For those that don’t know, a design sprint is a framework for teams to explore ideas and make decisions in order to create a testable product concept or strategy in a short amount of time. Jake Knapp, former Google Ventures Design Partner and author of New York Times bestseller, Sprint, developed this concept through observing the default model most organisations use to develop or improve upon existing products. He observed the barriers that came up were largely due to the speed to-market - the process was inefficient. A culture of endless meetings and roundabout conversations were not conducive to productivity. That meant a large amount of great ideas got lost in the mix - hence the design sprint was born.
The design sprint provides the perfect launchpad for tackling these big ideas in a short time frame. It cuts down unnecessary back-and-forth processes and stakeholder procrastination. Ultimately, the process gets straight to the heart of your concept and provides a roadmap for building a watertight prototype. If you’re implementing a similar process into your organisation, here are a few key takeouts to consider:
Employ an experienced, external facilitator
For your first sprint, bringing in an experienced external facilitator is key. As Jake pointed out in his workshop, it’s the default work practises that often get in the way of building the commitment, focus and momentum needed to get large projects off the ground. A facilitator with an ‘outsiders’ mindset is less likely to be aware of your office’s culture or politics. They might ask a lot of obvious questions which will help your team tease out further assumptions – and hidden challenges.
Gaining momentum early on in a project is vital to its future success. Projects need a way forward and often that’s through things like stakeholder buy-in and project team engagement. At the end of the day, projects just need people to believe in them so that budgets and resources can be allocated. A design sprint is a great tool to kickstart this momentum. It gets people involved and excited about what comes out of it.
I recommend incorporating a plan from the start on how to continue this momentum after the week-long sprint is over. Talk to your facilitator about where the opportunities could be in your company to push the project forward after it’s over. At Clearleft, we’ve worked with companies who’ve presented their sprint projects through lunch-time presentations, blog posts, stakeholder meetings, poster exhibitions in the hallway, and even through Dragon’s Den type voting, where they ran three sprints and then voted for their favourite idea to take forward.
Learning is about ‘de-risking’
At the event, Jake mentioned he was a self-professed process junkie. To that end, he’d developed a great way to get people to work together, design things and make informed decisions. At this year's workshop, a few attendees I talked to said they were really interested in picking-up some new techniques to make their meetings more productive. Process was the focus of the day, and on everyone’s mind. As a designer and maker myself, I love process. But I honestly think that some of the most successful, innovative businesses are also learning junkies.
Ultimately, what the design sprint helps you do is introduce a mindset for learning. Innovation and change can’t happen without experimentation. In the end, you will save money by investing in incremental improvements and tested designs instead of big guesses. Plus, you’ll have better products and services to show for it – and your customers will thank you for it. What’s not to love?