Let’s start with a well-known but often ignored statistic – 95% of new products fail, according to Harvard Business School.
The reasons for this are many. Some companies fixate on a problem that doesn’t exist; others fail to understand the exact customer needs in addressing the problem. And even when the problem is big enough and well-understood, there’s then the issue of the solution or product that’s developed – the quality isn’t good enough, the underlying code is badly written, or the development time is just too long.
So how do digital teams address these issues and create products that people love?
One solution is to leverage Design Sprint.
What is a Design Sprint?
A Design Sprint is a time-bound, structured design process developed by former Google Ventures (GV) design partner, Jake Knapp, in 2010.
As GV explains, ‘it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behaviour science, design thinking, and more – packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.’
For digital product teams, the Design Sprint enables you to quickly validate and solve big problems, rapidly prototype and test new ideas, products or services, and ultimately get killer digital products to market more efficiently.
Jake Knapp himself breaks down the Design Sprint in this video, explaining that it hinges on a five-day process supported by a number of specific tools and resources.
Here at Adrenalin, we’ve adapted the 5-day Design Sprint to a 4-day one, designed specifically for digital product and UX design, and focused on a core set of outcomes that are more efficiently achieved across these four days.
What is a Design Sprint good for?
The overall goal of a Design Sprint is to reduce the risk of failure by testing ideas early and often before investing a significant amount of time and money in development.
With constantly changing customer expectations, the Design Sprint methodology is a much more effective way of increasing speed to market, whilst at the same time reducing the risk of failure through efficient validation and testing.
Additional benefits for digital teams include:
Rapid problem solving – via quick identification of the core problem, ideation and prototyping, all within a few days.
Improved collaboration – the methodology brings together team members from different departments and disciplines, thereby drawing on a wide range of skill sets and points of view.
Stakeholder buy-in – having a validated prototype ensures that internal stakeholders will sign off on further development and investment.
User-centred focus – the whole process revolves around user testing and validation, ensuring that the team never lose sight of the customer's need.
Innovation – the process encourages creativity and innovation, exploring new ideas and challenging assumptions.
How does a Design Sprint work – a step-by-step guide
It will come as no surprise that conducting a Design Sprint in such a short space of time requires a fair amount of preparation and planning – the old adage of ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ is of huge relevance to a successful Design Sprint!
As Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky – both of GV – call it, ‘setting the stage’ for your Design Sprint involves five key activities:
Choose a big problem.
Recruit a sprint team.
Block five (or four) full days on your calendar.
Book a room with two whiteboards.
Get sprint supplies.
Choosing and defining the problem is probably the most important part of the preparation phase. As Marvel points out, the vast majority of products actually fail during the discovery process. Fortunately, adopting the Design Sprint approach ensures that the problem you’re focused on will minimise this risk of failure before you’ve invested too much time and effort into product development. Don’t forget that carrying out that all-important customer research as part of this step is an art in itself. Baremetrics have published some great guidelines and advice to follow here.
Similarly, spend some time on recruiting the right team and getting their buy-in to the Design Sprint commitment. As Knapp and Zeratsky outline in their video, if you’ve picked the ‘big problem’ and identified a real customer need, then use this data to convince your stakeholders that it’s worth their time.
The Design Sprint Steps
So, you’ve blocked the time and got your room and resources together. The next question is, how do you actually run a Design Sprint?
The Adrenalin 4-Day Design Sprint looks like this…
Day 1 – Monday
We find a solution to the problem.
Through a combination of ‘how might we’ scenarios and each team member noting down their long-term vision, we come up with a simple statement that defines our overall goal. We then take this goal and overlay it onto our ‘user journey map’. This leads on to our next activity – having each team member sketch out potential solutions and carry out ‘lightning demos’ so that they can present these to the rest of the group to explain their thinking and rationale.
Day 2 – Tuesday
We create a design solution.
Tuesday typically starts with a voting exercise – each team member votes on the parts of the solution that seem most interesting and that most solve the problem we’ve identified upfront. The team lead or decision maker then has the casting vote on which solution to move forward with. Next, each team member creates a user journey or flow for that solution, and again, these are put to the vote.
