Sprints - Why the finish line could be closer than you think

By Nicky Tomkins 27/02/2018

To sprint or not to sprint: that is the question.

With decades of experience in strategy, planning and creative, WPNC is perfectly placed to advise organisations whether to opt for a traditional approach to their marketing or take a less-travelled yet highly effective route.

Sprints originated in the US design thinking community and were adopted by Google, but smart marketers in the UK are adopting the methodology and reaping rewards. Run in five stages, across three to five days, the process cuts the chaff from a standard marketing cycle. Client and agency teams focus with laser precision on meeting mutually agreed objectives quicker and, more often than not, cheaper.

Dan Martin, WPNC’s digital strategy director, explains the agency’s unique take on sprints: “We use our experience to determine when to apply the sprint process. A sprint works best with a blank sheet of paper and a major step change as the objective. If you have barriers like an existing technology platform, or if you want to make something only a little bit better, it doesn’t really work. We just have to make a wise choice at the outset.”

Bringing together several senior figures at an organisation - often from across departments - to run a series of back-to-back sessions is no mean feat. But even sceptics and those who don’t like workshop settings benefit greatly.

Stewart Sear, the agency’s digital creative director, says: “We’re constantly talking about how to offer and conduct sprints in the context of what we know about our clients and the way they operate. Even people who might not initially have liked the idea of sprints say the results are amazing. They see a tangible result: from nothing to an outcome within five days.”

The five phases of a sprint, usually run across consecutive days, are:

  • Understand - “Everyone gets to immerse themselves in the problem and gain a shared understanding,” says Dan. The sprint group starts with the end in mind, discussing objectives and nailing down questions to be answered throughout the process. This stage also features Ask the Experts: quickfire overviews from visiting client experts who drop in to offer their expertise and possible solutions. At the end of day one, a ‘map’ of the problem has been created and is often left on the wall of the sprint venue for all to consider.
  • Sketch - Participants then follow a four-stage process to explore all the ways in which the objective can be met. Stewart explains: “Everyone has a chance to do their own sketching without other people, then put it on the wall. You work individually, drawing on the material from day one and ‘inspiration homework’ which we ask people to research between phases one and two.”
  • Decide - Now it’s time for the sprint team to collectively choose the idea they think will help them best meet the overall goal. Concepts are voted on individually without debate, and an appointed ‘decider’ – usually the sponsor from the client-side – has the final say on which elements of all the ideas to prototype. Dan comments: “The decider ultimately has the right to choose the idea; it’s a highly collaborative, but definitely not a democratic, process, by design. That's because you need a decision that’s going to work.” The other major part of phase three is storyboarding: drawing out how the idea can work in practice. 
  • Prototype - The hard work of the past few days becomes a reality. Routes to market are chosen, and participants are assigned roles to breathe life into the concept, ready for testing in real-world situations. “We explain the need to produce something realistic that people can try out, so it’s believable enough for them to tell you if it’s working or not,” Stewart says. “The approach doesn’t have to be digital. We explore whatever will work best.”
  • Validate - In other words, user testing. Five interviewees are asked for their views on the prototype. The interviews take place in separate rooms, using a question script developed in phase four, while the rest of the team take notes. Dan adds: “There are a few different outcomes. Firstly, the prototype could be a roaring success, so the client should make it either themselves or with us. Secondly, there may be imperfections, but the idea seems to work. At that point, we can loop back to the sketching phase and use those insights to come up with another prototype. Thirdly, the idea’s a failure and the user interviews prove customers aren’t bothered about something we all thought was a problem. But the great thing is you’ve only spent a week finding that out, rather than six.”

WPNC recently ran a sprint for a tour operator, which wanted to increase sales by hotel concierges who use their platform to sell tickets to guests.

Sprint questions were determined, including: how can we incentivise concierges?; what are the customer expectations?; what are the barriers to use?

The current concierge and customer journeys were then mapped using insight gathered from the operator’s stakeholders, agents, customers and competitors. This allowed the sprint group to identify areas for improvement, including the usability of the platform for sales agents and optimising it across devices.

Detailed sketches of potential solutions were drawn up and put to a vote, with the chosen idea storyboarded. It personalised and streamlined the sales portal for users, incentivising them by creating a ‘league table’ of agents local to each other. The prototype was then tested.

Meanwhile, WPNC is currently exploring ways of taking sprints into other areas of the business as part of its suite of tools. Stewart concludes: “Rapid productivity is a compelling idea. Sprints cover the same activity as traditional planning, but we concertina the process to get information quicker. The best thing is, colleagues work together perhaps more closely than ever before. Common objectives are discussed and met; everyone goes away with little insights and greater shared knowledge.”

When it comes to strategy there’s never a one-size-fits all methodology that helps a client organisation across the finish line. But sprints offer a speedy alternative to the traditional strategy cycle: get in touch to find out more.

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