The Product Design Sprint
product-design-sprint
The Product Design Sprint is a fast-paced, collaborative process for conceiving and testing new product ideas. An established company or startup might see an emerging opportunity around a customer need, or they might already have a specific new product or feature they are considering. A Design Sprint is the perfect tool for rapidly exploring, imagining and evaluating a solution approach without having to first build and launch a product or feature. The process starts with a basic understanding of the problem space and progresses through ideation, refinement, prototyping and testing with real users in an accelerated time period - often in only one week. The result is a shared understanding of what works and what doesn’t around a new product idea, so that a team can make an informed decision if and how to move forward with real evidence in hand.

The Design Sprint was formally introduced in 2012 by the internal design team at Google Ventures. They were trying to bring user-centered design to their portfolio companies, but simply didn’t have the resources to embed themselves on every team. In contrast, the product teams are hungry to get going and are accustomed to a “build first, learn later” mindset, even when early efforts to resolve key uncertainties could save time and effort in the long run. The Design Sprint is a hybrid solution - introduce a structured approach that blends Design Thinking and Lean Startup approaches inside an extremely short period of time, so that benefits of user-centered design and assumptions testing could quickly be seen and experienced.

The Design Sprint is structured around five distinct steps, often scheduled as one step per day.

Understand

The team pulls together everything they know about the user and their needs, the market, competitors and other inspirational adjacent products. All this is put into the context of the business strategy driving the sprint effort. The team then identifies a core challenge to tackle for the remainder of the sprint.

Diverge

In this stage, many potential approaches to the core challenge are imagined. Solutions are envisioned, discussed and refined. From this diversity of ideas emerges a rough scope of effort and various elements that the team can get excited about potentially moving forward.

Decide

Here, a core decision is made on exactly what to prototype and test in the remaining time left. Is there a single idea that is worth investigating or are there competing solutions that should be pitted against each other? Are there particular aspects of an idea that should be validated or should this be a broader test for the mere existence of customer value? Decisions are made on which solution to be built out, on the scope and fidelity of the prototype and on the core questions to be investigated.

Prototype

Designers now go heads-down and create a prototype to validate a hypothesis or resolve a critical question with users. Often this is a representation of the product (or some subset) to put in front of real users or potential customers. In tandem, a test plan is developed to ensure that the eventual user interaction yields the right kind of results and the key questions are addressed.

Test

The final phase of the sprint has the team interacting directly with real users outside of the company in a structured test to see what does and does not work with the proposed solution approach. This is beyond a simple usability test, and is instead designed to answer important questions about customer value and other product unknowns.