Defining Problems with Design Sprints, with Exercises

By Scott Kirsner |  October 15, 2015

Out this month is a detailed new guide to running design sprints, and the authors have shared with us an exclusive excerpt. Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products is actually applicable to all sorts of product development.

The book focusing on using design sprints to:

  • Clarify the problem at hand, and identify the needs of potential users
  • Explore solutions through brainstorming and sketching exercises
  • Distill your ideas into one or two solutions that you can test
  • Prototype your solution and bring it to life
  • Test the prototype with people who would use it

The authors are Richard Banfield of the user experience agency Fresh Tilled Soil; C. Todd Lombardo, an innovation architect at the marketing company Constant Contact, and Trace Wax, a veteran of companies like Microsoft and Nuance who now works at the app development firm Thoughtbot.

Our 95-page excerpt from “Design Sprints” (PDF download) includes Chapters 1 and 5 from the book.

Chapter 1 focuses on what design sprints are, and how they work. The authors write:

Enterprises that have well-established processes may also look to a design sprint as a way to accelerate their product design and development so that they can work more like a fast-moving startup. The accelerated learning can give the enterprise an advantage and also reduce the amount of resource investments for exploration of product ideas and concepts. Spending three to five days on a project idea to see if it makes sense to move forward is better than working three to five months, only to discover it would have been better to not have proceeded at all. Any product or product feature will be validated or invalidated. You can do that validation yourself, or let the market do it. Which do you think will be less expensive?

Chapter 5 focuses on the initial “Understand” phase of a design sprint; it includes agendas and exercises you can use.

The first day of a design sprint is primarily an opportunity to bring the working team to a mutual understanding of the problem to be solved. If the team members haven’t already met one another, then this is the time when everyone will get acquainted. Getting to know each other helps to develop empathy, which is a cornerstone of any design-thinking exercise. In this chapter, we’ll give you tools and exercises to help break the ice and inject a little fun into the process. These exercises will also help you get inspired. Whether you need to be inspired by facts or out-of-the-box ideas, we’ve included a collection of tools to get you there. Together you’ll answer the questions: “Who is the customer, who is the user, and what are their problems?” You’ll all share the relevant context so the answers to these questions can be understood clearly, but you won’t need to come up with solutions yet.

You can download the two chapters here.