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15 September
9 min read

What is design sprint and why run it for your company?

Everything you should know about design sprints
by Elizabeth KukushevaMarketing Manager at Lucky Duck

What is design sprint?

The Design Sprint is a process for solving critical business challenges in days. It has a specific structure and activities that allow the participants to define the problem, map the way to success, create a prototype solution, and test it.

The process saves time, helps provide essential user feedback early on in the product lifecycle, and has been proven useful for different types of businesses. It allows you to compress months into days and evaluates your ideas. Finally, Design Sprints give you the chance to take a glance into the future of your product and injects critical thinking in the ideation process and run tests before committing your whole budget.

To get started, gather a small team and clear their calendars for a few days. Which team members will participate depends on the type of problem you are trying to solve. That said, a few subject matter experts, as well as a decision-maker (founder, CEO, project manager, etc.), should take part in it.

The design sprint process

At Lucky Duck, we usually run a design sprint for four days, which is the standard timeframe set out by Google Ventures. However, if we face a more complex challenge, the whole process can take up to two weeks.

Here is a short agenda:

  • Day 1: Define - Set a goal and map the way to it.

  • Day 2: Choose - Suggest possible solutions and choose the best one.

  • Day 3: Build - Create a realistic prototype.

  • Day 4: Test - Test it with target customers.

The recommended number of people to take part in the activities is seven (coincidently the magic number). The reason this size limit works well is that this way everyone gets the opportunity to share their valuable ideas, without making the process boring and time-consuming.

Usually, a team should include the following roles:

  • Decider. The leading figure that I told you about earlier. They are the ones that have the authority to make the final decision when the group struggles to choose between a few options.

  • Design expert. They provide insight into any user experience and visual design challenges.

  • Developer. Provides technical expertise and advice on the feasibility of the proposed product features.

  • Facilitator. That's a very vital role. The facilitator is responsible for the flow of the process. She explains the activities, keeps the time, monitors the progress of the team, and ensures everybody participates.

However, depending on the subject matter, other team members can join in.

Everyone involved should clear their schedules for 4 full days. This is an effective way of eliminating any distractions and making sure that people take part are fully dedicated to the project. Even cell phones are not allowed in the room during the activities.

Another important aspect is to make sure the participants feel comfortable during the activities. That said, you need to prepare a room and get some essential supplies. As a digital agency, we are blessed with a beautiful office in Leeds where our sessions take place.

If you work with people around the globe, you can run a remote design sprint, which is quite popular nowadays. In that case, you don't really need a physical space, but the organization phase is still essential.

Here are some of the supplies you need to prepare:

  • Whiteboards. Ideally, you have a whiteboard in the meeting room where the sprint will take place. However, as sometimes this commodity is not available, we use magic whiteboard sheets that stick to the walls via static superpowers.

  • Sticky notes. Can’t stress this enough. You will need a lot of those.

  • Markers. A combination of Sharpies and a few whiteboard markers usually does the job. Some people prefer pencils.

  • Coffee and snacks. Its gonna be a long couple of days so these are essential for keeping the morale up.

  • Time timer We use a big white clock that rings an annoying tune when the timer runs out. It's nice to keep track of time and prevent segments from spilling over too much.

Monday

If you have decided to run a design sprint for your company, you already have some idea of what you are trying to achieve. However, in many cases, there are many challenges, obstacles, and unknowns in the way of your goal. That's why Monday is all about understanding the problem. Here is a list of the exercises we do on the first day.

Introductions. The whole room does a short round of introductions, and we explain the process and the agenda for the sprint to all the participants.

Expert Interviews. We discuss the key objectives of the project based on the views of the stakeholders involved. It’s vital to have a clear understanding of where you want your project to be in the broader future. In this exercise, we define the long term goal by tying it with performance and time metrics. Ideally, this information fits in one sentence that sounds good and would make perfect sense to a person outside of the room.

User Journey Mapping. We plan the customer journey, taking into consideration all the entry points and paths available.

Lightning demos. During lunch, everyone has a little homework to do. Everyone conducts a little research and provides good examples of existing projects from the real world that may be relevant to our objectives. Or it might just be something you remember seeing and found interesting.

Solution Sketching. A set of exercises that aims to develop ideas visually. These are not focused around drawing amazing pictures but rather rough wireframes of possible solutions. Everyone takes part in the intense sketching session. Every participant must work alone without help from others.

Art Gallery. We then hang our sketches on the wall where we can all compare and judge the viability of the solutions. Call it a night and go to the pub to celebrate a successful day.

Solution sketching

Tuesday

Solution Presentation. A person is chosen to present all of the solutions including their own. They must do their best to interpret what they see and explain it understandably. They get help from the creator of the sketch only if they are struggling.

Straw Poll Vote. Participants vote on areas of the sketches that they like by using sticky red dots and thus creating clusters. This way, it's really easy to see what parts of the solutions make sense to everyone. These clusters are then presented by the Facilitator, and a short open discussion is held where everyone explains why they voted the way they did. Afterward, another set of votes take place. This time participants get one green dot each to place on the best solution. The votes are then counted.

Decider Vote. Based on the green dot votes, the person who fills the decider vote has to come forward and choose the best solution. Nine times out of ten it will be the winning sketch.

Storyboarding. We can now turn the sketches into a more viable storyboard of the user experience journey. The best way to do it is to focus on a single user goal and roughly draft all the screens necessary. There are two ways to approach this task, we either split the table into small teams of two or three, responsible for different parts of the storyboard. The option is to assign a Draughtsman who then sketches the whole storyboard under the guidance of the rest of the participants.

And with this, we end the workshop part of the design sprint.

Wednesday

The next step of the process is left to the designers. They translate the storyboard into digital wireframes that are connected and can be previewed on multiple devices. This interactive prototype will be the blueprint for product development. This task usually takes the entirety of the day.

It's essential to make the digital experience as exhaustive as possible while keeping everything in low fidelity. These wireframes will be used to conduct user testing sessions and have the potential to expose a lot of issues users may face when using the product.

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Thursday

On this day we get the prototype out to real people. We watch them closely and take notes.

You can read more about the user testing process in this article.

The tests will give us vital feedback which can be addressed when building the product on a full scale. We provide a comprehensive report of our findings and end the design sprint.

From here, the choice is yours. We can keep working on your solution and turn it into the real thing, or you can take this in-house. Regardless of what you choose, you get our support along the way.

Final thoughts

The design sprint is based on the principles of design thinking. It aims to shorten the process from idea to a working prototype. That said, the methods can be used not only for digital products but for a lot of different companies. The size of the business does not matter as well. When the problem is more significant, it's even more relevant to do it.

Although this way of evaluating an idea is different than the traditional, more time-consuming approach, the design sprint is not a new method. Google, Lego, and Slack are just some of the companies which have run sprints in the past and shared their great results.

We hope that this article threw some light on the design sprint process. If you still have any questions or need additional help, don't hesitate to speak to us.

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