Discover the Design Sprint, an innovation process

In this article we will show you what an Innovation Sprint is, how it works day by day and why you should follow world leading companies who have used it in the past.

Innovation! Now that’s a great word. A word with so many different meanings in it. A word that creates tons of images in the mind of each reader. Innovation is usually seen as two totally different things. It’s either the genius in the shower having an “aha” moment leading to a revolution in the tech industry. Or it’s long years of research and development in super serious labs with people in white coats and geeky humor.

But today, we would love to change your assumption of what innovation is. At Enigma we believe there is nothing mystical or magical about innovation. We believe there are processes that can help companies and individuals be more innovative. And we also believe that such processes can happen fast. Are we alone in this belief? Certainly not: the inventors of the Design Sprint, or Innovation Sprint methodology from Google, share exactly the same opinion.

What is exactly the Innovation Sprint?

The Design Sprint is a methodology that was invented by Jake Knapp. In an attempt to standardize innovation, this Googler created a structured, 1-week process to frame the Design Thinking approach. Jake Knapp intended his methodology to be used for the production of mobile applications and web applications. But you can actually use it to prototype any service, product or idea.

Okay, so now you have a rough knowledge about some pretty smart guy at Google who invented a new methodology. But what does it do? What’s in it for you?

The Innovation Sprint is a 5-day innovation process. In just five days, businesses and individuals go from a critical business question to a first version of their idea, that they’ve already tested with customers.

In other words, a Design Sprint is an intense week of hard work that brings ideas to life.

How does an Innovation Sprint week work?

Who needs to be there?
An innovation sprint will only work if all the key stakeholders are involved. Such a process can’t happen with just one part of the company. You need a multidisciplinary team. But even more important, you need to have the decision makers to be with you during the sprint, so you can keep things moving fast.

Of course, not every company employee needs to be involved in the whole process. But it is important to know when each specific person has to be involved and make sure it happens.

A 1-week sprint, day by day

In the section below, you’ll see how a sprint works from Monday to Friday. Who ever said we needed to work over weekends?

Monday
The first day is what we can call a discovery phase. It all starts with the best collaboration tool created by nature: conversation. After a structured conversation, the team is able to define a long-term goal. To help share a complete overview of the challenge, they’ll create a visual mapping of the different areas of the problem.

Now it’s time to bring in the experts. No, not the ones from the CSI show. We’re talking about the experts in your company who know the most about your business and customers. The experts will share their own knowledge and experience so that the discovery phase is complete.

At the end of the first day, your goal is clear. You now have a complete map of the challenge at hand. Together, you decide what part of the challenge is interesting enough to tackle and can be managed within one week.

Tuesday
After the discovering the problem, Tuesday is a day to find solutions. Unfortunately,good solutions don’t fall from the sky. So you’ll need some good inspiration, case studies and existing ideas. All these inspiring elements are presented to the team so they can use them as a starting point.

In the afternoon, each team member will start hacking these inspirations together. They’ll do it through visual thinking. The idea here is to present tangible ideas only… and avoid the usual Powerpoint slide deck stuffed with buzzwords and bullet points to present ideas. Using visual thinking makes it easier for each team member to jump in, give their opinion on the work and improve it.

Tuesday is also a bit of a planning day. Now that you have an overall view of all the ideas your team found, you also know who these ideas will impact. So you can already start to plan the customer test that will happen Friday and invite customers to interview sessions.

Wednesday
The goal of Wednesday morning will be to start selecting and prioritizing ideas. In this process, the team goes over the ideas that were presented on Tuesday and decides which one is the more likely to solve the issue that you defined on Monday.

In the afternoon, the team will go deeper into details about the selected idea. Then you will create a storyboard. This is basically a story showing the various components or features of your idea in the context of the user.

Thursday
Thursday is the day where it gets really dirty! You will start to prototype. Prototyping is basically a way to simulate products, services or ideas so they can be tested. You don’t have to build the real thing: you just need to have something that the customers can understand so they can give you feedback about it. What do they think of it? How would they use it? What doesn’t work?

In the prototyping phase, you mainly focus on the part that’s visible for the user. All the details about logistics and technicalities are not for this week. The goal here is just to test the value and potential of your idea for the customer.

Once your prototype is ready, you’ll prepare the tests for the next day. You need to check that the customers you’ve invited know where and when to meet you. Together with the team, you decide what are the key elements you need to know. Then of course, you’ll enjoy a small night of sleep because will need to improve your prototype again before the customers walk into the room the next day.

Friday
It’s the last day. On Friday, your main focus is to test your prototype with your customers. You show them your product, idea or service. You ask them lots of questions. You carefully log their reactions and what you’ve learned.

At the end of this day, it took you just one week to know if your customers see any value in your idea, and where there is room for improvement. Usually, you’re also able to decide whether the whole sprint was a success. For instance, if it helped kill a bad idea or find a little gem the team wants to develop further.

What are the benefits of a Design Sprint?

It takes only one week
This is the most evident benefit of an Innovation Sprint: it’s really fast. In one week, you already have something tangible. You’ve tested your idea, product or service. So after just one week, you’re able to take better decisions about the future of this idea, product or service.

Teamwork
The interesting thing about a sprint is, it brings all the key stakeholders together. Since a sprint is a pretty intensive week of work, there some sort of bond creation among the team members. In a way, there this a feeling that all participants are now brothers in arms who fought alongside.

Quicker feedback and validation
The last day of the sprint week is used to test your prototypes. Because testing is the conclusion of the sprint process, you finish the week knowing if your idea, product or service has any potential for your end users.

But you don’t only get validation from the end users. As the decision makers are part of the sprint, you don’t have to wait ages for a validation. At the end of the week, you now have the feedback from both your end users and key decision makers. Awesome, right?

Kill bad ideas faster
Innovation isn’t a fairytale where everything works all the time. A lot of the best innovation around the world happened either by mistake or hard work. And a lot of ideas that would sound super innovative or interesting at the start ended up being not interesting at all to the end users.

A key outcome of the Sprint process is that it provides you with an actual understanding of your product or service. It’s not just a bunch of slides or buzzwords anymore. It’s tangible. And once an idea, product or service becomes tangible you can quickly see if it has any value. This is why an innovation sprint helps you kill bad ideas faster and learn from them for your next big idea.

Who uses the Innovation Sprint Process?

Of course, the innovation sprint process is used at Google since it was first developed there. But there are many companies worldwide who use the Design Sprint Process. Here a few examples of global organizations that used this process:

  1. The United Nations: Increasing food donations with design sprints
  2. The British Museum: Improving wayfinding at the Museum
  3. KLM Airlines: Improving the Airport experience
  4. Spotify: Creating new products

Get to know the sprint founder Jake Knapp

In the following video, Jack Knapp, the creator of the Innovation Sprint explains how his methodology works.

More resources for the innovator inside you

Innovation Sprints are only one of the tools in the innovator toolbox. Since you made it to the end of this article, you might be a really curious person. So here are a few more resources to bring your innovator mindset to the next level: