Hands up if you ever had some personal business ideas coming to you repeatedly and felt a strong urge to act on it, but found it challenging to:
A) just simply get started!
B) find & apply a simple approach to define it so clearly, break it down and then act on it.
I know I have, and experienced it very recently for a personal business idea. The funny thing is that this has been my bread and butter for most of my career. Working as an ICT Project Manager initially, then moving into Lean Product Management and Agile Coaching, this is a big part of what I do. I help take concepts, strategies or ideas and implement or realise them in these roles together with a cross-functional team. I even support teaching and coaching the principles, processes and methodologies on how to do this (focused on Agile and Product Management). Yet, when it came to a personal idea and project, it felt like my abilities went out the window for a moment. It was as if I had forgotten all about this as soon as it involved something that was outside of my professional career, with no strategic direction or a team to support it. Also, because the idea doesn’t involve a product as such initially, it felt abstract at this point.
The penny dropped a bit when I spoke with my brilliant Agile mentors and other coaches. They were asking powerful questions that has helped me open my eyes and connect the dots better. The realisation went like this: Wait a minute! I do have some tools, knowledge and experience on how to go from idea to realisation in my work life. Why don’t I just apply some of that? I know this might be a slightly different context, but how can I be inspired by some of these tools and re-purpose them to make it super easy to get started, keep iterating, learning and adapting!?
I knew I wanted to tap into the deep purpose and personal heartfelt need over just simply just going for this mechanically and in a goal oriented way. Taking a step back, what I felt I wanted at this point was to create an environment with intention, focused space and navigate things with agility . As I’d like to keep it focused and super simple, the first thing that came to mind was to leverage something similar to a Design Sprint. A design sprint, but with my own personal twist added to it.
First things first – let’s establish the foundation. So what is actually a design sprint?
Feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re an Agile veteran or well versed in this landscape. This may however be a completely new concept if you have not worked with Agile or in product/software development before.
Let’s start by breaking up the words – Design and Sprint. Design is more easily understood in common language and reflects the creation and execution in this case. However the word sprint may leave you wondering if there will be any running involved in this.
In agile planning which is the perspective I’m coming from, the work is organised into these so called sprints. In this context, a sprint is a defined and focused period of time where specific work is accomplished and made ready for review based on a prioritised goal.
Shorter ‘sprint cycles’ are often favoured and repeated over a longer period of time until you achieve a working product or launch to your target audience. Main purpose is to de-risk and break down complex, big chunks of work to more manageable pieces.
(If you’re new to this, I recognise it may still take time to digest and grasp – if you prefer a video explanation, see here.)
Ok, so how do these two different words then come together in this context? A design sprint is a type of sprint consisting of a (typically) five day journey going from a wider stance of brainstorming ideas to obtaining a specific learning, without necessarily building or launching something.
A design sprint can reduce risk by providing an early, focused & more time effective learning before building and launching something.Image source: Wikipedia
From divergence to convergence, you can more quickly go from the breadth of ideas to being in a position where you decide if it is worth diving deep and investing time (and money) into it towards the end of that week. This is favoured when you want to reduce risks of investing further before having that initial validation. See summarised image below on this.
Alright, back to my story. So I decided to embark on what was going to be somewhat like a five day design sprint journey. You’ll discover later why I say somewhat. As with any type of sprint, as mentioned previously, you must have a clear and prioritised goal. I shared my sprint goal with my mentor to keep myself accountable and focused. Initially the goal was focused on producing initial and tangible deliverables: completing a Lean Canvas (refining a previous version), drafting a straw-man for a service offering and a simple framework for it .
Taking a step back I realised how important it was for me to approach this mindfully and connect with even a bigger picture, beyond just deliverables.
So I decided to also capture the essence of what my heart and soul wanted to achieve from this experimental week. I jotted down “I want to learn how to break the barriers of just getting started as well as observe and grow from this initial process of ideating on creating my own business and brand”. Obsessed about learning and growth I thought that this learning journey would be a worthwhile one to approach with surrender and trust . Again, my desire was not to just go into it in a mechanical fashion and just produce deliverables. Focus and aim was to approach this journey with awareness, connect with my soul’s purpose and learn something about myself when it comes to going for a personal endeavour.
My mentor suggested “Why don’t you document this experience and share it? Put a conversation or different perspective out there!”. This really hit the mark and aligned with essence of one of my goals of wanting to take opportunities to practice self expression and develop my writing more. So here we are, putting things out there, while surrendering to and trusting whatever comes out of it…
Let’s pause here now that you have some context. I have shared some of my story as well as explained the basics of my chosen method, direction and reason. To continue reading about this exploration journey and my day-to-day progress and insights, please hang around for part 2 of this story (link will be shared soon).