Technology is advancing at a breakneck speed, competition is as fierce as ever, and customers are demanding better experiences to secure their loyalty.
Companies know that they need to become more agile and stay in tune with their markets to get ahead, but how are successful organizations doing this? For many, the answer is a Product Design Sprint.
What is Product Design Sprint?
In a nutshell, a Product Design Sprint is a workshop that allows businesses to reduce the risk associated with bringing a new product or feature to market, and to answer complex business questions within a very short time.
Based on the Google Design Sprint methodology, the sprint’s goal is accomplished through a workshop that is usually held over five days, and covers ideation, design, prototyping, and testing – all with a user-centered focus. Google’s sprint method is one of many ways of tackling this, but any solid sprint business plan will include mapping out the time and methodologies.
How long is a product sprint?
This approach allows design sprints to condense months’ worth of work into a single week and minimize the risk of failure, using up only a fraction of the resources it would have used otherwise.
The benefits of running a Product Design Sprint
Running a Product Design Sprint can bring many benefits to your business:
Simple solutions. The collaborative and highly focused nature of Product Design Sprints means that a range of ideas are generated and assessed. Some of these may create exciting opportunities not previously thought of. PDS is a proven approach to simplifying complex problems.
Speed. Designed to be short and agile, design sprints cut through the bureaucracy and slow processes often found in larger organizations. Agile sprint planning can pay off with a faster result.
Reduced risk. Design sprints allow you to develop ideas fast but also to fail fast. Testing ideas with users before investing in development significantly reduces the risk of releasing an unsuccessful product or service to the market.
User-centered design. One of the key pillars of Product Design Sprint is that team members are required to put users at the forefront of everything they do. This involves listening, fostering trust, and building products from a user’s perspective.
The process of Product Design Sprint
A Product Design Sprint is usually held over five days, with each day corresponding to a different phase of solving the given problem.
Having said that, after many years of refining our Product Design Sprint methodology, we found out that it is crucial to stay flexible. When you’re planning a sprint, you usually set an agenda. Be prepared to scrap it once the workshop starts – only the design sprint phases should remain fixed. A sprint planning meeting shouldn’t take priority as the way the work rolls out could be radically different.
Sprint product development is an agile development process, with lots of stops and diversions along the way. But the experience is usually worth it.
Throughout the workshop, you will gain a deeper understanding of your business needs and ideas, and identify and prevalidate viable solutions. Further sprint meetings are where the team’s design and development skills make the critical difference in building a great product.
The following part of this article covers the approach, goals, methods and tools that are used during each phase of the workshop.
Phase 1: Understand
The focus of the first phase is to understand the business problem and create a roadmap for the week ahead. Start by gathering insights on user needs and business goals, and assess your technological capabilities. You can then set your long-term goals, which will help keep everyone aligned as the project moves forward, and establish the main goal to be addressed during the sprint.
The aim of this phase is to find out what skills are available, align on the product idea, and gain a deeper understanding of the client, users, the business background of the product, and the market.
Selected methods and tools:
Product vision. The product vision should be carefully crafted and understood by the team so that it can provide direction and focus for every aspect of the project as it progresses.
User personas. Create fictional characters that represent target users. This helps to achieve a better understanding of their needs, pain points, and goals.
Stakeholder mapping. The purpose of every project is to satisfy key stakeholders, such as clients or partners. It is important to identify who has the biggest influence on the project’s success, and what their expectations are. Going forward, acting in the best interests of these stakeholders should guide everything that you do.
Remote sprint or in-person work. The nature of your team will also be important for the collaboration plan. While remote design and collaboration strategies can be successful, the manner of collaboration and time availability of everyone will be important to discuss.
Example of a stakeholder map:
Phase 2: Diverging
The aim of the second phase is to generate and explore as many ideas as possible. You can start by reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of existing solutions, then move on to developing new insights and solutions. Through individual analyses and brainstorming, many ideas will emerge, which will later be evaluated and tested.
The focus of this phase is brainstorming, ideating features, and discussing user flows and journeys.
Selected methods and project tools:
Service blueprint. Developing a service blueprint gives you valuable context by mapping user needs and pain points across the customer journey, coupled with user touchpoints. In addition, front- and back-office people and systems can be overlaid, allowing you to examine each idea against its place within the business, and against the needs of the user. Mapping the existing product or service this way allows for very conscious and purposeful design choices to be made.
