How can a design sprint accelerate your product idea?

Sebastian Boanca
Oct 9 · 11 min read

In this article you will learn about the effectiveness of doing a design sprint within your team, and how it can save you a lot of money, time and effort.

Besides this you will learn who should be in a design team, how to understand user’s problems, create solutions, prototypes and quickly validate with real users.

Design sprints originally started from Google Ventures. They’ve run sprints with companies like Nest, Flatiron Health, and Medium — to help them enter new markets, design new products, develop new features for millions of users, define marketing strategies, and much more.

Some of the large companies who are using design sprints are Lego, Linkedin, Slack, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb.

A design sprint answers critical business questions using design, prototyping & user testing.

Teams all over the world have adopted sprints, and their stories are collected at SprintStories.com. Google Ventures even wrote a book on this subject called: “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.”

Source: Amazon

Recently I attended a workshop called ‘How can a Design Sprint Accelerate My Product Idea?’ delivered by Harry Ford. He has over 17 years of experience working on digital products and innovation. He worked with startups and companies like WWF, Universal, Zurich and many more. Harry is the Head of Product Strategy for Kyan, a digital product agency in the UK, having bought a flat recently in Cluj.

During the workshop we found out that Apple is very good at iterating products. The design process is not over when manufacturing begins. In fact, Apple iterates the design throughout manufacturing.

The product is built, it’s tested and reviewed, then the design team improves on it and it’s built all over again. These cycles can take 4 to 6 weeks and may be run many times over a product’s development lifecycle.

Source: Innovating Society

A sprint takes a team from a challenge to a realistic solution

Before you design your product you need to carefully design your time.

A sprint usually lasts five consecutive days and it happens with all the team members in the same room. Some teams decide run the sprint on separate days, for example one day every 2 weeks and some decide to do the sprint with the team divided all over the world and they’re communicating online. But these sprints do have one flaw. They are less effective because you get few ideas, and the quality of the work may be lower.

Besides this you don’t have as much fun working remotely than working with your team. Why? Because when you work side by side you can see at the end of the day dozens of post-its with ideas put together on a wall.

When you should run a design sprint?

You should run a design sprint before building a product, when pitching to a stakeholder or when you are improving a part of an existing product. The more specific is the purpose of the design sprint the better because you will have more practical results.

Never start with the solution in mind because the design sprint is meant to give you better and more efficient solutions. Always start with the problem and with who you are solving it for.

Be open to new possibilities and be very curious about the people who will use your product. The better you can understand them and their present needs, the more effective the solution will be.

Source: Innovating Society

Why is a design sprint effective?

Because it solves problems fast, validates solutions quickly and it helps you make cheaply decisions.

If you invested in the wrong product after a design sprint you may lose dozens or hundred of euros, but not thousands or tens of thousands. Huge financial loses may happen when you are investing in a big marketing campaign or when you invest a lot in an infrastructure of an untested/poorly tested product.

Who should be in a design sprint team?

A perfect design team is formed from a facilitator, a CEO or a decider, a marketing expert and an UX engineer. This is just an ideal team, but you can improvise.

It’s important to have one person who facilitates the entire sprint who makes sure that the whole design team is following the sprint plan and timeline. Then you need someone with business experience who has to make the difficult decisions when the other team members can’t come to an agreement or are unsure about which decision is best to act on.

You also need someone who is responsible with marketing of the product and someone who is capable of making the product user friendly so that the products features are working well.

For a design sprint you will need colored post-its, colorful sticky dots, markers and a timer.

Source: Innovating Society

Day 1 — Understand

During the workshop we had to build a fictive app for the millenials who want to find a rommate or an appartment for rent.

The first step was to define what we wanted to achieve. At this step is important not to worry HOW you will achieve your goal. It’s important just to have it written down clear and concise.

You may think it’s easier just to have your purpose in mind without writing it down, but writing it down is crucial.

According to a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

Our Long term goal was to be the trusted roommate app within Cluj-Napoca for both ‘Current Tenants’ as well as for ‘Prospective Renters’.

We used some sprint questions and identified probable problems of the product. This helped us to understand what needs may have the users of this app.

One problem was that it is stressful for ‘Current Tenants’ not knowing the ‘Prospective Renters’ and trusting they come with a good reference or CV.

Source: Innovating Society

Create HMW’s

We created How Might We’s. This are questions that are aiming towards the problem and make the problem clear and understandable, not abstract and hard to understand. The clearer are formulated the problems the more efficient the solutions will be later.

You choose the challenges that you believe are most important and then you write HMW’s for each of them. This allows you to see the problems/ challenges as opportunities for innovation or finding solutions.

For example: ‘How might we help (our users) to (do a specific measurable action) so that they (desired outcome).’

Depending on the time and importance of the problems every team member can write 2–10 HMW’s each. You may think that if you have 50 HMW’s, for example, it will be hard to decide which to choose, but here comes into play the CEO or the decider.

It’s his or her responsibility to be decisive. Don’t get in the trap of delaying decisions on other days because at the end of the design sprint you may have dozens or hundreds of post-its with ideas and then will be really overwhelming to decide and you will need a lot of extra time to do it.

