So, what is a Design Sprint anyway?
A Design Sprint is a structured, collaborative problem-solving process. We use it to rapidly prototype and test new products, features or processes, within a tried and tested 5 day recipe. The goal is to learn before building - quickly validating ideas and identifying potential problems, to avoid wasting time and money on solutions that may not meet customer needs.
It’s a highly effective method for product teams, particularly in tech and software development, because it leverages collective expertise, saves time and resources, and increases success rates in competitive markets.
More and more product teams are discovering the value of Design Sprints, not only as a one-off process, but as an essential methodolody to incorporate in their work. And whatever you’re role in the product or innovation world, learning to facilitate Sprints and related workshops is a key skill that will future proof your career.
This article is a deep dive on the what, why, how and who of Design Sprints. Read on to find out:
1. Where Design Sprint came from, and types of product teams using it
2. The immense value of Design Sprint skills for your career
3. Common misconceptions about Design Sprint
4. When to run a Design Sprint
5. How a Design Sprint *actually* works
6. Transferrable skills - practical uses beyond the Design Sprint process
Let’s jump in.
Where Design Sprint came from, and types of product teams using it
Design Sprint was created by Jake Knapp’s team at Google Ventures back in 2010. They refined and documented the method, and it became a five-day structured process, designed to help teams move from idea to prototype in just one week.
The process involves a team of people from different areas of the enterprise, such as marketing, engineering, design, and product management, and a facilitator who guides the process. The facilitator can be externally hired, or someone in house with facilitation training and experience.
(Curious about what facilitation training involves? Check it out here)
Each day has a different focus, moving the project through five intensive stages, which at Human1st we refer to as:
The result is a validated product and a goldmine of real user data. Like going to market, but without the risk.
A whole range of enterprises from different sectors and backgrounds quickly embraced Design Sprint, particularly in the complex tech and SaaS sectors. From Slack to Netflix to Medium, Uber to Dropbox to Airbnb. Almost all the familiar success stories have built their trailblazing products using Design Sprint methodology.
Let’s explore why.
The immense value of Design Sprint skills for your Product or Innovation career
So why are the most successful product and innovation teams incorporating Design Sprint into their strategy? Here’s a breakdown of the benefits:
When you have Design Sprint skills in your toolkit, you become an indispensable part of your organization, and open countless doors for future opportunities.
Here’s a breakdown of what makes these skills so attractive to leadership:
Test ideas quicker
Instead of spending time and budget developing a product that may or may not resonate with customers, your Design Sprint skills allow your team to quickly test ideas within five days. By identifying and addressing potential problems early on, you reduce the risk of costly mistakes later in the product development process.
Spark cross-functional collaboration
By bringing together individuals from different departments to work together towards a common goal, you take advantage of all the diverse areas of expertise in your organization. Since everyone has a voice in the process, you create a sense of shared ownership and break down silos, leading to better communication, and a stronger, more motivated team.
Boost efficiency and get to market faster
Your goal as a Design Sprint facilitator is to move quickly from ideation to execution. Parts of the product development process that used to take months are condensed into 5 days. The rapid feedback loop allows teams to make improvements and iterate quickly, reducing time to market and ensuring your company stays ahead of the competition.
Simplify decision making through prototyping
Through Design Sprint skills, you can foster a prototyping culture, where early testing of ideas means better informed decisions. Out with guesses and assumptions, in with real-world data and insights. Validate and iterate your product idea, without even touching a line of code.
How often do you see ‘thinking outside the box’ as a desirable skill? Having Design Sprint skills under your belt proves you know how to do that in a measurable, result-oriented way.
By bringing together a diversity of perspectives and ideas within a structured intensive process, you become a champion of creativity and innovation.
Common misconceptions about Design Sprint
As the term Design Sprint has become more commonly known in the product and innovation world of enterprise, there are a few myths that have grown around it. Let’s bust the most common ones:
Myth 1: Design Sprint is only for Designers
With Design Sprint skills, you’re equipped to effectively tackle a wide range of complex problems, way beyond just design-related issues. The true strength of Design Sprints is their collaborative focus, involving diverse disciplines, skill sets, and perspectives.
Even Jake Knapp, the creator of Design Sprints, admitted in hindsight that the name was misleading, as the process encompasses much more than design alone.
Numerous studies by global institutions including the World Economic Forum and McKinsey consistently prove that the skills contained within Design Sprint are directly related to increased employability, greater job satisfaction and higher income rates.
Myth 2: Design Sprint is a one-time process
Another common misunderstanding is that Sprints are a one-off process confined to a five-day timeframe. Actually, Sprint are intended to be iterative, and often uncover additional obstacles and opportunities along the way that require further exploration. Once you have the skills in place, you have the power to repeat as necessary.
Just another reason why getting these tools into your own hands is the smart career move for the long term.
Myth 3: Design Sprint is just usability testing
Usability testing is a fundamental pillar, but there's more to the story. Problem framing, ideation, prototyping, and user testing – the tools you possess as a Design Sprinter are a ‘greatest hits’ of business skills, which allow you to bring a comprehensive approach to every project you’re part of.
