How to use Design Sprints to rapidly validate your ideas

What is it and why do I need it?

What is a design sprint?

In short, it is a time boxed exercise and it’s all about collaboration. A 5 day process that helps answer critical business questions through prototyping, design and user testing ideas and it was first developed by GV (Google Ventures) who studied over 300 different business strategies. Sprints allow your team to reach well planned out goals and gain key learnings as well as test ideas out, but fast.

The process is there to help spark innovation and bring your team together under one shared vision, and to help you reach your goals quicker. It is advised around bringing on no more than 7 members to a design sprint. For instance you may be wanting to bring everyone together to see how you can make the user's journey on a website better.

There is even a publication on this business strategy, Sprint by Jake Knapp, that aims to help business owners to improve that claims to help  you “fast-forward into the future”.

How does a design sprint work?

There are three times you may need to use a design sprint and these could be; when you’re trying to reach a goal or do something quickly, when big challenges need solving or when you’re stuck.

Before the sprint begins, you need to have the right team there. Someone from different parts of the process. It could be your tech person, your design person, your marketing person, whoever you’re bringing together make sure you have someone from each field who is responsible for the final product.

You and your team will then get together for an uninterrupted 5 days to work together to create new ideas or products for your brand and begin by reviewing everything you know about the problem, to end on not only a solution but a prototype.

Planning your sprint

There are several things you need to make sure are prepared and planned before you can conduct your design sprint. Firstly, it is crucial to do some pre-sprint research before you begin your first day. This could be in the form of interviews with current or prospective users. The goal is to plan ahead and set the stage without overwhelming the team with too much initial information.

Prepare your working space, the right room is important. It may sound obvious but a big, well equipped room is important. Make sure there are enough windows, whiteboards, pens, computers- whatever you need. Remember to stock up on supplies and organise the days well so that everything is ready to commence with no glitches or interruptions. It is also recommended that sometimes an off site location is a good idea, not the same place you work daily.

Assemble a plan together that you will distribute. It doesn’t have to be thoroughly detailed as things to should flow naturally as ideas develop, but should still give people a sense of what they’re going to be doing and what the agenda is for each day.

Why should I use a design sprint?

In many cases, a Design Sprint will lead you to something that gets initial user validation, where the next steps are defined. You’ll have reduced risk by doing some validation early, and develop next steps faster than would have otherwise been possible. What makes the Design Sprint approach most effective is the structured, time-constrained framework with the right exercises.

A design sprint can stop you from creating the wrong thing or wasting precious time going back and forth with other people. Instead, all the stakeholders (those that have a steak in the project) are together in one room. The purpose of the Design Sprint is to get answers to a set of vital questions, not to produce the prototype for the next version of your solution.

The other question is, do you really need 5 days? Different lengths of sprints were tested. From 3 days, up to a month long. The best results were found with the 5 day sprint. This is because it allowed people enough breathing room to focus and not feel overly stressed, while also maintaining the factor of urgency to get things done.

One of the most valuable things about a design sprint is that it saves precious time. Though it can sometimes be difficult to set aside a whole day, let alone 5 whole days, in the long run it’s very valuable. It is also a great way to test out big ideas. Low-risk ideas with high confidence usually don’t need the attention and structure that a Design Sprint provides. So even though it may sound like a high price to pay, it will be worth it.

Final round up

One of the most important parts of it (if not the most important) is your team. If you have the right team it will work. So spend some time when picking members to be involved and make sure you have an expert from each area.

The results tend to be qualitative and focus on perceived value. Design Sprints are not a substitute for usability testing and should come much earlier in the process.

Design sprints initially cost you money and the fact you have to clear out 5 days to conduct one may seem daunting but in the long run they actually save you a lot of time and money over the lifetime of the project.

As long as you have your goals, your schedule planned, your team and a good working environment, there is no reason why you cannot have a successful design sprint. All the back and forth and the ‘middle men’, if you like, are removed from the normal decision making process to allow you and your team to come up with important changes.

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