6 Ways That Design Sprints Lead to Better Outcomes

What Is a Design Sprint?

Design sprints offer an accelerated framework for teams to test and validate design concepts.

There are many flavors of design sprints. One flavor is Google Ventures’ “Design Sprint”. Another is the “Concept Sprint” spawned by McKinsey & Company.

Ultimately you want to have a sprint framework that works best for your team. Every team is

Here, we will address best practices for design sprints, illustrating how they can improve outcomes. We’ll also explore the ways to implement one within your organization.

Design Sprint Best Practices

Design sprints aim to complete the process in five days; however, it is a misconception that this is the only acceptable timeline.

While the essential idea is “to build and test a prototype in just five days,” the process is not intended to be performed for performance sake.

The true measure of a successful sprint is whether you have answered big business questions through design thinking.

The idea is to examine habits, find ways to collaborate effectively, and achieve greater results. This is done by following a basic template of guidelines identified within the design sprint.

You already have a big objective to achieve—one big enough to take your team away from its other duties for five days—so you will now begin to take the first steps toward achieving it.

Clarify Roles and Expectations

Prepare for success by embracing the prep work.

You will need to organize a team with a diverse range of skills, if you have not already done so. Begin by clarifying roles and expectations in advance.

Who owns decision making? Who will facilitate meetings and keep track of time? Who will represent respective departments?

Who will represent business? Design? Development?

Plan for Goals and Final Products

Executives, VPs and/or decision makers should be involved in the planning process from the get go.

Designers will help achieve vision, so they should be involved in all of the planning discussions, too.

It is essential that decision makers and designers are aligned because they are the key influencers who will determine goals and products.

Prepare and Prioritize

Set the tone for a focused meeting and take the following steps:

  • Make sure your entire team has cleared their schedules for the week.
  • Ban electronic devices in meetings.
  • Supply notepads and sticky notes and prepare to use the full amount of wall space! Or if it’s remote, you can use a virtual whiteboard like Miro

Now that you have the right space and materials, you will need to review and prioritize your goals for each day in advance.

Here is what the schedule should look like:

Day 1: Mapping

Day 1 is the most important part of the sprint.

It’s not about solutions or UI. Far from it.

Instead, it’s about building a shared understanding and finding the sprint horizon line.

First, look ahead 6 - 12 months down the line. Imagine the best case scenario for your new product. What would that look like if this sprint is smooth and the product takes off?

Next, consider the negative scenario. What would cause the product to fumble? What are the risks that could cause this to happen?

Make a map showing how a customer moves through your product or service. This will help give you a visual of the product or service experience.

Next, you want to get input from experts on your map.

Interview people in the sprint and others at your company that are familiar with parts of your product or service. They’ll help you make your map better. This includes helping you figure out any risks.

Next, you’ll list all these risks out as questions. Also known as “How Might We’s?”

The sprint group will sort these into categories and vote on the ones that seem most interesting or valuable.

The decider will look at the map and how might we’s and choose:

  1. A specific target customer
  2. A specific spot on the map
  3. A set of How Might We’s that you want to answer during the sprint

All of this information will set everyone up for an excellent sprint. And you’ll come back on Tuesday to start the sketching process.

Day 2: Sketching

On the second day, you’ll come up with the ideas that will become the building blocks of the final prototype.

Sketching helps you move from an abstract idea to something that’s concerete.

One thing to keep in mind is that sketching can be intimidating. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone.

What you’ll want to do is onboard folks on the sketching process.

Define the symbols that you’ll use in the sketch. For example, squares with X’s become images, thick lines are headers, square shapes with diagonal lines are buttons.

Whatever the symbol language is, you’ll want to onboard the team. This will give everyone a way to express their ideas and evaluate other people’s ideas in day 3.

Before you have everyone sketch, it’s good to look at existing solutions.

For most UI problems, you can re-use and remix existing solutions. It’s good to look at what exists out there as a team to familiarize yourself with what’s possible. This will serve as great inspiration for the team as they begin sketching.

And from there, the team will sketch. Every team member will do their own sketches and take notes throughout.

Each team member’s sketch will be revisited and considered—for content not artistry—on the following day.

Day 3: Deciding

The bulk of Day 3 is secured for assessing ideas from the mapping and sketching exercises.

It concludes by taking the best ideas from each team and combining them into a storyboard.

The best ideas are the ones that solve the problem and take the least amount of time to complete.

Sometimes, you’ll have several ideas that work. That’s a great thing.

You can build several prototypes and test those.

Once you have the sketches that work best, you’ll build a story board with these sketches.

The storyboard will be your team’s blueprint for prototyping.

Day 4: Prototyping

On Day 4, your team will design a prototype.

This is where all your sketches, ideas and decisions come together into a living and breathing prototype.

First thing is, you have to build it can built into a prototype.

Ultimately, what you’re aiming to do is to build the most representativ façade of your product or service that you can put infront of your customers.

As a team, you’ll decide on the right tools.

This can be something like Framer or Sketch. But it doesn’t have to be. You can also do this in Keynote.

You need a prototype done in 7 hours so you want a tool that will help you move fast.

Divide and conquer the prototype development. This will ensure you can build it in a single day.

The roles to consider:

  • Writer: They’ll write the user interface copy / messaging
  • Asset collector: Searches for stock imagery, icons and other assets
  • Stitcher: They’ll stitch everything together to make it work

Finally, review it as a team! Ensure that all the elements are in place and it all flows together nicely.

Day 5: Testing

On Day 5, you will test your prototype with customers, obtaining interview data that is key to finalizing your strategy.

Five is the “magic number” for interviews; you will want to set up teams with equipment and space to capture and monitor all customer responses.

The purpose of the test is to generate answers to your questions—and ultimately resolutions to problems—that may arise about your design proposal.

6 Ways That Design Sprints Lead to Better Outcomes

What makes design sprints such a powerful template for generating and testing solutions?

Here are some ways a design sprint can lead to better outcomes for your business:

  • Saves time and money
  • Exposes problems at their roots
  • Helps build collaborative teams
  • Demonstrates a rapid framework for innovation
  • Facilitates creative problem-solving
  • Reinforces design thinking

By using design sprints, you spur all team members to appreciate the elegance of an effective design solution.

Moreover, you will help teams at all levels understand the work involved in achieving your organization’s design goals.

Seeking Help with Design Sprints?

If you are convinced that a design sprint will help set your team in the right direction, contact us today.

With Pulp specializes in facilitating design sprints and optimizing your team for success. Reach out to learn more.

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