10 Million Dollar Product Design Sprints (and the Process)

1sw one step away |  Small Business Tips |What is a design sprint? Originally developed at Google, a design sprint is a 5-day process that allows you to quickly design, prototype, and test ideas.

What do Facebook, Apple, Google, and Coca-Cola all have in common? Besides being some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies, they’ve also put some terrible, terrible products to market. (And this is coming from me, a former Googler. I still got love for Google though.)

I’m talking about the Facebook phone (which was discounted to $0.99 just to get rid of them). The Apple Newton (an iPad, only 15+ years too early). Google Jaiku (a terrible Twitter competitor). And, of course, who can forget New Coke?

Can you imagine the time, effort, and money that went into those products, only to have them flop? Sure, a company like Apple can afford a bad seed once in a while (their quarter-trillion dollar emergency fund protects them from such bad ideas).

But what about you?

If, like most of us, your livelihood depends on making good decisions about what to spend your limited resources on, you can’t waste time and money on the wrong ideas.

That’s why design sprints are so amazing.

Design sprints allow you to prototype and validate potential products, services, and processes in under a week. This means you have real, concrete evidence you’re going down the right path before spending millions of dollars and thousands of working hours.

In fact, today, pretty much every major company from LinkedIn to Lufthansa airlines use design sprints to make sure they’re building the right products.

In this post, we’re going to run you through the basics of running a design sprint, look at some potential use cases, and then dive into the stories of 10 companies that used design sprints to prototype and test multi-million dollar products.

What is a design sprint?

A design sprint is a 5-day (or less) process that allows you to quickly design, prototype, and test business ideas. They can be used to make digital and physical products, new service offerings, or simply update your company processes.

Developed by Jake Knapp and the team at GV (the venture capital investment arm of Google), a properly led design sprint combines business strategy, behavioral science, design thinking, and rapid prototyping into a powerful shortcut for answering your biggest question: What should we make?

At the end of your 5-day sprint, you’ll decide on a blueprint for your project, create and test a prototype, and get feedback from real users. Think of it like product development on steroids. By doing a design sprint, you’re essentially compressing months of designing, building, launching, and iterating into a few short days.

And if this sounds a bit extreme, just remember this: Researchers have found that we’re more likely to be creative, innovative, and productive when our resources are limited.

10 Design Sprints and the Process That Launched Million Dollar Products
(via Tham Khai Meng on Twitter)


Who runs a design sprint?

A design sprint isn’t a solo activity. You need a team of at least 4 (ideally 6 and no more than 8) people from across disciplines. This last part is essential. The goal of a design sprint is to test ideas and having people from across departments makes sure you’re not falling into any unconscious biases.

To facilitate the design sprint, you also need two people to play very specific roles:

  • The Design Sprint Facilitator: A sprint facilitator is someone who has experience running design sprints (like the team at Sprintwell). The facilitator is in charge of keeping the sprint on track and making sure everyone is doing the right exercises. They focus on making sure your team works efficiently together and is aligned towards a common goal. The facilitator makes or breaks your design sprint, which is why it’s always a better idea to bring in an experienced one rather than have someone combine roles.
  • The Decider: This is the person who ultimately has final say when the team is stuck. When you’re moving quickly, decision deadlock can kill your design sprint. Having a dedicated decider makes sure this won’t happen. You should pick this person on the first day of the design sprint.

Along with the right people in the room, you also need the right supplies. That means lots of whiteboard space, yellow 3×5 sticky notes, markers (black, green, and red), paper and pens for sketching, small and large dot stickers (in different colors), and timers to keep you on track.

What happens on each day of a Design Sprint?

Each day of the design sprint is dedicated to an important piece of the process that needs to be completed in order to keep things moving. It’s a tight timeframe, so you should probably ban devices in the room to prevent unwanted distractions.

While your facilitator might adapt the exact structure depending on your business needs (e.g. we run 2-day, 3-day, and 4-day sprints for teams), here’s a quick rundown of the original design sprint process developed by the GV team:

Monday: Understand the challenge and map the current state

As its name implies, there are no slow days during your design sprint. And Monday is no exception. In my experience, your first day together is the most critical day of your sprint as it sets the tone for the rest of the week and answers some critical questions:

  • Why the heck are we in this room together? (i.e. what’s the challenge we’re tackling?)
  • What is our long-term goal with this sprint?
  • What could go wrong (or right)?
  • What does the current state of the user journey look like?
  • What are competitors doing?

You’ll also bring in 3-5 experts to give additional insight, identify blind spots, hone your perspective, and help you focus on the most important aspect of your challenge. All these discussions are highly structured so at the end of the day you’ll have a clear map of what you’re working toward, why it’s important, and who it’s for.

As a quick side note, don’t underestimate the value of talking to experts. When we ran a design sprint with Indigo Agriculture, an interview with an expert agronomist on Day 1 revealed a critical insight that helped the team avoid building the wrong set of features into their existing platform – saving them tons of wasted time and money in the long-run.

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About Maida
She is Zipsite's all around Zipsiter. Only clocks out when she can barely stand. She sings, bakes, and tries so hard to be fit. But don't judge, she can literally strong arm you no problem. She's currently involved with eCorp, Contrib and VNOC, besides being a Brazilian Jiu Jit Su practitioner.

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