Design Sprints: From Idea to Prototype in a Week - Mura Digital Experience Platform
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Design Sprints: From Idea to Prototype in a Week

November 14, 2018

What if, instead of spending months sitting in meetings and going back and forth between departments and stakeholders, you could plan and prototype an innovative solution, develop a killer team, and design a long-term strategy in just five days?

Sound too good to be true? It's not. It's called a design sprint and it's one of the core strategies we employ at Blueriver to help eliminate distraction and create clear goals for critical UX projects.

A design sprint is a focused, five-day process to quickly gather insights on your users, prototype ideas and validate them. 

When it comes to developing a new idea, a lot of traditional approaches for building products just won't cut it. When you have an idea, you need to learn, really quickly, whether or not to invest time in it. But how do you do that? To solve this, a team at Google Ventures (GV) created a shortcut to the full-circle design process - a design sprint. The idea is to shortcut the Idea-Build-Launch-Learn circle, going through the Idea-Learn stages only.

"We tended to fall back on a traditional design process," Blueriver UX Director Matt Stuart said in a recent presentation. "How we worked was very linear. It involved a lot of meetings. So it became very inefficient and slow for us. It wasn't really the desirable way to do it but we accepted it."

When you have an idea, you need to learn, really quickly, whether or not to invest time in it. But how do you do that?

So when Stuart first heard about design sprints, he knew they had to try it. That's because design sprints can help companies cut the time it takes to create new products from months down to days. In fact, according to research by IBM, design thinking, including design sprints,  can lead to as much as a 75% reduction in design and development time and those companies utilizing it are getting to market twice as fast as without. Additionally, they have found that the number of defects goes down by 50% with this type of up-front work.

"When you boil UX down," Stuart says, "it's all about taking an idea and then putting it as quickly as possible in front of somebody else so that you can test and validate it and then learn for that information and then go back and remix it, change it, make it better. Figure out what it is that works and what doesn't work."

Benefits of a Design Sprint

  1. Collaborative - Team members and stakeholders work together on solving a problem, and this allows a deeper understanding of each other's work.
  2. Decisive - You work through a divergent thinking process to a convergent thinking process. You have a viable idea on day three that you're ready to validate by day five.
  3. Verified Results - You get feedback on new product ideas before building anything.
  4. Efficient - You compress months of work into a few days of focus and productivity.

Design Sprints are prescriptive - like a cookbook which tells you what you should do and in what order. Each activity should be finished during the given amount of time, and you should be able to go from original idea to tested prototype in just five days.

Design Sprint Schedule

Day 0 - Set the Stage
Before the sprint begins, you'll need to have the right challenge and the right team. Choose seven people or fewer with diverse skillsets and roles and pick a Facilitator who will manage your time and the overall process. You'll also need to a Decider, to make decisions stick. Then plan a time and book a space to conduct your sprint research beforehand while preparing a sprint brief. 

Day 1 - Understand
During Day 1, you try to get clarity on the business goals, the problem that you're solving, and the user needs. The goal is to create a shared vision for the team to help them understand what they're working towards.    

"We start by examining our goal, which is really a preliminary discussion, to get them thinking as we start to move into the next steps," Stuart says. 

"Don't go too broad, you have to focus in on a specific thing. If you're working on a large, complex problem, try to break it apart into multiple sprints."

You then start by working backward and setting the overarching goal and mapping out what that user experience might look like to get there. Then, before you can even start to build anything, you need to hear from the experts. During these lightning talks, everyone should come together to share their expert knowledge and opinions in 10-20 minutes. 

"I think when people come together, put away their devices, not think about anything else and focus on something, it changes the dynamics of how people work together," Stuart says.

During these lightning talks, team members should be taking notes and coming up with several "How Might We" - a technique developed by Procter & Gamble to capture pain points brought up by the experts and rephrase them into questions to create a framework. 

Next, take all the HMW's, put them on the whiteboard and categorize them. Then the team votes on what's important. "This helps you come up with a list of priorities and order them from most important to least important," Stuart says. This list of prioritized challenges will later become your success metrics. 

