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The Design Sprint: product development in 5 days

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Startups and, of course, established companies have to continually reinvent themselves, bringing new products to market and thus keeping up with the times. Those who are not innovative and are constantly reinventing themselves will fall by the wayside. If you want to be as fast as Usain Bolt, you can learn a thing or two from big names like Google, especially in the product design area. When it comes to product development, Google uses a specific method, the Google Design Sprint. This allows for a short development process and a fast, result-oriented solution, and all this in a very short time. This article explains how it works in practice, so you too can become a sprint world champion:

Benefits of the Design Sprint: Get to the point faster with the method

The goal of the design sprint is to shorten and condense the entire development process. The principle can be applied to any product development, whether it is an app, software or an offline product. Design sprints are also a great problem solving method for tackling a problem and associated issues and finding a solution within five days. This way unnecessarily long processes can be speeded up and teamwork is more solution-oriented. The focus is clearly on the end result after the five day design sprint, and with that the first prototypes have been created and the costs for the development process have also been significantly reduced.

What exactly is a design sprint?

The design sprint is a method suitable for large projects and large changes, less for small continuous optimizations. Months of testing phases and development cycles are a thing of the past. The hopeless debates and dilution of ideas are history. In the end, the 5-day design sprint produces a product that is practically ready to use and already tested by users. This avoids weeks of expensive development phases. During the design sprint, individual ideas can be brought into the team and monitored and tested for readiness, so the whole team is involved and can play its part.

Preparation: What do you need for a design sprint?

In practice, the process is extremely simple. It is best to prepare the material and the room the week BEFORE the design sprint. All you need is:

  • a large space, such as a conference room, with adequate natural seating and tables
  • Whiteboards and many of them, because everything is recorded on them, flip charts or self-adhesive paper that is attached to the wall can of course also be used
  • Sticky notes such as post-it notes, if possible in one color so that they are not distracting and are large enough (about 10 x 15 cm)
  • Whiteboard markers in different colors or markers that match the material you otherwise use
  • Not too thin black markers / They are used to record the solution sketches and approaches and should therefore be legible.
  • Printer paper for solution sketches
  • Adhesive tape or similar, with which to glue the sketches on paper
  • Sticky dots of two different sizes and about 200 each, because they are used for voting during the design sprint
  • a stopwatch, so you can see the time and, if you want, you can use a second countdown to keep the breaks
  • healthy snacks for breaks to keep your energy level up
  • depending on the product to be developed, possibly a development station to develop the prototype
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How exactly does the design process work in the sprint?

The design sprint is spread over 5 days and thus goes through all important stages of product development in a very short time. This is done through team and user input. The clear structure is designed for the five days and specifies a specific activity for each day. Also, ground rules should be established that support and focus on the creative process. It's important to have a fixed structure for the week, which means working at it from 10am to 5pm every day, with little breaks in the form of breaks and timeboxing, so everyone can stay focused and fresh in their heads. Emails, cell phones, appointments, and other distractions are “no go” during this time. Additionally, the team needs a decision maker who can override the team's vote on results in an emergency. This means that mediocre compromises can be ruled out.

Day 1/Monday: Goal setting

The first day of the Design Sprint is all about understanding. It is important to clearly define the task and challenge so that everyone knows what is at stake and what is important in the coming days. If there are external experts in the team, it is also advisable that the company's philosophy is part of this day and examined in more detail. The goal is to find the goals and therefore the user experience to achieve. At the end of the day, it should be clear to everyone what added value the user has from the product. It can also be an advantage to take a closer look at how past development processes have gone in the company, what has been successful or what needs to be improved to be successful and of course you have to keep an eye on the competition.

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Day 2/Tuesday: Development of various solutions

On Tuesday, and therefore the second stage of the process, possible solutions to the problem or product are developed. In principle, this is a kind of brainstorming center for the day, but the results are not shared directly with the group. Everyone works for themselves first, so there is room for individual ideas and solutions, completely independent of the opinions of the rest of the team. The form of the solution remains open, those who prefer to work graphically can develop here and give free rein to their creativity, others can record their ideas in text form. At the end of the day, the solution should be found and the different ideas should be written down. Sticky notes and printer paper are used here.

Day 3/Wednesday: Selection of the best ideas

The third day has arrived and half of the design sprint is complete. Decisions are made on this day. The ideas and approaches that everyone developed for themselves the day before are now collected and put together on the blackboard. The team decides as a group which ideas are worthwhile and should be pursued further. This is where sticky dots come in, because after the collection of results is complete, everyone can stick dots on the sketch of the ideas they think are feasible and very good. This creates a heat map of the best solution approaches. Another round of sticky dots ensures a focus on some ideas that are really good and which will be further specified in the next step. These can then be summarized, combined or abstracted.

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Day 4/Thursday: Prototype development

The fourth day, and therefore Thursday, is dedicated to the development of prototypes. The prototype that will be created here is already intended for users and not just internally for the project team. Apps, pages, and software are referred to as click dummies, which are primarily meant to provide a blueprint for later usability and ease of use. An inexperienced and unfamiliar user should be able to understand the developed prototype at first glance. The subtleties do not have to be matured or integrated yet, these are the basic properties of the product.

Day 5/Friday: Prototype testing

The last day has come and most of the work is done. The last step involves testing and then checking the vision prototype. External product testers are needed here, who should test the developed product without previous experience. This is an honest first impression of the product and testers should record their experiences and opinions. This feedback then serves as a suggestion for improvement and an incentive for further optimization, provided that the product prototype is convincing in the test. Of course, this is also confirmation of what the team has been working on over the past five days.

In the sprint to design

With these five steps in the space of a working week, the design sprint is completed and thus the product is developed, as well as the resulting fine tuning. The process from idea to user feedback has been extremely compressed and ultimately gives a concrete result that can be further implemented. This method has proven itself in startups, and the book is a good do-it-yourself guide to running your own sprints. The Design Sprint leaves room for many individual ideas and suggestions instead of lengthy discussions and a tedious and perhaps diplomatic brainstorming process. This short but intense development work is completed within a week: on Monday the problem is analyzed and the task is defined, on Tuesday the possible solutions are written down, on Wednesday the decision is made and the ideas are transformed into testable hypotheses , Thursday is the prototype developed and Friday is the real day of human tests. The design sprint allows for measurable results, especially for small groups, and hopefully successes too.

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