Scotland isn’t Silicon Valley, right?

Next week, I’m heading to New York for the Design Sprint Master Certification Program.

My goals are to exchange experiences with Sprint and bring back a worth of knowledge to businesses. In particular, I want to help demystify digital transformation for SMEs so that they achieve rapid innovation and harness Digital First thinking.

Working with the Design Sprint Academy and MacMillan Learning, I’ll immerse myself in B2C and B2B simulations and apply Design Sprints to real-life business case studies. From problem framing to Design Sprint facilitation, there will be countless opportunities to see Sprints in action from participants across the globe.

It means that 4ttude and my network of experts can support businesses across Scotland to adopt Sprint as an effective and ‘fast-track’ way to innovate and embrace digital transformation.

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So what?

You might groan when you read “digital transformation”. It’s a term that is often (over) used in corporate leadership and information technology circles.

In simple terms, digital transformation integrates emerging technology with people and processes. Done right, it can help companies looking to make real change and develop the agility to outplay the competition.

You might say that the ability to pivot and change quickly is a corporate “superpower”. Research carried out in 2016 by Yale University found that the average lifespan of a company in the S&P 500 index has decreased from 61 years in 1958 to around 15 years today.

By 2027, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we have not yet heard of.

In response to relentless, accelerated change, a new heightened level of agility is not only desirable but critical to survival.

Yet the challenge for business is that digital transformation is a bit like teenage sex. Everyone seems to be talking about it but very few are actually doing it!

And that’s where digital native processes and tools like Sprint come into their own. Tools such as Agile, Lean, Design-led Thinking & Doing, Human-centred, Rapid Prototyping are just some of the vehicles to achieve the rapid learning and prototyping needed for long-term competitive advantage.

What is Digital Transformation Really?

I will start by defining “digital transformation” in fuller terms. quotes George Westerman, MIT principal research scientist and author of Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation,

“Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organisation uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance…”

Digital transformation only needs to happen once because, at its core, it means becoming adaptive to change itself.

And it’s not that organisations don’t see the value in being nimble and adaptive. They know that real transformation requires change, a conscious strategy and innovation. But the challenge is often where to begin in taking on a new disruptor or testing out new ideas — and fast.

Agility and Digital Transformation

Every company must think more like a start-up and examine the very fabric of how they operate, behave and do business.

According to Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants, digital natives don’t divide the world into hierarchies but view the world in equalitarian terms. They imbibe the benefits of sharing ideas within and across teams, crossing boundaries as they do it. This agility is typical of a start-up and remains crucial as companies scale.

Digital Immigrant organisations, however, must unravel a lot of outmoded assumptions, ways of doing things and organisational habits. Here lies the challenge with attempting to rebuild the business model. A model that builds not just native speakers in a digital-first world, but native doers

Often, the C-suite understands the importance of moving quickly. The reluctance tends to come from middle management who might attempt to use old ways to get new results. But that doesn’t work in today’s world.

Managers can get so bogged down with the thought of going through the transformation and the many (often fragmented) conversations going on. It does seem complicated.

Indeed, like teenage sex, there is a lot of talk (and plenty of good ideas) but the act itself is out of reach. If good ideas and technology are not enough, what more do organisations need?

We Need to Pivot and Change

In Building a Digital Culture, the authors, Rowles and Brown, expand on the ingredients for digital change. It’s not about using plug n’ play off-the-shelf tech solutions or creating a hip innovation space. A learning culture (from the top down and bottom up) that encourages experimentation, curiosity and the value of fresh perspectives are key ingredients for success for the digital-first mindset.

As an organisation, you can’t stop market forces, and nor can you stop the competition. But you can be responsive and embrace unpredictability as you go.

As part of the research for their book, Rowles and Brown conducted several interviews including one with Simon Thompson of HSBC. He notes,

“You’ve always got to keep an eye on the destination. You can’t underestimate the power of momentum.”

SMEs must take the initial steps, keeping an eye open and view transformation as a journey rather than a destination. There’s value in prototyping and seeing if something works and changing direction as a result. That saves time, effort and resources. It’s huge value!

How Design Sprint Drives Transformation

One way to overcome the stall on change is to use design sprint to identify the steps that bring the most value. You can do this rapidly, sharing early wins with the organisation. You can understand what’s needed and the likely benefits to you and/or your target market.

Design Sprint is part of the digital native toolkit we use at 4ttude. It can help companies to jump-start transformation and fast-track innovation by solving problems through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with users.

Organisations like Google Ventures have used the sprint concept to great success. Design Sprints tailor the essence of a start-up’s innovation culture to existing business challenges and ideas. As a result, out of all the companies’ “good ideas”, they can identify the “get-this-to-market-now” ideas.

Success is not reserved for start-ups alone. For established organisations, design sprint can drive innovation too. That is the story of BMW, the world’s best-selling luxury car manufacturer.

The ever-shifting automotive industry meant that BMW needed to create a structured process around its innovation. BMW went on to create a special innovation space at its Innovationswerk facility in Munich. The goal was to ensure that innovations and new technologies occur in a novel, agile way.

What’s in Design Sprint for SMEs?

Design sprints are fantastic for companies seeking rapid change and/or growth. What is the unique selling point of design sprints? Organisational teams get actionable outcomes in a very short period of time.

KLM airlines used design sprints to prototype the airport experience. OVO Energy’s first design sprint in 2017 aimed at making it simple for its customers to manage their energy accounts.

The feedback from these and other design sprints is that it gets teams talking to each other. It supports the objectives of the senior executives who are often under pressure to deliver value to shareholders.

For start-ups and SMEs, I’m convinced that Design Sprints provide a safe place to test out ideas. Organisations can discard ideas that don’t work and progress those that do.

For ideas that don’t work, organisations can revisit them by applying a new slant on elements such as target audience, type of technology, structure, skillset, partnerships etc.

While I’m in New York, I’ll be asking a lot of questions on behalf of SMEs. Questions like:

  • How Might We Navigate the Challenge of Limited Resources and Budget?
  • How Might We Measure Success When it is Not Obvious?

If there are other questions you’d like me to ask or you want to find out more about how to jump-start your start-up or fast-track your scale-up, get in touch by emailing

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