Design Sprints: Why are they more than just fast?

Glossary article

Taking a look in the business’ crystal ball: how Design Sprints work and why they save you a huge amount of time and money ...

Let’s call it a "best of" from innovation, design thinking, business strategy and behavioural psychology: the Design Sprint. As a highly effective workshop format, it compresses meetings, market research, prototyping and decision-making into a minimum of time.

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We look at the sprint from different angles and answer these questions:

  1. Why was the Design Sprint developed?
  2. Who is the Design Sprint suitable for?
  3. How does the Design Sprint work?
  4. What are the differences between the Design Sprint and a design thinking workshop?
  5. What are the benefits of a Design Sprint for a company?
  6. How to continue after a design sprint?
TLDR
A Design Sprint is where new ideas are visualised and tested in the shortest possible time. The aim is to test the marketability of business ideas at an early stage. Start-ups often use the output of a Design Sprint in their pitch decks. It allows them to present potential investors with the first reliable evidence of their product's chances of success. Established companies benefit from the rapid development of ideas as well – be it in minimising resources or via the positive effects on internal collaboration.

Why was the Design Sprint developed?

More than 10 years ago, Jake Knapp and his colleagues mentored countless start-ups for Google Ventures. They were repeatedly confronted with the challenge of quickly evaluating business and product ideas in order to determine which direction their start-ups should take.

Traditional meetings and research phases took too long, and prototyping was often too time-consuming and expensive. Knapp also noticed that group dynamics and the dominance of the usual spokespersons often left the expertise of introverted participants unused, and that the best results were achieved under high speed.

Considering these insights and in collaboration with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, Jake Knapp wrote the book "Sprint: How to test new ideas and solve problems in just five days" in 2016 and developed the first format of the Design Sprint.

Who is the Design Sprint suitable for?

The Design Sprint is an ideal starting point for anyone who is about to implement a product idea: a previously established thesis is subjected to a quick and intensive validation. At the end of the sprint, an immediate clarity emerges about the chances of success of the product idea. In the triumvirate of UX design – Feasibility, Desirability and Viability – the Design Sprint primarily solves the question of desirability and thus answers the question: "Does the user even have a need for this product?"
For companies, it is crucial to clarify this question in advance, as otherwise high costs may flow into the development without knowing whether the product is actually needed in the market.

design sprint successful product

For startups, this means:

  • Having a proof of concept before investors get involved
  • Saving resources and risks by testing without the costs of implementation
  • Gathering real user insights into the needs of the target group

There are clear advantages for established companies as well:

  • Rapid idea development
  • Specialist knowledge from different departments is shared in the group of participants, the common understanding of problems and solutions grows significantly
  • Employee motivation increases when a product vision is quickly developed that everyone has actively worked on beforehand
  • Investments are only made if tests are successful – if the user feedback turns out to be negative, the product is obsolete or must be strongly revised

How does the Design Sprint work?

Day 1: Working out the problem and visualising ideas

The participants agree on a target definition/vision of the product that is realisable within the Design Sprint time slot. Challenges are identified, ideas and solutions are sketched, everyone contributes their respective technical expertise.

design sprint how it works Note: For us at Boana, the enhanced Design Sprint 2.0 with four days instead of five has proven its worth.

Day 2: Evaluating ideas and creating a storyboard

The second day is all about decision making: The ideas from the previous day are discussed and evaluated. The final ones are recorded in a storyboard as a template for the prototype production.

Day 3: Building prototypes

Based on the storyboard, a prototype with a realistic-looking user interface is created. The user testing for the next day gets prepared. A discussion guide for the testing is also created.

If a picture is worth a thousand words – a prototype is worth a thousand meetings. Tom and David Kelley

Day 4: Testing with users

The prototype is tested with real users (usually 5-8 people). Each sprint participant notes down their observations and findings. The feedback from the testing determines the next steps.

Outcome

At crucial points in the process(during the first two days), responsible stakeholders/product owners were repeatedly called in to make solid decisions within this 4-day period. This ensures sustainable results.

