Design Sprints, a proven process to inexpensive idea discovery

My experience working on software teams to design and build solutions tends to focus on the next iteration and not starting from scratch or a blank canvas. I love attending hackathons and the internal developer platform team started an early prototype based on “Startup Weekend” which forced us to finish a prototype in three days. I read the “Design Sprints” book but found it hard to implement without expertise in running workshops and then Covid-19 happened. This is the video version of this same article as a presentation. If you take anything away from this use the alignment work shop to align on the problem and use the four sheet sketch process to iterate on your problem.

Luckily AJ & Smart created a supplemental course focused on remote design sprints using Miro for the workshops. AJ & Smart completed thousands of design sprints and learned that in-person it can be completed in only four days. Remotely they learned it was better to complete over four weeks and combined a design sprint with an iteration sprint which fleshes out the explore idea even more. They compare this with throwing a dart at a dart board in the dark one week and in the light the next week because of user testing feedback.

Original In-Person Format

Design Sprint Original Schedule

The remote version of the sprint is pitched as being done for companies via a consultant and not in-house. If conducting it in-house I think week four can be modified or cut short.

The Miro board template is key for the workshops be sure to prepare and bring energy to those workshops.

Design Sprint Week One

Week 1

Interview the decider and explain that decisions need to be made and attendance in the alignment workshop is required. If a decider is not available at all do not do a design sprint.

On Tuesday of the first week interview all the experts on the challenge. This will help prepare the alignment workshop for describing the high-level user journey map. Prepare your team for the design sprint and kick off the project with the understanding of outcomes and what events are going to occur. When you onboard people onto Miro assume everyone is new and walk them through onboarding exercises of using Miro.

The flow of the alignment workshop is for the attendees to meet with the experts and take notes on what the experts have shared and ask questions for clarification. From there the team will vote on challenges, group them into categories, and vote on what to solve. A great tip provided is focus on anything that is closer to the user in the user journey map to solve. Set a two year goal based on the challenge so that you and the team can brainstorm “Sprint Questions” and avoid any obvious epic failure of trying to solve that challenge. Optionally you can do a lightning demo during the workshop, keep it as homework, or start it during the solution workshop the next week.

Lightning Demo Template

Lightning Demos are great because solutions exist in the marketplace today that might be close to what you will design.

Design Sprint Week Two

Week 2

This week starts off with a workshop to define the solution to prototype and validate with testers by the end of the week. The solution workshop is composed of voting on the lightning demos with unlimited votes to create a heat map. From there a straw poll to present the most interesting demos in 2 minutes. Then the four part sketch exercise with the first three exercises done as a group. Taking notes, doodling solutions, crazy 8s (folded paper with 8 frames to sketch ideas) and finally the solution sketch of one of those 8 solutions. At the end of the workshop everyone will have a fully sketched out user journey flow to share in the decision workshop.

The facilitator will collect the sketches via email and post in the Miro board in the concept gallery. Everyone will review the different concepts together and a heat map exercise will be conducted again. Then a straw poll for the strongest concepts along with the decider making the choice for which version to invest time in. The next exercise is a user test flow where everyone will present for two minutes on the six high level steps that will validate the idea. Everyone will vote on which user test flow is the strongest and from there an artist will be nominated to draw out the wireframe visually of what needs to occur.

The rest of the week is spent on the prototype and user testing. One day on the high fidelity prototype to 1 and 1 half day on user testing. Seek your users out early and find backups so you are not scrambling.

Design Sprint Week Three

Week 3

This week starts with the Iteration Workshop and AJ & Smart use a metaphor that describes the contrast between a design and iteration sprint. A design sprint is like throwing a dart at a dart board in a dark room. An iteration sprint is throwing that dart in a lighted room. We have user feedback and now we can essentially rinse and repeat parts of earlier workshops to refine our prototype.

Iteration Workshop:

  • Review Prototype with the group and take notes
  • Sailboat exercise with voting on challenges to iterate on in the week
  • Vote on three questions to answer to achieve the two year goal
  • Repeat four part sketch exercise

Afterwards, recruit users, spend two days on the prototype and spend the rest of the time on user testing. Optionally prepare for the “Handover Workshop” which serves as a ceremony to return people to their regular day to day work they are used to.

Design Sprint Week Four

Week 4

This week is focused on preparing the team to reflect on what they completed and to set the stage for the future on how to continue to solve problems related to the challenge. In the workshop the team will do another sailboat exercise and reflect on the process. From there based on the challenges raised the team will vote and then take notes on open questions related to those topics.

From then on the rest of the workshop is focused on prioritizing solutions based on the impact / effort matrix. Then mapping that those low effort high impact solutions onto a roadmap timeline. Lastly the team orders that backlog and the tangible next steps are listed.

For in-house efforts you might consider how helpful the design of the final report will be for sponsors. As a consultant it is highly valuable. Internally the benefit is modelling, documenting, and sharing a process that works.

Wrap Up

The design sprint in combination with the iteration sprint is a foolproof process to discovery, align, prototype and validate an idea quickly. Add it to your toolbox, try it out, and share it if you find it provides value to your team and your next project.