How does… a design sprint actually work?

Dan Levy explains what a design sprint is, and why your company should probably start doing them.

Google Ventures’ Design Sprint program, the five-day process for solving business problems through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers, is starting to gain traction on these shores.

However, for many the prospect of five days (or less) investment of intense focus to solve a big project related problem is still a major blocker.

The fact these organisations are willing to sink untold amounts of time, resources, and money into an initiative without prior knowledge, or customer validation that their problem is even worth solving, is remarkable.

We champion the design sprint process as an effective problem-solving process. It leads to great outcomes. It is designed as a ‘litmus test’ to de-risk the process of product development, whether based in the world of real-world of atoms or the digital world of bytes.

The design sprint process is evolving. It has to, after all five days’ investment from upper management is a big ask. It is a few years old now and was designed with startups in mind.

Startups generally lack resources, want to move fast, and aren’t afraid to break things. Hence the appeal of the program. It enables a team to get a working prototype in front of customers for feedback within a short space of time.

In a corporate environment, the metrics are vastly different. Risk is of utmost concern. Time in this instance is generally based around the beat of the company as opposed to the speed of industry. The design sprint can be seen as a risk, after all it is a massively disruptive and transformative process that participants more often than not are unclear on.

Like us, many companies that facilitate design sprints are adapting the program to suit corporate environments. Some are reducing the program to four days with some upfront work to ensure success. This doesn’t require much if any stakeholder participation. Others are running a four day process but only involve the corporate team for the first two days; research and ideation phases, then conduct prototyping and testing independently. Regardless of approach the goal is to accelerate the project roadmap while de-risking the possibility of failure.

To us, the long-term goal of the design sprint is for teams to embed the program into their culture to compliment the way they work. Then taking it a step further, to feel empowered to atomise the activities so they can be used independently in day to day problem-solving scenarios. A key part of building a culture of innovation is teaching people new problem-solving skills to use in their daily work.

Get it right and the design sprint can deliver benefits that far outlast those energetic few days. Looking at the long-term, they can open the door to cultural change by creating an intangible camaraderie that helps teams work better together to build better products.

So where to start? Read the book, download the guide, get the app, watch on YouTube, or attend a workshop. These are just some of the options available. The information is readily available and only a few mouse clicks away.

Dan Levy is principle at More Space for Light, a strategy and user experience agency. The agency is running its own 1-Day Design Sprint Masterclass in November.


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