Can Design Sprints help reimagine the Ageing experience?


Getting older is hard.

Against the backdrop of an ageist society that labels you burdensome and irrelevant, you are asked to navigate complex Government funding arrangements, express personal needs to strangers, and when you require a deeper level of care than your family can provide you may be asked to move out of your home and into an aged care residential home at short notice.

It’s this complex and highly emotional moment within the customer journey that led the Experience Design team from UnitingCare to consider:

“How Might We provide an amazing experience for new residents moving into residential aged care, as well as their families and the existing community of staff and residents?”

The Landscape

UnitingCare Queensland is one of Australia’s largest not for profit agencies and are exploring new ways of solving customer problems.

Since this was the first time Design Sprints were tested at Uniting Care there were numerous unknowns. We conducted a Pre-Mortem to identify worst case scenarios and how we might prevent them from happening.

Some of these were:

  • People find the design sprint process too foreign compared to their day to day activities.

We felt that we could manage the majority of these by setting expectations early with the team before the sprint started, conducting a daily retro to discuss what made people happy, sad or meh and encouraging each team member during the design activities.

Our team

There were 2 facilitators, myself and Luke Garrett.

The rest of the team had a wealth of experience in the health and aged care sector and consisted of nurses, lifestyle coordinators, residential site managers and area general managers.

When you consider the significant responsibility these people have in caring for the health and well being of hundreds of people every day, Luke and I wanted to ensure that they had a great sprint experience and left feeling that it was time well spent.

The Method

We facilitated two sprints at aged care facilities in Flinders View (5 day sprint) and Ingham (3 day sprint).

The idea of a Design Sprint was likely totally foreign in both places.

Contrary to the standard sprint process, we entered with a specific target in mind. This is because the day that a person moves into an aged care residential facility had been previously identified as critical to the customer experience, and it needed attention.

This case study will focus on breaking down some of the activities we used during the 5 days and the outcomes of the sprint.

Design Sprinting in Ingham, Australia, Look out for Crocs!

Day 1: Understand

The goal of Day 1 was to understand the problem through the viewpoint of different customer segments — and, to understand how we worked as a team.

As a warm up activity we began with a modified version of Draw Your Cover Story where everyone had to draw an aspect of their life in the form of an imaginary magazine cover.

We came face to face with the fear of drawing early.

During this activity, people who had worked side by side for years began to share things that they didn’t know about each other.

Establishing psychological safety early in the sprint is crucial to the group having open conversations, and not being afraid to explore and challenge ideas.

Example of a Cover Story

We then reviewed existing customer research, challenged the How Might We statement we commenced with and had a great session working through Facts and Assumptions which brought to light previously unchallenged aspects of the residential customer experience.

By mid afternoon we held interviews with a customer from each of our segments: New Residents, Families, and Existing Community.

Quick interview guide

This is where we hit a speed bump.

We scheduled the interviews back to back but in hindsight it would have been better to stagger them throughout the day to give people a bit of a break between interviews in order to digest and discuss what we had learnt.

Day 1 Retro

The spirit within the team was great, we’d had a very productive day that was setting us up for success on Day 2, but the team acknowledged that there was a big job ahead.

Day 1 Done

Day 2: Diverge

There was a small amount of scepticism in the room on the morning of Day 2.

It had been a big Day 1 and the team was a little tired as they still had to answer emails and manage their regular work commitments after hours.

I was grateful that the team could be so honest, and Luke and I just asked that we continue to trust the process and support each other.

The first exercise was a blend of empathy and ideation, called an Empathy Compass. The team engaged heavily with the ‘W’ or Wishes from the compass.

They’d taken all of their understanding and customer learnings from Day 1 and began using it as fuel for reimagining the customer experience.

Example of an Empathy Compass

We then Mind Mapped before starting my favourite Design Sprint activity: Crazy 8s.

It definitely pushes your creativity and pokes (but doesn’t bruise) the edges of the team’s comfort zone. Next we individually selected our Top 3 ideas and created Storyboards for each of these.

The team’s comfort zone was nudged even further when we asked them to pitch their idea back to the group, whilst being filmed.

With our own mini episode of Shark Tank complete, we stuck each storyboard on the wall and conducted a Silent Critique.

Each team member had 3 dots they could use to vote on a single Storyboard or an individual frame. The dots brought focus to the storyboards, and we could start to imagine what a prototype may look like.