You want to end the design sprint days with as few options as possible. Why? Because if you have 3 problems defined instead of 30 you can relax after work or in the morning after Day 1 of the sprint.

If you relax your mind may come up with great ideas because the best ideas most of the times come when you don’t expect and you are relaxed.

Some of my best ideas came when I was dancing, drinking a tea, eating or walking peacefully.

HMW voting

Each team members takes 2–5 sticky dots and puts them on the problems that he/she thinks are the most important and the most clearly defined.

Our most voted HMW was: ‘ How might we help current tenants to find prospective renters which match their need so that they don’t waste a lot of time screening renters.’ Simple. Clear. Focused on the users.

Based on the most voted HMS’s the team is starting to create solutions. It’s important that the solution is not vague and dependent on outside resources that the team doesn’t own or can’t control.

A bad example of a solution could be:The tenants and prospective renters will use only WhatsApp to communicate with eachother’.

You can’t control WhatsApp and you are at the mercy of their rules.

A good example of a solution could be: ‘We will create a messaging system within our app. This system will facilitate communication between tenants and prospective renters and it is fully controlled and monitored by our team.’

After each team member found 2–5 solutions everyone sticks them on the wall. Everyone has 2–5 dots. If you have a lot of proposed solutions you use 5 dots and if you have only a few solutions you use only 2 dots each.

When you are voting it’s important to choose the solutions that can have the biggest impact and which can be validated during the design sprint. You can put all your votes on only one or on multiple solutions.

Our most voted solution was: ‘We should use detailed profiles for tenants and renters, covering all relevant criteria, so that an easy and quick matching can be done’.

Day 2 — Solutions

You start the day with lightning demos. This is an exercise to inspire your team with products or services that they think they can use as an inspiration for their concepts in the next phases of the design sprint..

If another company has made a similar solution like a messaging system, take a look at it and see how it functions and looks like.

The goal of lightning demos is to provide inspiration before coming up with innovative product/service ideas.

Brief outline:

After the lightning demo you start making 1–3 sketches that are showing you how the solution will work. In case of an mobile app you want to draw 3 different mobile frames (3 steps of how your solution will work).

We did one sketch each and then we stick them up on a wall side by side and we voted each feature from each frame separately.

Day 3 & 4 — Prototype

In this phase every team member is using their expertise. A designer does only the design work, an engineer does only engineering work and so on.

After you choose the most voted features you create a storyboard.

A storyboard in UX is a tool that visually predicts and explores a user’s experience with a product. It presents a product very much like a movie in terms of how people will use it.

It can help UX designers understand the flow of people’s interaction with a product over time, giving the designers a clear sense of what’s really important for users.

Source: NNgroup

Here is a storyboarding hack and a video in which we can see how Lego is using design sprints.

Create a website prototype

It can be any mock-up or demo of what a website will look like when it goes live. It can be anything from a paper sketch, to a clickable HTML prototype.

Create a prototype app

Creating a real app is hard, time consuming and costs a lot. Before doing it, it is wise to create a virtual app. InVision allows you to test a virtual app like it would be a real one. Some of the companies that are using it are Lyft, Netflix, Eventribe, Etsy and WeWork.

Source: InVision

If you want more resources, here are 20 useful online tools for design thinking that will help you in the process of prototyping.

Day 5 — Validate

You need at leas 5 users to validate an idea. They will show you similarities on what they like or the problems most of them are facing.

When you are testing users you want a quiet room and an observation room. In the observation room you can record the users that are testing the app to see how they are using it, where they are confused and where everything works fine.

They may not be able or remember to verbalize the whole process of testing the product, but you can see everything on the video and watch it over and over again with your team so you don’t miss anything important.

The interviews should be done if possible by an UX specialist. He or she will see the positives and negatives of the product, what is clear for the users and what they don’t understand.

Here they can occur patterns and similar things the users are saying like: “I never do this at home”, “This app is so simple to use!”, “This is better than Airbnb.”

Source: Fast Company

At the end of the design sprint you repeat and perfect. Here you find if the ideas are useful or not. The team should ask this question: ‘It is worth further effort, energy and money to invest in the solutions discovered?’

Source: Innovating Society

Harry Ford delivered a workshop where I learned valuable techniques that gave me a better understanding about the design sprints. I love the fact that once you know the steps it’s easy and cheap to discover problems and test solutions. You can get in touch with Harry on Linkedin and his email.

Innovating Society was the host of this workshop. They help organizations develop new business ideas and innovate existing services in order to gain a competitive advantage and stay relevant in the market. You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook to check out their latest events.

Source: Innovating Society

Thanks a lot for reading and share this article if you found it useful. :-)

Activize.Tech

We collaborate with startups, venture funds, accelerators and companies, on consultancy or/and hands-on work, on topics like product management, idea validation, product marketing, business development, startup scouting.

Thanks to Mircea Vadan and InnovatingSociety

Sebastian Boanca

Written by

I’m paying close attention to communication, leadership and mindset. My actions are guided by strong values and an ethical approach.

Activize.Tech

We collaborate with startups, venture funds, accelerators and companies, on consultancy or/and hands-on work, on topics like product management, idea validation, product marketing, business development, startup scouting.

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