In recent years we’ve seen methods emerge that bring together ideas, concepts and tools to create a streamlined approach to innovation and product development. While these ideas aren’t necessarily new, they’re groundbreaking in the way they are hyper-focused, direct and proven effective in turning ideas into reality.
One such method is the design sprint, a five-day long workshopping template that has been attributed to Google Ventures (GV) and has enabled numerous businesses to achieve success on diverse projects.
The power of the design sprint is that it’s tightly honed into the crucial elements of problem-solving, ensuring businesses of any nature are able to create tested prototypes or find actionable solutions in a very short space of time.
In ‘Sprint’, the book about the method, author Jake Knapp writes, “It’s what work should be about - not wasting time in endless meetings, then seeking camaraderie in a team-building event at a bowling alley - but working together to build something that matters to real people. This is the best use of your time. This is a sprint.”
The design sprint was dreamt up by some very clever people working for Google. Jake Knapp, the main brains behind the sprint, finalised the concept while working for GV, the venture capital investment arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Back in 2010, Knapp began running design sprints with teams working on Chrome, Google Search, Google X and more. When he brought the idea to GV in 2012, key additions were made and the sprints became what they are known as today.
The idea to focus on the customer journey as opposed to features came from design partner Braden Kowitz. UX research partner Michael Margolis invented the extremely efficient customer research day. Technology designer John Zeratsky was behind the idea to measure results against business objectives right from day one. And designer and product manager Daniel Burka added a healthy dose of perspective with his entrepreneurial experience.
While it’s been implemented in myriad ways, the original design sprint is a five-day workshop that follows a set of clearly established rules and guidelines. Essentially it’s broken down by day, with the entire sprint taking place from Monday to Friday. Given the short timeframe, we find it’s effective when you focus on part of the solution, as this expedites learning whether you’re on the right track or not.
Before you begin, planning is an important step to ensure the time is used most effectively. This includes assembling your team, doing background research, considering your challenge or project, and finalising when and where the sprint will run.
Monday is dedicated to understanding the problem and establishing the target or goal for the week. This is where the team completes different activities to brainstorm the problem and target, and makes final decisions about what the focus will be.
Tuesday is all about solutions. As with many stages of the design sprint, the team begins with an abundance of ideas and narrows this down to decide on the top options. Over the course of the day they review, remix and improve, critically considering all avenues.
Wednesday is when teams decide on a solution to prototype and create a storyboard to hash out how they will go about testing their hypothesis.
Thursday is for creating the prototype. How this is done depends on budget and personal preference. On this day teams can also create the interview script for the testers or customers.
Friday is the day to bring in fresh faces to test the prototype. Interviewing potential customers is an opportunity to deep dive into what works and doesn’t, and what can be improved.
With design sprints, business teams are hyper-focused on answering critical business questions with a powerful combination of business strategy, behaviour science, stakeholder collaboration, prototyping, testing and ideating.
It can be used to design new products, develop new features, define new strategies or find new solutions, and as a flexible model, it can be adopted by businesses from a huge range of industries.
With a whole book dedicated to the concept, the above is a very simplified version. However, it shares what is at the heart of this approach to workshopping: to genuinely understand if an idea is strong, using clear data from a realistic prototype created in a short period of time.
Once you understand the elements of the design sprint and how it functions, you can use it for your own business problems or innovation. In addition, you can bring in other methodologies for specific purposes to create a longer-term value or a more robust innovation design and delivery system.
For example, design thinking brings in more qualitative insights to better understand the problem space and identify the early adopters, while Lean considers everything an assumption - even the problem - and helps teams to build (experiment), measure (test) and learn through a minimum viable product to validate assumptions against the magnitude of risk.
Finally, Agile and CI/CD are crucial in continuously delivering business value as the product approaches solution-market fit. The strongest suit of a Design Sprint is that it accelerates the insights, ideation, prototyping and testing of a concept all in a time-boxed, five-day workshop.
At Sush Mobile, once we deeply understand the business objectives and ideal outcome, for each product we create a development lifecycle broken into distinct phases. We utilise design thinking, lean startup, design sprints, agile-based iterative production sprints, CI/CD and more where necessary, always referring back to the core strategy and key stakeholders.
Working with clients from a wide variety of backgrounds and focusing on a diverse range of projects, we’ve learnt how to adapt the collaborative processes to suit specific needs, and structure group and independent work in such a way that every step helps steer the product towards business outcomes.
At the core, we’re driven towards defining the right problem and solution, with roadmap building exercises, usability testing, metrics evaluation, user interviews, experimental prototyping and more.
Top tip: we encourage you to consider these techniques as a bunch of tools, and apply them to add value somewhere on the innovation journey, rather than arguing on a fixed way or order of implementing one over another.
We’ve seen just how powerful these methods can be. We’ve run sprints for teams wanting to build a foundation for a digital solution to then be taken to leadership for the go-ahead, investors for funding, or developers to build. Regardless of the need, these workshops deliver tangible outcomes, including design artefacts, prototypes and usability reports.
Beyond getting results, design sprints remind us what we’re capable of when we strip back workshops to clear, necessary steps and boost our adrenaline with clear deadlines. These methods encourage teams to be bold, think outside the box, work independently and collaboratively, and make critical decisions to achieve goals at speed.