Written by Ronald Poon

Not all work days are created equal, which is why we've created an 8-hour “idea sprint” process to help you build effective, high-impact solution proposals with your team.

So what is an “idea sprint”?

An idea sprint is a structured and facilitated working session that involves a very deliberate and focused effort to develop, test, and implement solutions. It's a hands-on process for setting goals, making decisions (at speed), and aligning as a team on the next steps.

The goal of an idea sprint

The aim of an idea sprint is to understand the core challenges and pain points of a particular focus area (say marketing, as an example) and to rapidly generate solutions that address the most important issues within that particular stream.

The duration of an idea sprint

The length of idea sprints can vary depending on the complexity of the challenges involved and the resources available. At Onova, we typically run our idea sprints as 8-hour working sessions, held in person with no more than 20 people involved. There are several reasons for this:

Onova's idea sprint formula:

1. Speed

We believe in speed. Eight hours is more than sufficient if you are intentional with your time. Our sprints are segmented into time-boxed sections to keep participants on track, focused, and motivated.

We curate all materials beforehand, such as customer feedback forms and workstream briefs, so that more time can be spent on generating new solutions and analyzing core problems.

By the end of the 8 hours, participants will have a clear understanding of the core challenges, employee-generated strategies for solving these problems, and a compelling strategy or idea proposal for the overall team's direction.

2. The creative energy of being in-person

There's an unrivaled creative energy when working in person. As a remote-first company for the past five years, we understand the power, efficiency, and effectiveness of online work.

However, there are instances when our goals and objectives can only be achieved through in-person collaboration. Strategic planning is one such instance.

We've observed greater buy-in, engagement, and interest from senior leaders and newly onboarded team members when running strategy sprints in person.

There's a unique camaraderie and connection that simply can't be replicated in an online sprint. We highly encourage all our clients to run their idea sprints in person, or at least in a hybrid format if travel isn't feasible for certain team members.

Our Idea Sprint with BMO for Destination Digital at the start of this year (2023)

3. Not having too many actors at the table

Finally, we believe that limiting the number of participants is crucial for an effective idea sprint. Collaboration thrives when it's intentional and meaningful.

When too many people contribute, the focus and direction can easily become diluted. That's why we cap our idea sprints at 20 people, spread across four focus areas. This ensures that no workstream has more than five team members, a number we've found to be the golden ratio for team effectiveness.

With a lean team of 3 to 5 elite players, actionable ideas and tangible solutions naturally begin to flow. The result? More productive discussions and a higher likelihood that participants will be satisfied with their final idea sprint proposals.

So what is the process for an 8-hour idea sprint?

An idea sprint is comprised of three key phases, each designed to bring you closer to actionable solutions:

1. Understanding and prioritizing challenges
2. Rapidly generating ideas and brainstorming concrete solutions
3. Collaborating and presenting a final solution proposal

1. Understanding and prioritizing challenges

This is the most crucial part of the sprint. Without a strong understanding of the core challenges and pain points, it's impossible to come up with an effective strategy proposal. 

Expert Interviews, Process Maps and HMW Statements

The first phase of a sprint includes facilitated activities such as conducting “expert interviews”, generating a bunch of HMW (How Might We) statements, and creating a process map — to help better understand pain points and opportunities along the ideal customer (or user) journey

The first phase incorporates facilitated activities such as conducting "expert interviews," generating a series of "How Might We" (HMW) statements, and creating a process map. These activities aim to deepen the understanding of pain points and opportunities along the ideal customer or user journey.

An example from our idea sprint with BMO 

To illustrate this process, let's consider our experience in conducting an idea sprint focused on improving the judging experience at a large-scale innovation-based competition. The first phase involved conducting "expert interviews" with previous participants to gain insights into their overall judging experience.

From these 30-minute interviews, we were able to identify major problems and pain points. These insights were then transformed into new opportunities through the creation of "How Might We" (HMW) statements.

The subsequent step in this phase involved incorporating these newly minted HMW statements into a process map. This map outlines the end-to-end judging process for participants, from project submission and first-round judging, all the way to the final announcement of the open innovation competition winners.

Finally, participants need to categorize and vote on their favorite "How Might We" (HMW) statements. This ensures the team knows what to focus on during the ideation phase.

It's crucial to narrow down to 1 or 2 core problems, making the final strategy actionable and implementable within weeks.

2. Rapidly generating ideas and brainstorming concrete solutions

This is the most exciting and enjoyable part of a strategy sprint and can get a little crazy sometimes! (literally). Facilitated activities like Lightning Demos, Crazy 8's, and initial 3-step storyboards fuel this particular section.

Key Principle: Getting started is better than being right

Creativity thrives on momentum. If you're too preoccupied and worried about whether your idea is good or not, you’ll never be in the flow state that’s needed for your best ideas to come to life!

It’s about QUANTITY and NOT quality

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo during this phase. Get your ideas down on paper. Jot down any (and every) idea that comes to mind. Get lost in the creative process, and let all those brilliant, wild thoughts flow out!

3. Collaborating and presenting a final solution proposal

This is the final part of the session where teams split off to work independently. Once the direction has been set on the overall solution or strategy proposal for each individual workstream, it's time to begin refining the details and creating a “final solution proposal presentation”.

It's remarkable what can be achieved in just 2 hours of research, summarizing, and collaborating! Groups usually present their strategy proposals back to the wider team through slide decks or by using a digital whiteboard tool like Mural.

Getting feedback from the team is CRUCIAL

We allocate 10 minutes for each group to field questions from the team. All questions and feedback are meticulously documented for ongoing refinement even after the sprint is finished.

From the start to the very end — our team captures feedback at every point.

Why should you run an idea sprint with your team?

Idea sprints are a great way to get your team energized and aligned on a new product or project. They help you and your team:

So if you’re looking to kickstart a brand-new project or product this year, with a burst of creative energy and momentum  — you should consider running an in-person idea sprint with your team!

At Onova, we help facilitate in-person and hybrid strategy sprints across North America and around the world. If you’re interested in running a facilitated sprint with us, reach out to our team at hello@onova.io

Interested in seeing how we can support you and your business in your innovation initiatives? Book an introductory call with Victor Li, Founder & CEO of Onova.
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