Like any design approach once it gets ‘buzz word’ status everyone wants to add it into their next project, but what is it actually good for? And honestly, … when is it just not right.
Design sprint is a great process. It’s fun, brings people together and can gets results, but the trick to success is how it’s managed. Without the right infrastructure, team and approaches it can become a path to poor insight, bad design and misleading outcomes.
With this in mind I wanted to pull together a greatest hits of what’s what. With some extra reading for those who want to get more nerdy.
What is design sprint?
It’s a process made popular as a Design Sprint by Google Ventures, built from the ‘Design Thinking’ approach by IDEO and the D-school of design at Stanford. Jake Knapp is the man you’ll see cited everywhere, there’s also books, apps and courses… the list goes on.
Yep, read that before right. So what is it?
Design Sprint is a framework to get new ideas, using multidisciplinary teams to test and create quickly. It helps to demystify the design process and get the right people on board from the outset. Generally it’s a 5 step process that goes from insight and design to testing in a week. What these stages are exactly can vary depending on what you read and personally I would tweak depending on your design challenge and situation.
Sounds great, but how is it different from any Agile Sprint process?
Basically it’s all about taking existing sprint techniques and appropriating them for more strategic design challenges. Agile sprints are generally focused on delivery, tied closely to development and they tend to be detailed and incremental. In my experience this can be suffocating if you want to look at the bigger picture. So enter ‘Design Sprint’ — a way of bringing the best hits of sprint to help you look at things in a more strategic way. Bam.
What is it actually good for?
Is it right for the kind of work I’m doing?
Design sprints start from insight, for example taking observed behaviours from a market or customers as a brief to find new opportunities. Think of them as best used in two ways;
Propositional Design Sprints
These are the high level new ideas. It’s the ‘venture’ market, all about finding new business opportunities, building a startup idea or quickly validating a business ‘vision’ or proposition.
Product/service Design Sprints
This is all about looking for new opportunities within an existing product or service. Think of them as feature sprints. Great for fast validation, iteration and product problem solving.
So this isn’t about user testing a button or looking at the minutia, it’s about solving a problem or opportunity and seeing if your new ‘amazing’ new idea has actual legs, with real people, fast!
What does it need to work?
Design Sprints are only as good as the planning around them. Basically if the objective is bad, planning disorganised, team disengaged or testing poor it can render the whole thing pointless, or worse misleading. It’s a fast process so it’s harder to fix things on the fly this means changing objectives, requirements or recruits can be very damaging to quality. So set up and organisation prior to sprint is important.
Equally, clear scope and objectives can make or break the process. The team can’t deliver everything and the kitchen sink in one week. This doesn’t mean you can’t tackle the bigger picture, its just that you have to be clear about what that picture is and provide a good brief based from a hypothesis and insight.
What’s the setup I need?
It’s not about sticking religiously to the approach outlined in any book, but tailoring it to your own organisation or design challenge. Sometimes it might be best to do a stint of research up front or extend the design or testing time. The important things are to protect the team and design your process to match what’s right for you and cover all the stages of the process.
“You don’t need to follow all the rules - a design sprint can be flexible”
Andrea Jezovit at the Guardian
Who runs it?
Strong leadership is important covering; team management, UX design, prototyping and research skills. In the Google Design Playbook they describe this role as a Sprint Master. In my experience the set-up and planning requires someone to drive the project. It can be a leading partnership, but at the end of the day Design Sprint is a fast process that needs experienced leadership that can make informed decisions on all aspects to drive the team.
If these are not possible it might not be the right process for you.
"The Sprint is something to design. This is the job of the Sprint Master. A good Sprint Master follows a workflow of task to do before, during and after the sprint."
Google Product Design Sprint Playbook
Strategic design opportunities
Be it proposition or new product features it’s a great process to unlock insight with real people and do fast iteration.
Reinvigorating a team
It’s a great process to spark up a team who may have lost their enthusiasm or are disengaged. This could be a regular sprint team who need to re-ignite their passion through a new feature or product. Or even a team with little design experience who you want to engage more with new propositions in a time of business change.
