How RGAX made Design Sprints Work for External Partnerships

October 12, 2018
DSA Team

In seeking to enhance its external partnerships, particularly with insurtech companies, RGAX — the transformation engine of one of the largest global life and health reinsurer, Reinsurance Group of America - recognized the potential of Design Sprints and Problem Framing as transformative tools. This need led RGAX to embark on DSA's 5-day Design Sprint Training Program, aimed at mastering effective problem-solving methodologies.

After the training program concluded we sat down with our friends at RGAX to discuss some key takeaways from the training and life afterwards. One of the main topics we focused on were the struggles experienced by the facilitation teams at RGAX during a design sprint and the rewards reaped if ran successfully.

The First Challenge: Clarifying the Problem

Jonathan Hughes, VP Strategic Development RGAX, speaks to the importance of the first day. This is basically a 1-day Problem Framing Workshop, which is where decision-makers understand and frame the problem. Even though it’s the most important day of the design sprint process, Jonathan also emphasizes it’s the most difficult day as well. To quote Jonathan:

Problem Framing is challenging because it requires focusing solely on the problem without jumping to solutions, which is contrary to the human instinct.

There is also a common misconception that this stage is merely a formality; in reality, it's a critical period for establishing a shared understanding and alignment on the problem at hand.

Without proper groundwork, a design sprint is likely to fail. This early phase, which we refer to as "Problem Framing," is not just a preliminary step but a pivotal one. It aligns the team around a unified goal and also confirms the problem's worthiness of the effort and resources invested in solving it.

Furthermore, Problem Framing serves an additional, often overlooked, purpose: it secures stakeholder buy-in. By thoroughly understanding and articulating the problem, you're better equipped to convey its importance to stakeholders, thereby gaining their support for the upcoming design sprint.

The Second Challenge: Understanding the Value

The "whys?". "Why are design sprints important?", "Why are they beneficial to me or my team or my company?" The benefits of a design sprint aren’t so obvious and if people don’t know the ‘why’ behind something, they’re less inclined to give it a try. To erase this sense of hesitation, it’s essential to explain the reasoning behind design sprints and to answer all the ‘whys’.

Chase Huey, Manager of Digital Ventures RGAX, discusses the importance of stating the ‘whys’.

He explains,

I previously believed that the advantages of a design sprint were obvious, but I've come to realize that this isn't the case, as not everyone inherently understands its value.

If the ‘whys’ aren’t explained from the beginning, then your team wastes time having to explain what a design sprint is and why it’s beneficial and why we do what we do — all the whys. In order to jump over this hurdle, Chase suggests you “invest time in setting the table on a design sprint, ensuring alignment from the beginning, especially with Problem Framing.”

Chase goes on to emphasize how important it is to explain the why of each part of the design sprint process and the reason behind why we’re doing each activity and how it fits into the big picture and ultimately, the end solution.

A crucial step in successfully running a design sprint is building best practices and tools around the ‘whys’. As Chase says, “it can’t just be a framework of filling in the blanks but there needs to be logic grounded on rationality, scientific methods, and so on. It’s so important to understand the WHY.”

The Third Challenge: Effective Facilitation Team

And finally, the last hurdle: not having a built-in team to run design sprints. Without a dedicated design sprint team within a company, it becomes a struggle considering everyone already has a day job to do.

It’s difficult to run a Design Sprint while also managing all the daily work on your desk.

So, what’s the solution to juggling all the multiple hats being worn?

You create a space where facilitators and others involved in design sprints can share information. This helps keep the team up to date and speed, ensuring everyone is learning the same methods and are prepared to help run a sprint whenever needed. Chase tells us his team has a Slack Channel for anyone certified to run sprints and in addition, they also share collateral documents on a cloud-based portal or via email. Similarly, Jonathan and his team have a WhatsApp group to share materials and sprint documents.

Now that we know the hurdles of a design sprint and how to overcome them, let’s talk about what makes a design sprint successful?

1. Focus on long-term engagement

A key element of this success lies in shifting focus from immediate sales to fostering long-term engagement. But what does this entail? Chase sheds light on this by stating,

The true measure of a design sprint's success is its ability to cultivate long-term engagement, leading to concrete outcomes.

He likens this to the experience on the RGAX website. Visitors to the site might browse through our solutions, watch our corporate video, or delve into our latest blog posts. This interaction ideally cultivates a deeper understanding of RGAX, possibly paving the way for future collaboration. Unlike a quick sale, RGAX's success metric revolves around building lasting partnerships with insurtechs and creating enduring solutions with and for insurers. This mirrors the approach towards design sprints, where the aim is to initiate projects that yield robust solutions, thanks to the insights gained from the design sprint process.

2. Demonstrate tangible impact

Another vital ingredient for a successful design sprint is tangible evidence of its efficacy. This involves witnessing the real-world impact of testing initial concepts and hypotheses. The goal here is to ensure financial viability, as ultimately, financial outcomes hold significant weight.

Jonathan provides a pertinent example:

We were confident in our initial idea, believing it would be a sure success. However, we decided to validate it through a Design Sprint. Contrary to our expectations, it failed in user testing. This revelation was a critical eye-opener, as the design sprint helped us avoid a potential loss of $100,000 and a significant headache.

This instance underscores how a well-executed design sprint can prevent financial missteps and guide towards more effective solutions.

Fast Forward into the Future

Enter Life Design Sprints

While the adoption of the Design Sprint methodology can often be slow or intricate, RGAX was a fantastic example of the opposite. What we taught in our training program became the pillars of the RGAX Life Design Sprints - problem framing to align stakeholders and define the problem and Design Sprints to validate the new business opportunity.

The approach of RGAX's Life Design Sprints helps the life insurance industry achieve more successful business innovation by tackling three common challenges that typically go wrong with traditional business innovation processes: failure to understand the real underlying customer problem, overanalysis of the wrong data by the wrong group of people, and inability to capture the full value of the insights and ideas generated.

The formula for Life Design Sprints combines a specific mindset, the right people in the room, and a series of exercises that extract individual insights and group consensus. The outcome is reduced corporate risk, increased organizational alignment and buy-in, and innovative insurance solutions on firm footing to get to market faster.