On your marks. Get set… The next step to the Vision Sprint — Part 3: Inspiration

Vision Sprints are a marathon that utilises our strategic product design approach to help organisations create ambitious future visions. By identifying and seizing opportunities with a new and forward-looking solution (their vision), we help organisations build successful products, services, experiences and ventures.

Although the official Vision Sprint only takes 5 days, a lot of time and effort needs to be put into pre- and post-sprint actions for the Vision Sprint to succeed. We delved into the preparation phase of Vision Sprints last week, sharing our tips and know-hows on taking that essential first step. This week we’ll dive into another important pre-sprint stage: the inspiration phase.

What is the inspiration phase?

A vision can’t be created without inspiration, direction or some proper research. The inspiration phase follows a traditional diverging and converging pattern to fulfil all these aspects, making it an imperative part of any Vision Sprint track.

The inspiration phase draws mostly on readily available design expertise and secondary research to provide the sprint team with inspirational resources. Doing this makes things easier on the sprint team so they can focus on the outcome: a new vision. The process starts with digesting, synthesizing and processing as much information as possible into ready inspirational insights and resources. Then works from the product level up to the context level.

The goal is not only to establish a clear picture, but to deconstruct the whole context in preparation to design a new vision. This is where design expertise comes in. After all, an active and broad inspirational, experimental and research mindset is required to dig through vast amounts of information and distil its essence, make connections across industries, link new technologies, conduct ongoing trend research, etc.

Depending on the subject, budget and ambition, the inspiration phase usually takes 2–4 weeks’ time.

Diverging phase

The diverging phase begins by looking into information about the organisation and its context. A critical attitude towards this information is necessary to succeed since a lot of it can vary in terms of quality. Instead of relying on this readily available information, be prepared to look beyond what has been gathered and received. The inspiration phase requires inspiration, which means looking beyond information alone to identify what is missing or what may add value and inspiration.

The kind of innovation that most of us are familiar with is already quite developed. The ability to seek out raw things and new opportunities requires experience and expertise. This takes time and continuous efforts in practice, experimentation and immersion to develop. We recommend building up a mental catalogue of experience, which can be drawn from to find out what is missing, what should be added and what would be interesting to delve further into.

In certain cases, consider organising an excursion or specific event (even self-organised with experts) to learn something new during the inspiration phase. This is an effective way of adding ‘spark’ to the sprint team, which will have a great influence on the quality of work accomplished during the Vision Sprint itself. We recommend getting all participants to record their notes and takeaways from excursions or events in the divergent phase on (digital) post-its.

Expert tip: Keep physical and digital whiteboards to help map out of all the information that has been gathered.

Converging phase

Now that all the information has been collated, it’s time to begin the converging phase. The goal is to turn all the gathered information into insights. Be careful not to start with ideation as it risks making the sprint team feel left out — all the work has been completed before the sprint and the sprint is only a front to have them do the heavy lifting.

Face the whiteboards and use affinity diagramming exercises to gradually cluster the information. If done properly, these clusters will lead to insights. It’s important to translate these insights into a visual and concrete overview that will be used on the first day of the Vision Sprint. In addition, a written summary of the inspiration phase needs to be sent to the sprint team in advance so they can read themselves into the matter.

Finally, the inspiration phase will introduce a lot of visuals of new products and technologies. Based on our experience, we definitely believe it’s worth turning this into a mood board. A mood board makes the insights more tangible and provides colour in the first moments of the sprint, which will spark creativity.

Involving sprint team members in the inspiration phase

How and when to involve sprint team members in the inspiration phase varies depending on the setting.

If you’re an external agency, the heavy lifting in the inspiration phase will be done by your team. All the information gathered in the inspiration phase allows you to get accustomed with your client. At the same time, employees know their company best and bringing them out of their comfort zone to involve them in aspects of the inspiration phase can be a smart thing to do. Assistance from the organisation will vary depending on the availability of team members and how you involve them or what work they do needs to be estimated. In any setting, we recommend involving the sprint team members in the inspiration phase to test insights and ensure you stay within the domain.

If you’re an in-house team, gather a team that will be able to find and process all the necessary internal and external information. In some cases, outsourcing some of the work to specialised companies will save time and effort. A special warning for in-house teams is to ensure that you look beyond internal information and data. Otherwise a data and information bubble will develop and the result of your Vision Sprint will reflect that bubble.

The last step in preparation for the official sprint week is to approach the different internal experts that were scoped out in the preparation phase. Present them with the results of the inspiration phase and prepare interviews with them for the first day of the Vision Sprint. This allows different team members to ask additional questions relevant to the sprint that you may not have necessarily come up with during the inspiration phase.

Now that the inspiration phase is complete, the true heavy lifting will begin in the official Vision Sprint. In next week’s article, we’ll look into the details of how we conduct the sprint to successfully translate insights and inspiration into a new concept of vision.

Builder, designer, innovator, entrepreneur, husband and father.