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Design Sprint: The Ultimate Guide

Design Sprint: An Ultimate Guide

Design Sprint is an intensive, five-day, creative process that incorporates key ideas from Design Thinking to solve crucial business problems.

Strategically, conducting a Design Sprint will give a business/startup/entrepreneur a headstart in any new pursuit. From cutting debate cycles to the bare minimum to validating whether an idea deserves time and effort, a Design Sprint does it all.

Here, you will find an extensive guide that takes you step-by-step through the entire process of conducting a Design Sprint for beneficial results.

Let’s begin.

What is a design sprint?

A successful product is more than its surface of colours, buttons, and features. For regular users, it becomes a source of emotional satisfaction as they rely on the product to complete a set of actions.

There is no single method of building products that can promise success.

Because, at the core, every product is based on a different idea. 

Thus, knowing if your idea is really good and putting down the right processes, are challenges that can paralyze anyone.

Luckily, there is a method that can validate ideas and measure their market-feasibility: Design Sprint.

A design sprint is a 5-day, intensive process that tests new ideas by focusing on users’ needs and immediately confirming them through feedback. 

Building a product takes a lot of patience and hard work, and a design sprint can tell you if all of your efforts will ultimately pay off. 

Design Sprints and problem-solving

A design sprint specializes in solving problems in the most effective manner. Being rooted in design thinking also means that it can be applied to many fields and disciplines. 

Commonly, a design sprint is highly useful when:

  • You have a great idea and you want to see if it fits well in the market
  • You want a stellar launch and want to minimize risks
  • You want to match the actual needs of your customers
  • You are doubtful about a certain aspect of your product

The last point is generally associated with complementary aspects, such as a brand’s tone or a website’s design. 

Essentially, design sprints can be used to bring direction wherever there isn’t any since they elaborate vague ideas into proper, actionable steps.

Ultimately, design sprints shine with new and complex problems that have no previous solutions anywhere. 

Issues That Design Sprint Deals With

Who can benefit from Design Sprints

Design Sprint is a versatile tool that can be used for a variety of problems. It also acts as a validator: completing a sprint brings concrete results that inform whether an idea should be acted upon. 

Thus, anyone at the crossroads of making an important decision can utilize a design sprint, including:

  • A first-time entrepreneur who has a strong product-vision, but is new to the scene and needs guidance. 
  •  A CEO who wants to make sure that their idea has an actual demand in the market. 
  • A Product Manager who is doubtful if the current version of the product would be well-received.
  • A Marketer who could better frame the brand’s tone and messaging once they observe how users already perceive the brand/product.

This list does not include all possible candidates, and the problem and the people stated above are interchangeable. 

In general, anyone who has a set of tasks to complete can find a good place to start through a design sprint. 

A design sprint is not an individual event. This section just shows that this set of people can get the most benefit from this intensive problem-solving approach.

P.S. If you are reading this, then you can become the facilitator of the sprint. (Keep reading to find out what that means. A hint: They are quite important in the design sprint.)

Overview of how a Design Sprint takes place

A design sprint typically runs during an entire working week, i.e., it starts on Monday and ends on Friday. 

Each day of this week produces its corresponding outcomes.

On Monday, the important problem (the target) is identified. The entire day is devoted to planning and to structure the other days so that everyone can focus on being completely productive. 

On Tuesday, ideas are generated to solve problems and put down on sketches. Members are encouraged to find inspirations to kickstart the idea-generation process.

On Wednesday, the best solutions are chosen and put down into a single storyboard. Members get around the whiteboard and place each sketch and draw the necessary details to frame a proper story, that starts with the problem and ends with the solution.

On Thursday, tools are gathered, people are split into mini-teams, and the prototype is built.

On Friday, the customers are brought in and seated in the interview room. The interview puts the customer at ease and encourages them to use the prototype. In another room, the rest of the design-sprint team observes the customer.

The process is summarized below:

Overview of the Entire Design Sprint Process

Each day starts at 10 am (except for Friday) and ends at 5 pm. An hour-long lunch break splits this six-hour day into two equal blocks of three hours— from 10 am to 1 pm, and from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Prerequisites for the Design Sprint

In the beginning, the following is done:

  1. The to-be sprinting team clears their entire schedule for the week.
  2. They put down a deadline that marks the sprint’s end.

The design sprint begins with planning the sprint itself. Choosing the right challenge for the sprint, gathering the right team, and finding the right space are the prerequisites. As you’ll see later, there is a lot of writing and drawing involved. So, stocking up the supplies beforehand is necessary as well.

