Design Sprints: Tools and Methods

12 Min Read • Mar 4, 2021

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Erika Kramarik

Full-Stack Marketer

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If you’re a product manager in a large organisation, you’re probably familiar with the one-two-three dance of planning, designing, and developing products. The challenges you face are of a different nature than those of a scrappy startup, even if you would like to move faster – you probably can’t break quite as many things. After all, your day-to-day reality involves a lot more complexity to navigate and more internal barriers to negotiate around.

Yet you’re still dealing with questions that every business out there has to answer:

  • How can you keep learning from your audience?
  • How can you innovate at an accelerated pace?
  • How can you make sure you invest in the right things? And how do you do that without spending months designing business cases and confirming that you chose the right approach?

Perhaps this sounds familiar because it happens so often

You’re probably stuck in spreadsheets and data charts from MixPanel (or the data analytics tool of your choice). You have meetings where no one agrees on which feature set should be prioritised. Your inbox is full of questions from the design lead, tech lead, and growth lead, who would all love to align and prioritise.

Decision paralysis can easily set in. No matter what you try, you can’t break out of it as months pass by. Design and code debts keep piling on, namely they’re the elephant in the room during every meeting and every call.

Does this sound familiar? Then you might want to get your team into a Design Sprint mode.

Wait! What is a Design Sprint?

If you google the phrase “design sprint”, you’ll find as many ways to do it as you’ll find agencies and senior designers.

Originally, Google Ventures developed the design sprint method to support startups in their ideation, prototyping, and decision-making processes. After all, nobody enjoys having decision paralysis, and when you’re burning money, the dislike for it grows tenfold. Today, you can use this hands-on innovation experience in your organisation and reap the benefits in the short and long term.

However, the process is easy to mess up, and it’s not a fix for all problems. This is exactly why we decided to build our very own design sprint process, to make sure the specific needs of each partner client are taken care of.

We’ve worked with many fast-moving startups, as well as larger corporates, and this mixed experience is what we bring to the table when approaching a new partner client.

This way, our partner clients get the best of both worlds: “a fail fast” attitude, and a profound understanding that a data-driven approach and incremental development mean something different for established businesses with a complex stakeholder landscape, compared to a seed startup whose main goal is to reach product-market fit.

With that in mind, here’s what to expect from a Tapptitude Design Sprint.

Our approach is simple: no partner client deserves a rigid process box, so we tailor the sprint to your needs.

The basics of a design sprint: tools and methods

A design sprint is a 4-day workshop in which the key decision-makers on your product team are involved in the process. They usually decide beforehand if they’re going to iterate on a new or existing product or build a complementary one for a different audience.

There are several advantages to putting your team in the design sprint mode, here’s a quick overview of some of them:

  • It brings a range of time-poor people with a set of interdisciplinary skills together in a (virtual) room to solve complex problems in a short amount of time.
  • It focuses everyone around human-centric thinking. You collectively make decisions based on the people who actually use your product (and pay your bills 😉 )
  • It allows your team to get away from the day-to-day humdrum of completing tasks and gets them into a “considerate exploring” mode instead. This means more room for creativity and innovative thinking across the board

These advantages collectively lead to a huge reduction in risk, even before you hit the product development stage, which is where the high volume material and resource costs sit. Decisions are now made based on data, research, and the audience’s pain points, so they are less likely to be warped by each department’s KPIs (and good levels of buy-in have been created along the way!). A design sprint allows you to have that counterbalance to business goals as you are continuously considering the audience goals.

What does a design sprint mean in practice?

If you’re thinking this sounds like great fun, you are right.

Are you also thinking that it sounds a bit too straightforward, namely it can’t be this easy?

Well, you’re right about that, too.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a design sprint, both before and during the workshop. That’s why you’ll find many organisations choose to bring in an outside facilitator, like Tapptitude, to run the whole show. Not in the least because someone neutral in the room can ask questions and challenge assumptions in a different way than that colleague you run into at the watercooler (or on Zoom) every day.

This is how we usually run a design sprint for a team that reaches out to us.

Stage 1: Prepare the sprint

Collect Research:

Prepare your Design Sprint by collecting data and user research. While it’s true that you and your team are experienced with your product and audience, human memory is fickle and tends to bring forward negative trends and events. Double-checking your own assumptions with real data allows you to talk and debate on a balanced diet of qualitative and quantitative data. And if you’re not exactly sure what kind of research you should do, we’ll be happy to guide you in this process.

  • Get buy-in for the Design Sprint: make sure you have the right people in the room. You will be setting goals and making important decisions. Not sure who those people are? Here’s a good rule of thumb: if they’ll be asking you after the sprint: “why did you make this decision without including me, this affects my goals/KPIs” in one form or another, you should try to include them (or someone from that team). If you make sure you have the right buy-in levels for the process (and its outcomes) from the start, you’re setting yourself up for success.
  • Line up users for the prototype testing: you’ll be building a prototype in the design sprint that you’ll want to show to real, actual humans. To avoid the whole awkwardness of ‘who are we going to test this with?’, make clear decisions about:
    • What type of user you want to run the usability test with (you’ll need basic screeners to help with this process)
    • Whether you want to test on existing users (if you’re prototyping a new part of an existing product), or a completely new user set, or a mix – and why.

