What can you expect during a Design Sprint? A brief look into the 5 phases

In my previous article on Design Sprints, I introduced you to the framework and its benefits. Now I want to take you through all the Design Sprint phases so that you can get a quick idea of how the process looks, what can you expect during those days, and how it aims to increase your team’s confidence with the problem that you are trying to solve.

Let’s dive in!


Btw, if you want to find out how you can run a design sprint in your company, send me an email and I’ll be happy to show you the right direction on how you can run one at your company!


The 5 Design Sprint Phases

Design-Sprint-Phases

Monday – Phase 1: Understand & Map

This is the first day that you and your team will get together to create a path for the whole week by setting a target and uniting everyone under a shared umbrella. It’s important that during this day everyone from the Sprint team is present.

During this phase, you’ll explore the business from all angles and achieve a common understanding of the business, the customer and the problem. This requires you to invite the right people (who can be part of the Sprint team or not) to come and share the business goals, technology capabilities, challenges, and user needs. You’ll focus on exposing the team’s or business’s assumptions and knowledge gaps that exist.

You’ll also talk about what success looks like for the company and what it means for this sprint. From there your team will make plans to fill the riskiest knowledge gaps and work on how you can validate the riskiest assumptions. On day one, you should be able to pick one target to focus on for the rest of the week – the one problem that you can solve and will help you achieve your long-term goal.

Design-Sprints-Phase-Understanding
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

These are some of the activities or tools you can use to help you decide on a target for the sprint:

  • Set a long-term goal – to kick off the sprint. 
  • List sprint questions – to rephrase assumptions and obstacles into questions.
  • A simple user journey mapping – to help you pinpoint opportunities and challenges.
  • The ‘How-might-we’ note-taking method and voting – to force the team to look for opportunities and challenges.
  • Lightning talks – to give team members and external experts a voice and a chance to share the knowledge they have built up.
  • Empathy building exercises – to get into the user’s mindset.
  • The five ‘whys’ exercise – to get to the deep root of every problem.

Tuesday – Phase 2: Diverge & Sketch

After a full day of understanding and choosing a target, it’s time to think about the solutions for your sprint. Those will be the fuel for the following days of the sprint!

On Tuesday, the team will explore as many solutions as possible. This is an important day, because many insights, different perspectives, and approaches will come out from each individual team member.

First, the sprint team meets to warm-up and ‘remix’ existing ideas – in many cases, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, many innovative ideas are built on existing ones. Then, the team should decide what problems they should focus on:

  • is there a specific gap in the user journey map that the entire team should work on? Or
  • are there too many critical points that the team should cover?

In that case, the team should divide among themselves the pieces of the map that they want to tackle. Next, the team should sketch some solutions and you will need… lots of paper!

Design-Sprint-Phase-Sketch
by FirmBee

The Sketch phase doesn’t involve any kind of brainstorming sessions, everyone works individually generating competing ideas on paper.  And nope, you don’t have to be a good drawer!

These are some of the activities or tools you can use to help you decide on a target for the sprint:

  • Lightning Demos – to give a short demo of an existing product.
  • Boot up note taking – to collect your thoughts and write down your ideas.
  • The crazy 8s exercise – to choose your 8 strongest ideas and sketch 8 variations.

Wednesday – Phase 3: Decide

On this day, you’ll decide which sketches have the best chance to solve your problem, and then you’ll decide which one(s) will be prototyped. This is done individually first, and then, in a team. The day looks something like this:

  1. Evaluate solutions
  2. Critique all at once
  3. Make a decision all at once
  4. Plan your Prototype

You may start to think that it could be difficult to vote honestly (e.g. people feeling pressured by team leaders) or that it may take too long to reach a consensus. But fear not because there are a variety of tools and methods that help teams to reach a unified plan. Moreover, democracy or camaraderie has not always a place in your sprint. The Decider will give the final ‘Supervotes’, which will be the foundation for your prototype.

Now that you have your winning solution(s), it’s time for the team to put the pieces together and make a plan. You’ll use the Storyboard method – where you imagine your finished prototype and can spot challenges and points of confusions before the ‘real’ thing is built. This will be your step-by-step plan for the next day.

Design-Sprint-Phase-Decide
Photo was taken from ‘Storyboarding, 2.0!’ by Tim Hoeffer.

These are some of the activities or tools you can use to help you choose the best solution to focus on:

  • The Sticky decision process – to express everyone’s opinions without lengthy debates.
  • Silent critique – to have a more unbiased and individual critique period.
  • Group critique – after the silent critique, to review and open the discussion of the results.
  • Storyboarding – give a space to dive into the interactions of the ideas.
  • Assumptions Board exercise – to help the team to identify the key questions that your Sprint will help you answer.
  • Decision Matrix – to help the team evaluate ideas

Not sure if Design Sprints are for you? Then read my previous blog post to learn about the benefits and outcomes you’ll get when running this 5-day framework.


Thursday – Phase 4: Prototype

This is your “fake it till you make it” moment. You’ll take the storyboard that you finished on Wednesday and transform it into a working prototype.

And when I say a ‘working prototype’ I mean a working and realistic-looking facade! There’s no need to have a full-working backend and have every single part of your flow built. You should only build something that looks real enough that will get you an authentic response from your testers.

Design-Sprint-Phase-Prototype
Photo by Jason Wong

These are some of the activities or tools you can use to help you build that ‘fake’ prototype:

  • Divide and Conquer – to assign tasks to each team member that fit their skills.
  • Storyboarding – to have a clear plan of what needs to be built.
  • Prototyping tools – to make it as real as possible.

 

Friday- Phase 5: Test & Validate

This phase is what makes the entire Sprint worthwhile. On Friday you will test your working prototype with real users and you’ll validate or invalidate your hypothesis. It is recommended to test it with at least 5 users.

During the test phase, your team will interview and observe how users react and interact with your prototype. It’s important that the whole team is present and sees the real-time reactions and feedback of the users. This will allow every team member to capture learnings, insights, and a first-hand experience on how users use your product

Design-Sprint-Phase-Test
Photo by Kobu Agency

During this phase, you could involve your UX designer (if you have one) or someone to lead a usability study. Additionally, you should talk with your technical experts and/or leadership stakeholders to give you feedback on your user tests. There’s no way to stress this enough: you will learn so much on day 5. At the end of the day, you will know how much your team still have to go and you’ll know exactly what do next.

These are some of the activities or tools you can use to have a successful testing and validation day:

  • Usability Test – to take critical questions and answer them in your hypothesis.
  • Stakeholder review – to get leadership feedback.
  • Technical review – to make sure you can build your solutions.
  • Sprint Retrospective – to review and summarize the week’s results. 
  • Sprint Planning – to plan what comes next and ensure actionable plans.

 

Outcomes at the end of the Sprint

In a nutshell, you will get a goldmine of insights, you will (in)validate your riskiest assumptions and (hopefully) you will have a clear idea of where to go and what to do next with your product!

Don’t be over excited though. You will not get something even close to an MVP. Remember that MVPs require much more input, work and time than a 5-day process. However, you can consider the Design Sprint a success if at the end you:

  • Learned things you didn’t know about your business, product, and users
  • Know where solutions are working and where they are lacking
  • Get a tangible direction on how to propel your solution to the next level

Generally, after a Desing Sprint, some teams keep working on the test results and on how to improve the prototype (something like version 2.0). If it’s not clear what you should do next, you can run a follow-up Sprint to review the Sprint questions and think about new solutions. The learning process could be slow, but what you’ll learn is invaluable.

 

So what’s next?

If at the end of the Design Sprint you’re confident and ready when it comes to the solutions that you have validated, then you can move to Agile Sprints: a tech-driven version of DS, where you bring coding, engineering and design to the table to build a real product (or MVP).

For companies and product teams, Design Sprints can be a fantastic way to save tons of money and time on development and design. Agile Sprints offers the same benefits to teams: to adapt quickly to changes, iterate on ideas, identify problems or opportunities faster, test pieces of the software quicker, among others. For instance, here at Setapp, we have our own version of Design Sprints that precede Agile Sprints and we have seen the value, certainty, and direction that it brings to our clients before starting any coding commitments. But that’s another story to tell 😉

PS: don’t forget to read part one of my Design Sprint series (if you haven’t already). You’ll learn about what the Design Sprint is, how it became popular in the product development arena, and the benefits you can get once you run one in your company!

If you want to find out how you can run a design sprint in your company, send us an email and we’ll be happy to tell you more.

Let's create
something meaningful together!

Company data
  • Setapp Sp. z o.o.
  • VAT ID: PL7781465185
  • REGON: 301183743
  • KRS: 0000334616
Address
  • ul. Wojskowa 4
  • 60-792 Poznań, Poland
Contact us
Stay connected