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Improving Cross-Departmental Communication in a 4 Day Design Sprint


How we helped siloed departments at a large tech corporation break communication barriers with a Service Design Sprint.

In 2017, when we had just become one of the first agencies in Japan to offer design sprints, Toshiba reached our team with an interesting question:

Can a design sprint help us to improve cross departmental communication experiences?

Since the early 2000s, Service Design and Design Thinking methods have been implemented in organizations all over the globe. Implementation is naturally more challenging in bigger organizations, which tend to be siloed. Designers design, coders code, salespeople sell, and so on– it’s no surprise that there are communication difficulties, when no-one knows what other teams are doing.

We figured that the first step towards changing the way people work, especially in a large company, would be through fostering mutual understanding and learning to embrace new approaches in projects. In short, yes a design sprint can help improve cross department communication experiences– but this situation called for a Service Design Sprint in particular.

What exactly is a Service Design Sprint?

participants get face-to-face with people related to the challenge to better understand the situation and get inspired.

A Service Design Sprint is a workshop of three to four days in which a team interviews users and collects qualitative data to identify the root of a service, product or internal problem and then generate broad ideas to tackle it. Many organizations rely only on quantitative information to deal with issues. This is a complementary approach, where participants get face-to-face with people related to the challenge to better understand the situation and get inspired.

During the activities participants build high-quality personas and customer journeys, and define the principles that should guide their solution. The whole workshop is designed to make teams align towards a common goal, start a new plan and walk towards it in the right direction.

Compared to the traditional Product Design Sprint, the Service Design Sprint is more big-picture, holistic, and focused on user research. It is a great tool to use when kick-starting projects, and its broad activities lead to broad solutions. For more info on the differences between the Service Design Sprint and Product Design Sprint (the more well known Sprint born out of Google Ventures), check our our post comparing the two here. If you want to learn more about the origins of the Service Design Sprint, you can also check our our interview with its originator, Tenny Pinheiro, here.

Why Use a Service Design Sprint?

The Service Design Sprint is a useful activity for teams that are not entirely sure about the challenge they want to tackle or that wish to narrow down their options. Moreover, it helps organizations to learn a lot about the people involved in this particular problem and to have a clearer vision of what should be done.

We at Neuromagic usually create tailor-made sprints for clients according to their challenges and needs, mixing SDS steps with elements from the Product Design Sprint (PDS) and other methodologies. In this rare case for Toshiba, there were many stakeholders involved, and we needed to help them understand each other and reach consensus about what challenges they were facing, and figure out why and how to solve them.

We opted to go with a 100% SDS approach because Service Design Sprint is a method that includes user research to help us empathize with others, and a co-creation process which allows participants to be more willing to listen to each other.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Let’s break down more!

In four days of six hours each, two departments at Toshiba came together, filtered their challenge, did quick in-depth interviews, built personas and user journeys, generated ideas, prototyped one, and tested it.

Day#1 Creating the Personas and Redefining the challenge

Due to time limitations, the participants prepared and sent over e-mail a questionnaire to dozens of colleagues before the sprint. The answers fueled conversations and helped everyone to understand better how collaboration between departments and customers was perceived and conducted. Participants discussed findings and built the major personas found in each of the two major different departments. The day wrapped up with a discussion to reframe and improve the sprint challenge.

Day#2 Visualize Users and Identify Pain Points

Participants created a massive User Journey encompassing all personas to see how and when they work together during different phases of a project over months, and identified which parts were problematic or could get better from a in terms of communication and collaboration.

Day#3 Ideation

Focused on the pain points mapped the day before, the team joined two rounds of ideation and generated more than 40 solutions. Due to time constraints, only one was selected by the decision-maker to be prototyped.

Day#4 Prototyping and Testing

The prototype was a meeting that the two departments could have in specific moments of a project to identify potential issues and boost cross-departmental collaboration. Participants created handouts and slides that should be distributed and rehearsed how the activity should happen, and the meeting was tested with high-level executives that gave honest feedback about what could work and potential obstacles. Most of the evaluation was positive. The day ended with a simple backlog where all participants scored each idea created by time, cost, and interest.

The Service Design Sprint worked for Toshiba not only because it allowed structure for discussion and a way to frame the issues at hand, but because it brought two siloed departments into the same room to co-create their own solution, together.

The Service Design Sprint can help organizations to produce good qualitative data and come up with useful insights and validate them in a short time to tackle people-related issues. It can also help teams and companies to kickstart projects and have a clear notion of which direction they should go before investing time and money in a random idea– there is a lot of range in what can be accomplished, but it is always people-focused!