Design Sprint / Product Development / Business Strategy

Mihai Balea
Nov 28, 2018 · 7 min read

Design Sprint is a very strong tool to quickly uncover risks and align the understanding of product/business strategy. It is a fairly new process (the book Sprint was released in 2016) that is not yet fully understood and capitalized by most digital companies out there. I’m not saying that this will work in every business context, but just mentioning few companies or organizations that already use Design Sprint like Google, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Salesforce, Zalando, UEFA, Unicef, etc. you can get an idea on the value that this process brings to a business. So let’s see where Design Sprint fits in and what value can it bring?

Learning from the PAST

Photo by Lucas Vasques on Unsplash

The wrong data

All research data is valuable whether it comes from primary or secondary research, whether it is qualitative or quantitative. It helps product teams to empathize with users, understand their behavior, helps in understanding their context along with the business context, and so on. But technical people really like data and they rely on it almost exclusively, even if it isn’t “real”.

For example, building a product based only on data where we learn what people like or dislike, let’s say a basic survey, can lead to misunderstanding the real problem and build the wrong product. This will lead to months of iterations based on the received feedback, in some cases, significantly increasing the risk of losing the market gap we wanted to fill, not mentioning the money invested in development. Data is gold but needs a certain handling and attention.

This is why most big companies have placed the research attribution from a UX Designer role under a dedicated position that we call UX Researcher.

The right data

But even so, there are still situations when UX Researchers do thorough research in advance where they discover user experiences and frustrations, observe user behavior and notice certain patterns that they have in their daily life and at work, build analytics reports, do competitive analysis, etc… and then the team builds the perfect documented product that proves to be once again, the wrong product once it launches.

How would we justify the failure and the money invested in research and development in this case? Yes, there could be a lot of possible causes like the information was wrongfully filtered on the way, the functionality prioritization was changed in the development process, the research and development took to long, the lack of iteration and many more.

No data from the future

What I would like to highlight as we move forward are timing and opportunity. The answer of why some products fail may come from this webinar Stanford Webinar — Design Thinking = Method, Not Magic in which Bill Brunett shares three barriers organizations face when adopting an innovative culture and how to overcome them. Extracting what interests us in the context of this article section and adding a personal touch, I will put it like this: Data relays exclusively on the past, research and development are done in the present and the product will be used in the future.

Finding the right balance in handling these three aspects is what helps businesses to lunch a successful product on time and benefit from the opportunity on the market. This is basically why the Agile methodology took over the development site ever since the ‘70-’80, and Lean Thinking, and Design Thinking and many other methodologies and approaches in between.

All these methods, processes and ways of thinking have been introduced (and even imposed in a certain way) by the big players of the market, so it’s good to keep an eye on them and see the direction they are going in.

Designing the FUTURE

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

In this rapid technological evolution and fast deliveries and a society focused more on consumption, product people and business owners, often forget that they are actually shaping the future by designing solutions for existing problems, not for future problems, and “today’s solutions may become tomorrow’s problems” (I’ve heard this in one of Leyla Acaroglu’s talks and got stuck in my mind).

There is no going around this, but there is something that we can do to come up with better solutions. We can add MEANING to our designs. So ask your self this simple question: “How does this solution improve people’s lives?”, and you can also read this article: Pleasure, Flow, and Meaning — The 3 Approaches to Designing for Delight. The very basic idea of what Jared Spool and Dana Chisnell are talking about is that today’s delights will be tomorrow’s basic expectations. In other words, innovation is in a perpetual motion.

Tom Kelly from IDEO (best-selling author of Creative Confidence, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation) states that innovation is about coming up with a fresh idea, it’s implementation and the value that it brings. I will nuance it and add that it’s also about shaping a better future for us and our future generations. It’s about opening different, smoother paths of our evolution and close the older inefficient ones.

Back to PRESENT

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Every business owner or product people biggest fear is failing (except if you are Google :) ). In the business world, failing means losing money. So how can a business reduce this risk? One answer can be: FAILING FAST and cheap reducing the learning cycle by eliminating the build and launch.

Here comes the Design Sprint into the picture which, curiously or not, was experimented by Jake Knapp while working at Google and developed after he moved to Google Ventures.

So, besides the Sprint book, what better place to learn about Design Sprint than the Google Ventures website:

Design Sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

It’s “Sprint”, not “Thinking”

For some may sound like Design Thinking methodology transposed in a very short process. Well, it’s not. It doesn’t go so deep into empathizing with users and you cannot build a company culture around it. But it is a great tool to start switching employee’s mindset toward efficiency and understanding user and business context. And it is also a good tool to use in a design thinking oriented company. So here is an advantage already, it can go both ways :).

Positive impact on the teams' productivity

Besides the fact that you can reduce months of work into just one week, eliminate the endless-debate cycle of brainstorming sessions and validate an idea by testing a realistic prototype, Design Sprint also has a big impact on how a product is developed. Working in a large corporation where I participated in almost 20 successful design sprints I’ve learned that getting people from the product team involved in the conceptualization and validation phase, reduces the need for large and detailed documentation and gives people the feeling of involvement and deeper understanding of WHY the product is being built.

Larger perspectives

One other great thing is that you don’t need to rely on creativity when participating in a Design Sprint. The process is very well structured and gives everybody the chance to express their vision, ideas, and concerns. This offers larger perspectives on solutions, basically, reducing the risk of missing something that could be a deal-breaker for your product’s success.

Build the strategy in the right direction

Design Sprint doesn’t rely on research data, or at least not directly. It is based on the alignment of the team’s member individual assumptions which come from each one’s experience and learnings, the expert interviews (that are part of the process) and the already existing research (if any). It picks biases from individuals and transforms them into an objective vision of the group transposed into a tangible, hi-fi prototype which is then tested with real users. The testing findings can give an accurate understanding of the direction the product or business should take, even from their strategy phase.

Fast-forward into the future

Looking at another phrase from GV website (my favorite):

The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.

Design Sprint is like a trick to take a glimpse into the future that we can learn from and guide the business strategy in a safer direction with a considerable reduction of risk.

Wrapping up

Design Sprint definitely cannot replace the classic design process and cannot be the answer for all the problems a product is facing in the designing phase.

Design Sprint is a great tool to use when we need to clarify the direction of a product, when we need to solve a big strategic problem, when we have to convince stakeholders or investors on the value of investing in an idea or when we‘re facing tight deadlines. Having this insight from the future can open a range of possibilities of adding meaning to our designs and build innovative products.

Thanks for reading! 🤘

Are you are still here?

You can leave a comment if you’d like :)


Mihai Balea is a Co-Founder at UX.Rocks, working as a Strategic and Product Designer, giving talks and workshops on design sprint, product design and UX best practices in Romania, and not only. You can get in touch on Instagram or LinkedIn.


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Mihai Balea

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Co-Founder @ UX.Rocks | Product Designer | Facilitator | Proud Dad | Bass Player

UX Rocks

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We help startups and organizations to accelerate innovation and test business strategies by running Design Sprint and UX workshops.

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