Helping a construction tools company innovate into the digital age

with Calculated Industries.

Workshop planning and customization

Sprint facilitation and coaching
Usability lab setup and testing design
Usability lab moderation
Synthesis and documentation


Organized and facilitated a weeklong, Google-Ventures-style design sprint for a mid-size construction tools company who wanted to innovate into the digital products space. Over the course of five days, I coached 9 of their senior staff members (including their CEO, CFO, and chief engineers) through their first design sprint and first exposure to design thinking methods, including ideation, prototyping, testing. At the end of the week, they decided to move forward with our prototype app; in the months following, they hired a full-time innovation manager to oversee the development of the concept we had tested.


Calculated Industries is a mid-sized company producing specialized tools for technical industries, including construction and accounting - physical products trusted in the industry for decades in their niche applications. An older, engineering-led organization, their development processes and internal team culture were more waterfall than agile. Calculated’s executive team had recently begun investing in innovation trainings and workshops with mixed results. Prior to our engagement, the team had floated various ideas for new digital tools to modernize their product offerings, but they wanted to be sure that new innovation R&D would be worth the investment, and were eager to learn and internalize innovation methods.


The objectives for this workshop were thus twofold: 1) select and advance one of their product ideas, giving them the confidence to develop or iterate it further, and 2) introduce their executive team to design thinking methods, encouraging a human-centric innovation culture in their organization.


After upfront interviews with their executive team to understand their current innovation culture as well as their goals and expectations, I coordinated and customized the sprint, drawing from experience coaching at the HPI d.School, as well as from open-source sprint methods from Google Ventures, Jake Knapp, AJ+Smart, and others.

On your mark...

The team was motivated, open minded, and quick to learn. We got off to a great start aligning on their long-term company vision, then focusing our attention to specific user needs they’d noticed over years in the field, that they felt might be good opportunities for digital innovation.


Of the 9 participants, 8 were senior leadership, and few had any experience with design thinking or sprint methods. This meant a lot of 'learning by doing.' After mapping user needs, finding inspiration, and sketching concepts, we settled on one that resonated with the team and got to storyboarding.


As the only person in the room familiar with UI prototyping, I gave a tutorial on how to use Adobe XD, and had the team collect assets, prototype small elements, and recruit participants while I worked to get the prototype functioning.


I set up a ‘one way mirror’ usability lab for testing on Friday, then moderated four in-person and one remote test, with the team listening in via Zoom from the main room and taking notes on feedback.


  • This was definitely a challenging experience as a solo facilitator. The group was larger than recommended and predominantly older, male, in senior leadership positions, and from technical backgrounds. However, it was necessary to get enough buy-in on both methods and output to impact the widest possible group of stakeholders.
  • It helped that the team already had decades of experience working together - while certain organizational hierarchies were present, there was an undoubtedly positive atmosphere throughout - especially when sharing and reviewing each other’s ideas, and even during difficult decisionmaking phases.
  • The most perceivable value came on Friday during testing, when the team got to see how their concept resonated with construction managers - and whether their assumptions were on point or needed to be re-thought. For a team more experienced with 'waterfall-style' product development, I think it was important to have a hands-on learning experience with rapid prototyping and iteration.
  • At the end, even some participants who were initially skeptical of the potential of sprints gave positive feedback about their experience. In subsequent conversations, I learned that CII decided to move forward with the product concept and also to hire in a full-time innovation manager.


"A Design Sprint is somewhat of a cram session like the old study days the night before a midterm. James' approach to getting through the week kept us moving and no one felt stuck for long!”
“James was able to grab our industry needs so quickly and on point.”
"James kept it moving, participated in developing solutions, and of course his great sketching and summarizing abilities contributed to both above."
“Very strong facilitator, keeping the group fairly flat. In our day-to-day, we are often swayed by one or two heavyweights in the room!”
"I can not say enough about your facilitation skill set. You guided us in a very positive atmosphere to learn a new product development tool. Fabulous experience.”