The Right Challenge

Whether you have an interface that needs to be polished or a feature that needs better explanation, knowing the exact challenge you want to tackle in the sprint speeds things up. 

Here is an easy way to figure out what those challenges are: Say aloud “I wish I …” and finish the sentence. Chances are, you would immediately stumble upon your roadblock. 

For example, “I wish I could see what customers do after they install my app” or “I wish I could find a better way of motivating users to try out new features.”

Write the sentences down and move to the next step.

The Right Team

Every winning recipe has a unique blend of spices. For a successful sprint, you’d have to gather a team that blends well, i.e., the skillset of each person complements the other’s skillset. And you can have no more than seven people on this team. 

You might ask, what if there are more people interested in or eligible for the sprint; the answer to this comes soon. Hint: Some of them are given the status of ‘experts’. Fancy that.

While there is no one-list-fits-all approach for this, here are some guidelines for who to include in the design sprint: 

  1. The CEO or founder of the company. Called as ‘the Decider’ in a design sprint, they are the ultimate deciding-authority during the sprint.
  2. People from diverse backgrounds to bring expertise and concerns on vital functions, such as marketing, engineering, sales, etc.
  3. The Facilitator. They are the ones who are keenly reading this blog. Example: You. Running a smooth sprint is their responsibility.

The Decider

Being the ultimate decision-making authority in a design sprint, they cut the fat of pointless debates, saving a lot of time. Having them in the sprint is essential because they have spent the most time with the problem and thus, understand it deeply.

This in-depth understanding gives us a good intuition on what the winning set of solutions will look like. It helps them formulate the right criteria that would be used to judge major decisions and guide the sprint forward.

Diverse People

While the founder/product manager is knowledgeable, they never know all the problems. Each function of the product might have some that they have never heard of.

This is why bringing experienced people from different departments of your office is important. The Dev Lead can point out limitations on a certain engineering problem, and the Sales Rep can tell you the common queries that customers have during a call.

The Facilitator

As a string bringing everyone together, the facilitator plays a major role. They make sure that the sprint moves as planned. This means taking notes, encouraging others to do the same, setting a timer during discussions, etc.

To ensure that the design sprint runs smoothly, the facilitator needs to be unbiased. This means that they do not participate in any of the idea-generation or prototyping. All of their focus is on making sure that everyone is following the steps of the sprint.

Gather the team

With you as the facilitator, there are six more roles to be filled. One seat goes to the decider, and the rest five go to the set of diverse people. 

In complex or bigger projects, there might be more than one decider. But the overall number of seven people is not allowed to increase.

As for the remaining interested/eligible people, they are still valuable. They will become ‘Experts’, and will come on Monday and present their opinions on the planning. 

By the time the planning is done and the list of problems is completed on Monday, the design-sprint team would be pretty much invested in the sprint’s process. The Experts would act as pairs of outside eyes, and anything that say will sharpen the overall focus of the rest of the sprint. 

Choosing the Right Team for a Design Sprint

The Right Space

You might be tempted to opt-in a meeting room for the design sprint. But meeting rooms are generally small. Considering that the sprint will run for five continuous days, you would need a bigger space. This is because: 

  • You would have to accommodate seven people
  • Some space for at least one whiteboard
  • Extra space where individuals can think on their own and come up with solutions

In an office, there would be signs of other projects all around. These can act as distractions for the members in the sprint.

These include other colleagues, project files, and sticky notes. During the design sprint, you would want the team members to be focused only on a single goal⁠— getting through the sprint and achieving its outcomes. 

Therefore, a space different from the regular working environment is well-suited for the design sprint. 

Supplies for the Design Sprint

A design sprint involves intensive note-taking along with a lot of presentations. Therefore, the standard tools in a classroom will come in handy. 

Here are the must-haves:

  • At least two whiteboards. 
    • As you’d come to see, permanent text would be written down on Monday that would guide the rest of the sprint. 
    • Plus, there would be lots of drawing involved as well. So the more available space for writing and sketching, the better.
  • Sticky Notes.
    • Lots of reminders and important data that would be shuffled around throughout the sprint.
  • Markers for the whiteboard.
  • Paper for the printer.
    • This will come in handy for generating material for demonstrations.
  • Dot stickers, in small and large sizes.
  • Timers.
    • The central figure in the design sprint; they keep everyone on track.

