How to do a Google design sprint: 10 things to know

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Google Ventures Design Sprint
Google Ventures' design sprint tries to take teams from problem to solution in five days. (Image via Fastcodesign)

Do you want to be a Facebook or a Google?

Maybe you want to be both, but the method each company uses to get to a final product is very different. One famously “moves fast and breaks things” - or at least it used to - and the other, its venture arm at least, promotes the ‘sprint’.

Google Ventures design partner Daniel Burka says the five-day workshop, a rapid product design and testing process to reduce risks such as market-fit, is applicable to MENA startups - it’s not all Bay Area-centric.

During a trip to Lebanon he described what you need to know and how to do one.

1. They’re a format that can be rolled out easily.

I think sprints are applicable to pretty much any type of business where there are either big questions or big opportunities that involve a great deal of risk.

2. A sprint gives you an insight into your customers.

I think that’s a problem for startups no matter where they are.

3. There’s often a lot of conflict in businesses around what customers will do.

You sit in a meeting room and everybody gets very heated and they start yelling at each other and really that tension happens because people don’t know [what their customers want]. By testing with just five customers, in rapid fashion, you can get a lot more certainty.

4. Sprints have a kind of library-like atmosphere.

Traditionally when companies think about brainstorming they think about a whole bunch of people in a room shouting out ideas. You’d be really surprised that a sprint is very quiet. We don’t want the loudest voice in the room to win we want the best ideas to win.

5. Consider how fast your business is actually moving.

A lot of businesses think they’re moving rapidly, but often... they feel like they’re getting somewhere but they’re actually not traversing a lot of ground. In a design sprint you can… measure your trajectory before you put your foot on the gas, you can then move extremely rapidly and make a lot less mistakes.

6. When you’re aiming outside of your local market a sprint has even more value.

One of the interesting things about coming from a small market is that everybody is intentionally building for a much larger market to begin with. They’re not just thinking about the Lebanese market they’re thinking about the entire Middle East or all Europe or America.

And because your customers are not necessarily just like you. If your target customer is Saudi or from France you’re just going with your best guess as to what is going to resonate with them. If you do a sprint here and test it with five customers from your target market you’ll have a lot more certainty.

7. The biggest challenge that I’ve seen is not getting the right team in the room.

If you don’t have the person who makes final decisions about things involved in your sprint you’re likely to fall on your face. You’ll end up with a result and the CEO will look at it and might say well I have a totally different idea.

8. And don’t skip user research.

I see a lot of teams calling it a sprint, and they’re generating ideas real fast and they’re getting prototypes done real fast, but unless you test it in real world and in a fairly thorough user research protocol, if you don’t do the study part at the end you’re just going to end up feeling good. That’s fine, you did some work and you got some stuff done, but it’s even better to have the learnings of how people actually react to the idea.

9. The key to finding customers is identify who you’re looking for.

Compensate people - you’ll end up with a better quality of candidate. In order to recruit people we use Craigslist, but use whatever is popular in the region. Post an advertisement that says “we’re looking for people to do user studies, all you have to do is fill out this questionnaire”, so you’re not asking directly for them to call you up. Buried in the questionnaire are some hidden questions. As an example, we work with Blue Bottle Coffee - so, we don’t just ask “do you drink coffee?”, rather we’ll ask “what is your morning hot beverage?” and then filter for those who like coffee.

10. Be scrappy and think about what you need to answer the question.

We were talking to a company that is making industrial pumps and they were talking about how they use prototyping. The goal for them was to figure out if [customers would buy] this new type of pump they were making. To do that you don’t need the prototype, you can just describe what it’d be like. So they prototyped what a hypothetical pump might look like… and then they tested it with customers as a marketing pitch. The big question was could the customer envision what applications the pump might have within their business?


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