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Methodology and Examples

Intro to Innovation Sprints

– By Brittany Hobbs

What are Innovation Sprints?

If an innovative initiative is on a long-term roadmap, there’s unlikely to be any progress because there’s always another, more urgent fire to put out first. Meanwhile executives, product managers, and marketers are under pressure to find new revenue streams and competitive advantages. Yet, no resources are assigned to those innovative initiatives because of a misconception that they will be extremely resource intensive.

Myth: Innovation happens on multi-year cycles and requires major investments, each full of risk. Reality: Innovation is achieved through small, incremental actions, each informed through small experiments.

Innovation sprints are different than design sprints in four key ways:

  1. Design sprints aim to simplify the design process; Innovation sprints to simplify innovation;

  2. Design sprints focus on testing and proving ideas; Innovation sprints focus on exploring challenges and validating solutions;

  3. Design sprints rely on expertise that is on the team; Innovation sprints leverage a consultative process that engages experts across the organization;

  4. And most importantly, innovation sprints leverage qualitative and quantitative research methods to build a business case for moving from prototype to investment. 

Example of innovation sprints: Ad supported news app

  • Most internet properties rely on advertising. They increase revenue by displaying more ads or by being able to charge more per ad.

  • The first one goes counter to the user experience —the more ads you display will reduce engagement and increase churn. So the critical innovation challenge is improving the relevancy of ads, so that cost per click (CPC) goes up. 

  • Most people assume that the apps we use know a lot about us, when in fact, iOS and Android limit what apps know about users to very basic data points.

  • The innovation sprint challenge would seek to research and test a variety of value exchanges with users that makes them comfortable providing first-party data about their demographics and lifestyle.

  • A project like this would require at least three sprints, each two weeks long. Each sprint would tackle a component of the challenge and engage stakeholders going into the sprint and when reporting out to ensure possible solutions align to the brand promise, technical feasibility, and customer experience strategy.

Why organizations need innovation sprints

In the ad supported business example above success depends on taking a fresh look at what the business is and isn’t doing. It requires a new perspective on what else can be done to build deeper relationships with users so that they will freely provide their personal information. This problem is not only costing the business millions of dollars in potential lost ad revenue, it is also costing them the hundreds of thousands they pay external vendors to append data. 

Innovation challenges rarely are moon shots, they just feel that way. Innovation challenges bring the most blurry and distant goal posts into perspective by making milestones achievable. 

Innovation sprints also recognize that product teams have no time to take on additional projects. The methodology equips interdisciplinary teams with the tools necessary to accomplish sprints part-time or to work efficiently with an external vendor. 

Part-time, internal teams use the methodology to build alignment, investigate the problem space, explore solutions, and build a business case. External vendors handle the entire innovation sprint and find the best way to engage busy stakeholders and help project champions show rapid progress.


Examples of service design projects

The following are example service design projects from our experience here at PH1 Research. We are a Vancouver-based research & strategy consulting firm founded in 2012. Our mission is to solve the biggest problems impacting your digital experience.

  1. Map the connected services of a leading B2B retail distributor to determine the requirements for new services and where to prioritize initiatives to improve existing ones.

  2. Audit existing customer services resources and the likelihood that customers will use them rather than contacting support. Then prototyping and testing new solutions with the intent of delivering tools and services that will reduce call volume.

  3. Investigate what type of online support tobacco users need on their journey to quit smoking. Then map out a unified set of personalized support nudges and communication to guide them.

Service design methodology

The service design methodology incorporates elements of design thinking, behavioural analysis, innovation sprints, and UX research:

  • Investigate the problem space

  • Map the current service ecosystem

  • Map behaviours and expectations

  • Evaluate possible interventions

  • Map the ideal service ecosystem

Service designers act as hybrid researchers and strategists, operating at a strategic level to contextualize and research challenges before conceptualizing and roadmapping solutions.

Successful projects depend on gaining a holistic perspective of three spaces: 1) The interconnected services and touchpoints; 2) Systemic factors, like organizational culture and team-specific needs; and 3) The range of users and their diverse mental models and context.

If you’d like to discuss a service design project, contact Brittany Hobbs.

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