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Using Design Sprints for rapid innovation

The idea behind a Design Sprint is to compress the time it takes to go from idea to validation for a specific problem to just a few days, rather than weeks or months. A Design Sprint brings together principles of Design Thinking and Agile, in a structured, time-boxing format. Originally designed by Google Ventures, the format of a Design Sprint can be adapted to take between three and five days, with the goal of ideating, designing, and prototyping a solution to a known problem.

Design Sprint

In my experience, a Design Sprint works well once the problem is understood, and the team has clarity on what is the general vision for the product. It can then use the Design Sprint to quickly validate one or more ideas in a short timeframe, get valuable feedback from end users, and then proceed to design the final solution. It shortens the time to validation and provides the team visibility on the key features that customers find valuable.

There are many resources available to learn more how to facilitate Design Sprints, including the Google Venture’s website and a few books written by ex-Googlers. These are all great resources, and they offer details on how to conduct the exercises.

When I started doing Design Sprints, I felt a bit confused by the variety of possible activities, and I wasn’t sure which ones would fit my team’s needs. I found it difficult to have undivided focus and commitment from my team members for an entire workweek, so I chose the compressed format of just four days, leaving the fifth as an optional day to continue refinement on prototypes as needed.

I also found that having a team warm-up exercise at the beginning of each day warms up the brain’s creative juices and creates a stronger sense of team among the participants. Now, I always include a team warm-up exercise.

Over time, I have created my own schedule. This may not work for all situations, but it can be a good starting point if you want to get your feet wet with Design Sprints. The infographic below shows my customized schedule for running Design Sprints over four days, leaving Friday for further refinement of the concepts and additional prototype testing if needed (or just travel time back home for people coming in from different places).


Here are a few things I learned from my experience:

Create a little competition within the team: I learned that splitting the team in two sub-teams when working at prototypes makes the process more fun and generates two alternative sets of ideas that you can rally against each other. Of course, you need to have enough people on your team, but no more than eight to 10 to maintain your sanity.

Warm up at the beginning of each day: Do a creative warm-up exercise to get the mental juices flowing and create a stronger sense of team. For example, see the Spark exercises or a few other ideas in the “Empower your Team” chapter of Deliver Great Products That Customers Love. It’s also useful to do a quick recap of the previous day. I like to have team members take turns at reviewing the work done the day before, so everyone feels more involved.

Keep it all together: It’s better to reserve days back-to-back for the Design Sprint. If you can’t because of scheduling conflicts or travel needs, you can still run an effective Design Sprint over a couple of weeks. The daily review discussed above becomes very important to refresh everyone’s memory.

Prepare: Running a Design Sprint is a fast, high-energy activity for everyone involved, including the facilitator (or “Sprint Master”, as Google defines it). Prepare the schedule of activities you plan on doing each day, and a brief description of how to run each exercise. Print it and have it handy or jot it down on a whiteboard — you will be grateful to have it once you are in the middle of an activity and you need to quickly organize the next one.

Invite you stakeholders ahead of time: Send invites to stakeholders, end users, or customers to test your work and give you feedback. Don’t wait to have the prototypes ready to invite them, instead give them enough notice to be sure they can attend when you need them.

You can download the infographic of a 4-day Design Sprint here.

You can learn more about Design Sprints from the Google team that created them: Google Ventures

The exercises and schedule for these activities are adapted from the book “Design Sprint” by Richard Banfield, C.Todd Lombardo, Trace Wax. O’Reilly, 2016. This book provides details on how to conduct the exercises and additional methods that may fit specific needs.