Five-day design sprints in a newsroom? “Sounds nice, but it’s too complicated.”
That’s what Mariano Blejman, chief digital officer of Argentine media conglomerate Grupo Octubre, told me during an online workshop in mid-2021. I was trying to persuade the audience of the benefits of five-day sprints. Blejman’s statement was something to ponder with care, given that he is one of the most experienced and respected product people in the Latam region.
My point was not helped by the fact that I had never actually done a sprint like that before, despite having led product strategy at one of the biggest Spanish media companies for more than a decade.
Two years later, based on my experience in launching Relevo, I can say that five-day sprints in media are not just possible but are a powerful technique to generate value for users.
However, Blejman was right; there are a few caveats. But before we get to that, let’s go deeper on sprints.
What is a sprint?
A five-day sprint is a technique for solving hard business/product problems. It involves putting a cross-functional group of key people in the same room for five consecutive eight-hour sessions to brainstorm, prioritise, prototype, and test solutions.
The process follows a diverge/converge cycle typical of design thinking. Jake Knapp developed it within Google Ventures (GV), and there is a whole section on GV’s Web site devoted to it. Knapp also authored a detailed book that includes a time-boxed, precise choreography of activities to be done on each day.
How we did it
Relevo, launched by the Spanish media group Vocento in 2022, has demonstrated remarkable results in just a few months:
- It is the No. 1 Spanish sports news brand on TikTok by video views and total interactions.
- Its engagement rates per post/follower on Twitter and Instagram are several times higher than those of its competitors.
- With an average engaged time per page of 54 seconds, its Web site nearly doubles the average for publishers in Southern Europe.
The key to these outcomes was the fact that the team adopted the Google Sprint methodology from the beginning of the project (February 2022). A core cross-functional group of 10 people, including members from the newsroom, product, UX, sales, and social, was assembled for this purpose.
The process started with a three-hour “brand sprint” to define the basic strategy elements: mission, vision, values, key audience segments, and brand personality. The main deliverable was the name of the project itself, which was proposed by one editor and decided through a vote.
Choosing “Relevo” (the Spanish word for “relay”) instead of the more obvious football-based choices that were on the table helped the team feel empowered and set the initiative on a path of challenging conventions.
Then the team immersed in a full five-day sprint to define its main product feature. The team struggled on the first day, but two ideas clearly emerged during the second. By the third, the process worked at full speed, with every member contributing hand-drawn prototypes.
The winning proposal was turned into an interactive prototype on the fourth day and usability tested with a few users on the fifth.
What we learned
New projects are a great place to start sprinting: They are a great opportunity to be innovative and make bold decisions. With a clean slate, you can reset the rules and implement new workflows.
Only invite people to the sprint table who have “skin in the game”: The working group must be small and committed to being operational, so make sure anyone sitting at the table really cares about its success. This will ensure participants are willing to cooperate and overcome any disputes.
First, be disciplined, then be flexible: There are different opinions on the length of sprints, so it’s important to find what works best for your team. Start with a canonical sprint, following the recipe step by step, and then adapt to more flexible formats as you gain experience.
Empowerment is not optional: Empower your team members to make decisions and be accountable for the project’s outcome. This will encourage them to be bold and creative, leading to better results.
Accept the outcome: A logical conclusion to the previous point: If you challenge your team to be bold and creative, you better rise to the occasion. Nothing can be worse than selling the gospel of collaboration and then taking a step back.