Rolling out a digital product or even an iteration, whether it’s a website or a mobile app, requires a substantial amount of time, effort, finances and expertise. 

For many businesses, the only way of finding out whether their product or service works is to launch it to the public, and user experience plays a crucial role in how the product is perceived.

However, what if there was a way of determining its success before it reaches the end-customer while minimising risk factors?

One way that companies can develop their products and ensure they meet their business objective is by taking part in a product design sprint. It’s a tried and tested process, initially created by Google Ventures.

It’s a highly effective way of shaping new products and redesigning existing features to overcome any UX challenges. 

The original Google Ventures design sprint.

google design sprint

A product design sprint is an intensive five-day process during which UX experts, such as digital strategists, designers and developers work alongside stakeholders to help gain an understanding of what the product is (or should be), to brainstorm ideas and features, to decide on which of those to explore, and then finally, to create a prototype and test these concepts with real users.

Here’s a breakdown of a typical product design sprint process:

Day one: Understand

The UX team and stakeholders work to gain a shared knowledge of the problem and business goals, review existing analytics and competitors, as well as mapping out the primary user journey to be focused on.

This gives a chance to find out what isn’t working and why, what areas need to be focused on and in what direction product development should be moving, keeping the user at the forefront.

Day two: Diverge

Here, the group focuses on smaller aspects of the user journey, brainstorming ideas and concepts that solve the problem identified in Day One.

Participants can get as creative as they can to come up with innovative ideas to help improve the product.

For example, they can be looking for shortcuts to simplify the user journey, instant fixes to remove any obstacles from the product or think about bigger changes to revolutionise the concept.

This is typically a very engaging, satisfying (and sometimes tiring) day.

Day three: Decide

With dozens of ideas and concepts for how the product would solve the key problems, the focus of this day is to decide what elements are going to be carried forward and tested.

The group can pick top three solutions and discuss what aspects or elements will need to be developed further.

When the decisions are made, the initial user journey is redrawn, including concepts and UI features identified on the previous day.

Day four: Prototype

The UX team goes back to the office to create a prototype and a test script based on the user journey from day three.

The prototype is typically in a wireframe format with little to no branding, as its purpose is to validate concepts and assumptions from earlier in the process.

Day five: Test

On this day, real users are brought in and the entire group observes the testing taking place. This day is always informative and can be extremely insightful!

This part simulates the public launch of the product and speeds up the process of finding out what works and what doesn’t.

All user information and feedback is gathered for further analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses and further steps for the concept.

Once the full evaluation is complete, the UX team share the results with the client on how product development should follow. 

De-risking or “failing cheap”

A product design sprint helps remove elements of risk from projects and therefore can avoid expensive redesigns or change of directions down the road.

Anyone can come up with an idea but it can be very costly to really find out if it works. This way, going through various solutions, creating a prototype and then putting it in the hands of real users to test can be a very cost and time-effective practice. 

It can’t be stressed enough just how valuable product design sprints can be. The purpose of these sessions is to test and validate assumptions, focusing on how the user journey can help meet business objectives.

Long gone are the days of launching a product, based on arbitrary ideas of what users might want and then having to make costly amendments once it launches and fails.

The best thing about Product Design Sprints is that there are no bad outcomes. Users might instantly love the prototype and enjoy the concept, which indicates that real product development can go ahead.

However, user test results can also be less encouraging. Some of the ideas might not work and users may struggle to understand the product.

This is called “failing fast”, and more importantly, “failing cheap”. It only takes a week and a basic prototype to realise that amendments may be needed, rather than undergoing a full design and development cycle with significant financial investment and potential loss.

For any business struggling with UX or lacking knowledge of how to realise an idea, product design sprints can be extremely effective in helping get on the right track fast.

Chris Benstead

Published 15 September, 2016 by Chris Benstead

Chris is a Digital Strategist at Degree 53. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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