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Design sprints: quick as hell and easy to drive

10th July 2019

The design sprint was first formalised within Google Ventures around 2012.

Since then the process has been used across countless organisations to drive user-centred innovation at pace.

At its core, it’s a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers – fast.

Why run a design sprint?

Design sprints are about momentum. They move a product, business or strategy forward by providing quick solutions.

They are especially good when you want to bring key talent and expertise together to solve a particular problem. For example, 'How do we get more people to sign up?' ‘How might we create a new feature which serves a particular customer need?' or 'How might we make a new product in a particular category or against a particular customer demand?'.

They are intensely focused on delivering against measurable goals.

I have used the process to build apps, social networks and even creative applications for children suffering from severe learning difficulties.

How do they work?

Design sprints are typically 5 days.

The sprint follows design thinking processes, but compressed into an intense and highly collaborative week:

  1. Understand: Discover the business opportunity, the audience, the competition, the value proposition, and define metrics of success.
  2. Diverge: Explore, develop and iterate creative ways of solving the problem, regardless of feasibility.
  3. Converge: Identify ideas that fit the next product cycle and explore them in further detail through storyboarding.
  4. Prototype: Design and prepare prototype(s) that can be tested with people.
  5. Test: Conduct 1:1 user testing with 5-6 people from the product's primary target audience.
What do you get out of a design sprint?

Design sprints can be incredibly empowering for teams. You go from nothing to having a user-tested prototype in one week.

Aside from the energy this generates, you fundamentally come away with clear guidance on the questions you started with: Should we do this? Will this be valuable? Do we have the right solution?

You also come away with an updated product strategy and vision, a shared understanding of what success looks like and which metrics to track.

Tangibly, you come away with a high-fidelity prototype, development-ready design files, an insight report summarising the research, videos of all the research sessions plus a backlog of other ideas and potential opportunities that can be followed up later.

Further considerations

Whilst one week can propel the team forward and make a huge difference, it is worth considering a follow up 'focus' sprint after the initial week. This enables you to iterate on what was learnt in testing and build on the goodwill and camaraderie the team built up during the initial sprint. In our experience, this helps build longer-lasting momentum and more grounded insight.

The second week doesn’t require as much commitment from stakeholders and instead focuses on creating new or better prototypes and expanding the testing.

It’s also worth considering the state of customer insight you bring into the sprint. A single solid piece of formative research could give you fuel for a whole year's worth of design sprints, all delivering innovation into the business. If you already have existing research, a short workshop to prioritise and codify this may also pay dividends.

If you’re a centralised team in a medium to large organisation, for example a UX team, marketing department or innovation function, it’s worth considering how you could offer a continuous programme of sprints that different teams or departments could book on to.

Finally...

It isn’t a lack of good ideas that leads businesses to be disrupted or lose pace with competitors. Instead it is inertia. The time it takes to get buy-in from stakeholders, budget holders, political entities etc.

Most ideas are just hypotheses about what might work. They don’t tend to survive the corporate atmosphere for very long unless they can move beyond good thoughts, into being verified solutions.

You need vehicles that can carry these ideas forward and those vehicles need to be robust, quick as hell and easy to drive. We think design sprints are a great choice for delivering this.


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