Build the right thing first with design sprints

Here at OK GROW!, we believe anyone with an idea or existing product can leverage a design sprint. We are passionate about making your ideas become successful, and we believe the learning that comes out of a design sprint is invaluable.

What is a design sprint

You may have heard the term floating around the internet recently. The concept of a design sprint is not a new one, growing originally from the roots of Agile and Lean methodologies. Lots of companies have been utilizing their own versions of a design sprint over the last decade, but we can thank Jake Knapp and his amazing work at Google Ventures for bringing its principals to a larger audience.

The design sprint is an adaptable product design platform that minimizes the chances of creating something that no one will want.

The main focus of the design sprint is to get validation immediately by the end of the sprint. A side-effect of this is you also get actionable goals based on vision, and success metrics that are measurable. However you may use the design sprint, it brings clarity and validation to almost any new product design project.

Who the design sprint is for

You can apply a design sprint to a wide spectrum of cases. It still remains a valuable exercise for product teams ranging from startups all the way to enterprise. Startups move at light speed and the chances of hitting a wall at break-neck speeds is a real risk. In those fast-paced environments, you may forget to take a step back to get a better view of the direction you and your team are taking. Running a design sprint forces you dive into essential thinking and testing that is required to build a useful product that people will want to use.

“Our design sprint was methodical and fast moving, covering a wide range of exercises. It proved very effective in defining the product, and identifying opportunity for differentiation.

I felt coming out of the design sprint, we validated feature priorities and had a better defined product.”

        – Steve Marsh, Eat Drink Healthy

Enterprises can also leverage a design sprint to accelerate product design and development so that they can move more quickly, save time, and validate immediately. In todays fast-moving environment, enterprises need to validate early, or even better invalidate an idea, before spending months building out something that they shouldn’t have invested the first place. Spending a week with core stakeholders in a room can be a refreshing experience! Ideas move slowly in the corporate setting. Running a design sprint breaks these barriers down and cultivates creative thinking, like the startup environment, with the added benefit of generating actionable and measurable goals for success.

How the design sprint is structured

The design sprint is a 5 day intensive collaborative effort that requires all the participants to be fully committed. I really mean fully committed. The process doesn’t work when a key stakeholder is half involved, and half out of the loop. Since it’s only a couple of days of intensive critical thinking, there’s no room to back-track a train of thought if someone misses out in the initial stage of an idea formulation.

Everyone needs to be present. Everyone must participate and be a part of the process for the entire week.

I understand this is a difficult feat to achieve since people have companies and businesses to run. I strongly suggest everyone coming to us for a design sprint to be invested in the process. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and that’s ok, remember to always adapt around participants needs. An alternative is to spread it out over a couple of bite-sized chunks over multiple weeks. I believe that the best sprints have been when everyone participated for the entire duration of the sprint, so we try to make sure to block off a time that works for everyone.

“Participating in a design sprint is a rare opportunity. How often do you get to spend five full days in a room with the right people, a great facilitator, and a killer process?”

        – Kevin Keystone, VetSuccess

Every day has a goal, and we go through a set of exercises to help us meet that days goal. A facilitator runs the events, and keeps everyone focused and moving. Stay focused, motivated, and hit the ground running in the morning. By the afternoon, everyone tends to slow down, so get as much quality work done before breaking for lunch. It’s up to the facilitator to keep things moving, and follow the schedule to the minute. As the facilitator, something I stress at the beginning of each sprint is that I’m not the only one with a marker in my hand. Everyone participates, which means everyone is up taking notes and drawing on the walls. Secondly, one conversation at a time. This is important so that everyone is always on the same page and reduces the risk of miscommunication. Thirdly, be hard on the idea, not the person. Within the design sprint, there are no titles, everyone should be treated equally and every participant should be able to voice their ideas.

Before the sprint: Prep

It doesn’t hurt to do a little digging before the sprint. Learn about the ecosystem you will be designing for. Learn about your clients industry. The facilitator should get the gear your sprint team will need. Post-it notes, markers, large sheets of paper, caffeine, sugar, and fruit. A stop watch, even an egg timer for the exercises helps!

Day One: Understanding

It’s the start of the sprint, you’ve all arrived on time and are ready for the week. The facilitator introduces the sprint, explains the rules, and shares the schedule. We tend to start with a couple icebreaker games to get the creative juices flowing. Day one is all about understanding your clients industry and ideas. We will need to extract all the information that will help us know how they want to accomplish their vision. The goal of the day is to have a problem and solution statement clearly prominent on the wall to start day two with a bang.

Day Two: Diverging

You’ve had a chance to digest all the learnings from day one. Day two is all about shooting for the moon. Encourage “what if” questions, and write down everything. Day two is about generating as many ideas as possible. Many of the exercises are done in spurts individually to avoid group think. Between each exercise, discuss what you like, and are interested in exploring next. Rinse and repeat. The goal of the day is to have an entire wall coated with many different ideas and explorations.

Day Three: Converging

Day three can be a difficult day. You’ve generated many amazing ideas, and they are waiting for you to bring them back to reality. As a group, vote on what is the most valuable, critique, and descend back to a true MVP. There can be multiple MVPs that come out of these exercises and that’s great. Vote on one you want to test, and save the others for another time. The goal of the day is to have detailed rough wireframes of the one MVP that everyone agrees on.

Day Four: Prototyping

The designers split off to start building a high-fidelity clickable prototype that can pass as the real thing. Everyone else constructs an interview script and measurable metrics they want to gauge during the interviews.

Day Five: Testing

You’ve lined up your interviews prior to even starting the sprint, and your users have been given a time to come in and test your prototype. Pick an interviewer, and the rest of your team listens from behind the curtain. Designers are ready to make small tweaks and adjustment between each interview. We like to use Sketch and InVision to host our clickable prototype. We use Google Hangouts, or Skype from a different room to watch and listen to the interviews while furiously jotting notes.

After the sprint: Capture

Consolidate all the learnings you’ve made from each day throughout the entire sprint including the feedback from the interviews. Give yourself key goals to measure success.

Get outside, talk to your customers, and hustle

Let’s move fast. Be present, and contribute. The more you put into the process, the more you get out. It’s an exhaustive week, but can be extremely rewarding. If you are at the beginning stages of an app or project, you will be able to better identify a key MVP, and generate multiple solutions. One of the most valuable learnings comes out on the fifth day where we put a prototype in the hands of real users, and test it.

Listen to your user, stay open minded, even on the last day.

One of the most memorable experiences I had was during one of our first design sprints. We started off the week trying to solve the problem that no one knows how to socialize anymore. The initial app idea was going to be a gimmick disguised as a social game to break the ice. The goal was to reduce relationship tension. After much deliberation during the first half of the sprint, we felt we had something that had the potential to be the next killer dating application. It would match people in hyper-local areas in a big game of hide and go seek.

When we started to conduct our user interviews, there was a recurring theme that baffled us.

We’ve been so stuck on dating applications, we even tried to correct the first couple of interviews by saying “try thinking of this in the context of a dating app”, but most people wouldn’t be comfortable playing it alone. What we kept hearing was that our dating app had applications in conferences and events to help like-minded professionals find each other. That broadened our eyes to a much bigger picture than we first set out to accomplish. Sometimes you can only see what you want to see. Listen to your user, let them play with your prototype and let them tell you what they see.

^ out in the real world, researching our target demographics during day one

Interested in a design sprint for your new or existing product? Contact us to learn more.

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