With these in place, your design sprint is ready to begin. 

Prerequisites for a Design Sprint

Why Does The Design Sprint Need To Be Strict

As you might have sensed by now, the design sprint is quite rigorous. Since the design sprint is a five-day process that takes your idea, converts it into a prototype, and gets it tested, there is no time to be wasted. 

Debates, brainstorming sessions, multitasking— these are things that drain time. A sprint is like a highly efficient machine. There are no allowances for things that can slow it down.

Thus, the design sprint comes with its set of rules. 

The important rules are:

  1. No Phones. Except during idea-generation, lunch, and lightning-demos.
  2. The Decider always makes the final call.
  3. Time is a scarce resource. It is always monitored, and no one is allowed to waste it.

And these are things that would be constantly observed:

  1. Making notes⁠— The first three days and the last day of the design sprint would generate a lot of data. Its sheer amount neither can be retained accurately in everyone’s memory, nor can a single person document the entire event. Hence, everyone will constantly make notes, not necessarily detailed, for everything⁠— discussion, ideas, thoughts, etc
  2. Keeping planning separate from execution⁠— Humans are great at doing one thing at a single time and decent at doing multiple things together. Since this is a short event, it has to be highly productive. To put everyone in their peak productive states, every aspect will happen at its own time. 
An Efficient Design Sprint

Only a well-structured day that is managed properly will yield its results properly. 

Say, on Monday, if you miss out on bringing in experts, then Tuesday will not be as productive as expected. 

Therefore, as the facilitator, you will have to enforce every rule. If someone asks for more time during a discussion or a sketch, remind them that the sprint is fast-paced and cannot stop for anything.

Now that the stage is set, let us get started with the design sprint.

Design Sprint: The Entire Process

Monday

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

The first day of the design sprint is the most important day. It sets the pace and tone for everything that would be accomplished during the rest of the sprint.

The whole day is spent on planning. By the end of the day, every problem that the sprint needs to address will be laid out on the whiteboard. 

The first part of Monday is split into two phases: optimistic and pessimistic.

During the optimistic phase, the team members envision what they/their product would achieve by the end of a successful design sprint. Called “Start at the end”, it helps with figuring out the long-term goal.

Imagine the perfect outcome for your product. This could be a successful launch or reported satisfaction from users. 

This becomes the long-term goal, which the design sprint’s result will validate.

Pro-Tip: Say aloud “It would feel very great if…” and complete the sentence. 

It could be “It would feel very great if the user wants to sign up during the test”, or “It would feel very great if users spent more time on our app”, and so on. 

Once you finalize the long-term goal, write it down on the whiteboard. It’ll stay there throughout the sprint to keep everyone on the same page.

Also, whenever someone goes off-topic, the Facilitator could just point to it and save time. 

Next, comes the pessimistic phase. 

Imagine that six months after the product was launched, it failed. Maybe the adoption rate was less, maybe the users did not understand what the product was capable of, etc. 

Come back to the present. There is a relief to be found as the product has not failed. 

Yet.

In this part, called “Map the Challenges”, everyone lists out all the things that could go wrong.

Things that hurt the product and its attractiveness, its usability, its value-proposition, etc., go on this list.

Time for a prompt: Say aloud “My worst nightmare when I think about our product is…” and complete the thought. It might sound too dramatic, but it will bring all concerns to the table.

With that, the first part comes to an end. 

There are two major things in hand: The Long-Term Goal that will dictate the course of the sprint, and the Challenges that will be solved during the sprint.

Now, the second part of Monday begins.

The people left out from the selection of the elite seven for the design sprint were previously consoled by giving the status of ‘Experts’.

Not for nothing. Because this is the ‘Ask the Experts’ round.

They are called in and told to observe these: notes on the whiteboard, the long-term goal, and the challenges.

After thinking for a while, they give their honest opinions and if possible, some criticism. 

All feedback is taken and incorporated into everything that has been done until now, and especially in the next round, which is writing multiple ‘How Might We’ notes.

"How Might We" Notes On Monday, the first day of a Design Sprint

All the notes and discussions have brought every addressable problem to the surface. Now we would convert each of them into a question that begins with ‘How Might We’. 

e.g., “How Might We help first-time customers on our website?” or “How Might We explain our product’s features to a skeptical person?”

Since the round itself is a prompt, we didn’t give you one. 

Just Kidding.

