What is a design sprint? A 5-day plan for improving products and services

Developed at Google, design sprints are a quick, step-by-step way to evaluate and test products and services prior to launch, while also mitigating risks.

What is a design sprint? A 5-day plan for improving products and services
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What is a design sprint?

Developed by GV, formerly Google Ventures, a design sprint is a five-phase process that employs design thinking to solve problems or answer business questions through design, prototyping and testing with customers. The design sprint process was developed at Google as a way to expand UX culture and design leadership in the organization using traditional UX practice, IDEO, the Stanford dSchool, business strategy and psychology to develop a flexible framework that can adapt to your business’ unique goals and culture.

Traditionally, a sprint takes place over five days, which gives you one day to dedicate to each phase in the process. It’s a fast-moving framework that is meant to get your team the best results as fast as possible. The end goal of a successful design sprint is to improve products and services before they’re deployed.

How do design sprints work?

Design sprints start with a team of around four to seven people, which is the recommended team size according to GV. Teams include a facilitator, designer, decision maker, product manager, engineer and someone from a relevant business unit. The decision maker on the team is often the CEO, especially at smaller companies or startups.

A design sprint is intended to move quickly, lasting just five days, and it’s designed to spur ideas and create learning opportunities without having to build and launch a completed product or service. With a design sprint, you can get fast feedback, improve products and services and find new opportunities throughout the five-day sprint by creating a testable prototype. The prototype will allow your team to get a better sense of how customers and clients will react to the finished product, what needs to be changed and what customers enjoyed about the product or service.

5 phases of a design sprint

Design sprints are broken out into five major phases that take place over the five-day sprint. These phases are intended to help you develop the best team to tackle a project and to guide your business through the design sprint. They also help decision makers choose the best tools and materials, and ensure that the team and environment are best suited to the product or service being developed.

The five phases of a design sprint are meant to take place over the course of five days, starting on Monday. GV even offers structured time tables that you can follow, with step-by-step instructions to guide you through each day, including when to break for lunch.

  • Monday: On the first day of the design sprint, everyone will partake in “structured discussions” that will help you develop a path for the rest of the week. This first phase is where you will map out your challenges, get data and information from relevant business units and narrow in on an “ambitious but manageable piece of the problem that you can solve in one week.”
  • Tuesday: By the second day of your sprint, your team should fully understand the problem and have narrowed in on a target for the sprint. You’ll start by reviewing existing ideas so that your team can improve and build on them using a four-step process that “emphasizes critical thinking over artistry,” according to GV. This is also the step where you’ll want to start recruiting customers to test your product on Friday.
  • Wednesday: By the third day, your team should have an established list of potential solutions for the challenge at hand. That morning, your team will critique each solution and determine which ideas have the best chance of succeeding. At the end of the day your team should be able to create a step-by-step storyboard for your final prototype.
  • Thursday: Creating a protype by Thursday might sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be a working product or service. GV advises that you adopt a “fake it” philosophy by focusing on the customer-facing surface of your product or service. You’ll want to confirm the testing schedule, review your prototype and finish an interview script for the final phase.
  • Friday: On the last day of the sprint, your team will test the prototype on customers you recruited in the second phase. You’ll let them use the product, watch their experience and ask them interview questions at the end. By the end of the testing phase, you’ll have a clear idea of what works, what needs to change and how to make your product or service successful as possible.

Design sprints training and education

If you want to learn more about design sprints, you can get started with Google’s Design Sprints Kit, which is an open-source resource. You’ll get access to self-paced learning material that explains the planning process, methodology overview and additional tools and templates to get your design sprint running.

If you want to take a course to learn more about design sprints, there are several options available including:

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