It’s a Marathon Not A Sprint – debunking common myths around Design Sprints

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Ollie Bailey


November 10, 2020

We use Design Sprints as part of our wider design process to help organisations define and create effective user-centred service experiences. We’re big fans of how effective they can be, for engendering co-creation and for finding solutions to business problems.

By the nature of their structure and intensity they can be extremely valuable to a wide range of business – from start-ups to large established corporations, but as the technique/discipline has grown in popularity so have the many misunderstandings around what they can and can’t achieve.

In fact, if I had a pound every time I heard a misconception about what they can and can’t do I’d be quids in!

Here’s the five biggest ‘myths’ about Design Sprints we frequently hear which I hope will go some way to explain how we ensure that the investment is a worthwhile one… when done right.

Myth 1: “A five-day design sprint will give me a finished, ready to roll out solution”

Of course, if you read all of the hype around Design Sprints and how they solve business problems in just five days, you’d think that this means that you have a solution to roll out at the end of it. Well, yes – in some cases a Design Sprint can lead to a prototype that’s been user tested and proved viable – but to really get the solution to ‘work’ investment in product or service design doesn’t stop there.

The main premise of the Design Sprint is to get to the point that you have validated the idea or ideas and keep iterating. The Design Sprint is the an element of the larger service design process – where human-centric design involves further validating ideas and service propositions to make good ideas even better and to ensure the organisation invests in the right roadmap.

Myth 2: “As the client we don’t need to prepare; the agency/design team will sort it all”

The most effective Design Sprints are ones that start on Day Zero (or minus five) not Day One.

The very nature of a Design Sprint is that it is interactive and user focused. A solution isn’t handed on a plate – the process is there to facilitate, so the more people can bring to the party the better. And as Design Sprints are about problem solving, so more ground work regarding the current situation means the Sprint team can hit the ground running. It can save time and frustrating eye rolls if everyone is armed with information from both within the business and the strategists before the process. It’s then true collaboration at its best.

Key to the agency’s role is that all participants are briefed, know what is expected of them and what the goal of the technique is.

Myth 3: “It will require five full days of my / my colleague’s time that I simply don’t have”

There are two issues here. First of all a Design Sprint doesn’t always have to be across five days. This is the standard framework but not the only way.

Secondly, the same people do not have to be active within the process for the entire scope of the Sprint. It’s essential that the group – from across the organisation - begins the process, to identify and agree the goals of the sprint, to map out the challenge and to be part of the exploration into potential solutions. But there are elements in the technique that can be left for a core group to work into storyboards and protype designs that will mimic the final approach to have ready for testing.

Myth 4: “It’s a cheap way to get design work”
This is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions around Design

Sprints. Of course, some amazing results can be born out of the process – but the Sprint is the tip of the iceberg in terms of creating a finished design. It’s not a ‘short-cut’.

Its value is exploring new possibilities and challenging preconceptions, but the true value is then how this prototype is then fully developed and created. Not left sitting on a shelf somewhere.

If you’ve managed to create a super shiny prototype that’s ready to roll out then you’ve perhaps not spent long enough ‘exploring’ and getting to the real issue. Or your design sprint has been a huge success of course!

Myth 5: “I know nothing about design so I will add absolutely no value”

If there is one thing our experience of running Design Sprints has shown us is that often the best ideas don’t come from designers – or even ‘the boss’.

And as with all service design, the priceless aspect is having all key stakeholders involved – each bringing their in-depth knowledge of how a business operates. There is little point in finding a solution that can not be integrated with existing tech or processes – unless a transformation is the objective.

Just like with all aspects of a service design approach, to solve business problems, research cannot sit in a siloed team. Great service design comes from strategists, designers and technologists working on the ‘problem’ from the start.

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