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InfoQ Homepage News Design Sprints at LEGO: Q&A with Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård

Design Sprints at LEGO: Q&A with Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård

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Design sprints have led to a high level of energy and motivation at LEGO. Digesting the ideas and learnings coming out of each sprint can be challenging, said Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård at Agile Portugal 2019; you need to discuss them to decide if there’s a solution or if you need to go deeper in the next sprint. Design sprints have created a sense of pride; a belief that teams can tackle any challenge, and the feeling that individuals can add value that exceeds their expected roles.

LEGO needed to reinvent the way they reached their audiences, and wanted to use a different way of working to achieve this goal. They decided to do a two-month pause from regular work, and reinvent themselves. As they were aiming for eight one-week iterations requiring a format, they settled on design sprints.

The design sprints are very prescriptive, said Thyrsted Brandsgård:

We had a week to get 150 people going so we thought the design sprint format would provide the best foundation to get us started. We had experimented with design sprints on a couple of occasions so we knew what it was about, and following a detailed script didn’t require a lot of practice upfront.

They thought the challenge would be getting everybody up to speed, but that went surprisingly smooth. "Everybody bought into the design sprints and were very energized around it," said Thyrsted Brandsgård. The primary challenge proved to be absorbing the output from the sprints; how to digest the ideas and learnings coming out of 8-10 sprint teams each week and putting it to good use for upcoming design sprints. The design sprints are not intended to be iterative like for example Scrum, Thyrsted Brandsgård mentioned.

They learned that they needed to off-set the output from one sprint to the next by a week. While the teams were working on new briefs, they had time to discuss and decide if they wanted another go at a previous brief or if they believed they had a solution for that particular challenge.

Design sprints created a high level of energy and motivation with the teams, with their six-hour workdays, clear focus and fast-paced environment, and everyone on the team being valuable. The feeling of progress and sometimes surprising yourself by what a team can accomplish in a week is truly exhilarating, said Thyrsted Brandsgård, although you usually get out of your comfort zone a few times underways.

The sprint format has become the go-to method for kicking off new projects in LEGO Agency, with a high level of newness/uncertainty. Thyrsted Brandsgård mentioned that it is also useful if you get stuck on a project and need to find a new path, or to accelerate it or re-energize it. Sometimes it is nicknamed "Boost workshop" or even "Hackaton", he said.

InfoQ interviewed Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård, agile coach at LEGO, after his talk at Agile Portugal 2019 about how they did design sprints and the long term effects that it has brought.

InfoQ: How did you do the design sprints?

Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård: We handed out the book to the people who would be facilitating (primarily project managers and account managers), and gave them a two-hour crash course. Don’t get ready, get started!

During the design sprint week, we would meet every morning and afternoon to brief and de-brief what would happen that particular day in the sprint week (a "brief" is how work to be done is described in the Agency world), primarily giving the facilitators confidence to harvest learnings from the day. After each sprint, we did a more thorough retrospective, much like Scrum-of-Scrums, and adjusted the things that were not giving enough value for us - for example, spending too much time on the map exercise.

InfoQ: What were the challenges of doing design sprints with a large department?

Brandsgård: We thought we would wear people out by doing the eight successive sprints to fit into the allocated two months, so anyone could opt out at any time. But they didn’t ...So inadvertently it led to a post-sprint-syndrome when we returned to our more normal way of working, where we needed to execute on the ideas and prototypes coming out of the sprints.

One of the anti-patterns that emerged was that, after a while, the sprint seemed to be the only tool in our toolbox. "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Fortunately, that wore off and other good methods and practices came into play again.

InfoQ: What did you learn doing design sprints?

Brandsgård: Doing design sprints caters to more introverted personalities, since there is less talking and debating, and the "working together alone" practice where you write down your ideas and thoughts gives everyone a voice. It also reduces bias when making decisions. Good ideas can come from everyone. Great diversity in the team (professional, experience, age, nationality, gender, years within the company) fosters more innovative ideas and can approach a problem or opportunity from several angles.

We now have a variety of Design Sprint-inspired formats, ranging from a couple of hours to a full week, that each cater to a certain purpose. We also sometimes use exercises from design sprints in other workshop formats. So even though we have a super solid foundation in the design sprint, we keep experimenting and evolving.

InfoQ: What have been the long term effects of design sprints at LEGO?

Brandsgård: It has created a sense of pride throughout the organization; a belief that we can tackle any challenge as a team and that we as individuals are pretty good at our jobs and can add value that exceeds our expected roles, when required.

Also, it was a great team-building exercise; you get to know some new colleagues and their skills, so people were more inclined to reach out to each other after a sprint. Water cooler talks definitely have been taken to a new level :)

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