Jackie Colburn



She has been leading the creation of digital experiences for over a decade; everything from emerging startups to critical strategic efforts for fortune 50 businesses. She’s worked with teams at organizations such as Allina Health, Ameriprise Financial, and Best Buy. 

Please join me in welcoming Jackie Colburn to The Innovation Series. Welcome, Jackie! It’s very nice to meet you and thank you very much for your time.

Jackie: Thanks for having me! 

Randy: With what’s going on in the world right now related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we’re all stuck at home and so I feel like this is an important place to start. You co-authored The Remote Sprint Design Guide (which I recommend highly) recently with Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. If you had to pick the single most important piece of advice you could give us on running a design sprint remotely...what would it be?

Jackie: Be prepared. Whether you are hosting an in-person or a remote sprint, take the time to get ready and lay the foundation for the team’s best work to be done. For remote sprints, it takes even longer to get everything set up. We’ve got a ton of advice in the remote sprint guide, but pay special attention to how you set up your whiteboard and plan your schedule.

Once you’re prepared, be prepared for things not to go as you planned! Stay calm when things don’t go as expected. As a facilitator, your job is to shepherd the team forward. You will inevitably face challenges during your sprint: technical difficulties, something taking longer than expected, the challenging attitude of a team member - your work is to stay steady and adapt on the fly. There will be moments when the plan you laid no longer gets the team to the place they need to be and you’ll need to guide the team through it, keeping your focus on where the team needs to end up that day. 

Randy: In your bio, I noticed part of your introduction says the following, “Through her own version of a Design Sprint…”, can you give us some insight into how you have taken the core components of the SPRINT process and made them your own?

Jackie: No matter what, the 3 must-haves for any session I facilitate are: 

  • Focus = the commitment to solving a problem during the timeframe 
  • Empathy = for our customer and for one another during the process 
  • Making = making choices and making prototypes 

I anchor the team in customer research at the start of the session to fuel our work and make sure that we’re focused on the needs of the people we are building something for.

Each sprint agenda is designed for the client I am working with, and is based on their unique scenario. I start by getting to know the teams I am working with and nail down what they’re hoping to accomplish during the Design Sprint. We get to clarity on their learning objectives, team member capabilities and capacity, and the constraints of the business. (I often work with big, regulated businesses which brings a set of constraints that smaller more nimble companies don’t wrestle with.) I define an agenda based on what I uncover. Sometimes a client comes to me thinking they need a Design Sprint and what they actually need is a facilitated planning session to align leadership in advance. 

Randy: I absolutely love the recent article you published, “Why aren’t you making great things? Fear.” I’ve read it a couple of times now. It really hit me on two levels. First, it never occurred to me to think of the concepts of guided meditation as a way to deal with fear. Second, being unfamiliar with the RAIN method I was so pleasantly surprised to see “Neutral” as the last step. In my experience, people tend to dig in even deeper once fear starts to take hold. So how do you advise people not only to adopt a neutral view but also how to use it as a tool to combat fear when creating something new?

Jackie: Thank you! I am so happy to hear that you found it useful! I bring a bit of mindfulness to the room when I am working with teams because it’s such a powerful tool. Mindfulness is on-trend right now and frankly, I am thrilled about it. I’ve been a practicing yogi for 15 years and taught yoga for a number of years. My practice has definitely informed my disposition and work and I believe that the more mainstream it becomes, the better off we’ll all be! 

The thing that’s so useful about mindfulness practice in the workplace is it can keep us from getting stuck due to our very normal human emotions. The method I outline in the article is the RAIN method which I cue this way:  

Recognize the feelings coming up in you. 

Acknowledge the feelings. 

Investigate the feelings.

Neutral. Adopt a neutral view of the feelings.

Your question about the “neutral” view of fear is important. I use the “neutral” cue because, as you noted, people may dig in and get stuck in the grips of their feelings once they tap into them. In a work-setting, when fear arises, the tendency is often to ignore and push the feelings down or to try to turn them off. Neither of these approaches works and can result in the “fight-flight-freeze” response - which can look like combativeness, avoidance, or shutting down at work. If you are able to allow the feeling to come and Recognize / Acknowledge / Investigate, you won’t get caught by it in the same way. The Neutral (non-attached) perspective allows feelings to move through you so you can act more freely. 

In response to part of your question, you asked: “How do you advise people not only to adopt a neutral view but also how to use it as a tool to combat fear when creating something new?”

I want to speak specifically to the point about “combating” fear. The goal is not to stop the emotion, it’s actually the opposite. The purpose is to allow the emotion to be present so that it can move through while you shift your perspective so that it keeps it from taking over. Does that make sense?  

There are a couple of things that I do in a session: (Advice for facilitators) 

  • The first is to actually guide people through the meditation process as outlined in the article. Doing this gives them a tool to use throughout and they seem to be less inhibited as we move on. 
  • The second is to acknowledge the feelings that I see coming up in the session. I do this two ways:
    - One is to facilitate a “pulse check” where everyone shares a rating of 1-5 on how they’re feeling about the work and then has a chance to discuss (if they want to.) 
    - The second is to have side-conversations with team members if I sense that they are stuck, struggling, angry, fearful. I’m highly empathic and can pick up people’s queues so this is an easy one for me.