To better process the ideas and make them actionable, include attributes within the question. That is, the most important aspect that makes the problem difficult. 

In the example “How Might We help first-time customers on our website?”, the difficulty arises from the attribute ‘first-time’. 

Loyal customers will not need as much guidance when they visit your website. They already know what you offer. But not the first-timers. 

Use this elaborate example to reframe your problem-statements into actionable ‘How Might We’ notes. 

Continue the exercise with every team-member until every concern that has been discussed throughout the day is pasted on the whiteboard as a ‘How Might We’ note.

Side note for the facilitator: if you need to convince the rest of the sprint team, tell them that ‘How Might We’ notes:

  • Structure all ideas and notes— No confusion between similar ideas or problem-statements.
  • Make every problem actionable— With every problem now posed as a question, it becomes easier to process it and answer.
  • Place everything on the whiteboard— No one has to rely on their scribbled notes or memory. 

Once everything is rephrased, the team members would arrange them in a thematic order, wherein sets of ‘How Might We’ notes that solve a big problem would be grouped together.

All the 'How Might We' notes laid out

This exercise of making every concern actionable brings Monday to an end. 

And, the long-term goal and the concerns on the whiteboard lay a smooth track for the rest of the sprint. 

Tuesday

Tuesday, the second day of the design sprint, is spent on generating solutions for every HMW sticky note. 

The first part of Tuesday is spent on getting inspired through research.

Everyone in the sprint team takes a look at the How Might We notes. After that, a collective decision is taken on who will work on which note individually.

With that, the ‘Remix and Improve’ phase has begun.

After the task-assignment, each individual start researching solutions. They can refer a book, look at another product, and browse the internet for potential ideas. 

The key is to dive into industries different from one’s own and search for similar problems. This drives inspiration and is the ‘Remix’ part of the equation.

During the research, once you stumble upon a similar problem in a different industry, you go on and try to adopt their solution-strategy for your problem. 

Note that we do not use the word ‘copy’. This is because:

  1. You cannot copy a solution directly from a different industry.
  2. The similar solution is to be used as a source of inspiration to frame a new solution-strategy.

‘Remix and Improve’  involves a lot of individual thinking and note-taking. This means that every member has to think through their ideas properly before presenting it. 

Now, other members of the team might ask you to stick to a standard brainstorming session. Present them with these reasons:

  • In typical brainstorming sessions, new ideas that do not have a consensus are immediately shot down. This means that old ideas that seem safer are chosen.
  • When worked individually, a new idea can develop much better than when it is debated upon.

Thus, in a ‘Remix and Improve’ session, ideas are first developed and then taken in front of people for judgment, unlike a standard brainstorm. 

The difference between presenting an idea as soon as it comes to your head and presenting after a bit of research is obvious. With a better structure laid out, the new idea gets a better stage to show off its unique aspects. 

Once everyone is done with their research, we jump into ‘Lightning Demos’.

With a timer set for three minutes, each member addresses the rest of the team with a potential solution for a specific ‘How Might We’. ‘Lightning’ needs to be emphasized here: only the key points that make the solution appropriate for the solution are talked upon.

This focus on speed ensures:

  • Each member stays on the topic during the presentation
  • Every team member gets the chance to present it

As soon as the last person completes their lightning-demo, you can break for lunch.

Lightning Demos, the first phase on the Tuesday of a Design Sprint

With the research and the lightning-demos, the ‘Remix’ part of the equation gets done, and the ‘Improve’ part begins. 

Here, every member would take their idea and put it through a rigorous four-step sketching process that goes as follows: 

  • Gathering the necessary information— Every fact that makes the potential solution feasible is gathered and kept at one’s fingertips.
  • Doodling roughly— The ideas and facts are put together in rough sketches that outline where each of them exactly fit.
  • Generating variations— Through the exercise of ‘Crazy 8s’, eight variations every solution-sketch is produced.
  • Putting the details— The outlined sketches are transformed into proper mini-blueprints.

The first and second steps are pretty self-explanatory, as they help you to plan your entire sketching process.

The third step, Crazy 8s, form the pillar of the ‘Improve’ part of the equation. It involves the creation of eight short variations of the original solution.  A single sheet of paper is folded three times which parts it into eight. Within each of these small sections, the immediate ideas would be jotted and drawn.

