Are Sprints the Best Kept Secret in Business?

Paul Bowman

You have a business challenge that needs to be addressed quickly. From experience you know that it will take weeks- if not months- to mobilise the business into action.

But instead of creating a massive programme and stretching out the work, you launch a proposition in days. You adopt a mission mindset, make decisions quickly and within ten days, you move from idea to prototype.

From a prototype you find rapid ways to go live and experiment. You learn from real customers, with real data. This saves your business time and unnecessary cost. And it gives much needed confidence to invest before you scale. What’s more this new way of working starts to change the way you do ‘business-as-usual’ (BAU).

Welcome to the world of sprints, a concept that is gaining traction in both the UK and US since three partners from Google Ventures published, “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days” last month.

Market Gravity, the Edinburgh based proposition design consultancy, has been using the sprint technique with their clients for the past six months.

Paul Bowman, partner and Edinburgh managing director at Market Gravity, “Agile sprint-based approaches to business challenges have transformed the way we deliver projects and launch new propositions for our clients. For big businesses, sprints bring together the best of both worlds; the tools and ways of working that start-ups such as Google and Spotify apply with the scale and deep domain expertise of big companies.

Sprints focus on real business challenges- not blue sky thinking- which means that new opportunities and innovations are delivered quickly, refined, validated and tested before they are scaled. With our help, our clients can use sprints to transform ideas into breakthrough propositions at speed whilst unleashing entrepreneurial talent that exists in big companies.”

Market Gravity recently worked with Standard Life on 20-day mission-based sprints which explored ways to increase the retention of one of Standard Life’s customer segments.

Stephen Ingledew from Standard Life said, “We wanted to launch a disruptive solution quickly, but one that would have minimal impact on our core technology systems. By using the sprint method introduced to us and run by the team at Market Gravity, we are able to find one. A small empowered team, or squad as a sprint team is called, was brought together to respond to the challenge we’d set, with a constraint that was time boxed. The result of the experiment was the development of “The Butler”, a new smart chat interface which we were able to get in the hands of a small number of customers, in a real environment with real data before scaling it.”

The top 10 Benefits of Sprints:

1. Reduced costs
Small teams working to tight deadlines minimises investment cost. They simplify decision making and are more likely to deliver real impact versus large big project teams that generate lots of process, governance and PowerPoint presentations.

2. Rapid growth
Organising sprints and small teams around growth opportunities as they present themselves allows businesses to quickly go after new opportunities.

3. Improved team morale
Removing hierarchy and empowering people to get things done creates a feeling that they can affect change in their company, despite how big it is

4. High productivity
Time boxing responses to business challenges simplifies decision making and focuses the team on an outcome, not a process.

5. High energy levels
As team morale improves, adrenalin kicks in and everybody focuses on getting the job done within the timeframe.

6. Less risk
By creating a culture and environment that enables teams to experiment before- and as they scale- ensures that decision making is informed at all stages by real customer data, not hypothesis.

7. Competitive advantage
As business environments become faster and more uncertain, the ability to mobilise teams of talented people to start and deliver projects quickly is critical. This helps organisations become more resilient.

8. Better outcomes from diversity
The most successful sprint teams embrace diversity. Diversity of culture, experience and expertise. This helps them solve modern, complex challenges.

9. Seed cultural change through delivery
Sprint teams are empowered to define their own working practices and make their own decisions, stripping out layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting that can slow progress down.

10. More agility
Being able to pivot quickly to the challenges of our rapidly changing world is vital. Sprints bring talented and diverse people together to solve problems. Once the challenge has been met, they disperse or kick off the next challenge.