How to Master Your Next Design Sprint
At a startup, time is your enemy. When your goal is to hit targets and grow as fast as possible, you don’t have time to build the wrong product.
Enter the design sprint. Developed by GV, this five-day design framework gives teams an expedited way to validate ideas and address big challenges. We asked Omidyar Network’s Ha Nguyen to share the best practices she’s learned from running design sprints for Omidyar’s portfolio companies and other tech organizations during her 15+ years leading product management at consumer internet companies.
Why a design sprint?
A design sprint helps your team come up with good ideas fast. It’s an efficient way to brainstorm, identify promising ideas, and find the right way forward.
“Teams will often tell me that the sprint is an amazing process that brings teams together that may not always work together,” Ha says, “and we all come together to solve an important problem.”
Beyond cross-functional collaboration, sprints make it easy to get buy-in around new ideas. They encourage innovation within what Ha identifies as “a structured process that focuses teams and builds momentum.” And at the end of the day, design sprints can be transformational to organizational culture — helping teams become more collaborative, be more customer centric, increase cycles, and be more lean.
How the sprint works
The sprint typically happens during a single workweek (example above), and includes four steps:
Step 1: Pre-Sprint Prep
Before your begin your sprint, you’ll want to identify the big, hairy problem you’re going to tackle, the right team to address it, and what prep work needs to be done. You’ll also need a facilitator to manage the sprint process. Then, it’s time to recruit and prep the sprint team.
Ha recommends having the following people involved: the product manager, engineer, designer, the CEO or business owner, marketing or sales lead, and a customer support or customer success lead. You’ll also need to identify the decision-maker — the person who’ll make the final decision on which solution to validate with customers.
Once these key people have been selected, find a large conference room with whiteboards and gather supplies like those shown above.
Step 2: Sprint Kick-off & Understand/Define
Start with an overview of the sprint so everyone knows why they’re there and what to expect. Interview experts such as the CEO and a customer expert to get a sense of goals from the company and customer perspectives. Reframe the problems voiced during the interviews as opportunities, and use Sharpies and sticky notes to take notes and formulate solutions in the form of “How Might We.” Then, group the How Might We notes by themes, as seen in the photo below:
Step 3: Ideate & Decide
The next step is a series of design-thinking exercises to ideate and sketch out ideas. Here’s a process Ha uses in her sprints:
- Crazy 8s: Each person folds a sheet of paper into eight frames and sketches a variation of one of their best ideas in each frame (one minute per sketch).
- Art museum: Everyone tapes their sketches on the walls, art-gallery style.
- Heat map: Each sprint participant walks around the room and silently reviews the sketches, placing sticky dots next to the ideas that they like.
- Speed critique: The group speed-critiques the ideas, discussing the ideas with the most heat before choosing a solution to move forward with.
Step 4: Validate Solution
Finally, it’s time to build a prototype of the chosen solution to share with customers. Ha recommends scheduling five to seven customer interviews to observe customers interacting with your prototype. From there, you’ll know whether your solution is successfully validated — in which case it’s time to move to the development phase — or if you need to go back to the drawing board (or even just make a few tweaks).
Want to learn more about the specifics of running a design sprint, and dive into a real-world example from one of Ha’s past sprints? Check out her full presentation for more tips on how to make your next design sprint your best yet.