By churning out 8 variations, the sketcher ends up achieving two things:

  • They gain a better understanding of the solution
  • The number of ways the said solution can be implemented increases
Sketching, the creative solution-generation process during a Design Sprint

After this exercise, members will take their ideas and work on a final sketch that is detailed enough to be readily implemented on the next day of the sprint. Here are a few guidelines to be followed while finalizing the individual sketches.

Aesthetics is not of concern.  

Whether one can draw a proper circle is not put to test. Instead, the focus is kept on explaining the solution in great detail.

Use actual writing instead of Lorem Ipsum

Whether it is to convince the other team members or the customers on Friday, actual, readable writing that explains a feature or a part of the solution will fare much better than Lorem Ipsum, which does not communicate anything about the solution.

Keep it a secret

The solution matters, not the solver. Typical brainstorm sessions suffer from cognitive biases, including the special one of ‘if he said it, then it means it is great/abysmal”. By not putting a name down on the sketch, it is ensured that only the solution gets judged, not the person. 

While team members put the finishing touches on their sketches, the Facilitator (you) will assign someone for the task of finding and inviting customers for Friday. 

This person would be responsible for selecting the right customers based on the target-audience criteria for your product. They could also double up as the Interviewer on Friday; more on that later. 

With the selection process in place and the final sketches in hand, Tuesday gets to its end. The whole team is now armed with sketches for every ‘How Might We’ note. 

These sketches will be put together on the next day of the design sprint.

Wednesday

Wednesday, the third day of the design sprint, is spent on deciding on the best solutions and putting them together as a cohesive action-plan for Thursday.

As you’d have observed till now, every task is planned before execution and every aspect of it is kept separate. Whether it is researching, gathering information, or getting feedback, each of them takes place individually.

This separation is crucial for the efficient running of the design sprint. Typical planning ends up spurring a lot of debate before the ideas are even articulated properly. 

But, judging the ideas after they have been given a preliminary form makes way for constructive problem-solving.

Just as how a majority of Tuesday has been spent entirely on sketching (the ideation), a portion of Wednesday will go into deciding (the judgment).

Here is the entire decision-making process that will bring the top sketches out of the entire lot.

First, team members will put their sketches for each ‘How Might We’ note on display and the others will look at them without any commenting. i.e., All the sketches will be showcased. 

Tuesday’s point on ‘Keep it a secret’ will be observed wherein the sketcher will not reveal themselves. Everyone’s focus would be on the sketches.

After the careful observation of every sketch, the team will receive several dot stickers to place their votes on their favorite sketches. (The decider is given an extra set of bigger dots as well.) This creates a physical heatmap, where the popular sketches become completely obvious. Note that everyone continues to remain silent.

Now the mouths open for the quick, timer-led critiques on each of the sketches. The focus on timing them ensures that the obvious pros and cons of each sketch immediately comes to light.

Finally, the decider, keeping the points from the quick critiques in mind will go around and add their bigger dots to the existing heatmap. The sketches that are the strongest come to focus. 

As quickly as its explanation, the first part of Wednesday will also come to an end. This is not to say that anything crucial will not be elaborated, but that the focus on timing every aspect of it will keep everyone on their toes and move things faster. 

The closure of the first part will bring out the strongest sketches into the limelight. After lunch, the team members will work together to gather the sketches together and make them a cohesive whole.

Reviewing the various sketches during a Design Sprint

On Monday, we had generated ‘How Might We’ notes and arranged them thematically. Since the sketches have each addressed a ‘How Might We’ note, we will just place every sketch in place of a ‘How Might We’ note. This automatically brings related sketches together.

Now, the sketches would be arranged sequentially, like a story. 

The ‘How Might We’ notes address the key issues of your product. Taking a good look at them would reveal every user-interaction issue as a hurdle between an otherwise smooth string of events. These events can be anything: The first time the user installs the product or when a feature is put to use. 

Take the specific event that your design sprint team is working on and elaborate it into a story. The gaps within the story are exactly where the sketches would fit.

This entire process of storyboarding is more than just about planning how to build the prototype for Friday’s test. The process will:

  • inform you if there are any gaps that have been left unattended. 
  • make it easier to envision the prototype.

During storyboarding, any confusion that arises can be immediately solved. This immediate patching solves potential blind spots and small problems that would have otherwise popped during the customer-interview. 

