Written by Ronald Poon

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

Idea sprints help condense months of strategic planning into a single 8-hour action-driven working session.

So what is a “idea sprint”?

A 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 a idea sprint

The goal of a 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 help address the most important issues within that particular stream.

The duration of a idea sprint

The duration of idea sprints can vary depending on the complexity of the challenges involved and the resources that are available. At Onova, we typically run our idea sprints as 8-hour working sessions, held in person (with no more than 20 people involved) and there are several reasons why we have done this:

Onova's idea sprint formula:

1. Speed

We believe in speed. 8 hours is more than enough if you are intentional with your time. Our sprints are segmented into time-boxed sections so that participants stay on track, and are focused and motivated throughout the sprint.

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

By the end of the 8 hours, participants will have a clear understanding of the core challenges (as things currently stand), a bunch of employee-generated strategies on how these problems could be solved, and a compelling strategy or idea proposal on what direction the overall team should take for that particular workstream.

2. The creative energy of being in-person

There is a creative energy that is simply unrivalled and unmatched when working in person. As a remote-first company (over the past five years), we know just how powerful, time-efficient and effective online work can be! 

But there are times when our goals and objectives can only be achieved through in-person collaboration. Strategic planning is definitely one of those instances! 

We have seen greater buy-in, engagement and interest from senior leaders (as well as newly onboarded team members) when running strategy sprints in person. 

There is a certain feel, camaraderie and connection that simply cannot be replicated through an online sprint. We highly encourage all our clients to run their idea sprints in person, or at least hybrid (if travel isn’t feasible for certain people on the team).

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

3. Not having too many actors at the table

Finally, we believe that it's important to not invite too many people to the party and have too many actors involved in a idea sprint! Collaboration is only effective when it's intentional and meaningful. 

When you have too many people contributing their ideas, the overall focus and direction gets lost. That’s why it's important to LIMIT the number of people that attend a idea sprint. 

We cap our idea sprints at 20 people across four focus areas. This way no workstream ever has more than 5 team members (we’ve found 3-5 people on a team to be the golden number!)

With a lean team of 3 to 5 elite players, actionable ideas and tangible solutions naturally begin to flow. There is far more productive discussion, and participants are far more likely to 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, which we will go through in-depth.

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

An example from our idea sprint with BMO 

An example of what this looks like in relation to judging solutions at a large-scale innovation-based competition is conducting “expert interviews” with previous participants on their overall judging experience.

From these 30-minute “expert interviews” with past participants, you can transform the major problems and pain points that were listed into new opportunities — through the use of “How Might We” statements.

The next part of this phase is adding all the newly created HMW (How Might We) statements onto a process map that outlines the end-to-end judging process for participants (from project submission and first-round judging — to the final announcement of open innovation competition winners).

Finally, participants need to categorize and vote on their favourite HMW statements, so that the team knows what they should be focusing on when ideating strategies and solutions (the next phase of the sprint).

It’s important to narrow the focus down to only 1 or 2 core problems so that the final idea or strategy proposal is actionable and can be implemented within a few 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 bit crazy sometimes! (literally). There are a bunch of live facilitated activities in this section too such as Lightning Demos, Crazy 8’s and creating an initial 3-step storyboard for idea or strategy proposals.

Getting started is better than being right

A key principle to remember during this phase is that “getting started is better than being right”. Creativity requires momentum and if you’re constantly worried about whether your idea is good or not, you’ll never be in the flow state that’s needed for your best strategy 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 and remember that when it comes to rapid brainstorming it’s all about QUANTITY and NOT quality. Jot and doodle 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 impressive to see how much 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 (such as Mural).

Getting feedback from the team is CRUCIAL

The feedback stage is crucial, which is why we reserve 10 minutes for every group to go over any questions that the rest of the team has. All of these questions and thoughts are captured and well-documented by our team so that solutions and proposals can be continually refined and improved even after the sprint is finished!

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

Why should you run a 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

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