a large, successful sprint:

1. Maintain visibility and prominence of your sprint questions

It's easy for important elements like the sprint questions, to get lost in the bustle of the week. We printed these and posted them EVERYWHERE, and gave constant verbal reminders of how important these were.

2. Prime your Deciders

If you’ve brought everyone in to do a sprint together, it can be tough to go against the popular vote. Be prepared to coach deciders in advance to go with their gut. They should balance out any negative feelings generated by their veto power by providing good context around the decisions that are made and by allowing participants to work on the prototypes they are most passionate about.

3. Minimize the number of sketches that people have to vote on

When there are 20 sketches to review and vote on, Wednesday morning can feel painfully long. Next time, we’ll try breaking into 2 groups to reduce the sketches to a shortlist before making a final selection. This will make the process less hurried and leave more energy reserves for the afternoon.

4. Simplify and test your technology well in advance

Our technical set up was complex. We had 4 teams - 3 who required a testing and a viewing room and a 4th who executed research in a live retail environment offsite. Our technical requirements were further complicated by a request to record every session. We pulled it off, but only with plenty of testing and retesting.

5. Debrief daily

If you have a group of people helping facilitate, take 30 minutes after everyone has cleared out each day to share feedback, make some adjustments and pat each other on the back.

6. Trust the process!

As a design agency, we facilitate workshops with our clients on a regular basis. For this project, we decided to go outside of our usual format and use the GV Sprint process. Whether you’re running it or participating in it, participate fully, embrace ambiguity, and go with it. It works.


Even with so many cooks in the kitchen, the week was a massive success. Our client experienced the true power of ‘learning by doing’. They developed 4 great ideas that can help them fill unmet needs and help provide their customers with a more integrated, seamless experience. And most valuably, they’ve learned that everyone in their company has the ability to build and test an idea – and fast. The thrill of accomplishing so much in such a short period of time has yet to fade.

As one of our happy clients said on the Friday afternoon: "I found this week exceptionally rewarding. Not just the output we're getting out of it, but because of the capability to be able to take an idea from a nascent form, bring it to life, then actually validate it with [customers] - it's a competency that we need more of”.

As for us, we spent a week doing what we love most - helping our clients make cool stuff that meets the needs of their users. Our biggest takeaway from the Google Ventures approach was the power of people working alone for sketching. We’ve taken this philosophy into our Service Design workshops that we run on a regular basis. As a result, our clients are developing more robust service ideas in these sessions, taking time to clearly-articulate their ideas before revealing them.

So what's next?

Our client has gathered an understanding of the technology requirements needed to deliver their new customer experiences. And we’ve worked with them to map their future customer journeys, integrating the tested prototypes with existing experiences and other innovations already on their roadmap. They’re ready to refine their innovations and update their experience delivery with some solid, tested plans.

Sprints are one of the fastest, most fun and most powerful ways to help our clients create form and function from brilliant - but often overlooked – ideas. Those ideas that languish in business plans and on roadmaps without being fully defined prior to large investments being made. At FCV, we’re always looking for ways to make life better for both our clients and their users - and a design sprint is one of the most effective ways to get there.

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