It’s a good way to get stakeholder collaboration and involvement with a mixture of expertise. The process can also help to build a team camaraderie that sometimes can get lost in company politics when people don't get the chance to work directly together.
“By asking people for their input early in the process, you help them feel invested in the outcome.” Jake Knapp, Sprint
Unblock organisation structure
Sometimes silos in the organisation structure can get in the way of new ideas. Things are chugging along at a snail’s pace and you can’t get the right people in the room. Design Sprint can encourage collaboration and force departments to unite. It’s fun and different so you will find people are more interested in being involved.
Demonstrating the value of validation
Equally it can be a great tool when you are forced in an uncomfortable design corner. Lots of ideas are being thrown around based on little more than a hunch and you want to demonstrate with validation. I acknowledge this isn’t great, but there are countless times when you have to show people the point of testing and validation with real people. I’ve found this is a great way to quickly do just that. The people that get involved will become advocates and next time it will be easier!
Not good for...
It’s a fast process. So it isn’t a replacement for the ongoing rigor that would usually be in place. You can do multiple sprints to move fast, but it’s not a cheap solution to doing things properly. Design Sprints help to uncover territories, validate propositions and narrow down your design solutions without dithering around. The work still needs to be done on the detail you’re just further along the process.
Too often or too far apart
Yes you can do multiple sprints, but it can be intense so you need to give people breaks and use this process at the right time. Otherwise you risk burning the team out making the process and yourself rather unpopular. At the same time gaps can also affect momentum. Make sure your team is still engaged and they actually remember what they were doing last time.
Without a strong ‘Sprint Master’
Ensuring the team is happy, the process is in place and that design and research meets the correct standard is important. So your team's leadership needs to have a strong balance of everything otherwise you risk things not working at the fast pace.
When there isn’t a clear objective
Like anything working without a clear goal is confusing, but in a short time frame this can become impossible to manage. For example with just a day of design time you need to be focused. A loose and vague brief will not help your team come up with more ideas. Narrow things down and focus on what you want, drop what’s not important and you will get better results.
When team members are not committed
Sprint only really works with a team that is engaged. It’s an immersive process and people who are not available are not able to drive the project. It’s cool to have observers or collaborators who pop in, but don’t expect much to happen if the whole team is part time and not committed. It’s also important for them to see testing, the process is wasted if you have to do hefty write ups of testing sessions.
More, more, more...
Case studies doing Design Sprint
I’m sure there’s more let me know!)
Guardian teams experience doing Design Sprint to solve a use behaviour challenge ‘getting less frequent visitors to form a lasting Guardian habit’ https://www.theguardian.com/info/developer-blog/2016/dec/02/the-art-of-the-design-sprint
Invision talk about their experience doing a 3 day design sprint for their mobile team https://www.invisionapp.com/blog/design-sprint/
Design Sprint case study from the Xbox team on inclusive game design for gamers who have disabilities https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHAabrlH9jM
If you get super obsessive and want to read more case studies from Google https://sprintstories.com/
If you like reading on paper these could be useful...
- Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920038573.do?sortby=publicationDate
Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just 5 days http://www.thesprintbook.com/
More reading from Google
Jake Knapp talks to co-design in 2 installments a good overview
Google Product Design Sprint how they do features the steps and about the whole ‘Sprint Masters’ thing. https://developers.google.com/design-sprint/product/
Design sprint in 90 seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2vSQPh6MCE
3hr brand sprint with Google Ventures... https://library.gv.com/the-three-hour-brand-sprint-3ccabf4b768a
Google ventures doing a remote Design Sprint which sounds like a technology nightmare. I just have visions of everything not working! https://library.gv.com/how-to-run-a-remote-design-sprint-without-going-crazy-840c23eef8a9
Tools for running and designing your Sprint
The design sprint kit from Google has loads about everything Design Sprinty. It’s a good reference and has tools to help plan and case studies to help explain things. https://designsprintkit.withgoogle.com/
The Duco app is sort of like the checklist of what to do when. For me this is too structured I like to tweak and change depending on the situation, but nevertheless it’s good to take a look at http://duco.newhaircut.com/#!/
Trello board for the Design Sprint process https://trello.com/b/lMmuSlkP/project-template-product-design-sprint