Silent Critique from the sprint team at Ingham

Day 2 Retro

‘This just might work’: a great end to a day that started with a little doubt.

Day 2 Done

Day 3 Converge

The goals for today: alignment, focus & ensuring the team was behind the one idea that we were going to prototype and test.

Reflecting on the previous 2 days was made much easier by the space we held the design sprint in; being able to leave all of the team’s previous days work up on the walls enabled us to reach consensus much faster.

We used the $100 Challenge so team members could ‘invest’ in their top picks from our full bank of ideas and concepts.

We eventually landed on 3 concepts that formed the backbone of our prototype.

  1. Capture information about the new resident and their activities of daily living before they move in so that we reduce everyone’s stress.

We then sketched the assumed Hero Journey and a rough Journey map.

At each point we identified the materials that we needed to prototype, and the hypotheses that we wanted to test with both customers and staff.

Hero’s Journey Sketch
Rough Journey Map

Day 3 Retro

The midway point of the sprint had people feeling tired, and experiencing the operational pressure of managing their day to day. But they were excited by the concept and what was to come.

Day 3 Done

Day 4 Prototype

My favourite day of a sprint.

To keep things moving we used a makeshift Kanban board to pull tasks from Left to Right.

Quick Kanban

The team collaboration and enthusiasm was infectious as they started to see ideas materialise quickly.

All collateral was sketched out and then quickly mocked up using Canva.

Prototype Getting to Know You Form vs Testable Prototype created in Canva

It was an interesting session, as none of the prototyping outputs we created were digital. This was an intended constraint as we didn’t want to prototype an approach that relied heavily on IT as a component due to the costs involved.

Day 4 Retro

The main themes of the day were excitement and anticipation at what testing would reveal, keeping the energy up, and an issue with some of the team being present.

Day 4 Done

Day 5 Test & Celebrate

Despite our preparation, the team were understandably a bit nervous to see what reaction we would receive for our ‘Sprint Baby’.

The test plan was written simply in the form of user stories.

Some of our User Story Test Cases

We trialled all the different components of our prototype with the customers and staff we had spoken to earlier in the week, and recorded the session.

Next, we held a Q&A session with our participants to validate or invalidate our assumptions and test plan.

As a team we then regrouped and ran a ‘What did we Learn’ session from the tests.

What we learnt from the tests

The Day 5 Retro & Celebration.

Woot Woot! We did it!

Perhaps we didn’t realise how big a commitment the week was going to be, but everyone agreed that the Design Sprint produced a great new approach that would deliver a positive impact on both the customer and employee experience.

Day 5 Done

What’s next?

I’m happy to say that the outcome of the sprint is a new approach to the resident move-in experience lovingly dubbed…

2 Conversations and a Box

The two conversations are held one week before and one week after the resident moves into their new home, to ensure that both their clinical and lifestyle needs are being met.

The box is used to help carers have the difficult conversation with their loved ones about their belongings and what are the most precious things they would like with them on their first day — photos, trophies, a small radio, etc.

We also included a small gift for the carer inside the box, to welcome them into the residential community and to be a reminder that it’s okay to take some time out to care for themselves.

The latest version of 2CAAB we are currently testing in market

What worked/didn’t work about the sprint process?

The design sprint showed the power of connecting people around a problem and focusing for a distinct period of time.

It took staff out of their daily mode of ‘doing’ and provided an arena for them to explore, debate and value each other’s creativity, experience and viewpoints. This is especially valuable in aged care where the focus is often on the clinical, whilst the lifestyle aspect of a person often receives less focus.

Thankfully all of our sprint team members were very giving of their time, but due to the nature of their work, it was difficult for them to fully ignore their normal tasks. We recommend fully back-filling all staff involved.

After testing 5 and 3 day versions of the sprint, I would lean towards the 3 day sprint for this industry as its less of an impost on employee time.

Saying this, the 5 day sprint is great as it allows a dedicated day for understanding the problem, which is always the most important part of any design process.

There will be some problems that just need the 5 days.

Here are some quotes from the participants of the design sprint:

“As each day progressed you could see the activities around the wall, it showed we were going to get something worthwhile out of it”

“Given this opportunity I would encourage people to grasp it with both hands”

Will your team sprint again?

Yes! In the near future UnitingCare Queensland’s Customer Experience & Innovation team will be running further design activities and exploring other complex issues within the aged care sector.

Designing, Drumming and Dadding. Opinions are my own