Myth 4: Design Sprint is just a sprint, not a process
As we know, Design Sprint as a name is deceptive. Yes, it’s designed to be completed in a short period of time, but the word sprint doesn’t cover the full range of what goes on in the five days. This is not a condensed version of the traditional product design process.
What you learn in Design Sprint training is a whole new approach - a carefully structured recipe that increases efficiency and results, including specific activities and steps in a specific order.
Myth 5: Design Sprint is a solution for every problem
Design Sprint is a powerful tool for product teams, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. There are few simple ways to decide if Design Sprint is right for your specific problem.
Get our insider checklist in the next section.
When to run a Design Sprint
Design Sprint is right solution when:
You want to test and validate a new product idea
The Design Sprint framework offers a systematic approach to testing ideas, collecting customer feedback, and iterating on concepts. It allows you to make a quick assessment of whether an idea is worth pursuing or if adjustments are needed.
You have a problem to solve or an opportunity to explore
With Design Sprint tools in your pocket, you’re able to pinpoint the root cause of complex problems and stay open to new opportunities. By aligning a diverse group of stakeholders and subject matter experts, you create a greater sense of purpose and investment in the shared action plan.
You need to prioritize and focus on high-impact work.
We all know that feeling of staring at a blank screen at the beginning of a project, not knowing where to begin. Once you’re familiar with the Design Sprint structure, you have a ready-to-use recipe for breaking down large projects into manageable tasks. Prioritizing ideas, creating a roadmap, aligning on next steps— everything you need to stay on track and meet deadlines is integrated within the process.
Your aim is to make a decision quickly
When you feel like you’ve spent months in the same unproductive meetings and endless discussion loops, Design Sprint saves the day. The structured approach enables you to weigh the pros and cons of each option and choose the best course of action, based on real-world data.
You want to involve diverse roles, skill sets, and perspectives
As a Design Sprinter, you can be the catalyst for cross-functional collaboration. The intensive nature of this method encourages collaboration, communication, and creativity, unlocking the full potential of the whole team.
If you’re coming across at least two or three of these points in your work, Design Sprint skills will uplevel your career, boost your confidence, and make your job a whole lot easier.
(Interested in Design Sprint training? Check out options here)
Now let’s get into the process itself.
How does a Design Sprint actually work?
Design Sprints are a highly effective way to solve complex business problems, create new products or services, and improve existing ones. The process typically occupies five days, although depending on the specifics of the problem, the organization and the team, you can take a staggered approach across a two or three week period.
Here’s the outline of the process we teach in our Design Sprint training, from the facilitator’s point of view:
Preparation – start by bringing together and organizing background data, as well as conducting interviews with the team Decider and Experts.
Day 1: Define
Work with the group to identify and explore the problem you want to solve, discussing different perspectives, and defining goals.
Day 2: Sketch
Next, you introduce brainstorming techniques, sketching exercises, and group discussions to generate a huge bank of ideas. Everyone participates from their skill set and expertise without judgement or limitations.
Day 3: Decide
On the third working day, you guide the group through decision making, using a voting system to prioritize ideas and select the best one for prototyping.
Day 4: Prototype
Engineering and design members of the team get to work create a high fidelity prototype. Depending on the project, this may have more or less functionality, but the aim is for it to be as realistic as possible so that the user can get the full experience and give valuable feedback.
Day 5: Test
You take the lead with testing the prototype with real world users - observing how they interact with the product, and interviewing them to find out what met their needs and what didn’t.
You then roll together all of the findings and feedback into a final report with actionable next steps.
Transferrable skills – practical uses beyond Design Sprint
Above we went into the practicalities of the Design Sprint process. But of course, you won’t be running a Sprint every week. So what are the other contexts where you can apply these skills?
Here’s a broad menu of the type of situations in which a Design Sprint skill set can 10x results.
- Decision-making and problem-solving
- Strategic planning
- Kick-starting a new project or program
- Retrospective: a session to share feedback and improve performance
- Creating standard prioritizing processes
- Validating new products
- Iterating existing products
- Retreats (leadership, strategy…)
How to get started
In this article we’ve given you a look at Design Sprint’s start at Google Ventures, and its wide adoption across top names in the tech sector. We’ve discussed what you can bring to your organization as a Design Sprinter - from quick testing of ideas and cross-functional collaboration, to increased efficiency and speed to market.
We did some myth busting along the way – Design Sprint isn’t just for Design and isn’t just a Sprint… we know, confusing right?
But no worries, we gave you a checklist to find out if Design Sprint is the right solution for your problem, a step-by-step breakdown of how it works, and ideas on other ways to use the same skills.
We hope we got you excited about the value of Design Sprint skills for uplevelling your career.
Giving you the power to unite your team and optimize time, money and results, it’s your toolkit for becoming the Most Valued Player at your organization, and creating a more meaningful impact with your work.
Ready? Get in touch