The Storyboard developed during a Design Sprint

Here is the entire storyboarding process:

  • A large grid is drawn that covers the entirety of the whiteboard
  • The first box represents the first event in the story of the users interacting with your product
  • The last box represents the last event, which mostly would be an outcome that a user wants to receive
  • Every team member will contribute to the story by filling the grids 
  • The gaps that emerge after filling the last box are where team members would place their sketches

While filling in all the gaps, the team members can take some time to look at the work-in-progress storyboard and visualize how it might look once it gets built. 

They could also engage with imaginary customers within their heads to try and predict possible gaps that can be filled to make the storyboard much tighter. 

Once all the gaps with appropriate sketches, the storyboarding phase comes to an end. On Thursday, this entire storyboard will serve as the blueprint for the prototype.

Going through this process drills the very concept of the product/prototype into everyone’s mind, making the prototype-building process much faster. 

Thursday

Being just a day away from testing the prototype, the thought of building a prototype in just one day might seem overwhelming. 

There are two reasons why this feeling is unfounded:

  • Excluding the Interviewer who will not participate in the building, there are six knowledgeable and completely immersed people who will.
  • Everything about the process of building the prototype has been learnt, laid down, drawn, and written about.

This means that if there are any hitches, there are two options to fall back on: the focused individuals and the detailed storyboard. There is almost nothing to worry about.

Almost.

While the knowledge-base has been built, the tools that are needed to build the prototype have not been chosen.

This is hardly a concern, because the prototype to be built is going to be low in stakes and high in illusion. 

Low in stakes

Everything that has been done until now is based on assumptions.

Well-researched/backed by experience as they might be, they are about a product that the customer-base has not experienced yet. 

Thus, a lot of effort is not being put here to impress the customer but rather to learn from them.

Every gap that the ‘How Might We’ notes will be finally answered by the customer’s reactions and feedback.

High in illusion

The overall experience that a product is supposed to offer can be tested or teased with just a surface-level effort.

Imagine a jungle-themed amusement-park ride. Sitting in a speeding seat with speakers booming roars of wild tigers and lions, not many would question the legitimacy of the experience.

Instead, they have a really fun time. While it is known that there aren’t any real wild animals present, the complete package of the illusion⁠—  the visuals, the sound effects, and the ride’s speed ⁠—gives people a real thrill.  

Similarly, your prototype just needs to channel the experience that you want to test. 

Imagine that you want to test the frontpage of your website. You’d like to see if users feel compelled enough to scroll down or visit other pages.

You’d not need to build a working site. Instead, you can create the illusion of a working site by putting everything onto a slideshow or an emulation.

For the unique product that you are prototyping, you would have to research and figure out which tools are fitting enough to convince the user. But here are some commonly used tools that could help you:

  • Website Pages, Application Sections, etc can be tested using the likes of Keynote or Powerpoint
  • Marketing collateral can be print in low fidelity and put on display
  • Physical products can be 3D printed or assembled using parts from various other machines. (You will need a lot of ingenuity to pull this off)

With these tools in place and the storyboard on display, the team is well geared to start building the prototype.

To make this process effective, here is how you can split the team:

  • Two or more roped in as Makers
    • They create/frame the discrete parts of the prototype such as landing pages, slides, buttons, and so on
  • One Stitcher
    • They have their eyes going back and forth between the storyboard and the ongoing prototype. 
    • They ensure that everything goes in alignment with the plan.
    • They also come to the rescue when someone faces a minor inconvenience.
  • One Writer
    • Writing is important, as stressed above. Clear and persuasive communication is the key to winning people’s hearts and you would not want to miss out on that. 
  • Asset Collector
    • ‘Low in stakes’ applies here: Time cannot be spent on creating original assets. Instead, aspects such as icons and color schemes need to be outsourced from the internet.
    • This person is solely responsible to curate the assets for the prototype.
  • Interviewer
    • They do not participate in the prototyping.
    • This is to ensure that they have no biases when they interview the customer.
    • Biases can lead to them trying to nudge the customer toward giving a positive response.
    • Instead, the interviewer will write the interview-script based on the storyboard and the list generated from the ‘Map the Challenges’ section.
The Various Roles within a Design Sprint Team

Once the team is split, it is just a matter of a few hours before efficient hands transform the detailed plan and put together a solid, convincing prototype.

The entire process of prototyping will utilize the entire Thursday. Lunch break excluded, as soon as the prototype gets done, the team will take a short break.

They will then come back for a trial, or a test to ensure that the prototype runs as intended on Friday.

The Facilitator (You) and the Stitcher will monitor the session while the other team members will give a demo of how the prototype is supposed to work.

