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Waiting to learn until your product gets to market can be expensive. We reduce that risk by starting 100+ projects each year with a product design sprint. It’s an exercise which starts with design thinking and ends with a user-tested prototype.

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What is a product design sprint?

A Product Design Sprint (pioneered by Google Ventures) is a 5-phase exercise which uses design thinking to reduce the inherent risks in successfully bringing products to market. We’ve done many product design sprints and have made them a standard part of our consulting engagements.

Participating in a Design Sprint orients the entire team and aims their efforts at hitting clearly defined goals. Sprints are useful starting points when kicking off a new feature, workflow, product, business or solving problems with an existing product.

Integrating design sprints and design thinking into our product development process keeps us aligned with our goals, and helps us invest our time and money wisely.

Companies we've helped

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Design Thinking

Design Thinking combines empathy, creativity and rationality to solve human-centered problems. It is the foundation on which a Design Sprint is built.

Empathy

With Design Thinking, we use empathy to see the world through our customers eyes and understand their problems as they experience them. There may be many technological, financial, political, religious, human, and social and cultural forces involved. It is our job to develop a holistic understanding of these problems and forces and contextualize them in a greater world schema.

In addition to our own perspective, we aim to understand the perspectives of as many other people as possible to better diversify our understanding.

Empathy is the primary focus of Phase 1 (Understand) and a major part of Phase 5 (Test and Learn). We should aim to always maintain empathy when solving problems and building products for humans.

Creativity

Creativity is opportunity discovery. We use creativity to generate insights and solution concepts.

The most creative solutions are inspired by unique insights and intersecting perspectives. Empathy, as described above, empowers our ability to understand different perspectives and be more creative. Collaboration inspires creativity. More perspectives, ideas, and insights lead to more opportunity.

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Rationality

We use rationality to fit solutions to the problem context through experimentation, testing and qualitative/quantitative measurements.

Design Thinking should pervade all of our processes outside the design sprint as well, from engineering to marketing to business development. In a complex business ecosystem design thinking can be used as a holistic approach to facilitating and maintaining a symbiotic relationship with your customers.

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The Sprint Phases

A typical length for a project kick-off sprint is five days, with each day representing a different phase. This timeframe is not rigid and should adapt to the specific needs of the problem. For example, some phases may need more than a full day and others may need less.

The aim is to develop a product or feature idea into a prototype that can be tested to help us fill our riskiest knowledge gaps, validate or invalidate our riskiest assumptions and guide future work.

Phase 1: Understand

Goal

Develop a common understanding of the working context including the problem, the business, the customer, the value proposition, and how success will be determined. By the end of this phase, we also aim to have identified some of our biggest risks and started to make plans for reducing them.

Founder needs design help. Finds thoughtbot via Google. Lands on site, and is intrigued by the visual design of Tropos. Explores the case study and learns about the Product Design Sprint. Visits the PDS page and decides they want to hire thoughtbot Clicks "Start a project with us" and sends in a proposal

Phase 2: Diverge

Goal

Generate insights and potential solutions to our customer’s problems. Through a series of rapid creative exercises, we can develop and question functionality, problems, and solutions. This phase is crucial to innovation and marketplace differentiation.

This gives us a baseline of ideas and visuals with which to evaluate and identify potentially viable solutions in next phases.

Phase 3: Converge

Goal

Take all of the possibilities exposed during phases 1 and 2, eliminate the wild and currently unfeasible ideas and hone in on the ideas we feel the best about. We come up with a realistic prototyping storyboard and develop an assumptions table to guide our prototyping and testing phases.

Assumption table for a product design sprintcustomers respond positively tosimple clean aestheticpositive body language, longer engagementtimes with content.when asked, provided an exampleof how we could help themwhen asked, they gave us anoutline of our processinterview,analyticsinterviewinterviewASSUMPTIONTESTVALIDATED IFcustomers understand what we doand why they can want our skillscustomers understand how wework and why it’s valuable
An example assumptions table

Phase 4: Prototype

Goal

Build a prototype that can be tested with existing or potential customers. The prototype should be designed to learn about specific unknowns and assumptions. Its medium should be determined by time constraints and learning goals. Framer, Marvel, and simple HTML/CSS are all good prototyping media.

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Phase 5: Test & Learn

Goal

Test the prototype with existing or potential customers. It is important to test with existing or potential customers because they are the ones you want your product to work and be valuable for. Their experiences with the problem and knowledge of the context have influence on their interaction with your product that non customers won’t have.

Testing The Tile App's "Find" alerts

The most critical feature of the Tile app is the "find" alert. During user testing, we confirmed that visualizing signal strength was much less helpful while finding the tracked object. Sound was much more helpful. From there we pinpointed the right timing and feedback for the sound through further rounds of testing.

Read more about the Tile PDS.

Want to learn more about the PDS?

Our Product Design Sprint was heavily informed by IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit and a series of blog posts by Google Ventures and we are grateful for the information they have shared. Our goal is not just to build “a” product, but to build the “right” product.

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