Roughly 160 design sprint leaders gathered in San Francisco to hear, share, discuss. And I was there, too! Did anyone say imposter syndrome? I had amazing three days with wonderful, incredibly smart and talented humans. The themes that stood out through all the talks, panels, deep dives and discussions were leadership and the need to experiment.

I would also like to mention that there were so many women, as speakers and panelists and generally attending which made me really happy! Kai Haley did the most amazing job putting this conference together. Thank you so much!

Before the conference even started, I was part of an amazing “girl gang” that formed during the pre-conference workshop on storytelling.

I wish it was considered excellent writing, to dump all my notes of all the inspiring speakers below. I’ll try to be brief, promise!

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L: Chelsea, me, Dana & Ruzanna — R: Elaine, Kandis, Diana, Tutu (all from The SIX) and me

How do we get to effective session outcomes? Smart people will always come up with smart reasons for their guesses, but it’s still a guess! So what do we do?

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Tom Chi shared his thoughts on the topic

A few simple rules apply, we have to make things happen by moving out of the idea space. Find the quickest path to experience, doing is the best kind of thinking. Humans can only experience something real, even role play is a prototype.

More experiments will give you more certainty.

“Usability & task completion is not the bar, magic moments are!” ~ Tom Chi @thegoodtomchi

Also keep in mind, nobody will change their behaviour for a neutral change/the same outcome. Just because someone gets through a prototype doesn’t mean it’s good. You have to find those “eyes light up” moments. Address the things that people deeply care about.

Let me just give you a few quotes that really resonated with me and if you have a chance to hear these people speak, do it. Until then, follow them on Twitter, they know their sh*t!

“Failure isn’t failure. Sprints answer critical business questions. And sometimes the answer is no.” ~ Sumier Phalake @sumierflake

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Nadya’s panel on leadership in Design Sprints, read more further down.
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Deep Dive: Liberating Structures — We got to try some of them with a group of people. Hands-on is my favourite, hands down!
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Nadya passionately spoke about leadership and made a point of being inclusive by spontaneously adding a little panel to her talk.

Nadya had so many great insights and advice on how to be a mindful and sustainable leader in a Design Sprint:

  • Be inclusive — everyone should be able to contribute.
  • Encourage all voices to be heard: Pay attention to introvert, marginalized people, managers, people from other countries etc.
  • Adjust your style to individuals and situations, modify so you can reach every person where they are.
  • Get people excited about something you’re excited about!
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Dana’s talk was definitely one of my highlights!

People live under the impression they can be objective and we understand the world through direct perception… wrong!

We are all biased. Biases are mental shortcuts and rules of thumb by which we make judgements and predictions. Humans suffer from roughly 180 different ones.

“We are biased to survive. Be aware of your biases!” ~ Dana Vetan @dana_vetan

Moments when we rely on biases:

  • Pressure and distraction: whenever we need to decide
  • Anxiety and stress: high expectations from management, difficult deadlines
  • Ambiguity and lack of clarity: fuzzy moments, lots of information or ambiguous information

There’s so much more to be learned about (unconscious) biases, they are everywhere at all times. If you run design sprints these can be the consequences: Less creative ideas, less courageous decisions and sticking with a bad investment.

Most biases can already be kept in check by simply being aware of them. Question your first impression, spot the key moments when they occur and reinforce a beginners mind set.

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The circle of unlearning by Barry O’Reilly — His book “Unlearn” is available for pre-order, it’s already on my reading list!

Even the ancient Romans innovated! I don’t think I can repeat all the details, but that’s quintessentially what they did, learned, unlearned and re-learned.

If you hold on to your old successes you miss learning opportunities and become irrelevant. You have to make space to re-learn. Unlearn what does not work anymore. This becomes even more important in an organizational transformation for leaders:

“If you want to change behaviour, you need to act differently, not just think differently.” ~ Barry O’Reilly @barryoreilly

You need to change people’s systems, perspectives. Behaviour changes require continuity and intentional practice. Part of unlearning is not getting stuck doing only what worked in the past or knowing it all. You to adapt behaviours, experiments can support to show what a system is actually like and help break an existing mental model in a safe way.

So how do you experiment, you ask? It’s easy, Speak with real customers, learn fast, succeed faster! And remember, stopping or invalidating an idea early is the real success.

Build a prototype instead of a business case.

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Word. (Becca Caroll)
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Jake Knapp dropped by for the Happy Hour and indeed made everyone really happy.

Besides all the great learnings, I also made great friends! I had such a good time and can’t wait to come back next year! Thanks to everyone that made my first time in San Francisco so awesome!

About me: I am Lisa Mo, that’s short for Monika, 34, passionate about product management, user centric design, agile methodologies, learning (right now web development), craft beer and makeup. I moved to the Great White North aka Toronto a year ago. I am always happy to connect and chat about my experiences and what I have learned so far, sharing knowledge is fun!

If you liked this, your applause is much appreciated! You can also find me on Twitter and all the PM slack teams, like Hands on Agile, ProductStack or Mind The Product, etc.

Written by

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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