The keys to a successful Design Sprint

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Design Sprints can generate remarkable results for your business, such as:

  • Impactful ideas,
  • Functional prototypes,
  • MVPs: fully functional products, which have the basic characteristics required for testing with a panel of test users.
  • POCs (proof of concepts): an approach which aims to verify that a theory or that a new web application “works”.
  • Valuable lessons and key information from customers, as well as real business opportunities.

Imagine that your business has to solve a major real-world problem – that means you’ll need an original solution that’s better than any other available on the market. You might be aiming for a product, component, system, service or process.

In an ideal scenario, before making any investments, you will have already selected your set of solutions, had them prototyped, and exposed to a set of real users. This would provide enough feedback and information to make informed decisions, allowing you to put in place the best product development strategy for your given needs.

To get to this point, you can follow the classic or standard mechanisms. For example, you can:

  • Consult the experts in your organization,
  • Assign workflows to different teams,
  • Coordinate work among team members,
  • Hold brainstorming meetings,

And then wait to receive UI designs, before again wait some more for a prototype to be developed… This lengthy process has many drawbacks, interconnected dependencies, issues, and risks.

You can also put together a powerful multidisciplinary team and “isolate” them in a room for a few days, with a clear and simple goal: to meet your primary objective. This way of approaching a development project is a rapid innovation process that produces different solutions to your problem, whose effectiveness with real users have already been verified.

This intense process of ideation and prototyping comes in many forms and variations, the most famous of which is called “Design Sprint”. The Design Sprint is configured to provide “solutions to big problems in just five days.” It uses the principles of “design-based thinking” and introduces several techniques, tools and rules.

Let’s explore the Design Sprint in greater detail below.

To get the most out of a Design Sprint, you need to focus on the right setup, preparation, and uptime – otherwise, you risk having an expensive Design Sprint session that doesn’t produce real results.

Let’s summarize the essential aspects and success factors of a good Design Sprint.

1. The decisive and delicate process of defining the problem statement

Don’t let the problem statement become another problem! Most unsuccessful Design Sprints and prototyping sessions have this unique and specific point of failure in common: a badly-defined problem statement that triggers lengthy discussions, unnecessary iterations and regressions – putting the whole process at risk.

How you pose and approach the problem you want to solve is of utmost importance. If you do not properly pinpoint the problem from the start, you can be sure that the whole process to address it will be flawed too.

The beginning of a Design Sprint is therefore the most important and most crucial step.

Design Sprints that have identified a clearly-defined and understood problem will be able to use it as the foundation to quickly evolve impressive solutions and prototypes.

Design Sprints that start with a clear effort to clarify the problem or challenge they will be tackling quickly evolve into impressive solutions and prototypes.

While the first day of the Design Sprint is usually spent framing and reframing the problem statement, I believe that defining the problem right from the start is the key to success. You can always revise it and reframe it as needed during the first day, but a solid foundation can make all the difference. Either way, the team should be open to truly understanding the problem and be ready to consider different angles and unconventional approaches.

There are several models and methods available to help you construct a valid problem statement – in general, you should describe the current situation versus the ideal state, and the associated implications for the users involved.

2. Set up the right team

Your team members will lay the foundations for the entire Design Sprint. Ideally, the team will demonstrate diversity in:

  • thoughts,
  • skills,
  • perspectives,
  • expertise
  • and creativity

These qualities will be of great value when combined in a small multidisciplinary team with the right culture: a team that also shares the right mindset and the right work mentality, that is to say a team that’s ready to:

  • share,
  • collaborate,
  • question assumptions,
  • think big,
  • be pragmatic
  • orientate towards a specific goal.

There are a few factors that can pose serious risks to the process:

Poor dynamics within the team, for example:

Members who do not express their ideas for fear of being criticized by older members of the team).

  • A team that’s too large: anything more than 6-7 people is bound to bring additional problems to solve.
  • A bad mentality: if people tend to protect ideas rather than share them, or believe they personally know the right solution from the start.

Team members need to “forget” about seniority, hierarchy and authority. They must be open to new ideas, new perspectives and different points of view. They must also be prepared to influence and be swayed, to minimize prejudice, and to work together to meet a common mission – to find a great solution to a difficult problem.

The choice of physical space is also very important. It will influence the team’s effectiveness in concentrating, expressing new or random thoughts and ideas, collaborating and quickly visualizing concepts. You will need a room with enough space, adequate equipment, and office supplies, like writing walls, whiteboards and, of course, lots of post it notes 🙂

3. Make sure the team is well prepared

Design Sprints are demanding – fast and intense. The key to success is having a well-prepared team. Even if your dream team is made up of your specific subject matter’s experts and business leaders, they all need to go the extra mile to prepare – to fully understand the issue and its larger context, technology, competition and relevant global trends. Be sure to clearly communicate not only the context and the problem to be solved, but also the rules and the importance of preparation before the start of the Design Sprint.

4. Prepare for “rapid prototyping”.

During the prototyping phase, your team will need to quickly produce several prototypes. As a reminder, a prototype is a non-final and incomplete copy of what could be the final object or the final product.

These realistic prototypes are an essential part of the process, as they are used to collect feedback from users and customers. You don’t want your great concept to receive negative feedback because of poor prototype implementation – which could mislead related decisions and undermine the overall value of the Design Sprint. Your team should be able to prototype fast and real – that is, to be capable of creating realistic user experiences in days or less.

Rapid prototyping requires employing the right resources within the team as well as good technological preparation. For example, to speed up the process, you should leverage:

  • reusable software components that are available,
  • standardized data sets,
  • artificial / static data,
  • user interface elements
  • APIs,
  • models and services.

You’ll also need systems, tools, and processes – for example, management, web, software, mobile development environments, and DevOps capabilities.

The availability of special equipment is important. For example, if you are engaging in physical prototyping, a 3D printer can be of great help. If you want to have augmented reality prototypes, you’ll need to have access to the corresponding devices, as well as models, APIs and documentation.

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