For companies to succeed in building the right products, they have to think of how to create true value for their end users. This requires fast experimentation, validation and iteration. This is where the design sprint comes in, helping to transform businesses faster through design-based thinking, prototyping and then testing ideas with customers. A design sprint compresses months of time into a single week. Instead of having to wait to launch an Minimum Viable Product [MVP] and potentially spend a lot of money building a product that nobody will use, an organisation can test assumptions before actually starting to build.
This methodology was created at Google, by Jake Knapp, and is now being increasingly adopted within companies. There are plenty of examples of companies that are implementing design sprints, from big consultancy firms to famous tech companies like Airbnb and Facebook. Design sprints are versatile and are being implemented in all kinds of different settings.
What is a design sprint?
This step focuses on creating a shared understanding among the most important stakeholders of the problem that needs solving, the context and the end user. Mapping is where you decide on the focus of the sprint. Instead of jumping straight to solutions, we start slow to go fast.
Once the goal and problem are clear, we use day two to generate lots of ideas by following a process that will create a detailed solution. Instead of shouting out ideas, we work independently to make detailed sketches of possible solutions. This works much better than group brainstorming, because traditional brainstorming is dead.
The ideas and solutions from the previous step lead to one or more prototype scenarios. Instead of abstract debate and endless discussions, we use voting and a decider to make decisions that reflect the group's goals.
Now’s the moment to validate our assumptions. Rather than trying to get every detail ‘right’ before testing our solution, we adopt a prototype mindset and create just enough of our solution to validate and so learn fast. A prototype can be anything; from a 3D-printed object to a clickable prototype or even a cardboard prototype. Almost everything can be prototyped as long as it is tangible and can be user validated.
In this step we verify our ideas with end-users. Afterwards, we will decide which have proven to be the most valuable ideas for implementation. So, instead of guessing and hoping we're on the right track – while investing a lot of time and money in ideas – we test among targeted customers and seek their honest reactions and opinions.
Outcome of the design sprint
So, we've completed a design sprint. What now? It's impossible to do one design sprint and be guaranteed of having a solution that is perfect. The three possible scenarios following a design sprint are:
1. Most things are working
The next step is to fine-tune the prototype, based on the results of the interviews, and create a backlog for the scrum team to start building the validated stories.
2. The solution did not work or there are still some big issues
This is great, because it only took a week to find out that the solutions did not work. Compared to the time, effort and money it costs to build an MVP and learn afterwards, this is a cheap way to gain these insights and spend the money saved on trying out other ideas or refining
Win or learn
The design sprint is an experiment. Willingness to fail and accept that failure is a valuable outcome is part of a mindset that not every company is accustomed to. In some organisations, there is a culture of decision-making based on stakeholder opinion rather than customer validation. This methodology creates an opportunity to break standard ways of working and start experimenting with a truly user-centred design approach when solving critical business questions.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
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More to read
1. Sprint how to, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky & Braden Kowitz, Bantam Press
2. Design Sprint, Richard Banfield, C. Todd Lombardo, Trace Wax, O’Reilly
3. Google Ventures: www.gv.com/sprint