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Intro To Design Sprints: The Process Behind Legendary Products

May 24, 2016

What’s the top reason that products fail? It’s not uninspiring marketing, a tough economy, or faulty engineering: It’s poor product-market fit. For most failed products, the reality is that target users never wanted the gadget that the company assumed they did.

Fortunately, there’s an easy safeguard, and it’s one that top-dog technology companies use before building many of their most successful products: the design sprint. Facebook, for instance, recently used the design sprint method to examine assumptions behind its foray into chatbots. Uber, for its part, wanted to figure out why families weren’t biting on its service. Its new Uber Friends & Family feature is a direct result of a fruitful design sprint.

The design sprint was pioneered by GV’s Jake Knapp, who recently published his methods in “Sprint,” a book about how nearly any design challenge can be solved in a week through rapid prototyping and user testing. So when Yeti first read Knapp’s blog posts detailing his design sprint methodology, we couldn’t wait to try it: The sprint felt like a natural, obvious evolution of our design processes. Design sprints aren’t just a Silicon Valley fad, though: They’re the latest innovation in problem-solving that modern companies are using to move from frustration to solution, catalyzing the creation of products that customers truly want.

What Happens Before a Sprint?

At Yeti, the groundwork for a design sprint is simple but incredibly important: It begins with defining the client’s vision. Simon Sinek’s speech “Start With Why” offers an excellent approach to this. The client's “why” focuses everything that follows it: Why are we building this? Why should we believe in the idea? Why will users want it?

Establishing the client’s “why” prior to the design sprint is just a starting point, though. We dive deeper, ensuring our clients have clear business goals, understand the competition, and pick a metric by which to measure success. Most important, we strive to understand who their customers will be. This is crucial to the fifth day of the sprint, during which we test a working prototype with real users.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry: We host workshop sessions to prepare each client for the sprint. In the workshop, we help them define their vision and procure the knowledge needed to make the sprint effective. We also offer in-person consultation and preparatory surveys for clients who might already know the problem, their target customer, and their measurement for success. Once we’ve obtained all the necessary information, then we ask clients to pack their bags — or we pack ours — and join us for five fun-filled days of product workshops, prototyping, and testing.

The 5 Stages of the Design Sprint

We conduct design sprints across five days and in five stages: 

1. Understand

The first day is all about getting everyone on the same page and choosing a target challenge for the sprint. This is when the product owner rallies everyone around his or her idea. We encourage domain experts to speak on more technical topics associated with the challenge or product, and we check out competitors’ solutions. We also coordinate with product testers for day five. Choosing a target is a big commitment, so we leave it to the product owner to define what assumptions he or she wants to validate and test.

2. Diverge

On day two, we consider solutions to the challenge from every direction. This phase requires participation from the whole team, as we want a host of different perspectives to ensure no solution is left undiscovered. It can be a little intimidating for non-designers, but we’re collaborative and supportive, encouraging even the most hesitant product owners to put their ideas to paper. You never know who’s going to come up with the winning solution, so we don’t discard even the craziest ideas at this stage.

3. Converge

On the third day, we decide which ideas are feasible and make sense to prototype on day four. By this stage, we often have multiple promising solutions in front of us, so it can be tough to narrow the field to the ideas which will be most valuable to prototype. Because we can’t test everything, we let the product owner decide which ideas we should move forward to prototype and test.

4. Prototype

Day four is always exciting: It’s the day we turn ideas into reality (or even virtual reality, such as Tiny Eye, Yeti’s take on VR seek-and- find). Once we’ve defined the challenge and chosen the most promising route through which to solve it, our team gets to work on building a prototype. While this isn’t a particularly busy day for the product owner, it’s an intensive day for our designers and developers. The whole Yeti team pitches in to build out the product owner’s vision, and we begin readying our testing space.

5. Test

The final day comes down to the users. We conduct five tests in one-hour blocks over the course of the day, during which a facilitator interviews users while the rest of the team observes remotely. We listen intently, scribbling furiously to capture the day’s insights and share them with the client.

Design sprints can end a few different ways, all of which are helpful: If the test is a smashing success, then we’ve validated the idea, and the heavier lifting can begin. If some elements of the prototype work but others don’t, then we know which ideas are valid and which need more testing. If an idea was a total bust among users, then we return to the drawing board with valuable knowledge: The design sprint is one of the most efficient ways to discover that we’re focusing on the wrong problem or that we’ve identified the wrong market for the idea.

Whatever the outcome of a design sprint, we pride ourselves on helping the client take a giant leap toward their next great product. This five-day methodology saves companies from months of product design headaches and — best of all — untold thousands in product development. Regardless of what product your company is building, let Yeti accelerate the process through a design sprint.

For more best practices on running design sprints, check out our recent post on 10 Tips for Successful Design Sprints.

is a Yeti Alum. He takes pictures of people on couches, paints unflattering portraits of his coworkers, and gets excited about the future of human computer interaction. Follow Geoff on Twitter.

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