How a small architecture design studio invested 5 full time days to understand together how to innovate their business model through a process created by Google Venture
Strategic advisory to boost innovation
You want to innovate your strategy, right?
How many roads to innovation you could choose now for your business? Let me tell you this: almost infinite.
When Denis Mior, CEO of tre.digital, started to talk with me about his needs, he focused on “we need to boost digital transformation”. His willingness was to explore new opportunities to evolve the company.
Developing digital solutions for AEC and manufacturing, they are everyday users of computer technologies, but he felt they can move forward from this. Attracted by the startup ecosystem, his vision was to shift the mission from executors for third parties companies to innovative suppliers of an end-to-end solution.
They got all: skills, experience and high quality referrals from corporate customers. Even academic support conducting a Master Course on BIM with Udine University. But opportunities to grow were too wide to have a clear focus on the right roadmap to build.
The digital transformation niche they wanted to grow in is about information, especially regarding buildings and ecosystems. This duplication in the digital world of designs, information and processes is often referred as “digital twin”. In the constructions industry, this whole branch took the name of Building Information Modeling (BIM). We’ll deep dive into this later on.
So the challenge put on the table by Denis and its team was: what we need to learn in order to plan the right growth in this vertical and build a spin off?
That’s why I proposed them to use the Design Sprint methodology, designed at Google Ventures by Jake Knapp, to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days.
Below, 5 days process taught in the Sprint book.
Continuous learning approach from the team
People at the table were very hungry to grow, first as human beings, then as team and finally as professionals. This was so inspiring to me, making the whole experience engaging for everybody. We put a lot of effort, had great fun, went home late and tired after every session and learned from each other insightful point of views. The team was homogeneous regarding skills: everyone at the table was expert in the construction field, especially on the architectural side. They formed a kind of joint venture between different companies already partnering together: Denis and Loris Battistella, engineer, from tre.digital; Marco Griguolo as CEO of Bold; Maurizio Crespan as CEO of Shape5d; last but not least, their accountant Luca Molinari.
The first driver for this project was, in fact, Coronavirus: considering the slow pace of economy in April – June 2020, they invested time and money to work together on research and development while bringing home new skills and knowledge.
Growth mindset starts from here: they had a goal, motivation, resources and doubts, which gave them energy to explore the uncertainty and think about new ways to design a non linear road to proceed.
I was lucky to find this power in them and smart enough to nurture this hunger effectively: this is why at the end they told me “we’re still not sure about succeeding in this exact path, but we’re sure you shared with us great valuable content and seeds for future development” – that was massive to me.
Below, the team at work in tre.digital headquarters @ Taiedo, Pordenone, Italy
Team building facilitation to unlock potential
Usually we tend to define exactly what are our roles, duties, responsibilities and relations into companies. Especially in the small ones, there is not so much space for freedom and creativity. Resources are limited, time is always short, clients are demanding and after 6pm nobody wants to sacrifice family time for overwork.
This works pretty good in the majority of the cases, but not when you want to plan an innovation strategy.
By definition, innovation is a process where people redefine how to look and understand the world, to create new systems and catalogue new information in order to change and progress better, faster and stronger.
If you don’t have adequate time to nurture collectively this approach, you can start feeling frustrated, locked in a not-so-bad situation, starving to upgrade you and your environment to the next level, lacking vision and tools to choose direction and move together ahead.
Square team, this is the name of the joint venture started by the people in the photo above, were ahead of this: they were already investing in team workshops and trainings before the one we did together. This gave them the right approach, was very easy for me to enter their comfort zone and open new roads towards future. The chance to approach together new scenarios was fruitful first of all to increase mutual confidence: having time to see others challenged by heavy tasks and understand everyone’s how-to process was enriching the already good perceived value they mutually shared before. Allocating 5 entire days to spend time together in the same room was then energizing for their desire to empower collective intelligence, being even more sure about the decisions they were taking together.
Was very enlightening for me to see how they naturally designed leadership around Denis: his servant leadership style was driven by passion, knowledge and vision, divergence was always stimulated and disagreement was always an occasion to express constructive point of views, but where certainties were limited and doubts rising, all the group automatically watched at him to converge in the best decision possible by that time. I think that this doesn’t occur immediately in teams, they have already spent together some years and reached good successes together. But nurturing this holistic capability to make the value of the team greater than the sum of the elements is one of the values that can elevate exponentially these kind of experiences.
