It would be an understatement to say that our typical ways of working have been pushed to the limit by recent events. More than ever, agility and co-creation have been essential to solve the evolving challenges organisations the world over now face—adjusting at speed to the changing needs of their people, customers and suppliers.

Countless organisations now find themselves in a state of accelerated disruption that is forcing us to change the way we live, work and interact. We’ve all heard that we are experiencing truly unprecedented times. If there was ever a moment for creating new approaches to manage complexity, it’s now. As we move forward, a honed and reshaped mindset ready for a constantly evolving ‘normal’ will be imperative.

So, what could this approach look like? To expand on the opportunities that can be unlocked by collaboration and new ways of working, I wanted to reflect on a complex design challenge that came our way from a large banking client not too long ago. It was an issue that had implications across its business—and which required the best possible solution in the shortest possible time.

With this in mind, we responded in a way that was in marked contrast to what you might expect. If we’d received such a request under more typical circumstances, a tried-and-tested “waterfall” process would have kicked in. It would have involved a siloed team of consultants sequestered away in a room, working to come up with a solution to address the specific problem and then presenting it to the client for approval.

After that there would have been development work, testing, governance reviews and finally implementation into production. The time taken to address that single issue, end to end, might have been eight weeks or more.

To deliver solutions at speed, we explored a new way of working—one that’s more agile, more collaborative and more efficient, and that cuts the time to production by 50 percent or more.¹ This enables huge cost reduction, not only by accelerating speed to market but also by slashing the number of resources required and the time they spend on the problem. While delivering greater and more sustainable value to the client, we also created solutions with wider applicability across its business and helped to upskill its people.

We call it a “design sprint”, and it’s an approach that’s catching on with a growing number of clients across and beyond the financial services industry.

How does it work?

It starts with a one-page “sprint brief” outlining the problem and breaking this down into more detailed challenges to be tackled. Then a hybrid team of carefully selected cross-practise Accenture and client resources are assembled and co-located to devise the solution. Over the next three or four weeks, they collaborate to do just that—leaving their job titles at the door and partnering in a way that blurs the lines that distinguish between Accenture and the client.

The first week is dedicated to workshops and one-on-one interviews to truly understand the problem statement. Our team members  bring their expert knowledge, industry data and vast experience to the table, while those representing the client bring their detailed understanding of the company and its processes to pursue a solution that is personalised and fit for purpose.

By the end of that time, they’ve invariably come up with a great answer to the problem. One that isn’t just a concept, but a real, workable solution that can be embedded into the client’s business and reflects its own specific governance requirements and context.

What’s more, as design sprints become more widely used across the business, the benefits multiply. By enabling the creation of solutions that can be used in many areas of the bank, this approach avoids duplication of effort. And by enabling more people to gain experience in agile design, it enhances the client’s capabilities and provides a template for future projects—even ones where we aren’t involved.

Most people might not associate this kind of short, sharp, agile design approach with a major global consultancy like Accenture. But they soon will. Today, it’s playing a rapidly growing role in our work for clients. And by combining it with our global strength and depth of capabilities, we can bring the best of both worlds: the nimbleness of sprints and the dependability of a delivery powerhouse.

So, what attributes make for a successful design sprint? Based on my experience, I’d like to highlight three:

  1. Getting clarity on the scope and inputs up front. It is vital that the sprint brief is agreed to by all parties prior to kick-off. The scope will be ratified and circulated to ensure that the right problem is being answered, while limiting the chance of scope-creep. Importantly, the sprint team must be equipped up front with all the required documents and crucial information so that the problem statement can be clearly and fully defined with the end in mind.
  2. Continuous collaboration and iteration. After developing a clear and succinct articulation of the deliverable in 10 pages or less, the team is equipped with a mission statement. This both inspires and aligns the team around the delivery of the solution. It also provides a framework that they will populate over the following weeks. Daily circulation provides constant visibility of progress and allows continuous iteration throughout. This avoids any surprises and a sudden influx of updates on the last day!
  3. Gaining full commitment from all members of the joint team. Our and the client’s personnel need to commit to working full time in a dedicated way for the duration of the sprint. Treating it as a “side-of-desk” project will not do. The team needs to be resourced appropriately—not only the right size but also the right expertise. From our perspective, a mix of Strategy and Consulting resources will help ensure the development of a solution that can be delivered.

Brought to the fore in moments of immense time pressure and the need for rapid change, the design-sprint concept is rapidly transforming how we deliver solutions for major clients, both in banking and other industries. It’s an approach that can save millions, and slash years off delivery. It’s just one example of how new collaborative approaches can help manage complex challenges—and do it at speed.

As the business and human impacts of the global pandemic continue to be felt, now is a good time for banks to take inspiration from inside and outside of the industry and consider how they can harness more agile ways of working. The outcome will culminate in a new ability to outmanoeuvre uncertainty, drive change swiftly and equip organisations to handle whatever is thrown at them in the future.

Special thanks to Isabella Thornely, Andrew Suriakumar and Laura Coveney for their invaluable support on this project.


1 Based on Accenture’s work with a leading banking client, 2018/19

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