R&Y Blog

Do You Need a Design Sprint?

Imagine you’re buying a house and tell your realtor, “I’d like a four-bedroom house with three bathrooms and a three-car garage.

For anyone that’s been through that process, you’ll know how many homes you have to view to find “the one.” You’ll scour online listings, tour open houses, schedule showings with sellers’ agents, and spend weeks, if not months, finding the perfect house. Eventually, you might think, “I’ll just build what I need.”

If buying a house is complicated, imagine how complex building a house would be. You need to decide on square footage, construction materials, finishes, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, landscaping decisions, choose wood frame vs. brick, and the list. But, even after these decisions, you can’t do anything without a blueprint.

Building software is not different; you need a blueprint, and an MVP design sprint gives you that. Regardless of the size or complexity of the project, a detailed roadmap with a list of priorities ensures you build the most impactful piece of software.

So, what is a Design Sprint?

Simply put, a design sprint allows you to validate ideas before investing excessive time and money into building your software.

Jake Knapp, the author of Sprint, created a five-day process for identifying key challenges and testing potential solutions. The end goal is the most impactful, least expensive build possible.

Think of it like designing a computer-generated, 3D rendering of your home before you ever break ground. You can do a virtual walk-through of your home, visualize it down to scale, and bring it to life, so you’re sure the actual thing will be the home of your dreams.

When building software, we see two common scenarios:

  1. The client may have an idea but doesn’t have a concise & prioritized list of required features or functionality.
  2. They may start with a small set of features, but as the product evolves, so do the needs. Without testing and validating the potential solutions, they risk building a bloated app that doesn’t solve their users’ most significant problems.

Whether the idea is too murky or too grand, both are manifestations of the same problem: a lack of clarity.

A design sprint is an elegant solution to that vexing problem.

Working with a design firm for months is not uncommon. Often the end design is amazing but impractical to build. We liken it to building a cathedral when you budgeted for (and need) a single-family home. A blueprint isn’t helpful if it isn’t what you need to build or can’t afford to. So we’ve adapted the Sprint to focus on the MVP (Maximum Value Product) Launch of a product.

Our approach with the MVP Design Sprint is to make it as minimalistic as possible, increasing the potential for your product to succeed. The sooner we can get your product into the hands of your customers, the better, and we do that by bridging the gap between design and engineering.

Why You Might Need an MVP Design Sprint

Just like the contractor needs a blueprint to build a house, a software engineering team needs a roadmap to develop your product.

Do you have a prioritized roadmap with wireframes or assets to support it?

If not, you need an MVP design sprint.

One of the essential assets produced by an MVP design sprint is a prioritized roadmap that details what features and functions are required and in what order they need to be built.

If you have a fully prioritized roadmap with user stories fleshed out that someone can build, then you might not need a design sprint, but they help in many other ways.

I want to focus on four key areas:

  1. Identifying Key Challenges: Understanding the most important challenge to solve for the business is the spawning point of every great product. Design sprints help you articulate the value of the idea you want to build. If someone asks you the problem you’re solving, and you can’t answer it in one single sound byte, a design sprint will help you define the problem and how you uniquely intend to solve it.
  2. Prioritization: Now that you’ve succinctly articulated the product’s value, you can choose which key features you need to build to get it out of the door and in users’ hands. Deciding feature priority is a complicated task for many reasons. For one, you haven’t tested your hypothesis, more on that below. Along with that, you might have cross-functional team members with competing priorities, or you simply can not see what makes one feature more impactful than another. At the end of an MVP design sprint, we collectively decide what’s a priority and what isn’t.
  3. Validating Theories and Proving Value: The crux of the MVP design sprint is to identify what the important things are early on. The design sprint gives you a clear way to test your theories and validate that it adds value to your customers. You may think that the priorities you laid out will solve your users’ needs — but like designing a house, you have no way of knowing until you get a blueprint, or better yet, a scale model, into their hands. The end of the MVP design sprint could result in tangible feedback that no one liked a feature. You need to know what you need TODAY to move forward and start profiting. In most scenarios, the user can tell you if it’s successful.
  4. Aligning Your Team: It’s common for an organization to have multiple stakeholders, each with competing visions of what needs to be built. A design sprint evens the playing field and aligns the team.

Participants in the sprint can range from product team members to marketing to the CEO. Anyone who has insight into the problems at hand or might be implementing the decisions should be involved. They often have different priorities but don’t have time to sit down and understand each other’s perspectives. Furthermore, they don’t understand why different teams push for different priorities.

Design sprints solve that problem by allowing the team to collaborate & create goals that serve the bigger picture.

An MVP Design Sprint might be the right answer if you’re just starting or unsure what steps to take next. The process will provide clarity, product validation, and, most importantly, a plan of action based on value. You will know what you need to build and why- saving you time & resources.