The Design Sprint

When I was at the Google Women Techmakers event, I participated in the design sprint that was conducted by Melinda Klayman, UX Program Manager. We were given a problem statement that we had to solve using the 5 Day Sprint method developed by Jake Knapp over at Google Ventures. I was completely unfamiliar with it before I attended the workshop and although it was only a brief introduction to the method, I was sold.

The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching.
The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching.

So this is how things normally work. The CEO or the Head of Product decides that we need to develop a new feature that users are asking for. The product team comprising of product managers and designers are hauled into a brainstorming session, which sooner or later devolves into a discussion backed by purely by opinions and intuitions (as opposed to data, facts and real user behaviour).

The kicker here is that it has been well established that group brainstorming does not work. Sitting in a group, talking about ideas makes you feel like you’re being productive but in reality, the ideas that are produced from such interactions are subpar. This is because of several reasons

  1. The herd effect: Once the conversation heads in a particular direction, everyone follows. You tend to miss out on unique ideas that could have been generated without a preconceived sense of direction.
  2. Sheer laziness: There are always a few vocal people who take over the conversation, inspiring others to take a back seat and enjoy their mid-afternoon siesta.

This is exactly why the Sprint works. It combines the good parts of a brainstorming session while getting rid of most of its vices. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman has pointed out how easy it is for humans to jump to conclusions without having all the necessary information—a huge problem in the brainstorming process. I’m quoting from the book here

Let’s decorrelate errors by obtaining separate judgments on the issue before any discussion. We will get more information from independent assessments.

The Sprint does exactly this. The creators of the Sprint know that individuals working alone generate better solutions, in fact they call it “working alone together”. The method also identifies the importance of involving representatives from all parts of the organization (sales, marketing, customer service) in the design of a product. It’s a unique mix of creativity and structure, something I’m starting to associate with Google instinctively.

I’m not going to describe every step involved in the Sprint (read the book for that). Group projects are also a huge chunk of an MBA program, and the groups consist of students with varied backgrounds and personalities—exactly what Sprints were designed for. I look forward to trying it out in that context as well.


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