What are the differences between a Design Sprint and a Design Thinking Workshop?

Design Sprint Design Thinking Workshop
Aims to rapidly test and prototype a business idea with minimal resources. One-time process, 4 days maximum. Aims to solve problems that are mainly human centred and face extremely complex challenges. Usually open-ended.
Follows the idea of "Lean Startup" in combination with Human Centred Design. Based mainly on Human Centred Design.
Concrete application of methods within a project context. Basic mindset (supported by a variety of methods).
"Hammer & Chisel": very specific product aspects are developed within 4 days. "Entire toolbox": empathising, defining, formulating, prototyping and testing.
Work in interdisciplinary teams with technical expertise for implementation. Work in interdisciplinary teams for a holistic perspective.
Pursues a narrowly defined goal. Often devoted to very complex and comprehensive tasks.
Stands at the beginning of a product innovation process. Well suited e.g. for the introduction & scaling of an innovation framework within an organisation.
Answers e.g. a specific question: "How can we use customer insights for our innovation process?" Answers e.g. the generic question: "How do we become an innovative company?"
Useful for concrete problem solving. Helpful to determine which questions to put in the first place.
Outcome: 1-2 validated ideas. Outcome: Abundance of ideas, some of them tested.

What are the benefits of a Design Sprint for a company?

  • Make fundamental decisions very fast.
    Business ideas and product approaches can be tested within a minimal amount of time.

  • Get an assessment of success from real users.
    Developing only products with desirability.

  • Minimise the risks: make an idea tangible via a high-fidelity prototype.
    User testing reduces risks and increases the efficiency of a project.

  • Get all stakeholders on board.
    If changes need to be made for strategic reasons, they can happen without any delay during the Design Sprint. Stakeholder expectations should be aligned with the sprint's goals early on and kept in mind throughout the whole process.

  • Put processes back on track.
    Especially in deadlocked situations, even the most difficult problems can be solved by using a variety of tools.

  • Constitute the right to have a say.
    During a Design Sprint, every participant – from C-level to coder – has the opportunity to contribute their opinion.

  • Deliver new perspectives through collaboration.
    Design, marketing, business management and engineers get the opportunity to collaborate in a way they most likely never did before.

  • Establish entrepreneurial thinking across departments.
    Design Sprints foster an entrepreneurial mindset among employees and increase the motivation of each participant.

How to continue after a design sprint?

Once the Design Sprint has been completed and the first reliable results are available, the question: What do we do with them? arises.

It is obvious that a Design Sprint does not serve to create great designs or to put them into development. Since the actual design of the product is only worked on during one of the four days, the result cannot be a professional design yet. Rather, the aim is to visualise and validate initial ideas. Questions of UI design and simple and correct producibility must initially be neglected.

As illustrated in the graphic above, the Design Sprint clarifies a fundamental problem, but only in a very abbreviated way. The desirability, i.e. the reason why, is checked. The proof of Feasibility and Viability, however, is still outstanding.

This is where the UX Sprint comes into play. It can pick up the basic prototype of a design sprint or any other groundwork and professionalises it. Hereby, we pursue the goal of making digital products ready for the market, developing innovations and creating great user experience designs within 10 days.

In contrast to the Design Sprint, the UX Sprint is repeatable in order to hand over market-ready user interface designs to development. We offer two options with the UX Sprint:

  1. Designing & testing new ideas
  2. Optimising the usability of existing solutions and bringing them to market.

The deliverables are defined at the beginning of each sprint. The results go into testing and can then be implemented directly by the developers.

Participants of a UX Sprint are mainly product managers and designers. More stakeholders are included when it comes to input and feedback rounds.

So the main question entrepreneurs should ask themselves: “Where do we currently stand in the product development process?”

At Boana, we offer the full range of approaches in order to provide our clients the best possible support at each and every point in the process:

design sprint how it works

Generic ideation works very well with the help of Design Thinking approaches. When it comes to validation and consolidation, a Design Sprint is advisable. And for professionalising and elaborating, a UX Sprint has turned out to be very successful.

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