Day 3 – Wednesday
We sketch and prototype.
In the original 5-Day Design Sprint, these steps are usually done over two days. In the 4-Day approach, we’re combining them into one day, making use of tools such as Sketch and InVision to bring the conceptual ideas from Tuesday to life. Once done, we then set up our testing exercise, leveraging usertesting.com to get this in place for Thursday.
Day 4 – Thursday
We test the concept.
Having prepped the testing on Wednesday, we then launch the test on Thursday. It’s important in reviewing the test results to note what the testers liked, what they didn’t like, and also what they would want for a future iteration of the product. This sets us up for the next potential development Sprint.
Who should be involved in a Design Sprint?
Having covered the key Design Sprint steps, you may be wondering what the team actually looks like and who should be involved.
This will largely depend on the structure of your organisation and what problem it is that you’re trying to tackle. As a general rule of thumb though, you can expect to involve the following roles:
Project Manager – the person responsible for coordinating the activities of the team and ensuring that the Design Sprint stays on schedule.
Product Manager – someone responsible for understanding in full the problem that the Design Sprint is trying to solve and for having the casting vote in key decisions.
Designer – the person responsible for creating the visual and interactive elements of the product and for knowing what design limitations may come into play.
Developer – someone responsible for implementing the design and building the prototype, and knowing what can and can’t be done from a build perspective.
Marketer – the individual responsible for understanding the target audience and knowing the typical issues that the customer faces.
User Researcher – someone responsible for conducting the user research and testing part of the Design Sprint.
Business / Data Analyst – the person responsible for knowing more of the data deep-dive, and understanding the business context and financial feasibility of the digital product.
As an agency running the Design Sprint with a client team, these roles will be a blend of client-side stakeholders and agency experts. We advise as a minimum that the key ‘decision maker’ (usually the Product Manager or equivalent) is from the client team and that the Business or Data Analyst is also client-side with an insight into how the business really works.
Our bonus tips and tricks on running a Design Sprint
From running these Design Sprints on a frequent basis, we’ve also come up with a few additional tips and tricks on making your four days both more successful and more memorable!
Create a branded and inspirational workspace – branding, pops of colour and even fun snacks will help with creativity.
Make time for team-building (breaks, lunches, etc.) – breaks are often when further inspiration will hit the team!
Consider a facilitator – if you’ve got the necessary experts but are struggling to find someone to keep everything on track, then consider using a 3rd party facilitator.
How to run a remote Design Sprint
The reality of today’s working practices means that you may be tasked with running your Design Sprint remotely. Running a remote Design Sprint can be challenging, but with the right tools and approach, it can be just as effective as an in-person sprint.
Here are our top tips for running a remote Design Sprint:
Choose the right tools – there’s no shortage of cloud-based tools now available to help with tasks such as user mapping, conception and design, for example, Miro, Figma, Sketch and InVision. Just be sure to try them out in advance and pick the one your team prefers. Then couple these with asynchronous comms tools such as Loom, Slack, MS Teams and, of course, World Time Buddy!
Chunk up the tasks – the Design Sprint in its entirety can seem overwhelming so a good way to make it more manageable is by chunking up the tasks each day and making sure your team are clear on what needs to be achieved with each one.
Set your ground rules – set up a daily sprint meeting each morning where you reiterate your ground rules – whether that’s phones off, or videos on… make sure the rules are clear and repeated regularly.
Be prepared – as we’ve outlined above, preparation is key, and even more so with a remote Design Sprint.
Stay flexible – unexpected tasks or interruptions will occur. Don’t let them side-track the team and stay flexible to deal with them.
For more advice on remote Design Sprints from the team behind the Design Sprint book, check out this guide.
Building a killer digital product requires a lot of work, creativity and planning. And even with this, there’s still a high probability that the product might fail when it gets to market. However, leveraging the Design Sprint methodology is a really effective way of minimising risk, reducing wasted time and investment, and keeping the team laser focused on user needs.
Adrenalin is a leading digital product and technology agency for Australia’s top brands and organisations. Stay informed about the latest digital product trends, strategies, and tactics by subscribing to the Adrenalin newsletter below.