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What is a design sprint and should you be running them?

What is a design sprint and should you be running them?

Design sprints. Everybody’s doing them. When run correctly, they are amazing for de-risking business cases ensuring concepts are desirable to customers, technically feasible viable for the business. They help you kill non-valuable ideas early to reduce wastage and poor investment decisions.

A Design Sprint can reduce the time taken to qualify opportunities and find answers to tough problems.

Again, qualifying it with “run correctly”, they can also gain the most value possible from people’s limited time and probably, most critically, identify the most important place to focus effort and align project teams.

Design sprints are best suited as a method when you have a difficult challenge and the solution is unknown.

They offer a way to quickly assemble diverse talent and knowledge to tackle complicated business challenges. You may want to take a divergent approach to explore what might be possible or need to explore the problem as much as the solution.

You might have a complex challenge with lots of variables and influencing factors or know that the solution will require diverse input and thinking. All of these are scenarios where a Design Sprint can be hugely valuable. But you must also be committed to implementing new and creative concepts after the sprint and if the challenge is multi-faceted, multiple sprints can be stitched together focussing on one focused question per sprint.

Design sprints ARE NOT just doing design quicker. They are a very specific methodology to unpack a problem space and come up with as many divergent concepts as possible, testing them with customers & SMEs to know what to focus effects on.

Do not use a Design Sprint if you know what you need to do next and are just looking to speed things up or if you are uncertain of what your design challenge is, or have multiple challenges.

If you lack the resources or capability to act on the outputs of the sprint, have a simple problem with several clear solutions. Or have already started down the development path then a Design Sprint is the wrong choice and will not yield the value you’re after.

So what is a Design Sprint?

It’s a condensed five-day design process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, testing and iterating with customers and business stakeholders. A sprint will usually contain:

  • Short, focused problem exploration and solution definition exercise
  • Be a completely facilitated activity.
  • Five (5) days of effort
  • Rapidly ideation to solve identified problem spaces
  • Create and test lean prototypes with customers and partners in early stages
  • Applies business strategy, innovation, behavioural science, design thinking, and more.

Why would you use a Design Sprint?

Sprints bring together cross-business teams to arrive at tangible results much faster than what we do today.

Done right, you can compress months of work into one week and work in a more cost-effective way. Did we mention risk? Yes! You can de-risk new products by gathering clear data from a realistic prototype and you can assemble all relevant experts and decision makers to ensure alignment across Business.

Who should use a Design Sprint?

They are for anyone who has a complex challenge and the solution is unknown. They are for anyone with a big opportunity, problem or idea who needs answers today. They are for you if you need a way to jump in and make a start, accelerate current progress or reframe a project that’s stuck.

There are several keys to success with Design Sprints:

  • You must have executive sponsorship and access to SMEs, key decisions makers and stakeholders at key points during the sprint to make time-critical decisions and provide timely feedback.
  • You have to get the focus right — not all problems can be solved in the one Sprint so prioritise well and commit to what matters. You’ll need a committed core team, that can dedicate 100% their time and energy to the sprint.
  • You also need representation from business areas and domain knowledge is important. A diversity of thought is important — ‘Friendly Challengers’ can help a team maintain momentum. Make sure you have a dedicated Sprint environment, materials, tools, equipment.
Above all, don’t be afraid to fail or pivot.

Sprints have moments of doubt and the team and their management need to be okay with this. If you’re well prepared you will absolutely gain the most value out of a sprint and ensure everything can run smoothly.

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