For working through your own difficult emotions: (Advice for any human)

I recommend that you read the post and try out the RAIN method yourself. Keep in mind that you don’t need to become a regular meditator or expert yogi for it to work for you. This is a simple tool that can be used at any moment of your life, on the fly, and will make a big difference. 

Randy: You tweeted the following quote from @AdamMGrant recently, "The more experiments you run, the less constrained you become by your ideas from the past. You learn from what you discover in your audience, on your canvas, or in the data." I totally agree with that philosophy. However, when there are constraints and costs to consider, there seems to be a real struggle to know when to spend time running experiments vs. when to just build the feature and see how it does in the hands of your customer. What are your thoughts and guidance for teams that are grappling with this decision?

Jackie: Some features should definitely make it into your roadmap without testing. The things that you have a high degree of certainty about and are low effort to build can get queued up without investing team time in testing. These changes should also be things that don’t risk negatively affecting something critical. 

Hypothetical example: (Sticking with the mindfulness theme. ? )

Say you’ve got a guided meditation product in the market. You learned that customers want to be able to bookmark their favorite meditations through feedback you got via the customer comments. It’s a low level of effort for the product team to design and build this feature. You’ll use the existing styles in place. The change doesn’t disrupt the way that customers flow through the app and there’s no impact on signup or payment.  Put it on the roadmap. 

The lower your certainty and the greater the effort, the more you should invest in testing to gain confidence before you put it on the roadmap. 


Randy: What top-secret project are you working on, that you have been waiting for this very special opportunity on The Innovation Series to unveil?

Jackie: My significant other and I created an approach for planning and managing our family. We’ve been using this approach for 3 years and it provides a framework for hashing out what’s important to us. It forces us to drive to clarity and define clear measures of success for the things we are working toward. It helps us reduce confusion about whether or not we are on the same page about what needs to be done and what we are working toward. Once our priorities are set for a quarter, they're set. The bi-weekly meeting is awesome because it’s our space to discuss the family ops, progress on our priorities, and issues - honestly, its the space to discuss the stuff that can be hard. Because we have the forum set, we don’t have to worry about bringing things up during our day-to-day and can use our energy wisely. 

The approach is very loosely based on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS / Traction), used by many businesses. We are both geeks for strategic planning and goal setting so this might be something we are uniquely into but we’ve been considering authoring a guide and set of tools for other families to use.

The approach =

  • Define your family values 
  • Create a 10-year vision, 3-year picture, 1-year plan 
  • Have an annual off-site planning session where you confirm the plan for the year
  • Quarterly planning and priority setting for each family member
  • Bi-weekly check-ins to discuss progress on priorities, review our scorecard (which includes things like “relationship health”) and discuss issues. 

Randy: One last question, I saw that you draw your inspiration from nature. We’re alike in that way. My favorite thing to do in the whole world is to ride my bike in the woods. Mountain Biking is therapeutic for me. I have never been able to articulate *the why* quite as well as you have, though. As life gets busier and we find that more of our time is spent on Zoom meetings, how do you make sure that you always have time to get into the woods for some inspiration?

Jackie: I think this one comes down to planning as well. First of all, schedule your outside time into your calendar just like you would any other important date. It might actually be your MOST important date since being in nature will benefit your body, mind, and will probably make you more creative. Once you’ve got your time scheduled, your next most likely reason for NOT getting outside is probably going to be...the weather. 

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota and we have ALL kinds of weather here but are most known for our very cold and snowy winters. The key is clothing. The saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Get the right gear to make unseasonable weather feel comfortable. I am not talking about the kind of gear hoarding that will fill your closet and drain your bank account, but the kind that will get rid of your weather excuses - a raincoat, good shoes, long johns - the stuff you need to keep you from making excuses. 

Now get out there, get some fresh air, and make some things you’re proud of. ?

Randy: Good luck and thank you again for being on The Innovation Series. It's been great to have you!

Past Interviews

David WongCME Group

Dr. Justin SchragerVital Software

Brian PoppeMutual of Omaha

Dustin ZieglerElevance Health

Dr. Joshua Vest, PhD, MPHIndiana University

Helen RobbH&R Block

Therese Fessenden NN/g, Microsoft

Brittni BoweringSPRINT Facilitator, AJ&Smart

Fabricio TeixeiraWork & Co, UX Collective

Jake KnappSprint, GV, Microsoft

Radhika DuttRadical Product Thinking

John ZeratskySPRINT, Make Time

Tobias van SchneiderSemplice, Spotify

Jeff GothelfLean UX Author

Taylor PalmerUX Tools, Neighbor

Daniel BurkaResolve to Save Lives, GV

Carie DavisYour Ideas are Terrible, Coca-Cola

Sean AmmiratiDirector, Corporate Startup Lab at Carnegie Mellon

Aaron LerchWhy designers and developers need to invest in being equal partners

Alex BillingsleyHow to get designers and developers on the same page