How to – Conducting a Digital Project Sprint
The digital Project Sprint

In this article I will describe how to conduct a Digital Project Sprint and my perspective of its impact creating a Minimal viable product. Through my experience, I can vouch for the fact that the agile project sprint requires you to be tech-savvy, intuitive and not be afraid of tackling challenges and failing. Learning curves are usually exponential, keeping this in mind, let’s get started.

The Digital Project Sprint consists of three phases – Explore, Create and Evaluate

The methodologies implemented in our Digital Project Sprint are based on the techniques by Dark Horse Innovation (Advertisement Link: Dark Horse Innovation Awesome Books) – an innovation consultancy based in Berlin. Singularity Design combines those techniques with influences from Silicon Valley and other business modelling methods. The goal of the Digital Project Sprint is – to design a digital innovation that meets the real needs of users.

The best way to simply explain the three phases is as follows:

1. Explore – How to investigate an idea
2. Create – What constitutes a successful product or service
3. Evaluate – How to assess, grade and weigh the product or service

In order to optimize the innovation process, the “Innovation Board” is the central tool. The three modules are the “playing fields”. When you want to conduct a Digital Project Sprint, which resembles the SCRUM framework in some companies, it turns out to be very practical to perform an in-depth investigation and analyze the current market trends in the required field, in this case, Artificial Intelligence. Learning about related technologies as well as consequent products to understand the needs and demands of consumers is crucial. In our sprint we combined those with Mega trends (e.g. Digitalisation) or Socio-cultural trends (e.g. Ethical Values or the Aging Society), and Consumption Habits with the Zeitgeist (e.g. Subscription Service).

The best sort of ideas are unique, unconquered, challenging and must require imagination

First and foremost, the most important aspect is the conception of an idea or “idea generation”.  Above all, the one factor that is fundamental for creating a cool product is “Creativity”. But how do we tap into that creativity within us? Here are some tips for cultivating a creative spark:

1. Choose Creativity: Make a commitment to decide you want to revive your innovative voice.

2. Think like a Traveler: Stop being oblivious to your surroundings and instead try to see things as if you have just landed in that spot and are seeing things for the first time. Expose yourself to new situations or information. Listen to a TED talk, read information from other industries and try to experience new things that may spark an idea. For example, the head of a London hospital was so impressed with the precision of a Formula One pit crew he watched on television during a race, that he asked them to help train hospital staff members to improve chaotic patient handoffs from surgery to the intensive care unit.

3. Daydream: Stop feeling like you are a slacker if you not actively engaged in three things at one time. New findings in neuropsychology find that flashes of insight often come when your mind is relaxed on completing a specific task.

4. Be Empathetic: Remove your own ego from the equation when it comes to generating new ideas by taking the time to observe the people who need the solutions. “What are their needs?” is an important question you would need to keep asking yourself.

5. Be an Anthropologist: Observing people in their natural habitat can help generate new ideas, even if you do think you are the expert who knows best.

6. Ask “why?’’: Anyone who has been around a young child knows that “why?” is asked about a million times a day. Children are endlessly curious and are persistent into getting to the heart of the matter. If you ask why someone uses a landline phone, for example, you may learn that the answer has less to do with practicality and more to do with psychology.

7. Reframe Challenges: Before you start searching for solutions to a problem, step back to make sure you are asking the right questions. Try humanising the problem as shown by GE’s Doug Dietz (Link: OpenIDEO) who went from just designing MRI machines to making it more about getting young patients safely and willingly through an MRI scan.

8. Build a Creative Network: Creative whizzes often are seen as lone wolves, but some of the best ideas come from collaboration. Begin by acknowledging to yourself that you do not have all the answers and working with others can help relieve the pressure. Meet people after hours to sit around and talk about innovative ideas or use creative digital communities.

“As you think, so shall you be”

Finding Inspiration is hard

My inspiration was drawn from the global need for mental wellbeing and understanding the psychology of the human mind. Bruce Lee, the world renown martial artist, said, “As you think, so shall you become.” Bruce was acknowledging the power of the human mind to affect behaviour. He was just as enthusiastic about training the mind as was about training the body.

The Explore module is designed to help explorers get to know the users of the future product or service, their needs and preferences, and to understand their problems. First, data is collected and placed in the context. That is how they turn into information. These must be interpreted – the most difficult challenge. Through interpretation, you recognise relationships and gain knowledge about the users, from which you derive ideas and options for action.

Once you have unleashed the creativity inside you, the next step is studying and research

Performing a market analysis opens up windows to information and knowledge which have been implemented by other companies. A promising venue for A.I. related companies is the exhibition “Rise of AI” – a yearly conference based in Berlin by a company called ASGARD VC, that supports startups with innovative ideas. A big cue for market research is to read as many research papers and journals published on IEEE, Google Scholar, SpringerLink and ResearchGate.

It is important while working on Market Research to save the information for future reference. My technique was to adopt Microsoft Excel and classify the information into categories: Company Name, Topic, Business Model (Product or Service), Founding date, Association to Investors or Accelerators, Selling Point, Founders, Location, Contact Information, Notes. Company websites are the most reliable source of information for aforementioned categories.