User/Customer journey mapping. Building a user journey map is a great way to see how users currently interact with a product or service, and how they could interact with it in the future. Understanding the key tasks that users have to accomplish makes it possible to identify what functional elements will make completing those tasks possible, helping spot any weaknesses in the product.
User journey maps are perfect for analysing customer experience holistically – mapping user experience through multiple channels. They are also a great workshop technique for finding users’ pain points, and making strategic decisions.
Example of user journey mapping:
Phase 3: Converge
By now, you should have plenty of ideas to work with. The goal of phase three is to identify the best options as a team, critique them against the overall goal, and decide which one will go forward to be prototyped.
In this phase, you will focus on structuring and outlining the system architecture.
Selected methods and tools:
User story mapping. Using post-it notes, map the user journey horizontally screen-by-screen, aiming to follow the longest possible path to identify all possible screens. Vertically, try to define sections of the particular views that should be included.
Phase 4: Prototype
On the fourth day, you will develop a prototype that can be tested with users. The key is to build something in just one day, so it needs to be as low-fi as possible, while allowing you to get the answers you need.
Based on your user stories, create a paper prototype or use Keynote, Balsamiq, Sketch, Figma, or whatever tool you’re familiar with. If you opt for a paper prototype, try using POP to bring it to life.
Before you start, everyone on the team should be clear on what their roles are. Typically, designers build the prototype, unless it’s so low-fi that everyone can contribute – as in, for example, a paper or Keynote prototype.
What does the product owner do during a sprint?
Product owners usually assume the responsibility for loading the prototype with realistic information, data, and copy. They take a leadership role with the scrum sprint planning, enabling team collaboration and ensuring a consistent path to the end product.
There are many scrum tools that can synthesize this process. The Monday app, for example, helps track time and keep teams organized with the principles of the scrum model. Also consider Hive, Jira, or other tools to keep sprint tracking smooth.
By the end of this phase, you should have a working prototype, which will allow you to visualize the product idea.
Selected methods and tools:
Storyboarding. Laying out the full user journey through your product not only plays a critical role in taking your concept from a rough draft to a testable prototype, but it is also important in getting agreement from everyone as to what should be included in the prototype.
Paper prototyping. A low-fi prototype allows you to visualize your idea quickly and cheaply.
Digital prototyping. Building an interactive prototype with a tool such as Sketch or Invision allows you to test more realistic interactions quickly and easily.
In this ‘moment of truth’, as GV (formerly Google Ventures) describes it, you will receive direct feedback from users, which will allow you to validate your ideas before you invest in designing and developing the product. Developing sound design thinking will facilitate a process of continually refining the ideas and visions through to the end.
At this stage, the goal is to validate your idea by testing the prototype with users.
Selected methods and tools:
Lean testing with real users. Recruit around five real users based on the target user personas that you identified on day one. Record the sessions so that the sprint team can gain immediate feedback. Test your prototype based on a set of questions or tasks that you ask the user to perform, and observe how they interact with the product to identify any ergonomic issues or pain points.
At this stage, the product will not be perfect, but testing it this way will help you identify most of the areas for further improvement, and to collect valuable information on how usable, useful, and desirable the product is.
Once the sprint is over, the client will have a much better understanding of their users’ problems, plus a host of ideas on how to solve them.
At Netguru, we leave every client with a detailed report on the workshop, including digitized versions of all materials and canvases, and a functional lo-fi prototype of some of the user stories.
We also make suggestions as to which direction the client should take the product in.
If a client then proceeds to build their product with us, we provide a comprehensive project roadmap, which breaks down the project into phases, along with predefined tasks for each phase, so that developers can get to work.
Bringing everything together
Product Design Sprint is a hugely powerful tool for increasing your organization’s agility while finding simple solutions to complex business questions. An agile sprint can bring creative solutions to customers quickly.
The key to success in design sprints lies in aligning stakeholder expectations with the goals of the sprint at an early stage, and not losing sight of these throughout the process. Adopting a collaborative, user-centered approach is crucial, as is selecting the right management tools and methods to get the most out of each day.
Design sprints can be done face-to-face or remotely. The best practice will depend on the nature of your team and what practices will be a best fit. If it’s remote, staying connected and setting aside time for collaborative conversations can keep everyone working together smoothly.
After many years of experience working with our Product Design Sprint methodology, we have seen that when carried out successfully, design sprints allow companies to reduce the risk of failure in a new or existing product development, and to condense months’ worth of work into just a few days.