How to Run an Effective 5 Day Design Sprint
Last year, our Product Strategy and Design Team leveled up by adding >10x value for our clients within the first 5 days of engagement. This article explains the process that makes it possible.
Developed at Google Ventures by Jake Knapp, the Design Sprint is a 5-day collaborative process that is proven to accelerate the time to achieve meaningful insights and solutions to big product challenges.
Design Sprints have become a critical tool in decision making for the world’s most beloved products like Slack, Nest, and Medium. Blue Label Labs now kicks off most start-up and enterprise projects with an intense and immersive Design Sprint week. The result is the delivery of exponential value to our clients from day one and onward throughout the product life cycle. In this article, we explain the process so that you can decide if your company can use a similar boost.
We conduct in-person (we flew to Saudi Arabia to conduct one recently!) and remote Design Sprints, so no matter where you are in the world you can benefit from participating in one with us. Our facilitators set everything up and guide the entire process, so you and your team just need to show up.
What is a Design Sprint?
A Design Sprint is a focused effort that takes place over the course of a work week that identifies problems an a product can solve – this becomes the basis for a prototype developed and tested for the product’s intended audience. Design Sprints quickly turn problem-focused ideas into tangible, digital solutions.
How to Run a Design Sprint in a Week
Over the course of 5 days, the team moves from identifying a high-value problem to solve (a.k.a The Sprint Challenge), to ideating, planning, prototyping, and testing the team’s best solutions to that problem.
Day 1 of the Design Sprint – Monday (Understand)
After introductions and some pleasantries, we dive right in with expert interviews. Sometimes the experts are from your team (and can even be you!) and sometimes they are subject matter experts you’ve never heard from before. The facilitator runs the team through Design Sprint’s specific methods to help leverage insights in a new, more effective and focused way. It’s a knowledge-gathering morning that helps everyone on the Design Sprint team start the week with a deep and shared understanding of the most important problem the product can work to solve.
The outcome from the interviews sets the stage for a day of setting the company’s long term goals, strategic planning, and analysis that takes the form of engaging and collaborative exercises. Everyone’s unique skill sets and perspectives are put into play. By the end of Monday, the team has a clear understanding of the biggest challenge to tackle together for the duration of the Sprint.
Day 2 of the Design Sprint – Tuesday (Diverge)
When the team gathers Tuesday morning, everyone has a grasp of the Sprint Challenge. So, we implement two important Design Thinking methods to get solutions out of our heads and on to paper. This allows everyone to review their diverse ideas together.
The first method is to get inspired to create. Everyone on the team presents real-world designs that they believe can inform the product decisions they are going to implement and test. It’s essentially a show-and-tell of each participant’s favorite product design solutions. This often gets people so excited about possible ways to approach the Sprint Challenge, so it’s a good thing the afternoon is spent putting all those inspired ideas into sketches!
The rest of the day is spent on the second major Design Thinking method: Ideation Sketching. With piles of paper and fresh black felt-tip pens at the ready, our facilitator guides the team through timeboxed sketching exercises. This is one of the Design Sprint’s most rewarding sessions, as it’s when everyone learns that anyone can sketch out their ideas and be innovative and creative!
Day 3 of the Design Sprint – Wednesday (Decide)
Wednesday involves a whole lot of decision making. The team collectively reviews all of the prolific output from Tuesday’s sketching exercises and achieves consensus on which ideas they believe will provide the best solutions to the Sprint Challenge. This process of separating the winning solutions from all the rest takes up the first half of the day.
After lunch, the team decides whether the winning ideas can be tested as one prototype or if they’ll need to pit & test competing ideas in what Jake Knapp calls “A Rumble”. In that case, two prototypes will need to be planned.
Each prototype is mapped out in the form of a storyboard consisting of 8-9 screens. The goal is to make realistic prototypes containing the winning ideas to present to users on Friday.
Day 4 the Design Sprint – Thursday (Prototype)
Wednesday’s storyboard needs to come to life, and that is what Thursday is all about.
Building a prototype. As there is only one day to create the prototype(s), the team works lock-step and swiftly. The goal is to lay the contents of the storyboard out as realistically as possible using tools for wireframing, mockup and prototyping. There is no need to code anything during the Sprint!
Different roles will be assigned to the team:
Makers – responsible for designing the interface. These are the UX/UI designers on the Sprint team.
Stitcher – responsible for connecting the screens produced by the Makers if necessary, and who for helping coordinate the team efforts of the day.
Writer – responsible for writing the copy to be used in the prototype screens.
Asset Collector – responsible for the managerial-esque role of securing resources to assist the Makers and ensuring everything is well-organized for other roles.
Interviewer – responsible for crafting interview questions and making final preparations for the prototype testing.
Day 5 of the Design Sprint – Friday (Validate)
This allows the team to learn whether actual user feedback aligns with their consensus or not.
The final day is spent testing and learning from the test group interviews. This valuable feedback can be leveraged in future product planning to improve the UX, = layout, functionality, content, and overall approach of the solution.
Ideally, a screen-sharing application that can record the entirety of a user’s interaction with the prototype should be used to capture as much as possible – such as being able to track where a user is tapping (or clicking).
Even with recording, it’s necessary to capture every reaction to the prototype. As the interviewer is busy engaging the testers, the rest of the team captures the feedback in real-time. If the solution is 100% effective, there’s a huge win, and the team has nailed it!
More frequently there are some problems with the solution and those captured nuggets of feedback inform how to achieve a better approach moving forward. It can inform the need to pivot, tweak, or refine the solution’s strategy. It is this feedback that delivers the greatest value. Having the ability to stress-test the team’s biggest assumptions within a week time-frame prevents companies from moving forward full-hog in development without validating the solution. This means saving money, time, and allowing the team to gain a shared knowledge of what works, what doesn’t, and why.
At the end of the Design Sprint, we reflect, celebrate, and enjoy a fabulous dinner. What we accomplished as a team by being driven and focused on providing users with the best way to solve one of their biggest problems results is shared epiphanies, a deep appreciation for the Design Sprint process, and (often), some whole-hearted hugs.
Design Sprints We’ve Done at Blue Label Labs
We’ve created some stellar products over the years, thanks largely in part to the Design Sprint process. Below we summarize a few of our most successful projects.
RentLion. Starting in 2018, the people from RentLion approached us about starting their project. It seemed like a simple project but of course, many ideas often do. We ironed out the details during the Design Sprint and in about six months, we were able to launch their feature-packed platform that provides a portal for renters and landlords.
MagicMoney. When the people from MagicMoney approached us, it was clear that they had a unique problem to solve: they wanted a secure solution using virtual currency for their intended audience. During the Design Sprint, we identified the obstacles and ended up with a solution that involved RFID bracelets that would allow the buyer’s customers to interface with POS endpoints. The backend system securely retains information which further solved problems older systems often experience, namely issues with auditing as well as theft and fraud.
Hailify. The people from Hailify had a unique idea that involved augmenting the power of rideshare apps for drivers that use work for multiple rideshare service providers like Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via. We determined that we figured out ways to interface with each system to consolidate information from each app into a central location, making it much easier for the drivers. We developed a non-invasive application that safely and quickly pushes and pulls information between various systems, allowing drivers to be more efficient and net more money each shift.
Design Sprints: Final Thoughts
The Design Sprint is a proven method of building the bedrock of an app by asking questions, identifying problems, building a prototype, then gaining feedback. This 5-day process enables developers, designers, and clientele to quickly spool up to build a phenomenal product in a short time frame. In one short week of focused activity, you’re able to quickly see an idea come to life and prepare for the bigger task of bringing an app to the market.