Finally, once you have the HMW's organized, pick a target for the sprint and create a new user experience map based of this target. 

Day 2 - Sketch
Day 2 is all about solutions. During this day, each team member will sketch out solutions to move from an abstract idea to something concrete that everyone can evaluate. 

Team members split off and do research on comparable solutions because sometimes the best solutions already exist and just need to be repurposed. During this phase, team members should research how businesses in a different industry solved similar problems. "This gives you a jumping point for whatever problem you're solving," Stuart says.

Try to use real content whenever you can - you'll need it when building the prototype.

This culminates with a Solution Sketch, where each participant creates a short storyboard with their best idea. Stuart breaks sketching down into four basic steps:

Notes - walk the room and review ideas from the day before, then gather your thoughts.
Ideas - give form to your thoughts and zero in on your best ideas.
Crazy 8's - rapidly sketch your best ideas. Each team member takes an idea that most excites them and rapidly sketches eight variations.
Solution - present your best idea to be voted on.

Day 3 - Decide
On Day 3, you agree on what exactly you will prototype. Start by displaying and critiquing the sketches from Day 2, and then discuss, critique and vote on a final solution. Then you will create a storyboard which can be used to create the prototype.

Decision process:
Art Museum - put everything from the Sketching phase up on the wall.
Heat Map - everyone marks which ideas are the best ideas
Speed Critique - set a timer for 3 minutes then the team calls out standout ideas
Straw Poll - each team member gives one super vote with 10 minutes to think about it
Storyboard - the winning idea gets carefully storyboarded in greater detail. A storyboard is a 15 frame-by-frame plan for your prototype

Day 4 - Prototype 
During Day 4 you will create an actual prototype that you're going to test with real users. 

Steps for building a prototype:
Pick the tools
Balsamiq: Low-fi wireframes
Sketch: Hi-fi designs
Roles - divide and conquer the work
Maker - creates the screens for our prototype (2 or more people)
Stitcher - puts the parts together making sure they fit (1 person)
Writer - puts the collected parts from the makers together (1-2 people)
Collector - gathers any assets that may be needed (1 person)
Stitch it together
Test during a trial run

Day 5 - Test
During Day 5, you test your prototype with real live users. Meet with at least 5 users, show them your product, gauge their reactions and interview them after. Then, make adjustments to your prototype based on these discoveries. 

Design sprints are being widely adopted beyond Google Ventures, and with good reason. When organizations approach them in the right way, they have the potential to be very beneficial. But when you boil it down, all the best sprints have a few things in common. 

"You have to have users there, you have to have people there that have the information. If they're not there on day one, you're not going to get the info you need to solve the problem," Stuart says. 

"Don't go too broad, you have to focus in on a specific thing," Stuart says. "If you're working on a large, complex problem, try to break it apart into multiple sprints."

Also be sure to remove any devices from the room. You won't have much time during the sprint, so it shouldn't be wasted reading news or checking emails.

Psychological Safety
Everyone in the room has to feel good and feel like their opinion counts.

Real Content
Try to use real content whenever you can - you'll need it when building the prototype.

Excessive Whiteboard Space
You can never have too much. Wall-mounted are best, but rolling whiteboards are good, too.

At Blueriver, we've had great success using design sprints to get both to the heart of the problem and the solution. It might feel a little awkward at first, but practice makes perfect, and fluency breeds comfort, not to mention efficiency of the process itself.

A great example of this is LEGO. In an effort to "radically reinvent the way they worked", LEGO implemented design sprints at scale, ramping their team up over a couple of months, and then proceeded to run 150 design sprints over 12 months.

If you'd like to bypass the traditional process of meeting after meeting and iteration after iteration with the hopes of an eventual launch, and get to minimal loveable product sooner, design sprints might just be the ticket.

Interested in having Blueriver run a design sprint for your team?

Get in Touch


More from Matt Stuart and Blueriver

Do you find that every project embarked upon crawls along at a snail's pace?

What if there was a better way?

In this free on-demand presentation, learn how the Blueriver UX team uses Design Sprints to put their creative flow and productivity in overdrive. Quickly glean project requirements, design and build realistic prototypes and validate solutions in a single week!