With all our research stats and facts, we could clearly distinguish the existing Market dominance in 2018 as shown in the charts below. In chart 1, we have distinguished the Market Trends through respective fields. Chart 2 is classified in terms of subject category.

Product and Service Design needs to be User-Centric

For product and service design, we inspect various aspects – Trends & Technologies, Potential Partners & Competition, Facts, Potential Fields (user-motivation analysis), Users, Needs, Insights, Touch points and most importantly we try to answer the question “How might we?”.

That is in particular, the question of how we might help people with a certain issue. Here, in order to understand more competently, we explored real-live examples of services being used in Healthcare such as Kaia Wellness, Tawny and IBM Watson.

  1. Trends and Technologies: Using the information from market research, we try to think of the latest fashion, but of course in relation to technology.
  2. Potential Partners and Competition: Here we enumerate based on our prior research the plausible competitors or partners of our product.
  3. Facts: This block is used to state any facts, figures or information that we have in relation to the product or service.
  4. Potential Fields: Listing out all fields that touch base with the product. For example, if your product is a chatbot, potential fields would involve Artificial Intelligence, Healthcare, Machine Learning, Big data, Mobile application, Web application, Wellness, Health, Digitisation, Technology and so on.
  5. Users: It is important to list out all possible users of your product to understand the market requirement.
  6. Need: “How useful is your product?” or “What is the impact of such a product?” – We try to answer these in this block.
  7. Insights: In this block, we add all extra information that we thought of, and our initial perception of the product.
  8. Touch Points: In touch points, we list out all external factors that affect our product and vice versa. Basically, those are points where interaction with our prospect clients can happen. Those are more and more digital which is a huge trend and changes industries, consumption and the whole value chain.

The Interviewing Part – Getting out and Getting in: The Street Interview

For the Explore module, we put ourselves in the shoes of survey creators and market researchers to undertake ‘’The Street Interview’’. A challenging task was to conduct socio-economic, qualitative in-depth interviews with at least 15 persons as part of product creation. The most challenging part of the street interviews is to talk to complete strangers and to connect with them. The interviewing requires a total of three people, the interviewer, interviewee as well as a partial observer to take down external and behavioral observations of the interviewee.

For the interviewing, it was necessary for me to take on a leadership role, to effectively manage my team and brief them about their roles and responsibilities, in order to make sure that we did not miss any important clue or feedback. Each interview lasted a total of 20 – 30 minutes depending on the user’s ability to comprehend the questions, formulate answers and the interviewee’s ability to understand the responses. This may vary, but it is important to keep a time-limit that must not exceed 30 minutes per person per interview. Extending interviews beyond this, may result in incorrect or impartial responses with the interviewee gradually losing interest which affects the quality of survey.

Explorative interviews usually take place in three steps

When creating this kind of survey a first layer will consist of asking about life changes, preferences, expectations over to the second layer to where needs, usage, benefits and product wishes are the focus of the interview on to third layer where aims, values and motives (emotions) are key. Keeping the time-limit in mind, we developed a questionnaire with an approximate of 20 questions, starting off with easy, introductory questions to more descriptive, thought-provoking questions towards the end. The interview technique is based on the “Grounded Theory” by Anselm Strauss and Barney Glaser founded in 1960, ending with a question about how the interviewee pictures the future regarding the topic surveyed.

The interview although a challenge in the beginning, was conducted on two separate days or occasions plus in another session on train surveying train passengers. Our tactic was to approach people at ‘’hot-spots’’ such as university campuses or coffee shops, where people would be relaxed and not in a hurry. Our choice of locality turned out to be a wise decision because, many students understood our survey design and were more than willing to participate. Another factor to consider is age – for the survey to be effective it is best (but not limited) to try to stick with the age group of our target users. Based on the results obtained from the interviews, we were able to ideate better and gain insight on user experience and a possible user interaction of the application.

Pro Tip: A technique to help recall interview details is to click a picture with the interviewee if the interviewee allows it. Since we conducted about 7-8 interviews a day, clicking pictures helped us remember certain traits and behaviour.

My VIP facts from interviewing are as follows:
1. The user of a product will never tell us what he or she wants.
2. People cannot describe their behaviour well.
3. People base their answer on the expectation of others.
4. People have a subconscious acceptance to problems and weaknesses.

The following week of design thinking started with extensive understanding of different types of users: The ‘Extreme user’ – someone who is extremely dependent on the application, a ‘Neutral user’ whose dependence on the application varies, and a ‘Holdout user’ who is extremely uncomfortable relying on technology or on the idea of the application. The most effective way to imagine these users are to consider examples and scenarios.

Try to Kill your Company

Finally, you should apply 5 forces of Michael E. Porter to highlight differences from competitors and substitution products that could threaten an idea. In particular we wanted to address the following questions:

1. How big is the influence of a trend on the creative possibilities of our product?
2. Is our product replaceable through a particular customer behaviour?

