Hacking Design Sprints: from Hack Day to launch in just 6 weeks – Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, Debbie described how we partnered with DSP (now DSP-Explorer) to develop a new version of their Oracle Cloud Calculator. The process began with a customised one-day Hack Sprint — a cut down version of the classic Design Sprint pioneered by Jake Knapp, Google Ventures and AJ & Smart. Reluctant to commit key stakeholders to a full week of workshops, DSP had asked us to do what we could in a day to help them innovate their Oracle Cloud offering and set them up for launch at the Oracle OpenWorld Conference six weeks later.

Getting from here to there

Over the course of ten hours, our six Hack Sprint participants had invested time in listening to customer interviews and understanding their needs, aligned on a clear goal, explored potential approaches and begun the ideation process with concept sketches. By the end of that day, we had agreed and developed concepts for three key areas:

  • Oracle Cloud Bitesize – a cloud package designed for prospects making their first forays into migrating to the cloud.
  • A customer roadmap to the cloud – with messaging that recognised customer motivations for moving to the cloud and addressed the most common concerns.
  • The Oracle Cloud Calculator itself – a complete redesign of their existing Cloud Calculator, designed to provide prospects with an accurate estimate of the cost of moving to Oracle Cloud and comparison to AWS.

An early wireframe for the design of DSP's Oracle Cloud Calculator. The front cover of the 'Hack Sprint Workshop Outcomes Briefing' prepared following the day by Stocker Partnership. DSP's Oracle Cloud Bitesize leaflet, with the tagline 'Kickstart your move to Oracle Cloud'.

However, despite the huge amount of effort that everyone contributed, a Hack Sprint — like a Design Sprint — is only the beginning of the road. Translating well-thought-out concepts into deliverable products and services requires a different set of skills and techniques. All too often, this is where momentum is lost and progress breaks down.

The DSP team knew they would benefit from our support in bridging this gap between ideation and execution, so we continued to work with them for the six weeks to the launch in what turned out to be a tale of two halves.

A solution we all agree on

For Jonathan Cowling, Director of Marketing at DSP-Explorer since 2013, the Hack Sprint delivered two major benefits.

First, the time spent understanding customer needs had yielded a design for the Oracle Cloud Calculator that addressed common customer scenarios rather than focussing primarily on technical specifications. This detailed understanding of prospective clients’ concerns also translated into the design of Oracle Cloud Bitesize and the supporting collateral for the customer journey.

Then and even now companies can be hesitant about moving to cloud-hosted computing. They need to consider return on investment, cost implications, performance and security issues. Understanding those barriers to entry and the outcomes companies wanted to achieve was crucial.

We designed Oracle Cloud Bitesize to show how you can get over those hurdles and provide proof of value. The calculator showed what you’d save from a cost perspective, but we also addressed the key drivers and barriers for moving to the cloud. We set out the information so that prospects could take it back to their business and address the concerns of C-level decision makers directly. – Jonathan Cowling, Director of Marketing, DSP-Explorer

Second, the experience of the Hack Day had forged a shared understanding of the problem and consensus on the solution across the business.

Sales, marketing, C-level, tech — we were all in the room. As a result, we had a holistic view of what we needed, which was delivering by outcomes.

Because they’d contributed, everyone had bought in to the plan. That emotional buy-in — not only did that spread the risk across more shoulders, but it also meant people were invested in the outcome. Jonathan Cowling

As a result, the work of developing the product positioning and marketing materials — from defining the message and checking technical details to getting stakeholder sign-off — was a smooth experience. Starting the process with the Hack Sprint had set the marketing team up for success.

The devil is in the (tech) details

Over on the tech side, there was still plenty of work to be done. During the Hack Sprint, the team had agreed a brief for the Oracle Cloud Calculator, which defined how information should be presented (including a cost comparison to AWS) and the kinds of inputs users would need to provide.

Turning that vision into reality would require significant effort from the technical team to build and test the calculation engine so that the estimates it provided were as accurate as possible while keeping the interface sufficiently simple for non-technical users to understand.