Understand the Sprint Design framework
After telling a lot about context and people involved in the scenario, let’s now deep dive the Sprint Design process. You can read a whole book describing it, wrote by the mentioned above Jake Knapp and named Sprint. The history is quite fascinating: Knapp spent 12 years working as Designer for Microsoft and Google, struggling to avoid failures of long term projects. Long story short, he had the chance to try at Google Ventures, Google’s R&D lab, this process he created with companies involved in BigG ecosystem. After 100 trials with corporates and startups, Jake’s team discovered how this simplified framework helped a lot to focus on things that really matter. First of all, clarifying the vision on the big challenge to face; then making people create together, starting with divergence and then converging into short unique priorities. Nowadays the methodology has spread all over the World as a design thinking practice, implemented in global corporations, governmental projects and world class startups. Interestingly, Knapp partnered in Europe with AJ&Smart agency driven by Jonathan Courtney: with them, they’ve cutted down the process to four days, making the journey even more agile.
Making a quote, “The sprint is a unique five-day process for answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers. It’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavioral science, design, and more—packaged into a step-by-step process that any team can use”.
Going deeper into the subject, the original process works like this:
1. On 1st day, you’ll map out the problem and pick an important place to focus
2. On 2nd day, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper
3. On 3rd day, you’ll make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis
4. On 4th day, you’ll hammer out a realistic prototype
5. And on 5th day, you’ll test it with real live humans
You’ll learn big stuff (like how to get the most out of your team’s diverse opinions and one leader’s vision), medium stuff (like why your team should spend three straight days with your phones and computers off), and nitty-gritty stuff (like why you should eat lunch at 1 p.m.). You won’t finish with a complete, detailed, ready-to-ship product. But you will make rapid progress, and know for sure if you’re headed in the right direction.
Before the sprint begins, you’ll need to have the right challenge and the right team.
You’ll also need time and space to conduct your sprint.
Who you’ll need on board?
- Who makes decisions for your team? Perhaps it’s the CEO, or maybe it’s just the “CEO” of this particular project. If she can’t join for the whole time, make sure she makes a couple of appearances and delegates a Decider (or two) who can be in the room at all times. Examples: CEO, founder, product manager, head of design
- Who can explain where the money comes from (and where it goes)?
Examples: CEO, CFO, business development manager
- Who crafts your company’s messages?
Examples: CMO, marketer, PR, community manager
- Who regularly talks to your customers one-on-one?
Examples: researcher, sales, customer support
Tech / logistics expert
- Who best understands what your company can build and deliver?
Examples: CTO, engineer
- Who designs the products your company makes?
Examples: designer, product manager
Below the pitch used to introduce the process at Square team before start
Deep dive on the challenge, Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Quoting Wikipedia, BIM is… “a process supported by various tools, technologies and contracts involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places”. The concept was born in the 1970s, but the acronym became popular after 2002, when famous design software house Autodesk published a whitepaper on the topic. ISO 19650:2019 defines BIM as: “Use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions.”
In the video above, you can see the introduction made for the already named BIM Master, with Udine University, by the Academic Director Alberto Sdegno and some co-creators of the course, including Denis from tre.digital. You can easily use translated subtitles on Youtube to switch from Italian to your favourite language.
I have to say that to me, an innovator with digital transformation passion and IT background, this was the most intriguing part of working with the team. They were sincerely excited about the huge amount of opportunities that BIM will unlock in the future. Their belief was inspiring to me, even if they didn’t had by that time a straightforward path to the next steps, the startup approach they had was great. I felt the energy of determined people with the right knowledge and hunger needed to overcome hard challenges and conquer public trust and uncommon results.
In our 5 days path, we started with them aligned on the opportunity to build a “digital twin”, software product for corporate facilities; after the Sprint Design week, they decided to pivot to agriculture and explore solutions to help farmers with on-field technologies to prevent diseases and monitor cultivations. While designing opportunities, we encountered big needs in monitoring public places like schools and universities. This gives you an idea about how wide could be this topic and why is so hard to shape a plan and stick to it.
Result: innovation + team building strategic training with actionable deliverables
In the deck above, you can enjoy a retrospective on the whole Design Sprint journey. We had the chance to pitch our project to 8 different stakeholders in the last day, taking home an amazing amount of feedbacks visible at page 5 in the deck above.
Denis and the team where satisfied about this for the following reasons:
1. Learn and practice with the team a growth mindset with innovative tools
2. Evaluate different opportunities together, with the help of an external facilitator
3. Set in team some priorities to follow for the next months, to increase overall engagement
Deep diving especially the point 2, the team was enthusiast about discovering the chance to fast prototype digital solutions with Invision, a WYSIWYG digital design tool able to build up easily the following proof of concept, named Visux.
Summarizing takeaways for this journey, we can synthesize three macro priorities:
- Strategic innovation starts from the team’s mindset
- Taking inspiration from best global frameworks can enhance your performance
- Sprint design and design thinking in general are great to plan your strategy and operations
2080.design brand was born with the willingness to unlock growth potential for decision makers like the CEO of tre.digital Denis Mior. If you want to know more, check how you fit 2080.design vision or download 2080.design whitepaper.