Everyone talks about it without necessarily knowing what it is all about. While some have already “industrialized” it in their organization (wisely or not), most have only heard of it, and more. Be that as it may, it is clear that these two mysterious words, promising magical solutions, intrigue… or annoy. At the dawn of this new decade, it is time to take stock of this Arlesian. 

It is Jake Knapp, a process and productivity enthusiast, who is at the origin of this method. When he joined Google, the young man found fertile ground for his need to experiment with new practices in order to optimize the generation of ideas and solutions. It is then through the structure Google Ventures dedicated to supporting start-ups that he was able to develop the principles of Design Sprint. After hundreds of workshops that helped him refine his methodology, it will be formalized, in collaboration with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, in the book published in 2016. For the adventurous wishing to understand their issues from a different perspective , where conventional methods have failed, the work has become a true bible, in any case a reference (acclaimed by the New York Times in particular).

The Design Sprint is therefore not only aimed at the digital world, but a priori at those who wish to innovate in general. This article will nevertheless and a fortiori be part of a digital application context.

What is it (in theory)?

As usual in UX, let's tackle the why before the what: why do a sprint? This method is particularly recommended for trying to solve a problem, validate a concept or simply test new ideas. All very quickly. Above all, the sprint allows the sponsor to project themselves into the future and see potential users or customers trying out a solution… which does not yet exist and will not have required any heavy investment. This is the whole point of the “prototype spirit” at the base of the Design Thinking (see our article).
Concretely, we can consider the Design Sprint as the implementation of the stages of Design Thinking, but in a compact way. Here we will Understand, Design (diverge), Decide (converge), Prototype, and finally Test, over 5 days, in other words: 1 day = 1 step. The number of participants will be limited, from 5 to 7, to maintain a good group dynamic.

From giant steps to baby steps and back…

The 1st dayur, it is about set a long term goal, ask black on white all the questions we would like to answer during the morning sprint. In the afternoon, we will question and we will react “experts” to these first elements. Finally we will define the target to be addressed and a diagram of the steps to follow to achieve this goal, i.e. the intended user journey in broad outline. These elements will remain visible to everyone throughout the sprint in order to stay focused on the defined problem and thus avoid digressing as we know how to do so well. It is also the day when thewe identify the person who will have the decisive role of “decision maker”, who will decide if necessary, or at least validate the steps.
The 2nd day, we start sketching. After an inspiration phase (benchmark bringing together the best ideas from other sectors, preferably), we move on to making sketches that are initially quick and succinct (Crazy8). We will then develop these sketches in more complete sketches (a micro sequence of 3 post-its on an A4 sheet), which bring together the best ideas and will serve as a basis for the next day, including the vote.
The 3nd day, we dissect, without spreading out, the solutions envisaged then we decide which ones we will keep and combine to propose a complete story board, as in the cinema, which will trace the detailed stages of the planned route. The sequences thus determined will be the basis of the prototype to be designed and tested.
The 4nd day is used to co-build said prototype (cf. our article on rapid prototyping). And yes everyone must get their hands dirty by dividing up the tasks. This is necessary to maintain group cohesion where some would like to take advantage of it to escape 😉 And even if it is not necessarily complete or perfect, because it is the functionality, the course or the presentation of content that takes precedence over the cosmetic aspect, it must however be realistic and testable (eg: relevant text elements, affordable CTA, etc.). With a minimally chartered UI, it's even better :).
The 5th and last day is “D-Day”, the one that will allow an important decision: is our idea valid and viable. To do this, nothing better than testing your solution with 5 real users who will give us their opinion on the spot, without filter, without necessarily benevolence. Because after all, what we offer them must be useful and pleasant to them. At the end of a day of observation, we collect the converging points or “patterns” (positives to keep and negatives to improve) then we decide to continue to develop or to set aside the proposed solution.
Please note, as in any Design Thinking exercise, we are testing a hypothesis. The design sprint is therefore the perfect opportunity to… make mistakes and above all to learn.
Seen like that, it may seem immeasurable, unachievable, exhausting, and yet, yes, it is possible.

