The Design Sprint process can prove beneficial for any team looking to solve a problem, design a new product or service, or validate a new idea or business offering.
The beauty of the Design Sprint is that it’s a way of thinking — a framework for how to approach a problem systematically. This framework can be applied to a variety of endeavors. We have conducted Design Sprints focused on exploring everything from technology and product/service opportunities (perhaps one of the most common use cases), to logos and marketing ideas, to company and product naming.
Design Sprints in Startup Environments
If you’ve heard of a Design Sprint before, it’s most likely in the context of a startup. After all, the framework was created by a team at Google Ventures specifically to help their portfolio companies explore ideas and opportunities to move faster. For startup teams, the Sprint process can prove invaluable for a number of reasons…
Traditionally, startups are strapped for cash (especially at an early stage) and are aiming to move quickly. This nimbleness is part of what sets a startup apart from the incumbents in their market, providing a distinct advantage and a means to achieve first-mover advantage or create industry-wide disruption. The Design Sprint enables this nimbleness and helps teams avoid long periods of technology engineering work as a means of discovery. In the past, an idea would be ironed out and then a team would build some or all of the proposed solution before they could gain reactions from a target market to determine if they’re moving towards product/market fit. The proliferation of the Lean Startup methodology helped to streamline this cycle by forcing teams to focus on the “Minimum Viable Product” first and foremost.
However, even under a Lean methodology, a team still has to build a working MVP in order to gain valuable feedback and reactions from their target market. The Design Sprint shortcuts this step even further by forcing a team to focus narrowly on the highest value opportunity and then defining a solution for that opportunity. Once that narrow focus and solution have been defined, the team then creates a just enough prototype that can be tested with members of their target market to gain nearly immediate feedback. Building this just enough prototype typically takes a day (or perhaps two if you’re aiming for higher fidelity) instead of weeks to build an actual MVP. (Hence the “sprint” aspect of a Design Sprint.)
One or two cycles of prototype and testing can prove invaluable in helping a team further define the requirements of an MVP by gaining real-world feedback from potential users. By basing the MVP build on these insights, a team can approach their engineering work with greater confidence that they’re on the right track, and minimize the feature and scope creep that may be required to create real value for customers. Spending a little bit of your team’s time in the Design Sprint phase, can pay dividends on the other end!
Design Sprints in Corporate Environments
After seeing (some) startups thrive due in part to their nimble, disruptive natures, we’re consistently asked by members of larger business organizations how they can replicate these startup traits while also capitalizing on their wealth of data and resources. The simple answer is that this type of systemic shift in thinking requires buy-in from across the organization. There are, however, methodologies (including the Design Sprint) that individual teams can implement in a corporate environment. We have seen great success implementing Design Sprints to help corporate teams think entrepreneurially and move fast. By quickly gathering concrete feedback from real-world users, the outcome of the Sprint process can provide corporate stakeholders with the demonstrable evidence necessary to champion their ideas within a large organization.
The Design Sprint is a repeatable process for exploration and innovation that makes the problem → solution → validation cycle understandable, actionable, and repeatable.
Traditionally, a corporate environment includes multiple layers of stakeholders who are each invested in a new opportunity or product for different reasons — some that benefit the organization and some that benefit the individual. We believe that arming stakeholders at each level with clearly communicable information, a tightly defined process, and actionable results can streamline the steps necessary to breed innovative, nimble thinking in an organization that generally operates within tighter, goal-oriented structures. As an added bonus, Design Sprints are a fun disruption to the everyday interactions that take place in a corporate environment, bringing together stakeholders from across the organization to interact and contribute in a manner that’s different from what they’re used to. And don’t underestimate the value of being the team in the fishbowl conference room that looks like you’re disrupting the norm — people will take note.
Ready to go?
Now that we’ve extolled the virtues of a process in which we are firm believers and advocates, we also want to reiterate that the Design Sprint framework is simply a means to an end. Apollo 21 is not a “Design Sprint agency” — we are an entrepreneurial collective focused on exploring new ideas and building new ventures. Our mission is to support the creation of new ventures by removing barriers to entry, enabling teams to execute quickly. The process outlined above is just one way that we accomplish this mission.
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