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The recipe for rapid product design for product managers
A Design Sprint is how you can solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. That is also the subtitle of the groundbreaking book called Sprint. The Design Sprint became popular at Google a few years ago, which is also when Sprint was published.
More recently, I am seeing product managers using Design Sprints in organizations to create new product concepts, resulting in realistic prototypes in five days.
One of the original contributors to the Design Sprint methodology is my guest, John Zeratksy, who co-authored the Sprint book. He was also a guest two years ago, sharing how product managers can make better use of their time, in episode 210.
Not just as a practitioner, but as an original creator of the Design Sprint, John takes us through the 5 phases of a sprint:
- Prototype, and
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[6:28] How did the Design Sprint come about?
While working as a designer at Google Ventures, I was looking for a systematic, structured process to help companies achieve their goals. Around this time I met Jake Knapp, who had been experimenting with a new process for team collaboration called a Design Sprint. We soon decided that the Design Sprint was the repeatable process we needed to bring a team together and help them focus on their problems and opportunities. Jake joined the team at Google Ventures in 2012, and we started running Design Sprints. After a year of tweaking, we arrived at a repeatable recipe based around the five-day structure that is still used today.
Like a startup incubator, we wanted to help startups prove the validity of their business model quickly. Like everyone else, startups struggle to focus their time. Design Sprints help them focus on the core work that makes the product valuable. The Design Sprint is a recipe that gives teams very clear, specific, proven steps to follow when they’re getting started.
[14:01] What is the result of a Design Sprint?
The Design Sprint is all about creating a realistic prototype and testing it with real customers at the end of the week. The prototype is not actually functional, but it looks real. If the prototype is realistic, reactions from customers are very high quality.
[15:42] Can you run a Design Sprint in less than five days?
You can run a great Sprint in four days, but don’t go shorter than that. You can run a similar collaborative working session in less than four days, but it’s not really a Design Sprint. If you’ve never done a Design Sprint before, start with the five-day process because it’s outlined in the book and includes a bit of buffer time. Many companies who are experienced with Design Sprints use the four-day option. If you do the four-day process, you can allow an extra day before the Sprint to allow people to clear their schedules so they can focus for the next four days.
[22:46] How do we prepare for the Design Sprint?
Most important, you must have a big problem or opportunity. Sprints work best when they’re focused on something really important. Gather a team that reflects the real team that’s responsible for solving the problem. Set aside time; in the five-day process, this is a five-day workweek with one big goal per day.
Let’s walk through the Design Sprint recipe:
[24:13] Monday: Map
This is all about problem framing. You create a shared map to get the team on the same page.
We start at the end by considering our longterm goal for the project. We also write down questions, unknowns, assumptions, and things that could trip us up. We interview members of the sprint team or extended team to bring as many perspectives as possible.
We use the pattern Note and Vote throughout the Sprint. On Monday, everyone individually writes down their mental map of how the customer interaction with the product looks. Each person highlights the parts they think are most important and share those parts with the group. We vote on the most important parts. Everyone feels involved in a meaningful way even if their ideas aren’t selected.
[24:48] Tuesday: Sketch
The goal is to generate ideas for what you might build or do to solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity. Individuals work alone to think through ideas. This process tends to generate higher quality ideas than brainstorming.
[25:33] Wednesday: Decide
We decide which sketches are most likely to work. We use a structured critique to make decisions. This is done in a group because while individuals are great at coming up with ideas, groups are great at making decisions.
[26:23] Thursday: Prototype
We usually build multiple prototypes of different approaches to solving the problem. The key to getting the prototype done in one day is focusing only on the facade. The prototype that the customer sees looks real, but it’s not functional.
Exactly what to prototype depends on the questions you’re trying to answer. Physical prototypes are often modifications of existing experiences or products. An app or website may be a series of screens with no function. If you’re not sure what to prototype, prototype the marketing.
[27:23] Friday: Test
We test the prototypes through one-on-one customer interviews and structured note-taking. We get answers to the unknowns we wrote down on Monday.
[44:33] Bonus Question: How do you compare Design Thinking and Design Sprints?
Design Thinking is like the whole world of cooking. The Design Sprint is like a specific recipe that takes elements from the word of Design Thinking and packages them in a proven, repeatable, step-by-step guide. Design Thinking can be overwhelming. You can trust the process of the Design Sprint and focus on the work you’re doing. A Design Sprint has a narrower range of possible outcomes than Design Thinking. Design Thinking may produce a life-changing, spectacular outcome with the right facilitator, but may also not go well. A Design Sprint is reliably a good process.
Action Guide: Put the information John shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- The Design Sprint website
- John’s and Jake Knapp’s Make Time Website
- John’s Previous The Everyday Innovator™ Episode, TEI 210
“The pursuit of innovation starts with an idea about how to solve a problem and what that success might look like.” – Chuck Swoboda
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.