It's all about time

Inevitably, this requires a little organization and discipline. We can therefore consider that the DS is also the intrepid offspring of Cronos and Damocles: the days are short (10 a.m. to 17 p.m.) but dense, almost all the exercises are rigorously “timed” (on ranges of 8 min to 1h30 depending on the activity). The interest is twofold: on the one hand to maintain an optimal level of concentration and energy, on the other hand, to ensure cut short any useless and counterproductive palaver to be able to move forward and move on to the next phase. The Design Sprint is therefore anti-meeting par excellence due to its time frame and it is strongly advised not to strictly respect this timing at the risk of blowing up the sprint in mid-flight. The person who facilitates the sprint must be its unwavering guarantor.

dictatorial democracy

Another highly structuring aspect is the format of the workshops. Unlike brainstorming, a sort of ideas fair where everyone expresses themselves at the same time, here we will rely on the creativity, knowledge and experience of each individually and in silence most of the time. Thereby each participant will generate a number of micro-deliverables independently, thus preserving a certain freshness and above all an integrity of mind, in order to avoid any bias linked to group phenomena and to draw to its most extreme entrenchments without relying on others.

Secondly, the results of these exercises are posted anonymously then discussed and argued, but once again in very short times, in order to avoid debates. The objective being to create a collective brain to generate possibilities, then to select and combine the best parts of the ideas presented. From there, it is not a question of judging and demolishing the proposals of each other, but ofcombine the best of everyone to bounce back and build better. 
Furthermore, the decision-making stages are carried out in the most democratic way possible: for the vote (thanks to colored stickers as usual). Except that the one who is called Decider benefits from a higher weighted vote. This can be useful when the majority consensus does not emerge or to influence or even outright overthrow the votes and impose one's vision. In any case, this makes it possible to give a halt and to to be able to go to the next step. This may seem violent at first sight, but it is very effective and sometimes allows at the same time to recall the vision, the strategy and/or the constraints of the organization, while absorbing the different points of view of the participants.

Really how is it going?

This all sounds great on paper, but what is a sprint in real life? A week of camp with colleagues? A week of crazy challenges? An escape room?
Well already to answer the question of the title, it goes pretty well most of the time. The hierarchical levels are more or less put aside, the participants play the game, even the grumpy ones, each being secretly satisfied to be involved and simply to have the opportunity to express themselves freely. Because obviously kindness and listening are essential during speaking times.
Another thing, the most recalcitrant sketches end up not so bad, everyone always finding a way to represent their ideas in their own way. In short, this is an opportunity for some to gain self-confidence, and for others to learn to listen. The organization of the speech is once again the prerogative of the facilitator, who at times will have to know how to impose himself and reframe the discussion.
The strength of the sprint also lies in its ability to get a “result” that holds up quickly, which is very motivating, since in addition it contains the essence of an important project for the sponsoring company or organization. The first 2 days can turn out to be “floating” and that's normal, like any framing period where you seriously consider a problem. But what satisfaction on Thursday at the end of the day to have a prototype with fairly realistic and relevant content and/or functionalities (no question of Lorem Ipsum, for example, no no no) to be tested and allow to recover as much feedback as possible on the solution envisaged, but also to know that we have come all this way together.

Of course, a sprint does not always go smoothly, at least the first time. The participants had to organize themselves to be able to be present for 5 days in a row, which can seem enormous and generate a little stress. They are asked to lay down their work weapons for the duration of the workshops: no phone, no computer (with a few exceptions), no distractions. In addition, they are generally not used to working in Design Thinking mode, as equals, in common reflection and shared orally. And above all to maintain such a level of collective concentration on a subject that will have to be achieved very quickly by making sometimes clear-cut (and cutting-edge) choices thanks to exercises unknown to them before (a great moment when they are presented with the instructions of the Crazy8 ;p).

In a roundabout way, the Design Sprint also sometimes includes a internal communication issue, and turn into a real onboarding session. Beyond contributing to finding a solution, the participants find themselves embedded in the vision of the company held by the decision-maker (who is often the CEO or the project manager and the sponsor), which can turn out to be biased. The sprint will make it possible, however, to raise the problems and thorny points, and in fact for everyone to express their perplexity if necessary.
The Design Sprint is therefore a method whose milestones are clear and an extremely stimulating exercise, although surprising for many. In concrete terms, it can also prove to be complex to carry out, even harassing. Or be misunderstood or misused. In either of these cases, it will be necessary not to be afraid to make certain adjustments and to know how to show pragmatism and patience, in particular, when one is the facilitator. This is what we will develop in the second part of this article, so stay tuned…
Alexis CANGY | UX/UI consultant | Design Sprint Master