Sprinting for 12 Italian Companies

July 31, 2017

Getting started with a project seems to always be the hardest part. Whether it’s getting stuck in abstract thoughts or fear of not reaching perfection, there are countless barriers that prevent teams from working efficiently. In order to sidestep these hurdles, this year to kickoff the Italia Innovation Program project work we invited Google Venture’s Jake Knapp, creator of the Sprint Methodology, to facilitate a Design Sprint that would help push the groups into rapid ideation.

The Italia Innovation Program is an education initiative created by Innovation Foundries that brings together international students, world-renowned thought leaders and major Italian companies to investigate design challenges businesses face today. The program produces learning experiences in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship, so our Design Sprint was meant for the participants to both jump into their present design projects and acquire the skills for future ones.

This year the business challenges were posed by Ermenegildo Zegna, Woolrich International, Tecnica Group, Barilla, De’Longhi, Nardini Distilleries, Santa Margherita Wine Group, illy Group, Davines, Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana, Domori, and Autogrill. While the projects ranged from developing innovative retail experiences to creating new business models, they all had the common theme of exploring user-centered design for top of the line products.

Jake Knapp commenced the design sprint in Barilla’s design thinking center at the company’s headquarters in Parma, Italy. The Design Sprint is a five-day process with a specific agenda for each day of the week for answering critical business questions, however, we facilitated the first three days in just two.

At Barilla, Jake led the teams through Monday’s activities. The participants started off by coming up with “How might we (HMW)” statements, which is an exercise that pushes the group to look at the challenge they are solving then reframe it in order to take it out of the abstract realm and into a concrete and actionable one. The next step was asking the experts, which for the participants meant researching valuable insights about their challenge topics in order to then set a goal for their sprint and a metric with which they can measure their success. The final activity for Monday was mapping out their projects with their HMW statements, goals, and metrics.

While Monday is all about understanding the project and goals, Tuesday centers around finding solutions. To help cut out self-editing during brainstorming sessions, the Design Sprint stresses quantity over quality. To facilitate this, Jake led exercises like Crazy 8’s where each team member has a piece of paper divided into eight sections and then gets 1 minute for each section to sketch out a solution.

Once all of the solutions were sketched, it was time to start Wednesday’s activities of deciding which ideas were good enough to test. The team members would put dots on ideas they liked, then they would have a group discussion about each where the creator could only chime in at the very end to clarify certain details. While each member gets to choose which one to develop, the designated decider gets the ultimate choice of which to pursue. This person was appointed randomly at the beginning of the sprint in order to keep the process going by preventing the team hemming and hawing over decisions.

Caroline Washington, who worked on the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana challenge to imagine new ways to attract companies to the museum, notes: “The session with Jake was valuable because it allowed us to channel our instincts as a team and define an opportunity statement honestly within minutes. We of course refined it over the weeks, but the speed of the sprint and the structured voting exercises freed our team from analysis paralysis and encouraged us to keep moving forward together.”

Working on the Santa Margherita challenge to find innovative and meaningful solutions through which customers could interact and engage with their brand Torresella, David Kim recounts: “through the separate processes, such as Mapping, Sketching, and Deciding, we were able to come up with several ideas that were truly ‘outside the box’ and would appeal to Torresella’s target customer, such as the launch of Torresella-sponsored events at restaurants, pool parties and art galas, as well as catchy Venetian-themed merchandise attached to off-premise bottle packaging and the introduction of different cocktail recipes using Torresella prosecco that could be used at bars and parties. With the Deciding, Prototyping and Testing phases of the sprint methodology, we were able to narrow down our ideas by communicating and demonstrating these various ideas to the rest of the Italia Innovation teams around us, through which we were able to understand that all of these ideas would need to be properly communicated to customers via social media and catchy packaging.”
The sprint session with Jake Knapp was a guiding methodology in the Santa Margherita’s team work. By driving them to generate lots of ideas at a rapid pace, it eventually guided their team to the final 360˚ brand experience.

Through the Design Sprint with Jake Knapp, the students went through the motions to ingrain the sprint techniques of noting, self-editing, sharing, capturing, voting, and then deciding into their design muscle memories. For many of the teams, the Sprint Methodology was the foundation for ideating, especially when they hit walls in their thinking processes.
“Looking back, we frequently incorporated different steps of the sprint methodology to our decision-making process without deliberately planning on doing so, proving that the sprint methodology was an integral aspect of our team’s initial ideation stage,” says David Kim.

As Innovation Foundries continues creating more opportunities for students, managers, and thought leaders to explore their incumbent business challenges, we will definitely integrate sprints into the program’s timeline because our rapid sprint session with Jake Knapp demonstrated that the sprint skills were fundamental for the teams to push the speed at which they could innovate with Italian companies.