Why a design sprint is always a good idea
A design sprint is a focused, four or five-day process to quickly gather insights on your users, prototype ideas and validate them. We could entertain you with anecdotes about the benefits of design sprints; but there is solid data to back it up too. According to IBM, design thinking research leads to a 75% reduction in design and delivery time, often reducing an eight-month project to three or four months. Additionally, they have found that the number of defects goes down by 50% with this type of up-front work.
While most documented sprints are for consumer software products, the techniques apply to other products and services. For example, it's a great way to conduct the initial discovery or ideation phase of any project. Sprints are also effective when pivoting or continuing at each gate in a stage-gate project. They're a productive way to gather requirements.
Get user feedback in time
Innovators often quote Henry Ford on his "faster horses" story. The point is that you can't ask people what they want if their solution doesn't exist yet. A design sprint helps you to quickly turn an idea into reality, so you can get customer feedback early. In this way, sprints help build products people will actually like and use.
Have you ever worked on a product that never led to anything? Or that your users just didn’t like? What if you could increase your confidence about the product-market fit? A design sprint helps you do just that.
In a few short days, a design sprint leads your team to the creation of a rapid prototype that you can test with your users and get immediate feedback on. Compare this to the time and effort it takes to build a new feature (or entire product!). With a design sprint, you never have to worry about getting user feedback too late. Get it quickly and make more informed decisions that will lead to greater success down the line.
Alignment of the team and data
One of the many things we love about design sprints is seeing diverse, multitalented teams come together to take on their challenge. It often breaks down boundaries between different parts of organisations and cultivates mutual respect. This starts on the first day of the Sprint, when the team digs into the user insights and research together. By unpacking all of this information as a collective, the entire team suddenly has visibility into the same data points. These insights are important to align the team with a common goal.
Alignment is also encouraged by the small and focused team that works together on a Sprint. During a sprint, you'll find that participants go to eleven all week long and achieve unprecedented progress. This is intensive and straining, but also extremely fulfilling. An experience like this creates bonds between members, like a challenging hike can do.
In our sprints, we try to limit the direct participants to seven. However, when the situation requires it, we involve more team members. Team alignment is important for speeding up development and design post-sprint, as well as improving communication. Everyone will understand the same business goals from the start. An added bonus to all of this is that your team will leave your design sprint more bonded and aligned by a highly meaningful and impactful experience.
Building a culture of innovation
Many companies today are looking for the innovation silver bullet. They want to provide the structure and tools that will allow their teams to discover the next big thing. Design sprints are a great tool to insert into your in-house innovation strategy. They are lightweight and deliver infectious outcomes and they can also boost an intrapreneurial mindset amongst employees.
Many companies are not doing rapid prototyping due to a variety of reasons, even though they know they should. Often, it is because they are stuck in their old ways. They fear the level of effort it may require to adopt these new rituals. When management invests in a design sprint, it sends a clear signal to the team that they have agency to take on these innovative methodologies in their work.
There’s another aspect to how design sprints can foster innovation. They’re an excellent way to identify members of your team who are engaged and forward-thinking and maybe even ready to take on a new challenge or leadership role. And, having gone through the design sprint experience, these people will be equipped to lead one themselves or implement these tools and ways of working in their own projects.
Less risk, more speed & momentum
Think about a recent decision where you lost time and money because you went down a path that wasn’t quite right. With the help of a design sprint, you’re less likely to encounter these scenarios. If the price tags of the potential failures or successes are high, it might be worth experimenting with a sprint. Through the process, some of your assumptions will be validated, others won’t. You’ll know if you need to pivot and in which direction.
All of this means you can save yourself months of design, engineering and development costs. You’ll be able to get your product, idea or feature to market faster because you’ll be focused on the right thing.
A related benefit is that you’ll come out of your sprint with a ton of momentum surrounding your project. You’ll have a clear North Star and a team excited about the idea. You’ll even end the Design Sprint week with a concrete prototype that will serve as a visual spec for your development team. This prototype will help you communicate ideas and allows you to move faster as organisation.
To keep in mind
Design sprints can appear daunting, both in financial and opportunity cost. But what’s the real cost of continuing to do things the old way? Ask yourself some of these questions: What’s the cost if your project is less successful than it could be? Or if you don’t have product-market fit? Or if you build the wrong thing? Considering that design sprints radically reduce risk, orthodoxies and time to market, that they accelerate innovation, increase momentum and team spirit, we believe you can’t afford not to do it.