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Design Sprints to Workshopping, with Jonathan Courtney (Part 2)

   

What is the difference between running Design Sprints and running Workshops? What does the future hold for this style of concentrated, rapid ideation, prototyping, and co-creation? We had the chance to interview Jonathan Courtney, CEO of Berlin-based product design agency AJ&Smart, and get his perspective, shortly before the release of his book The Workshopper Playbook.

If you haven’t read part one of our interview yet, where Jonathan covers how he got into Design Sprints, and how he pitches, prepares, and facilitates as one of the leaders in the Design Sprint and Product Design community check it out here!

In this section of our interview with Jonathan, we go in-depth about his switch from Design Sprints to “Workshopping,” the process behind his new book, and the future of Workshopping in the business world. 

**Note: To avoid confusion, please note that Jonathan refers to Sprint facilitators as Workshoppers (or Sprint facilitators as one subset of Workshoppers).

Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart holding up the Workshopper Playbook.

The Workshopper Playbook

Neuromagic: How long have you been working on The Workshopper Playbook?

Jon: So, officially we started working on it at the end of January, and it was about six weeks from the first day of making the decision to create the book to finishing it. And actually there’s a lot of courses with the book so when it comes out next week* you can get the book, and like, a lot of upgrades to the book. 

Neuromagic: Wait… what? You came up with the idea to write a book less than three months ago?

Jon: It was honestly written extremely quickly because the things that are in this book are the things we’ve been doing internally for the last three years, but we’ve just never shared it publicly. So it was relatively easy to write. The hardest part was actually just figuring out like, how do you get a book created, how do you even make a book?


*this interview was conducted in Spring of 2020, just before the Workshopper release

Design Sprints vs. Workshops

Neuromagic: Why did you decide to officially shift from “Design Sprints” to “Workshopping” with the publishing of The Workshopper Playbook?

Jon: Since 2016, clients have been asking us to break [the Design Sprint] down into smaller pieces. So for example, we came up with this LDJ workshop, maybe three years ago. And another example, last time I was in Tokyo, I was at the LEGO headquarters running a custom problem-solving workshop for the C-level team– and that is a complete custom workshop based on what the client needs, that has nothing to do with the design sprint. We were just creating these custom workshops in the background and not really thinking about it, and we also just wanted to have one clear branded message. However, last summer myself and the team sat down and we were thinking about like, “okay, yes it’s really great that we’re able to spread the word about the Design Sprint, but many companies don’t have the time or the culture to run a Design Sprint. But it would be good to still let them experience what it feels like, the benefits. And right now, maybe we are in the best position to be the company to actually make that popular.” 

What we realized is that the Design Sprint is called the Design Sprint, which turns a lot of people off, because it’s Design focused. Whereas with workshops, you can focus on, like the book says– “becoming a problem-solving and decision making expert” I genuinely think there’s just a lot more future-proofing in becoming somebody who can run and design workshops than somebody who can just run Design Sprints.

This book– we even created a custom workshop to make this book. The only reason we can come up with a book, you know, and have it released and printed and everything, within the space of, realistically, it was really four weeks, is that we have custom workshops. If we tried to do this three years ago, it would’ve taken me a full year to make it. 

Neuromagic: I feel like that’s really the most surprising thing, it gives a testament to the working system that you were able to put out a whole book in four weeks. 

Jon: Yes, it’s crazy, I’m even shocked about it. And like, the cool thing is, you know, we don’t have to convince anybody at this company or at our clients company to run workshops. Once we do it with them, once we show this way of working, we no longer have to convince anyone to do it, they just want to, they don’t want to do the old way. Whereas with the Design Sprint we kind of have to convince people because it’s such a big investment.

Neuromagic: That’s something we struggle with here in Japan too, because the working culture is more traditional. It’s hard to convince people that all the post-its and timeboxing can actually make an impact.

Jon: I agree with you, and I think the problem is because it’s called the Design Sprint, and I think the problem is because Design Thinking and Post-Its, they look like something which you just have silly fun times with, which is why we no longer talk about design, and focus more on the business value of being able to run workshops. 

The Future for Workshops and Design Sprints

Neuromagic: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with how rapidly the business environment is changing, in terms of Workshopping and Sprinting, Design, etc?

Jon: I think that the most important thing, especially as we’re about to go into quite a tricky economy as well right now, is to have fundamental core skills that don’t change. Workshops will change, the recipes will change, but in a food analogy, if you understand the core of how to cook something then you’ll still always be able to create new things and still be able to work with it. 

If you can come in and be that shining light who unlocks everyone’s superpowers, then you’re also improving the businesses revenue, and everything behind it.

Jonathan Courtney, CEO, AJ&Smart

If you can come in and be that shining light who unlocks everyone’s superpowers, then you’re also improving the businesses revenue, and everything behind it. So I would say the point here is not to do design sprints, to do design thinking, to do the LDJ, any of that stuff, the point is  to understand that workshops are about being able to cut out the busywork, they are about solving problems faster, making decisions faster, and I think honestly, you know, if we keep pushing it, and if other companies keep pushing it, it will become more normal to not just get into a room and start talking. People will take out their post-its and it won’t be seen as a designer thing anymore.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re doing marketing, design, whatever, the thing we’re trying to get across is that meetings are broken at a fundamental level, collaboration is broken at a fundamental level, and it doesn’t matter if there’s great agile systems, and great technology and all of these cool ideas. If people can’t get together in a room– or now on Zoom or whatever– and make decisions and finalize decisions, then it’s going to continue to be broken.

Neuromagic: Any final comments on Workshopping? 

Being a Workshopper is not a luxury, its an extremely fundamental role that companies don’t have yet.

Jonathan Courtney, CEO, AJ&Smart

Jon: If I was to think about my job right now, I could go back 30 years and still be relevant. You know what I mean? And I think that’s something that’s hard to say for a lot of other jobs. I can go back thirty years and still people need to solve problems and make decisions, and still people would appreciate that happening in a faster way. So I think it’s really thinking about and understanding the fact that being a Workshopper is not a luxury, its an extremely fundamental role that companies don’t have yet and we are making a massive bet on the fact that this role which is kind of a mixture of a project manager, and an agile coach– we are making a big bet that this role is missing in companies and that the demand is going to be really high for it.


Thank you to Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart for joining us for this interview! Jonathan made some great points about the future of business in general. Here are a few takeaways and some things to consider as we move forward as Design Sprint facilitators, workshoppers, and workplace innovators in general: 

  • Sometimes the word “design” can intimidate people– we have to break that down and show that design is not only for designers– especially when it comes to Sprints
  • It will always be valuable a valuable skill to be able to bring teams together and unlock their power
  • Workshops are for everyone, and can be used in many, many different industries and situations.
  • Meetings are fundamentally broken. And workshops can help to fix that.

Stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts about the future of Design Sprints and Service Design, and check back in Part 1 to read more about selling and running Sprints and Workshops!

Elena Iwata

Digital Marketer
Originally from Philadelphia, PA, USA, Elena is passionate about storytelling and designing for equity. Her current focus is on content strategy and creation, from research, to writing and photography.

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