If you don’t have the bandwidth to do the above, we can help you make these decisions (in case of new users), and point you in the direction of some recruitment options you have.

Stage 2: Design Sprint week

Day 1: Investigate and generate ideas

You’ll be working as a group with various workshopping techniques to generate ideas here. Quantity is more important than quality here, and you may feel a little like particles ping-ponging through ether. This part is also called ‘diverge’ in the wider design thinking philosophy.

Day 2: Creating the user journey and paper prototypes

This is the day when the nitty-gritty of team-alignment happens and where you narrow down your options from all the ideation you did the day before. In other words, your team will be converging.

You’ll jump into creating the user’s journey and what exact screens they will see in the prototype. And, most importantly, you’ll agree upon the why! You will need a digital whiteboard and the equivalent of post-its, sharpies and stickers if you’re organising the sprint remotely. If you’re one of the lucky teams who get to do this live, use the pen and paper versions!

Day 3: Creating the digital prototype

This is where your designers work together to create a digital prototype in one day. If you haven’t got designers to ‘borrow’ for your sprint, we can help. And yes, you read that right, you’re going to make a prototype in one day (!). We’re not here to make a shiny, pretty, high-fidelity power machine, we’re here to make a quick and dirty prototype so you can learn fast. This will save you from spending money on ‘prettifying’ things before you’re even sure that it’s the right solution for your users. This prototype is created in programmes like Sketch or Figma, but if your design team has additional in-house tools, you’ll find us to be fast learners.

Day 4: User testing day

This is where you find the golden nuggets!

Take the prototype out in the real world to test it! Show it to users who are already using your core product, or potential users you’ve shortlisted in preparation for the design sprint.

It’s very important that you step outside your company’s comfort zone. Your team members will give you feedback that’s been unconsciously coloured by their own experiences inside the company.

The good news is that testing with real people will help you find out what users actually think and feel when trying out your prototype. When you see someone use your prototype with no (unconscious) agenda behind it, you get a clear and unbiased picture of how your solution lands with them, at a fraction of the time and cost of building a fully dancing and singing product.

Additionally, you’re not working with a high-fidelity prototype, so it’s easier to focus on functionality, value delivery, and how to take feedback onboard and test again. Conversations about UI specifics and motion graphics can and should happen later in the design process when you’re more confident in your product strategy.

Stage 3: Post Sprint

You’ll find there will be a lot of positive momentum gathered in your team by the end of a well-run design sprint. Now let’s make sure that all that goodwill gets channelled into the right next steps. And you’ve guessed right, we can help here as well.

Firstly, we can work together to keep all the stakeholders aligned with clear outcomes, actions, and next steps for everyone involved.

Next, we can make sure we don’t leave the prototype edits and product development hang in the air after the sprint. After all, you’ve already done the hard part to come to an informed, less risky and more budget-friendly plan for your product. Now let’s do the work to make it a reality!

You’ll find that your team’s internal decision-making capabilities have improved because of the collective experience everyone has just gone through. There is something magical about bringing your team together, each with their different strengths, having them use all their skills in tandem to build something good, and get almost instant feedback on it. For many of us in the product game, it’s a high-intensity getaway, and…. this is why we love what we do in the first place.

Why run a Design Sprint with Tapptitude?

You can help your team enjoy this magic and get to important answers, fast! You can sit back and make sure outside pressures and internal agendas are left outside the room during the sprint by getting someone neutral like Tapptitude to help you run the Design Sprint.

The other advantage you get is that we will be by your side to design a sprint that suits your team and your needs, from preparation to implementation to what comes afterwards. You’re not just getting a consultant that leaves the room when the sprint is done.

We’ve already mentioned the knowledge we bring to the table: we’ve worked with many startups looking to get to product-market fit, and with corporates who need that extra attention in aligning complex stakeholder landscapes.

Why get a neutral Tapptitude facilitator into the room?

  • A skilled facilitator changes the power dynamic of the people involved, which allows for deeper surfacing and challenging of assumptions. An internal facilitator may no longer be able to see those assumptions as they themselves are part of the day-to-day.
  • It’s easier to ask those obvious ‘stupid’ questions when you’re on the outside looking in. Don’t underestimate the power of conversations that happen when a partner is willing to challenge constructively based on years of hands-on experience.
  • Most teams find it easier to open up about potential elephants in the room with a neutral facilitator there to guide.

If, after the sprint, you decide you want a product-building partner to help you build that concept you’ve prototyped, we can build on that momentum and turn it into a high-fidelity prototype. When you’re ready to actually build your proto into a fully-functioning product (i.e. after some user testing), we can even help with that so you’re not getting lost in translation with an entire train of different partners.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Instead, take a look at the more than 100 products we’ve built, many of them still on the market because people love to use them. Having Tapptitude work with you will feel like your team just got bigger by adding another bunch of passionate product people who are just as committed as you are to make this work and make your users happy.

Erika Kramarik

Erika Kramarik

Full-Stack Marketer

Erika is a full-stack marketer passionate about the intersection between technology and social impact. She mixes research with content design and a human touch to help people and startups succeed in delivering value through their work. When not writing or talking to people, you’ll find her reading or quoting Hamilton for any life situation.

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