What is a design sprint and why are so many corporations using them?

“Design sprints” seem to be popping up everywhere these days.

“Design sprints” seem to be popping up everywhere these days. They’ve become widespread in companies like Airbnb, Uber, KLM, Slack, Amazon… the list goes on and on.

Like many people, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. The short answer?

They’re a great catalyst for quick and lean innovation.

What is a design sprint?

A design sprint can be described as a 5-step system that brings a group of people together to solve complex challenges. The secret sauce? It’s all about testing and prototyping with real end-users.

As described by creator Jake Knapp, it combines:

“The “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavioral science, and more — packaged into a step-by-step process that any team can use.”

There are 4 key factors that make design sprints so powerful:

  • They deliver results in just a few days rather than a few months;
  • They ensure that only the best ideas get developed through a series of ideation, voting, and testing rounds;
  • They keep you from making expensive mistakes through early validation;
  • They leverage different corporate expertise (e.g. CEOs, sales, marketing, engineering, management, etc.) to work together around a common goal.
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Design sprints vs design thinking…what’s the difference?

Lots of people get these terms mixed up, and it’s not surprising! They not only sound the same, they actually have many similarities (e.g. they’re both used to solve complex problems).

Here’s the main difference:

  • Design thinking is a human-centered philosophy or mindset that makes use of different tools to solve business problems.
  • A design sprint is a specific step-by-step system based on design thinking and lean startup principles used to solve problems efficiently and within a specific timeframe through design, prototyping, and testing.

Basically, a design sprint is an efficient way to apply a design thinking approach to a business problem.

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Image credit: Google

Why are the biggest corporations in the world running design sprints?

Design sprints are especially useful in corporate settings where overcoming challenges often requires cross-departmental cooperation. Often times you’ll need to consult with a few different departments and some higher management profiles before anything gets done.

In many cases, it can be so difficult to get different people to sign off on an idea that the whole thing ends up falling apart after months and months of fruitless effort.  

Design sprints cut through all the noise by providing a systemized, structured format for discussion:

  • A fixed set of tasks (e.g. day 1: understand the problem, day 2: ideate, day 3: decide…etc.)
  • A specific timeframe (e.g. 3 to 5 days)  

The immersive experience brings out the best in teams, helping them collaborate, focus and make rapid and tangible progress.

Find out more about how to motivate your team for a design sprint.  

What kind of challenges can I tackle with a design sprint?

1. When you want to start a brand new project

For example:

  • When you’re trying to market a new technology
  • When you’re looking to build a new business model
  • When you’re looking to kickstart a brand new corporate startup or business unit

2. When an ongoing project needs a complete overhaul

For example:

  • When you’re looking to change the target audience for an existing product or service
  • When you’re looking to scale your current business model
  • When you’re looking for new ways to market a product to an existing customer base
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The design sprint: a tool, not a solution.

Design sprints are first and foremost a concept validation tool that reduces risk by providing you with the answers you need before moving forward with your project. It can take you in one of three directions:

  • Your idea is a total hit! Stakeholders and clients alike have reacted positively to it. Now it’s time to turn that concept into a reality.
  • You’ve discovered a few areas for improvement. It’s time to pivot and make some changes to your original concept.
  • You’ve identified some major flaws in your concept. It’s time to scrap the idea completely and move onto new endeavors. Now you know what NOT to do.

In other words, you’ll always end up with solid answers and perhaps even a few new directions for your project. You’re now one step closer to your ultimate goal.

This is a game-changer because it enables you to adapt, iterate or pivot your idea BEFORE you actually invest too much time, resources and effort in a faulty product or strategy. No harm, no foul.  

It all adds up to a winning methodology

Getting your ideas off the ground and turning them into game-changing realities is no easy feat, but design sprints are a great way to kickstart the process and get the momentum you need to go all the way.  Whether you’re looking to build a new startup, market a new technology, or create a new scalable business model, chances are you can customize the process to suit your particular needs.

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