Since the prototype has been put together in just a day, there are bound to be gaps in its overall look or functionality. A trial run would make such gaps immediately obvious.

After the trial run, Thursday comes to an end. By then, the Interviewer would have filled pages and kept their pad and pens ready to go for the next day of the design sprint.

Friday 

It is showdown time.

We have come to the last day of the design sprint; the day that will decide whether all the efforts that you intend to put on your product will fruition.

Essentially, today will decide the fate of every single member and the path that they will follow for the rest of their life. 

Maybe not so dramatic. But today’s test will give every single team member a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t in their product/idea.

Here is how Friday will be set up.

A separate space will be chosen for the interview that will seat the customers and the interviewer. Here, none of the other members from the design sprint would be allowed.

Cameras with microphones will be present so that the rest of the design-sprint team can observe the interview.

Until now, everyone involved in the design sprint has been thinking, doing, and discussing among themselves, toward a long-term vision.

Now, the floor is opened to customers so that they can show you whether that vision has any chances of coming true.

A design sprint with its focus on customer’s reactions shows every single member how much of what they assumed about the market/user-base has been correct.

  • If most of it is correct, then the reassurance motivates everyone for the hard work and piles of effort ahead.
  • If not, then the wrong assumptions are thrown out, saving a lot of mental, physical, and monetary investment.

Friday is divided into two aspects. Not phases, as both of them, will run simultaneously.

The Interview

A well-run interview will give you all the necessary insights on whether your product rocks. Here is how it goes.

Prerequisites

  1. A comfy chair
  2. A cool-looking table
  3. Some sweets?
  4. A warm smile

This list is just to inspire you. Essentially, the customer should not feel that they are being interviewed formally. We all know how nerve-wracking those settings are.

The Interview with the Customer on Friday, the final day of the Design Sprint

Putting the customer at comfort is of the utmost importance because it is only when they feel relaxed that their feedback and responses would be honest. 

If they are uncomfortable, they might try to give responses that would help them leave the place, as soon as possible.

Once a welcoming environment is created, the interviewer makes some small talk. Casual chit-chat is a great icebreaker and facilitates a bond between the interviewer and the customer.

This bond will put the customer/user at ease which would make them more likely to talk honestly about the product.

This chat will inform how well-versed the user is with products of your genre. This needs to be a metric to ensure that a knowledgeable user’s opinion is not taken as a placeholder for someone who has never used a product such as yours before.

After all this, this is the process that the interviewer would follow:

  • Distance from the prototype— The interviewer informs and later on remind the customer that they did not design the prototype.
    • This communicates that a negative response will not hurt the interviewer, making the customer more honest.
  • Distance from the interaction— This test is supposed to show how a user would interact with your product in real life.
    • Thus, the interviewer is allowed to only slightly nudge them to try and use the app
    • They cannot tell the customer how they are supposed to use it
    • They are not supposed to give any instructions.

‘Distance from the interaction’ is the teacher: If the customer is unable to perform an action, or if they are unable to understand what a certain feature, the fault is on the product. 

This fault/gap needs to be observed and noted down.

The Learning

While the interview goes on in a separate room, the rest of the design-sprint team sits and observes the customers.

Prerequisites

  1. Notepads
  2. Keen eyes
  3. Openness to feedback

Every reaction and utterance of the customer will be noted down by everyone in the group. If the customer likes a feature, then it is good news. The feature can be put up as something that definitely deserves more attention.

Observation of the Interview, by the team members of the Design Sprint on Friday

But if a customer stumbles somewhere, then it means that everyone will have to go back to the drawing board to fill that gap.

As more gaps emerge, everyone should note them down. 

One important thing is to notice if a certain understanding-gap comes again and again with each new customer. If it does, then it should obviously be rethought and made better.

As the last interview approaches its end, everyone would have accumulated a lot of notes and learned a lot. 

To place these feedback and notes ina proper framework to learn better, go back to these things: the long-term vision, the map of challenges, and the ‘How Might We’ notes.

Comparing the aspirations and the questions from Monday with the realities and the answers from Friday will give every team member the insights that they need for deciding if they improve the product or pivot.

With this, Friday comes to an end. 

Outcomes of a Design Sprint

The collective knowledge from the customer-reactions is the key to solving the problem that you and your team were facing at the beginning of the week.

Any gaps that the users face demand immediate thought and attention. And they also inform you enough to make the drastic decision of putting effort into an idea/product.

