What we learned: The GV Design Sprint

The Google Ventures (GV) sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavioural science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.

The Design Sprint follows the principles, that working together in a sprint, you can shortcut the endless-debate cycle and compress months of time into a single week. Instead of waiting to launch a minimal product to understand if an idea is any good, you’ll get clear data from a realistic prototype. The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.

Recently, we have been using the GV Design sprint process in various guises, from feature refinement and expansion, to new product development.  We feel that we have learned a lot about the process, and the pro’s and cons, and with the ‘field-testing’ we have been through, we wanted to share some of our thoughts and learning.

 1. The process assumes that the business knows it’s customer

And this is often easier said than done.  On several occasions we have found taking 1 step back, to take 3 steps forward was the better way  to go.  After kicking the Design Sprint off, it became clear that the product owner, and working team could develop a deeper understanding of their customer.  Once we had this set, we could quickly take 3 steps forward.

2.  The importance of the whole team being involved and engaged

With a global team, this is especially important.   Having everyone together, and engaged for 5 days is challenging, but essential to getting faster decisions, agreeing outcomes, and ultimately getting buy-in to save circling-back in future iterations.

3. It is challenging maintaining energy and commitment

Keeping the team focused for 5 days, and maintaining the creative energy and focus is a constant challenge.  The first day is exciting and new for most people, but by about day 3, the interest starts to wane, and the facilitator of the sprint needs to work harder; by introducing regular breaks, ice breakers and parallel conversations.

4. Full understanding of your user persona’s speeds things up

It became very clear, very quickly, that the Design Sprint goes a lot more smoothly when the client or product owner has a very detailed and clear view on the user persona’s.  In several cases, we spent 5 days prior establishing personas; through focus groups and rapid user testing.  We found this helped – and it helped more when the product owner was in alignment, and could explain the persona’s with confidence.

5. Goal definition is critical – unless the goal is clear, you will keep sprinting, and run out of steam

No surprises here.  A sprint as an end-point, otherwise it becomes a marathon…and without clear goals and an objective of the sprint, time gets wasted.

6. Time spent on the value prop is time well spent

We found one shortcoming of the GV Design Sprint, was that there was enough emphasis put on techniques and tools for understanding the Core Value Proposition (CVP) for the product or feature.  It felt like the Design Sprint was created for existing products, and for refining/designing new processes.  For an entirely new product – the CVP was essential to aligning everyone early.  We personally like the Strategyzer VP Design toolkit for this purpose.

7. Cross- fertilisation of ideas across different roles and responsibilities was powerful

For the fans of collaboration, this should be obvious.  However, by creating ‘safe-spaces’ where everyone can speak their mind, and share their views openly, and without fear, results in better products.  One of the great advantages of the Design Sprint, was that it pulls people together who rarely work together for an intense 5 day period.  This creates a fusion and dynamic that is rare, and with the right ‘vibe’ this dynamic is very powerful.

There you have it.

These are our initial thoughts on the GV Design Sprint.  Overall, we have found the process to be tremendously powerful, and are currently running Design Sprints for 2 new product design engagements.  We have managed to take global teams, and bring them together in agreement after 5 days in most cases.  This approach has sped up the time to prototype and build to the point where product owners have been surprised, and have been required to run faster to provide support and decisions.  This positive pressure has created a bond amongst the teams that is hard to otherwise create, and for this, we are excited and looking forward to more adventures where we apply our learnings.

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