For Dev Nayak, Director of Innovation at DSP-Explorer, this phase of work and the short timeframe for delivery demanded a different way of working:

It was ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ Even though you’re making progress in innovation, there’s still so many unanswered questions on the way that you can never feel completely comfortable. – Dev Nayak, Director of Innovation, DSP-Explorer

Rather than falling back on the traditional project management techniques that the company was familiar with, the DSP team asked us to support them with proven innovation and development practices.

Instead of a waterfall project plan, we recommended an agile, lean startup approach that focussed on identifying assumptions, prioritizing them based on the risk they presented, and then building up the functionality iteratively.

Due to the number of variables involved, developing the underlying model for the calculation engine was a complex undertaking. The Calculator needed built-in guardrails to prevent users from estimating options that were not actually feasible, while providing accurate quotes for the plethora of viable combinations. To minimise the risk, we encouraged the technical specialists to focus their efforts on that part first. Meanwhile, the outputs from the Hack Sprint provided the design lead with enough direction to start work on the user interface and landing page without having to wait for the calculator itself.

A marathon formed of many sprints

Trying a new methodology for the first time can be a challenge at the best of times, but given the amount of work to be done before the launch we knew the team needed hands-on support. Bringing together multiple stakeholders, we joined the dots between Dev, the DSP engineers, our designer and their web developer to develop both the calculations and the UI in a more agile way.

Matt was great at saying, ‘Let’s take it day by day’. He managed the uncertainty of innovation really well. He would remind us that even if we’d had a plan, that was a placebo. Using checkpoints, managing risk — that was how we ensured we’d deliver. – Dev Nayak

The approach paid off. After six weeks of concerted effort by a committed and talented team of people, DSP’s new Oracle Cloud Calculator was launched at the Oracle OpenWorld Europe conference where it proved a huge success. Three years later, it remains a core part of DSP-Explorer’s sales proposition.

A scrolling GIF of DSP's Oracle Cloud Calculator showing how it's possible to update the parameters to calculate a bespoke costing and report

A photo of the DSP exhibition stand at Oracle OpenWorld Europe. A large screen displays the Oracle Cloud Calculator website. The screen sits inside a large exhibition stand with the words, 'Oracle Cloud Calculator. Is Oracle Cloud really cheaper than AWS for your business?

Innovation as a professional discipline

While squeezing so many aspects of a Design Sprint into a single day isn’t something we would generally advocate for, the experience did demonstrate what you can achieve in a short space of time. In this case, focussing on understanding your users, building empathy and exploring the problem space provided a firm foundation for the work that followed and meant that multiple tracks could operate in parallel. As the team discovered when starting to sketch ideas for the Cloud Calculator, unless you can tease out your underlying assumptions and get everyone on the same page, you won’t be able to make progress on the solution.

Having built consensus and begun the process of prototyping designs during the Hack Sprint, it was essential to maintain that momentum all the way through to delivery. That can be difficult for teams unused to working this way. Working collaboratively as a multi-disciplinary team, addressing risk upfront and adapting the plan as the situation evolved were key to seeing the project through.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s also clear that a normal Design Sprint would not have been the best format for addressing the highly technical aspects of the Cloud Calculator. This phase of work required specialist knowledge and skills. Involving stakeholders from across the business in working out these details would have been a bad use of their time. Switching to an agile approach at this point allowed us to focus on getting the details right while minimising risk, and gave us the confidence that we were designing the right solution in the right way.

For Dev and Jonathan, the experience proved the value of modern innovation techniques and collaborative development methodologies.

Sometimes people think innovation is messing about. Innovation is a professional discipline; there’s time for slowness and time for speed. When you read the book, it feels like everything is done at breakneck speed, but there are some real checkpoints along the way and you need to be doing them if you’re going to deliver results. Matt and Debbie are great at pulling out the grown-up bits of innovation — it’s not all pizzas and cola. – Dev Nayak

Matt and Debbie’s approach is highly motivational. It not only motivated me but motivated everyone in the room. That ultimately drives the success. – Jonathan Cowling

Huge thanks and big shout out to the incredible team who made this happen and without whom none of this would have been possible — from everyone who contributed at DSP-Explorer to Heather James of sugarzoo for her incredible coding skills and Stina Jones for her creativity and design expertise.

Article by

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. More about us

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