Design Sprint - What's all the fuss?

I’m sure you’ve heard, read or even participated in Design Sprint process. Ever since Google Ventures introduced this methodology in a book from 2016, DS got adopted globally by many companies as a tool to resolve problems. It became one of the most popular tools in the industry.

After I read, studies and facilitated several Design Sprint workshops, I have a clear conclusion that there’s a good reason why it became so popular. It a clear, relatively short process that simply does the job, doesn’t matter if it’s a 10 employees startup or an international organization.

With that being said, like everything in life, this tool had it’s week spots and it’s not suitable to handle any challenge you might be facing. That’s probably why we see different versions popping out to improve the process and make it ideal for different challenges. It could be changed to work online, to reduce the time from 5 to 3 days or to make it work for specific organizational needs.

The Original Design Spring

The original process includes 5 steps held over 5 days period (Monday to Friday) with the goal to resolve significant challenges and answer critical business questions, while thinking, planning, prototyping and testing the possible solutions with potential clients or users.

The original process:

Day 1 – mapping the challenge we gathered for.

Day 2 – list ideas that can potentially resolve this challenge.

Day 3 – choose the most promising ideas.

Day 4 – building a prototype/mockup to test the solution (one that you can create in one day).

Day 5 – customers interview + testing your prototype with customers to verify your assumptions.

Day 1 - mapping
Day 1
  • Long terms goals and questions
  • Map
  • HMW + Ask the experts
  • Setting goals
Day 2 - sketch
Day 2
  • Quick demos
  • 4 steps solutions sketch
Day 3 - decisions
Day 3
  • Post decisions
  • Storyboarding
Day 4 - prototyping
Day 4
  • Plan rules and tools
  • Build
  • Initial testing
Day 5 - test
Day 5
  • Customers interview
  • Learn
  • Plan the next steps

As you may see, this is a very structured and efficient process which can save weeks and sometimes months of work trying to find solutions to problems we face.

Taking the process one step farther

Since the process involves 7-10 participants, some of them are top management and decision makers, even though this is a relatively short process, it still requires significant time and effort from the company — that is why it’s crucial to make the process in the right way and make the necessary preparations.

Proper preparation includes several topics, which must be done correctly or the entire process will become inefficient. We are offering an introductory 1-day workshop, performed 1-2 weeks before the Design Sprint process. During the initial workshop, we require the participation of the top management and decision makers, including the person who’ll be the ‘Decider’ during the sprint process. By the end of the workshop we’ll have:

1. Problem definition

I learned that many times companies arrive at the sprint unprepared, with no defined problem or challenge to address during the sprint. This is an initial and critical step to make the sprint a successful process, and that’s why we’ve decided to do it in a separate workshop, before the sprint. Many customers don’t necessarily know how to define the problem and if it even exists. On other times, a problem was defined in a way which makes is too generic or too narrow to be able to provide a practical solution the sprint, which again, cause to a waste of resources for the company.

The excitement, promises and buzz around the Design Sprint process caused many companies to try it without really clarifying what’s the real challenge they need to address or what are the outcomes they expect to get at the end of the week.

Defining and framing the problem is a process which must involve the company decision makers. The process includes:

  1. An accurate definition of a problem or challenge we’re trying to solve, while addressing a strategic business process, product or service and link them to a specific business goal or KPI and for real customer requirements.
  2. All decision makers should be aligned – since there is a congruence between the challenge defined to the business goals, the decision makers are now accepting responsibility for the process and therefore will support the continuation of the process and would be eager to see the results being implemented.

Many articles are discussing the proper way to define a problem. One example is available in this article.

2. Testing with customers

the last day of the Design Sprint is there to test the prototype we built with customers or users.

In order to do that in the best way, we have to make sure we have booked some potential users, relevant to the specific challenge we’ve defined.

It could take time to contact and book those users and that’s why we do it 1-2 weeks before the actual Design Sprint start.

3. Building a winning team

After we accurately defined the problem we want to solve, now it’s time to decide who are the experts we want in the team for the Design Sprint process. The team of the preliminary workshop is usually different than the one we want for the design Sprint but not necessarily. It recommended deciding on the team during the preliminary workshop, while all the decision makers are in the room and you have time to make sure they’re available for the sprint.

4. Tools

It would be a waste of precious time to try and find the right tools to build the prototype or worth, looking for boards and markers in the middle of the sprint. Make the required preparations and make sure you have all the necessary equipment ready in time (don’t worry, we’ll provide you with a details list).

The New Process

The new Design Sprint process will be held over 4 days instead of 5:

Day 1

The introductory workshop allows us to start the process with a well-defined problem and with a winning team, determined to succeed, as opposed to a stressed team that does not know what waits ahead.
Of course, we still have a long and uncertain process ahead of us, but the general approach is much more positive and determined. This is why it is crucial to ensure that the selected team prepares in advance, understands the problem, and makes all necessary information in advance.

Beyond the tasks listed in the book for that day (the second day in the original process), you can make some changes. Since the team already familiar with the problem and prepared for the sprint, we recommend to start the day with a short discussion about the goals for this process and later let each team member up to 3 minutes to describe his perspective on the problem we’re addressing.

By the end of the day, the team will have a clear identification on the challenge they need to address. Toward the end of the day, the facilitator will give the participants some homework – think and conduct simple short research towards ‘lightning demos’ done at the beginning of the second day.

Day 2

Since we have already done our homework as preparation for the second day, we can start the day by presenting the results and saving precious time. We will use the rest of the morning, until the lunch break, to sketch the different solutions.

After the lunch break, we will spend about an hour and a half to review the solution: 30 minutes Art Museum, Speed Critique for about 45 minutes and voting on the best prototype we want to build for another 15 minutes.
The rest of the day, around an hour and a half, will be devoted to storyboarding creation. The book dedicates more time to this stage, and indeed this is not a simple procedure, but from my experience, at this time we will get similar results.

Up until this stage, we have received most of the critical decisions of the sprint process, and that’s why this is the time frame when we need full involvement of the seniors and decision makers. It is strongly recommended to keep them involved in the rest of the process until the end, but if there is no other choice, this is the minimum time they are required to remain involved.

Day 3

At the beginning of the day, when your head is still fresh, if you feel your team needs so, you can have a quick review of the storyboard and make quick adjustments if required (no more than 1 hour).

The rest of the day is devoted to building the prototype. It is strongly recommended that the entire team, including top management, will be involved (get their hands dirty). This generates team spirit דense of responsibility that will help promote and implement the results.

It is recommended to ensure in advance, before the start of the process, that there is a suitable tool for building the prototype. You can find some great tools in this article, make sure you have someone who knows how to use the chosen tool.

It is recommended to ensure in advance, before the start of the process, that there is a suitable tool for building the prototype. You can find some great tools in this article, make sure you have someone who knows how to use the chosen tool.

Day 4

This is the real test. On the fourth and final day of the process, we will examine our solution with real users. We must ask the right questions, listen carefully to their answers and discuss them together with the team. At the end of the day, sit together and plan your next steps.

 

To wrap things up, connecting the process to real business needs and making proper preparation improves the process significantly, saving valuable time and showing better results.

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