On these pages I’ve talked a lot about Design Thinking and it’s two main characteristics. One, it involves the end user early and often to ensure that what is being created is actually going to be useful. Two, it calls for iteration – not assuming you have the complete picture at the start of a project, but instead seeking feedback on the way to completion.
A design sprint, in contrast, is a regimented method for initiating a project that goes through an entire loop – one whole iteration (although some might argue two iterations – more on this to follow) – of the design thinking process. Crammed into one week, a dedicated and diverse team is charged with taking each step from empathy and definition through to prototyping and testing in an accelerated fashion.
The advantage of this process is that it is entirely scripted. If you follow it, you will get a result that will often be worlds better than flailing about for a similar amount of time without a clear schedule to follow.
One downside of the design sprint is that it assumes that the people on the design sprint team already know the users’ pain points and only seeks to validate with users at the end. It also has a limited amount of iteration. But hey, you have to start somewhere and this is a concrete way to make progress. If the progress is encouraging (and by that I mean useful information emerges – not necessarily coming up with a winning product right away) then further iterations can always be done later.
The design sprint originated in GV (formerly Google Ventures, Alphabet’s venture capital arm) and has been championed by former employee of GV, Jake Knapp. Jake is the author of the book titled “Sprint” and has gone on to simplify the original version of sprint – Sprint 2.0.
The guiding philosophy behind design sprints are distinguished from Lean Startup with this illustration. The design sprint cycle includes the idea and learn steps of the lean startup cycle but omits the build and launch steps.
Instead of going straight to build and launch, in the interest of speed design sprints instead rely on two iterations of design thinking with first one then another higher fidelity prototype with which to solicit user feedback.
So we don’t like Lean Startup now?
With his book “Lean Startup”, author Eric Reiss was reacting to the problem of the day. The era of physical only products was being met with a new era of software products. With software products the marginal cost of production is extremely low. As a result, the cost to replace a defective product is also extremely low. Shipping a product before it is fully tested for reliability or appeal is often the cheapest way to find out if the product is reliable or appealing. And if it isn’t one can easily appease the customer with a replacement version at negligible cost.
Lean Startup and its “just ship it already” ethic was the perfect counter to the reluctance and caution of hardware product culture. Shipping a car or a toaster before its reliability or appeal is known can be financial suicide, but delaying the release of a product in the lightning paced startup world can be equally fatal.
There are gutters on both sides
When bowling, one can gutter to the left, and to the right. The objective is to bowl down the middle.
What Eric Reiss was saying was that companies were bowling down the left too much – showing too much caution.
What GV is reacting to with the design sprint is the fact that companies were beginning to bowl down the right too much and shipping products without any idea if they were reliable or appealing. Design sprints are a compromise between the nebulous process of design thinking and its reliance on potentially countless prototypes, and lean startup’s tendency to ship without any prototypes at all.
It’s about balance. Building and launching are not inconsequential investments. Although the marginal cost of software is practically nil, the original cost to produce a working product is most certainly not. And to launch, to draw the vital attention to a new product in order to get the revenue and feedback so necessary, is itself a costly endeavour in terms of advertising money, marketing exertions, and risk to the company’s reputation and goodwill from the intended customers.
Design Sprint 2.0 – Take Friday off
Let’s look at the Design Sprint 2.0 process. It is a condensed version of the original one described by Jake Knapp in his book, now only taking four days. In the following posts I will detail each day in this version of the sprint.