Basically those being “Kill your Company” approaches that can be constantly revised and improved throughout the product-development cycle. Based on the gathered information, we dived into the ‘’Create Module’’ of the Digital Innovation Board. Here we needed to understand critical points for successfully launching a Minimal Viable Product. Each idea from the Create module is then evaluated in the so-called Evaluate module.

Parameters of the Create Board

  1. Idea Description: One of the most common mistakes when developing a digital product or service is to combine too many functions and application cases. The idea needs to have one main function but can have smaller sub functions. For example, Tinder is used for finding dates and Uber for booking cabs. but in fact, both have many sub functions and different services to use as additional.
  2. Addressed Users: Based on our previous work, we should be able to denote a user or even a couple of users for our product/service. At this point we want to note down the most important characteristics or details of our user.
  3. Addressed Needs: In this field we will note down issues that are related to the needs. E.g. Airbnb – a traveler looks for an alternative of a hotel (need) because he/she does not like to stay at a hotel (issue).
  4. Issues: Within issues we try to understand the issues our addressed users have that result into valuable needs. This is quite tricky and we think back to our “Street Interviews” and the talks we had with diverse people here.
  5. Idea Potential: The criteria that we want to pay attention to are: Added Value, Transferability and Execution. The following frameworks help us to enrich those criteria:
    1. Added Value → Mosquito Bite vs. Shark-Attack: With added value we denote the meaning of the issue to the user. Is it as tiny as a mosquito bite or as huge as a shark-attack?
    2. Transferability → Robinson Crusoe vs. Australia: In innovation development we usually search for an issue first and think then about it’s scalability or transferability onto different problems. Is the scalability limited to an island or a huge as a continent?
    3. Execution → Hammer and Nail vs. Airplane – Engine: Hammer and Nail stand for easily executable ideas while Airplane-Engine stand for challenging ideas when it comes to execution and implementation. Most often it is quite recommendable to start with Hammer and Nail as we will then reach the implementation of our idea much quicker
  6. Wow- Factor: Every innovation has a Wow-Feature as for example with Tinder the Left-Right swipe. Which is our Wow-Feature? Where is our Wow-Effect that motivates our users? Only if a solution not only solves issues but motivates users it will become a real hit. During our Digital Project Sprint this was very hard to think about a Wow and what it could mean and in the end, there are many cool UX/UI pages on the internet that offer great inspiration such as Luke Wroblewski, Product Director at Google and author of “Mobile First”. For an up-to-date UX/UI overview check out the following video Link: UX/UI Overview.
  7. High Level Concept: For an elevator-pitch we need a high-level concept, that is an analogy that immediately creates access to the understanding of our idea. E.g. the fantasy tv series “Game of Thrones” was pitched as “The Sopranos of middle earth”.
  8. Value Proposition: Here we merge our insights of this module into a value proposition, which is the reason why our user group will use our product or service. While formulating we always refer to the needs of our users, directly and concretely.

How to get Creative as a Group?

Refining those insights, we conducted a brain-warming and brainstorming session to improve the idea generation. The classical brainwriting is nothing else than quiet brainstorming in a team. We note down everything on Post-its and there are no boundaries. The expected, the usual, the dreamful and the stupid ideas. The horizon for this method is limited to our own perspective as we will not continue developing the ideas further as a team. This method is therefore a good warm-up for the brainstorming.

For this we conducted a digital workshop for ideation, that we want to repeat with some more experts in the future. Ideally, the digital workshop is conducted within a pre-discussed time-frame, say for about 1.5 hours in total. Our first workshop was a live session with 3 participants. We started off with a presentation where we discussed the overall understanding of our idea, research and survey results. Each of the 3 participants then spends a quiet time of 20 minutes dedicated to brain-warming followed by discussion or the brain-storming phase which lasts about 45 minutes. All feedback and ideas were noted down using post-its, which we classified into categories.

The evaluation of the proposed solutions is mainly based on prototypes. We try to create those in an efficient manner in order not to loose to much time.

Subsequently, working on posting a newsletter for our tech blog and developing Singularity’s digital playbook are just a few of our resolutions for the future. Constantly handling challenges and effectively processing new information are important aspects of the innovation sprint.

About the Author: Rianna Dsilva

Rianna currently pursues her master’s degree in Information Technology from the SRH University of Applied Sciences in Heidelberg (Germany) and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics & Communication from Dayananda Sagar University (India).

An avid Sci-Fi lover from childhood, I turned my lifelong passion for technology and human psychology in the development of an interactive, intelligent application to rehabilitate mental illnesses. Using the latest cutting edge technology based on Machine Learning, Neural Networks, Natural Language Processing, is utmost interesting.

You might ask, ‘why mental health?’. The answers pretty simple – All over the world, the term “mental illness” still has stigma attached to it. Our goal is simply to eradicate this and help with recuperation of people suffering from psychological illnesses. We understand that therapy is time consuming and expensive and the symptoms of these illnesses are ignored. Not only this, we aim to broaden our horizon to help everyone on the lookout for mental well being. We want to give people the power to help themselves.

Sources: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash, Graphic by http://www.raminiemi.com/Raymond

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