Google’s search bar solves 5.6 billion searches per day.
That’s a lot of problems solved for a single search bar that emerged as a great user experience and software design.
But many other problems still remain for users, requiring a number of iterations until to achieve the same level of usability.
That’s why Google developed the Design Sprint Kit that combines Agile, Lean and Design Thinking practices to accelerate their rate of innovation.
Design Sprints are used at world’s leading companies such as Google, Uber, Medium, Slack, Facebook, The New York Times, Twitter, Dropbox.
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What To Know About Design Sprints at Google?
The Design Sprint is a proven methodology for solving problems through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with users, covered in this article.
It was developed at Google in an objective to foster a UX-driven culture and design across multiple levels of the organization.
Teams experimented with different frameworks from IDEO, Stanford and even from other domains like psychology to develop their Design Sprint Kit.
The kit is a methods repository enabling to perform Design Sprints in a repeatable way across the organizations, with core and flexible elements.
Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky while at Google Ventures wrote the Sprint book that has the essential elements of the methods, optimized for startups.
The different checklists are made for running 5 day Sprint, essential to time-box the approach, limit switch costs, and most importantly assess value by showing.
One nice point: it is available as open-source for you to benefit and contribute while you can still adapt the 5 days to your maturity and context.
When to use Design Sprints?
Different problems have different solutions. It is essential to validate that a Design Sprint is a good candidate for the problem to solve.
Its main value is to channel the actors’ energy on solving a particular problem having ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty on how to solve it.
That’s why Design Sprints are not worth the effort if you don’t have enough data on the problem to solve (research first), or already know the solution to design.
Leadership support and commitment is also critical to get the vision, support and resources to get through your sprint and future implementation.
The 6 Phases Of Google Design Sprints Process
The Design Sprint process at Google relies on six phases: Understand, Define, Sketch, Decide, Prototype, and Validate.
It is recommended to follow the systematic approach to guarantee results, preferring to focus on a few methodologies rather than bypassing one phase.
Understanding our users and the problem is essential before trying to solve anything, like we saw when building One-Slide Problem Summary.
Phase 1: Understand
This first phase consists in leveraging the prepared data to correctly frame and understand the problem you are trying to solve.
One difference with traditional problem-solving methodology is the continuous focus on the users, their needs and thinking in all possible dimensions.
The following methodologies can be used in this recommended order, picking the ones making more sense to the sprint challenge.
A first set of methods help understanding users:
- Empathy building exercises help to have the user point of view
- User interviews let interact directly with users
- The Iceberg Canvas helps understand root motivations or issues.
Then the power of questioning is used to generate ideas with “How Might We”:
- HMW is the brainstorming method with questions
- HMW Sharing & Affinity Mapping enables to make clusters
- HMW Voting provides a collaborative way of selecting ideas.
More rational techniques are useful to visualize flows:
- User Journey Mapping draw the customer journeys
- Experience Mapping step back on the end-to-end experience
- Affinity Clustering enables to identify convergence points.
Systematic methods can also be used for organizing thoughts:
- Rose, Thorn, Bud sort post its in positive, negative or with potential
- Abstraction laddering enables to see the problem in different perspective
- Integrated Data Thinking combines qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Phase 2: Define
The previous phase raises a large amount of ideas that require focus to define the problem, context, and expected outcomes.
Specific methods are necessary to first narrow down the users in scope of the sprint, to then drill down in the design elements and outcomes.
These methodologies bring focus on the users:
- Pick a Target identify best opportunity of value and risk to solve
- Personality Sliders align the tone of your communication.
- Assumptions Mapping to assess desirability, viability and feasibility.
Then, concrete design elements can be considered:
- Design Principles set the guidelines to align your team in the sprint
- Consider Everything At Once forces to step back on the big picture
- The Golden Path identifies the key user journey to focus on.
Finally, the focus remains but move from users to outcomes:
- Business Model Canvas identifies key elements in the business flow
- Success Metrics & Signals cascade from goals to align team efforts
- Future Press Release forces the team to explicit the expected outcomes.
