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How to Run a Successful Product Design Sprint

The key to success in today’s increasingly competitive business environment is making your company as agile and flexible as possible, and spotting opportunities and pain points in the market and reacting to them before your rivals. But how do you achieve that, especially as your business grows?

An increasing list of companies are leveraging the power of Product Design Sprints to solve complex business problems – creating new products, improving their existing offerings, and testing out new ideas.  

Developed by Google Ventures, design sprints adopt a user-centric approach which condenses months worth of work into just five days. Each stage has a different focus and allows multidisciplinary teams to go through research, discovery, ideation, prototyping, and testing ideas with stakeholders and clients.

The results speak for themselves. At Netguru, our Product Design Sprint methodology played a key role in helping us grow by 644% in three years, and allowed Volkswagen to achieve some impressive sales numbers when they opened their new concept store.

Our clients have seen multiple benefits of Product Design Sprints, including exceptionally time- and capital-efficient solutions to complex problems, an increase in collaboration and stakeholder engagement within the organization, plus the lower risk of taking pre-validated products to market.

Elements of a good design sprint

After years of experience and time spent honing our Product Design Sprint methodology, we have found that there are certain elements that greatly affect the success or failure of a sprint. When conducting a design sprint, you will need to take into account the aspects discussed below.

Define the problem well

Before the sprint starts, it is critical to spend time refining the problem statement and ensuring that everyone is on board and in agreement. Distil exactly what the purpose of the sprint is and what change you want to achieve. The aim here is to form a hypothesis, and the Product Design Sprint will then validate it or prove it wrong.

A clearly defined problem statement provides clarity and focus to the team, whereas failing to define the problem well results in time wasted on unnecessary discussions and backtracking, which can undermine the whole process.

Identify the key stakeholders

A multidisciplinary team is essential for a mix of perspectives, skills, and subject matter expertise. Prior to the start of a sprint, identify five to eight people who will form your core team and must be present for the duration of the sprint. Ideally, you are looking to cover:

  • Knowledge – domain experts,

  • Ideation – creative problem solvers,

  • Decisions – someone with the authority to give the go-ahead,

  • Skills – this is often provided by the Netguru team.

Additionally, you may want to include other stakeholders, who do not need to be involved throughout, but whose perspectives may provide a more balanced view of the problem and emerging solutions.  

Prepare an agenda but be flexible

For each phase of the sprint, set an agenda that precisely schedules and timeboxes the methods and activities to be completed plus breaks and objectives for the day. Then be prepared to scrap it completely after the workshop starts.

This flexibility allows for the sprint to change gears and go in unexpected directions. The only part of the agenda that should remain fixed is the design sprint phases.

Involve the project’s key stakeholders

Scheduling quality interviews with your target users or the stakeholders whose input is needed can take time, so start arranging these several weeks in advance. Securing time with the key people plays a crucial role in having the necessary feedback to validate ideas and make the right decisions at the end of a Product Design Sprint.

Assess the organization’s capacity to absorb the solution

Before the sprint starts, take a snapshot of the organization and its readiness to accept change and manage the product that the team is working on. Buy-in from senior management is essential to ensure that the sprint isn’t a wasted exercise.

Draw up a stakeholder map and check that key decision makers are prepared to allocate the resources needed to follow through on the project. A communications plan will be a valuable asset in engaging key people throughout the sprint and beyond. Ultimately, the sprint’s outcome is only a tool in the hands of a business, so it is important to be clear on what you want to achieve and how you will deliver value.

Stay focused

The variety and diversity of ideas that emerge throughout the brainstorming phase of the sprint can be a breath of fresh air and generate some exciting opportunities but it is important that you don’t diverge too far from the task at hand. Be prepared to note interesting ideas down and park them for future consideration, only focusing on those that bring you closer to resolving the main challenge of the workshop.

Create the right environment

Cultivate a safe space in the room, where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas, even those that might seem crazy. A team building activity at the start of the sprint is useful to put everyone at ease and on an equal footing.

It is also important to create a positive environment for participants who have had to travel to attend the sprint, leaving their office duties and families behind. Ensure that they have adequate time to reconnect with their families and to check in with work and email so that they can clear their minds and focus on the workshop fully.

Conclude with a comprehensive report

At the end of the sprint, the client should have a prototype of a solution, but this is just the beginning. In the weeks that follow a Product Design Sprint, we provide clients with a range of resources, including insightful user personas with a value flow, correctly targeted market opportunity, a project roadmap, user journey maps, and predefined tasks for each phase to move the project forward. On top of that, clients should also be provided with project milestones, a design and development estimation, and the associated costs.

Wrapping up

Product Design Sprint is a hugely powerful tool for providing simple answers to complex strategic questions, in an exceptionally time- and capital-efficient way. A sprint can be ideal for further consulting and development on a new product idea or identifying pain points, in order to improve an existing product or service. Although not a panacea, if you have a big, high-level problem where a solution is not apparent, a design sprint may just be the perfect way to tackle it and identify the roadmap of possible solutions.

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