Have you ever designed and developed products for users who are very different from you? That’s the rhetorical question Sumier Phalake, a design leader for Google Station, asked to kick off a recently conducted discussion about how design sprints can help a product team deeply understand customers and create effective products at speed.

customer-obsession-and-design-sprintsSource: Google

The setting was the 2018 Google I/O developer conference, the same event where CEO Sundar Pichai stunned the world by demonstrating how artificial intelligence can help Google Assistant place a highly realistic and human-sounding phone call. That Google elevated the topic of design sprints at this high-profile event demonstrated just how red-hot design sprints have become.

We are fully engaged in using design sprints for Moonshot clients, and I often share my insights about how design sprints can help a modern product team test new ideas in a way that manages the cost and risk of prototyping new products. Last September I had the opportunity to collaborate with the budding design sprint community at Google’s first Sprint conference in San Francisco. I even had the chance to present how to combine execution with design sprints and co-present with fellow sprint enthusiasts on an agency-led panel. 

One of the hottest topics of discussion last fall was the relationship between user research and design sprints. For example, should teams conduct user research prior to starting a design sprint? Are the “Map/Understand” activities that occur on Day 1 of a design sprint sufficient to ensure a successful design sprint? And what is the right amount of research to conduct before, during, and after a sprint? We believe teams that conduct user research prior to starting a design sprint more often deliver products and services that customers love. We also believe that research is not a one-time activity. Rather a continuous effort of gaining empathy and delivering experiences that address human needs.   

The September event was championed by Google’s  Kai Haley – so naturally I took time to watch the Google I/O session, “The Value of Immersive Design Sprints” when I saw her mention the session on her Twitter feed. If you are as interested in design sprints as I am, I urge you to watch the presentation, available on YouTube, as I have done so. My top take-aways are:

1 “Immersions” research helps a team stay customer obsessed.

Discovering, designing, and delivering products and services for users who are different from ourselves requires intuition. The session discussed one form of research, immersions, which the presenters define as interviews with customers guided by three core principles: listening mindfully, maintaining awareness, and gaining empathy. Prior to embarking on the design sprint journey, consider conducting immersions to gain empathy with the target customer(s) and provide a level of intuition within the product team.

Immersions, coupled with design sprints, bring customers into the center of the process through the co-creation effect: that is, when organizations and customers create together, they are more invested in the future.  

Immersions are not a design sprint tool, per se. As shown through the presenters’ case studies, a product team can enhance the outcomes of a design sprint by incorporating research before, during, and after. Here are a couple screen shots of how immersions can complement design sprints:

2 The right time to run a design sprint is now.

Sprints can add value at any point throughout the product lifecycle. The beauty of design sprints is its adaptability. For example, consider running a design sprint at the beginning of the product lifecycle to discover a product’s vision and strategy as well as validate the problem space. Product teams can also conduct design sprints to make existing products or services more lovable and valuable.

3 There is no such thing as a failed sprint.

The design sprint brings about deeper insight into your product idea and your customers’ wants and needs regardless of whether you develop a product prototype from a sprint. You always learn something from the outcome of a design sprint, of which there are usually three:

  • Efficient fail: learn and move on
  • Flawed success: conduct another sprint(s)
  • Epic win: move to product delivery

In addition, design sprints bring cultural value to the enterprise. Design sprints bring together cross functional, modern product teams around a collaborative new way of working.

At Moonshot, we apply design sprints as part of a larger methodology that we call FUEL. Within the context of design thinking, product teams use design sprints to accelerate the discovery of customer-centric products and services. After establishing problem-solution fit through testing prototypes with customers, we move on to lean innovation to help organizations deliver lovable products and services with velocity. A design sprint combined with immersions will help your team deliver products in services that people will love. Contact us to discuss how to learn how to embed FUEL into your culture.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product