Phase 3: Sketch
This phase is the most creative one in the number of design deliverables generated.
Each sketch can lead to new ideas that could be more valuable, hence the need to foster a brainstorming atmosphere, pushing to get outside of known contexts.
At that stage, the techniques can be performed in the following order:
- Comparable Problem is useful to project ideas in different contexts
- Boot Up Note Taking is used to prepare sketch ideas
- Crazy 8’s push to sketch 8 ideas in 8 minutes
- Crazy 8’s Sharing & Voting structure the sketch vote
- Solution Sketch is used to expand one particular idea.
Phase 4: Decide
This pivotal phase is dedicated to the decision of which direction or concept to implement in the following phase of prototype.
That’s why the methods repository at that stage relies on collaborative sharing and decision-making techniques.
These two methodologies help to present sketches to the team:
From there, the team can then use one or combine different voting techniques:
- Dot Vote align on decision criteria to then retain one idea
- Heatmap Voting enables people to vote in 5 minutes of most liked areas
- Silent Review and Vote helps aligning voting power among participants
- Note and Vote is a variant of silent review offering equal votes per person.
Remaining methods are used until reaching an action plan:
- Decision Matrix is a logical method to align choice on sprint goals
- Rumble or All-in-one is used to decide when there is still no consensus
- Action Planning fosters learning and collaboration towards deliverables.
Phase 5: Prototype
Now that the team elected one idea, it is time for implementing the prototype, focusing on essential usability and valuable elements.
In the Design Sprint context, a prototype is less than the traditional Minimum Viable Product; it is usually a façade to assess the user experience value.
The necessary equilibrium is to be sufficiently qualitative to feel real to the users, without losing time on cosmetic or more advanced features.
Building the prototype in a day requires an efficient collaboration with a division of labors between the team members depending on their skills, and rapid prototyping tools.
These methods let you quickly organize the work of the team :
- Storyboard is the master of the prototype experience to build
- Assign tasks between maker, writer, designer to get parallel work
- Kanban Board keeps tasks moving, clarifies status, and limits work in progress.
The actual implementation of the prototype can be done with tooling:
- Prototyping tools can be hardware of software
- Prototype Playback is a prototype review taking notes while viewing demo
- Prototyping with Version Control is helpful for fast software adaptation.
Phase 6: Validate
The validation of the Sprint is done by having the users directly using the prototype.
Direct interactions with users are therefore required in the form of experimentation, interviews, and feedback forms.
Additional interviews can be conducted with business and technical stakeholders to collect additional learnings on the prototype.
The following techniques are essential to assess the prototype:
- Recruit Interview Subjects enable to get the necessary users
- Master the Interview in 5 Acts helps you follow the systematic interview process
- Score the Interview is the formal assessment used to generate learnings.
Complementary studies are helpful until reaching the sprint conclusion:
- Usability Study focuses on usability formal assessment
- Cognitive Walkthroughs identify tasks frequency between existing and new users
- Sprint Conclusion clarifies the output between failure, success and win.
The two most important additional reviews are:
- Stakeholder Review is used to assess buy-in on the sprint and prototype
- Technical Review is ideal to get implementation feedback and learnings.
Design Sprint like Google, with Discipline and Focus
The Design Sprint Kit is a powerful methodology to accelerate the rate of innovation in organizations, both incremental or disruptive.
Like other methods, performing a Design Sprint does not guarantee a win each time but drastically improves the likelihood with step-by-step processes.
The results greatly depend on the actors present on the Sprint, reinforcing the need to secure the presence of the right mix and levels to succeed.
After a successful Sprint, the team is able to move to the implementation keeping the Quality Engineering forces present for Quality and Speed,
Ready for your next Design Sprint?
Design Sprints, Google Methodology.
Jake Knapp (2016), How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, Simon & Schuster.
Glorian.lo (2018), What’s a Design Sprint and why is it important? Medium.
Luis Gonçalves (2021), Google Design Sprint: How Innovations Happen in just one week. Adaptmemethodology.
Design Sprints, GV.