Whether you’re a start-up, small business or established enterprise, the need to move fast, fail faster and adapt in today’s market is crucial. Design Sprints allow you to solve complex problems in just five (or even four) days and unlock the benefits of Agile.

Agile methodology is an iterative, incremental response to the inadequacies of traditional software development and allows companies to move faster and meet the requirements of customers. The principles of Agile and the wider application of organisational agility (there is a distinction) have swept throughout Silicon Valley as businesses continue to race from idea to market.

Although I wholeheartedly think if you’re not adopting the methodology (at least somewhere in your innovation process) something is wrong, Agile is not a “silver bullet” solution… nothing is. Testing and cooperation are integral to the customer-centric principles of Agile and validating an idea can be, well, time-consuming.

Cue Design Sprints.

Developed by Jake Knapp out of Google’s Venture division, The Design Sprint is a pressure cooker, collaborative process that can take you from idea to tested solution inside of five days. Yes, really. In fact, organisations like AJ&Smart have released a 2.0 version that streamlines the process to just four days.

By the end of the Sprint, you have a tangible, tested prototype that you built together. Think of it as a crystal ball into the future: you’re able to gain valuable customer insight without committing the time and capital of building a real product. With a little bit of experience, you can also utilise the process to develop everything from complex marketing strategies to kickstarting a new business.

So what does a Design Sprint look like?

First things first, you need somebody dedicated to driving his new way of thinking. You need a facilitator. Regardless of their involvement in the business, they are able to provide an outside perspective and guide you through the discovery process. The ideas are in there, they just need to be extracted and ordered.

Next, you need the commitment of your team for the intensive (but short) process. Dedicating time can be one of the biggest challenges for any business, big or small, but consider the potential wasted months developing the wrong product.

Day 1 // Definition

Kick off the first day by unpacking the problem space and validating the idea. These structured conversations are the foundation of the Sprint as we define your “North Star”. This unwavering definition of purpose will be a constant point of focus to ensure you’re solving the problem.

Who are your customers? What do they need and what drives this need? Begin to build out a simplified customer journey and kickstart the magic of the sprint process. Using a simple “how might we…” process you can begin to source opportunities and create the basis of your new idea. Through voting and a process of elimination you’ll decide which ideas to take to the next stage.

Ideating, utilising post-it notes

Having considered your customer segments, now is the time to start organising your 4-6 test subjects for the final day. Remember, the aim of the Sprint is to have a tested prototype so subjects are crucial to the process!

Day 2 // Sketch & Decide

Firstly, we want to make sure we’re happy with the idea we’ve chosen. Validation throughout the whole process is crucial to success so key decision makers must be in the room (or can drop in and out as the days progress.

We all see things differently. In fact, the collaborative effort and combined creativity of Design Sprints make it such a powerful tool when building new ideas. Lightning demos are a great way of inspiring creativity and gaining the most from the ideation stage. Take time to find things relevant to the idea that inspires you and share with the group.

It’s time to bring the idea to life. Utilising the process of Crazy Eights, everyone in the room will begin to turn their ideas into written (or drawn) product pieces and share them via a personal two-pager storyboard. Another round of voting begins…

Design Sprint - sketching
Design Sprint – sketching

The team reviews all the ideas and ultimately votes on which one to take to prototype. Make sure the ‘decision maker’ is in the room as unsurprisingly they have the final say. Decision made.

Now start to visualise the solution and transform the personal storyboards into blueprints on the wall. A facilitator will begin to draw out the idea, frame by frame, as everybody discusses how it should look.

Day 3 // Prototyping

With the blueprint complete, it’s time to create something tangible that can be tested with real customers. It doesn’t need to be a complete solution, just enough to take the potential customers on a journey and communicate the idea. The team can utilise pieces of paper to develop the prototype, or if possible, translate it using tools like Miro and Figma.

Figma prototype example

Day 4 // Test & Learn

Your customer was defined at the start of the process and should now be in the room with you. It’s the moment of the truth. Present your idea with the prototype and gather feedback. Was the feedback positive? If so, great! You can start developing the project utilising the agile methodology previously mentioned. Was the feedback average? Is there a way to pivot the idea and refine the solution? Hopefully so.

Running a test with potential customers

Was the feedback, let’s say, less than average? Maybe it’s time to scrap the idea and try something different. Trust me, it happens. But at least you didn’t invest months into R&D to discover it wasn’t what the customer needed!

Chris Sinclair is a Digital Experience Designer & Strategist responsible for working with start-ups and organisations to develop products and go to market strategies utilising agile & design sprint methodologies.

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