If the users struggled a lot while interacting with your product, then there are lots of gaps that need to be filled.

Whether or not the customers understood the actual intent of the product is important as well. If they misinterpret or entirely miss the point, then the goals set by your team are way off and need to be reconsidered.

If the users were purely delighted while they used the product, then you know what to do: Find what is being done right and make sure that those continue to happen.

Overall, if they had only slight moments of confusion while using your product, then it just shows that a little bit of realignment/readjustment will make you ready for launch.

Ultimately, a design sprint will arm every single team member with a lot of data and insights. 

A design sprint shows :

  • How a customer feels about a product
    • This is ‘Acceptance’. If they like it, they would use it without hesitation.
  • How likely a customer is to use a product on their own
    • This is ‘Attraction’. They use the product because they love it. This drives adoption.
  • How user-friendly a product is
    • This is ‘Attention’. If the UI/UX is easy to understand and use, then they will continue to use the product. (Growth)
  • How well does a product solve a problem
    • This is ‘Aptitude’. If the product can predictably solve variations of the same problem without any gaps, then it stays in that market.

Based on these criteria, a well-informed decision on whether an idea should be pursued can be taken.

Advantages of a Design Sprint

Design sprints are what traditional customer-feedback processes aren’t: efficient, insightful, and actionable. Here is how.

Avoiding Groupthink

Bold ideas hardly shine in group settings. 

Imagine a person talking about their new idea that they had a week ago. Another person would immediately jump in to respond to it. In a debate, this works well because both parties can spot flaws in each other’s arguments and improve through it.

Brainstorming sessions aren’t like formalized debates, as it very much focuses on generating ideas on the spot. Not discussing previously processed ideas.

Applying the same dynamics of the debate would neither allow the ideator to fully form their idea nor have an opposition that listens and learns in the process

Design Sprints eliminate that by encouraging every team member to research, think, and ideate individually. 

Avoiding Bias

In group settings, ideas get judged by their source more than their actual practicality. 

If the boss talks about a new idea that they have, then everyone pays attention and even agrees to think more about the idea.

But if a new idea were communicated by a newcomer, it might not be considered.

This is because the newcomer is perceived as a novice, and the boss is not.

Also because the boss pays the bills and thus agreeability is an obligation.

Design Sprints eliminate biases by making ideas and sketches completely anonymous. The focus stays on the quality and feasibility of the idea and not its source. 

Putting Structure

Traditional brainstorming sessions have the barest of rules. There is a time when everyone is supposed to meet, along with an agenda. 

But the overall processes of what should be thought upon and how the ideas will be reached are not framed. 

As a rigorous set of processes, Design Sprints guide every aspect of the problem-solving session. 

From setting a long-term vision to align everyone, to showing exactly how to remix a solution-strategy, a design sprint makes every step of the problem-solving session fast and replicable.

Putting a Diverse Team in action

Traditional planning occurs in silos. 

If there is a hurdle with communicating a certain feature during the sales call, then only the sales team handles it.

Design Sprints tackle problems of all shapes and sizes. During one, a sales communication-gap would be solved by not just the sales rep, but the product owner, the CEO, and many others.

This diversification brings in several perspectives and solves the problem much faster.

Outcomes of a Design Sprint

Conclusion

A design sprint is like an efficient engine on a motorbike. 

A diverse team that is focused on the same long-term goal powers the design sprint. 

And the emphasis on getting things done within a strict timeline keeps it running smoothly.

On the whole, this means that a problem gets identified, analyzed, ideated upon, and solved in just one week.

As a new entrepreneur looking to start-up or a seasoned business owner trying to understand a product idea’s viability, a design sprint is a good place to start. 

A design sprint takes the product from its unclear aspirations and transforms it into a testable prototype. This immediately clears all assumptions and shows if an idea is worthy of being pursued.

Similarly, if you are a new startup/business looking for ways to grow, a design sprint helps on that front as well.

It shows you exactly what works in your product, and what does not. By taking action against the latter, you could start scaling heights in terms of revenue. 

So, use the intensive problem-solving process of a design sprint in your workplace. Being a versatile tool, it can be applied to any situation. 

Ultimately, if you are running an enterprise but find it hard to drive results, incorporating design sprints in your culture will help you.

Let us know how that goes in the comments. 

Until then, keep sprinting and soaring. 

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Amrit Manthan

I love metaphors and similes. I feel at home with them, just as how the claws of a bird easily cling to a branch.

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