Helping a $10M Grant Winning Stanford Bioengineering Lab Collaboratively Define Success, A Shared Vision and Momentum Towards an Audacious Goal   


When your main investor is Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, expectations of progress are different than typical National Science Foundation funding. And when you only have two days, this wasn’t your average sprint, either.

What could a cross-country cohort of labs do to combine computational, experimental and mathematical modeling technologies to share information on Salmonella infection with each other and the world in a clear and useful way?

Turns out, quite a lot.

With 32 researchers in two short days, we needed to come up with a clear vision for their work that was bound by these constraints:

  1. Can be built in a faster time frame than ever before (18–24 months)
  2. Will be understandable to Paul Allen so the team can show progress and renew funding
  3. Unites four labs across the country toward a shared vision and gives every lab something important to work on


Before we did any design work, Markus and I collaborated to align every activity with his set of unique goals. I planned a custom two-day design sprint for his unique needs and timeframe. Day one of the sprint took us in a variety of directions as we looked at existing websites that solve similar problems, interviewed team members, and sketched solutions. At the end of the first day, we ended up with over 30 sketches of ideas from the lab members.

Day two we focused in on a single concept, and voted on the best solutions and then outlined the details of how it would work. We decided that it was possible to combine the winning ideas into a single MVP as long as we cut a few of the complexities. The five leaders of the team debated and then emerged, presenting to the entire team an MVP that met our initial goals.

Stanford Professor Markus Covert explains the decision that leadership made together after evaluating the teams ideas

Stanford Professor Markus Covert explains the decision that leadership made together after evaluating the teams ideas


Markus and I agreed on the next steps and I wrote them on the whiteboard for the whole team to see and hold him accountable to. After reviewing our goals for the sprint, we agreed it was a success.

With a Design Sprint, we built a shared vision and unity across labs that are in different locations and hadn’t met before. Together, the labs designed a Minimal Viable Product to work towards so that their research had a clear goal and they could continue to earn funding for their work.

I had envisioned a lot of brainstorming and big discussion. I now can see that that probably would have been pretty awkward and some people would have talked more than others… I think this was a much better way to do it. I believe in the process now. Thank you!
— Markus Covert, Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford