What's a design sprint – the ultimate guide to running design sprints

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9 Apr
19 Apr

There are numerous techniques and approaches when it comes to building digital products. Nowadays, with the rise of agility in project management and the growing need for an accelerated, productive, and well-organized workflow, design sprints are becoming a highly effective tool.

A design sprint allows gathering the team’s capacity and potential to achieve the goal in a short time. Thus, instead of working on many tasks at once, the sprint participants focus on a single problem and find the most effective ways to solve it.

Normally, a product design sprint takes from five to ten working days and consists of several core stages, each of which has its own goal and requires specific tools and techniques.

This post explains all steps of sprints design in detail, highlights their benefits, and reveals the participants’ key roles.

A design sprint helps define the core problems

What is a design sprint?

So, what is a design sprint, and how does it impact the product development process?

Simply put, a design sprint is a fast and effective method of finding relevant solutions during digital product development. It aims to validate the goals, ideas, and ways of their implementation. Normally, a sprint takes from five to ten days and consists of several key stages:

  • Defining the problem
  • Evaluating ideas
  • Offering solutions
  • Designing stage
  • Сhecking with the product owner and sending to the production.

A full-fledged product design sprint may also involve testing the prototype with real users. However, this process is quite complex and takes much more than 1-2 weeks.

A design sprint helps the team define the core problems and find the most efficient ways to solve them. It’s especially common for an agile methodology that involves an accelerated approach to the development process and thus, needs fast and accurate problem-solution frameworks.

You can get a better idea of this workshop’s common structure by looking at a design sprint template created by Miro collaborative whiteboard platform:

A 5-day design sprint template by Miro
A 5-day design sprint template by Miro

The benefits of running a product design sprint

Now, let’s find out the reasons for conducting a product design sprint.

In our experience, most customers appreciate sprints and understand why they matter: the efficiency of work directly depends on the sprint’s success. If planned and executed correctly, a design sprint gives a better idea of the tasks, issues, and required solutions. It also helps the stakeholders understand the most probable realization timelines.

Sometimes you can avoid sprints, especially if the project involves building particular elements step by step. In such cases, you can conduct stages estimation, including concepts creation, and UI/UX design.

However, design sprints are extremely important when product development and design processes go simultaneously. They enable defining the tasks and controlling the key milestones.

Let’s take a closer look at the most significant benefits of sprints design.

Problem-solving opportunities

A design sprint helps the team find faster and more effective ways to solve the project’s key issues. Close cooperation and brainstorming allow the team members to look at things from different angles. During the sprints, the professionals can understand the problem’s nature, consider various solutions, and implement the most appropriate one within a short period.

Immediate result

Design sprints strive for a fast and result-driven approach. The main goal is not to waste time on long and unproductive meetings and discussions that don’t lead to tangible progress. Instead, the sprint focuses all the team's efforts on a single aspect to succeed. You can achieve it with agility and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Minimized risks

Although the risks remain quite high, they are reduced to a short period. It means that unsuccessful decisions will be detected and fixed when checking the sprint results with the product owner. Thus, you will minimize the possibility of taking the wrong course or strategy that could later lead to critical consequences.

All stakeholders’ involvement

All parties are directly involved in the design sprint process. Thus, all the stakeholders are on the same page and can see the earlies deliverables. Sprints ensure a transparent and collaborative environment within the team and allow the product owners to discuss the decisions on the go.

Each team member plays an important role in the sprint cycle
Each team member plays an important role in the sprint cycle

Roles & responsibilities in a design sprint

A design sprint should involve all core team members and other parties interested in achieving effective results. Each participant plays an important role in the sprint cycle and ensures the productiveness of the team’s collaboration.

Depending on the project’s specifics, the number of specialists involved and their responsibilities may vary. Here are the key participants of a sprint, along with their roles and duties.

Project manager

A project manager is responsible for tracking the team’s progress, organizing the meetings, and controlling time management efficiency. Such professionals play the role of facilitators in design sprints, establishing a productive environment to reach the sprint goals. Project managers control the calls’ frequency, each member’s productiveness, and compliance with deadlines.

Senior executive

A senior executive, also called a decider, defines the design sprint goal in the backlog and checks the deliverables. Normally, it’s a CEO or a product manager of the company. However, the decider’s role isn’t limited to defining objectives and verifying results. They often take a more active part in the sprint to bring clarity to the product and business context.

Lead designer

A design expert plays a key role in a design sprint. They have a comprehensive understanding of the product, its features, and its goals. Lead designers approve the final scope of work at every stage of the sprint where the deliverables are presented.

Tech leader

Technical experts have a clear idea of the chosen tactics realization. They should be aware of how to build and implement the required solutions. Tech specialists have good hard skills and perfectly understand the company’s goals.

Marketing specialist

Marketing expertise is crucial as it helps understand the customers’ needs and market specifics. A customer-centered approach makes the whole team focused on addressing the users’ pain points and making their lives easier. However, at the earliest development stages, this role is optional.

A five key design sprint phases
Five key design sprint phases

Process of product design sprint — step-by-step

During a design sprint, the team should stay flexible and ready to shift the requirements. Although the sprint goal and key milestones are usually predefined, the members should be open to any changes along the way. The core objective is to come up with result-driven solutions and create an outstanding product. Thus, certain decisions can be adjusted in the process, considering the client’s expectations.

The order of the necessary sprint stages and their nature entirely depend on the project’s type and the complexity of the goals.

In this article, we focus on a short design sprint yet will mention particular steps that might be required for a more complex one.

Let’s look at five key design sprint phases, their specifics, objectives, and methods the teams can benefit from.

Phase 1: Understanding the problem

The initial step is design sprint planning. The team should determine the key focus of the sprint and create a plan for the workshop. A result-driven strategy requires a customer-centered approach, so one of the first things the sprint participants should do is define the users’ pain points and needs. Also, it’s worth deciding what technologies will allow you to accomplish the desired result.

Next, you can split the final goal into several milestones to clarify how the team should act to achieve it.

The goal:

The first stage aims to determine the sprint’s purpose and the approaches the team will use to achieve it. Also, it provides an understanding of the audience’s pain points, market specifics, and client expectations. Finally, this phase determines how the decisions affect the overall design of your product and vice versa.

Design sprint backlog example
Design sprint backlog example

Tools and techniques:

  • Sprint backlog. A backlog is a design sprint map with a list of the key tasks and goals the team should achieve during the workshop. Each backlog item is defined in the sprint planning meeting. It helps the team set priorities and establish good workflow organization. We at Halo Lab prefer using ClickUp project management tool when creating sprint backlogs.
  • Empathy map. Such maps help define the key customers’ problems and expectations and visualize them. They are based on the target users’ behavior, feelings, and emotional reactions.
  • Stakeholder map. Another important aspect is to visualize the client’s ideas and expectations. It will help the team move in the right direction without losing focus.

Phase 2: Looking for solutions

The second step is to come up with potential solutions based on your ideas and assumptions. Exploring all the existing options and weighing their pros and cons will allow you to identify the most appropriate ones. They will later be the basis for your designing process.

At this stage, the teams prepare demos and sketches to brainstorm their ideas. More complex and long-lasting sprints require deep user research. So the techniques you may turn to include customer journey maps, service blueprints, etc. However, when building a single feature or webpage, you won’t need to apply such complicated methods.

The goal:

The second stage’s goal is to ideate the product’s functionality and find the most effective solutions based on the preliminary analysis.

Customer journey map example

Tools and techniques:

  • Customer journey map. A customer journey map visualizes the users’ interactions with the product and the stages they should go through to perform certain actions. Customer journey mapping is a great way to understand which aspects of the product’s interface, navigation, functionality, etc., need improvements.
  • Solutions sketching. Writing down the ideas, taking notes, and sketching your insights can help your team visualize their insights and effectively move from theory to action.

Phase 3: Making a decision

Once the solutions are found, the third design sprint stage begins. Here, the team members discuss these options and evaluate their efficiency. They determine which solutions are the most appropriate and should be implemented during the upcoming design sprint steps.

The goal:

The third phase of the workshop aims to choose the most suitable solutions by comparing them and identifying their pros and cons. It helps outline the product’s future architecture.

User story map example
User story map example

Tools and techniques:

  • User story maps. User stories will help you get a better vision of the customer journey. They visualize different situations and scenarios, showing how well they function and helping understand the context.
  • Critiquing and voting. The team should work together to identify which solutions seem best and explain their choice. It’s better to provide visualized sketches and sticky notes, collect them in one room, critique, and vote.
Lo-Fi UX prototype example
Lo-Fi UX prototype example

Phase 4: Create UI/UX design

In the fourth sprint phase, the team builds UI/UX based on the chosen solution. This process shouldn’t take long, although it’s the core stage of the workshop. The result should include all core functions and reveal your UI/UX decisions so that the product owner can test it and verify its relevance to the initial ideas. We at Halo Lab prefer Figma as the most powerful and efficient software that enables us to work quickly and effectively.

Product design sprints often involve building rough prototypes to test them on real customers or focus groups and conducting user interviews. However, this process is quite time-consuming and not applicable for the short sprints we usually run.

The goal:

The fourth phase’s goal is to implement your idea and visualize it with UI/UX design.

Tools and techniques:

  • Professional design tools. UI/UX design stage enables verifying the product’s features and their relevance. For this purpose, designers use the preferred professional tools like Figma or Sketch.

Phase 5: Validate the design

Finally, when the UI/UX is built, it’s time to validate its efficiency and compliance with the objectives set out in the backlog. Usually, a product owner is the one who checks deliverables and makes the final decisions.

Checking the design and functionality often has a significant impact on the further project flow. It helps estimate the current solutions and identify the next steps. Therefore, the results of a single sprint should be considered in terms of overall product design and development strategy.

Then, it’s time to make the final decision. If everything functions properly and meets the client’s expectations, the design is accepted and moves on to the next development stage.

In design sprints focused on building more complex and mature products, the final stage often requires real users’ involvement. The goal is to get end-users’ feedback and carry out a marketing analysis. For that, the clients involve a separate team that conducts user interviews and studies their results.

The goal:

The fifth sprint phase should validate the solutions and check the design’s compliance.

An example of a team retrospective
An example of a team retrospective

Tools and techniques:

  • Retrospective meeting. After the design sprint process is over, you can hold a retrospective meeting to make conclusions, detect the mistakes made during the sprint, and compare the achievements with the goals specified in the backlog.

Summary report

Design sprints can help you achieve the desired results in a short period, allowing your team to focus on the prioritized goals defined in advance. Agile approach and product design sprints’ nature enable enhancing productivity, using multiple power tools and techniques, and establishing a user-centered approach.

A well-organized design sprint will help you validate ideas, choose the most relevant solutions, clarify your audience’s needs, and validate UI/UX in no time.

If you still have questions about what a sprint design is and how to run it effectively, our experts can provide you with a more in-depth consultation.

We at Halo Lab have solid experience in working on complex projects, conducting effective design sprints, and applying the agile methodology. Our team consists of skilled professionals dealing with UI/UX design, branding, backend and frontend development, and more. Drop us a line, and let’s discuss your idea!

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