Are Design Sprints Worth All That Time Spent?

Blue hourglass on a rocky beach.
Blue hourglass on a rocky beach.

I’ve just recently finished facilitating a Design Sprint for a client that we’re working with, and each time we run one it cements deeper and deeper into my mind the value of performing them. After performing and participating in a certain number of them you start to see the same benefits and successes, but also the same costs of running one too. I want to share with you my point of view, to help you decide if the net value of running a sprint is worth investing in.

For a recap of what a Design Sprint is, checkout our experience participating in one of Jake Knapp’s one-day workshops.

Costs of a Sprint

Ignoring the initial monetary cost if you get help from an external organisation such as ourselves, the majority of your cost will come down to time. This isn’t only time from yourself as a founder or the lead of a project; you have the time of the people that make up the sprint team, the experts you call in on day 1, and the time of the 5 end users or customers you’re testing your prototype against. In our experience you need at least 4 people in your team for a Sprint to run well– factor in you need those to be quality people (think “Seniors”, “Leads” or “Heads of”) and that can be a big ask for a lot of organisations.

The experts are less of an issue, as the “ask” boils down to 10-15 minutes on the phone that still provides a huge benefit. In other Sprint variations you can perform your user research ahead of time and work around these experts’ time even more. User tests on the other hand often work better when done in person, and borrowing 30-60 minutes of someone’s time can be tough even with some form of compensation. Not to mention the travel time or ability to take time off from work in order to participate.

Factor in the time and effort required of yourself and the team to organise these people, you do end up investing a lot of time and energy, often using your more trusted colleagues and friends. The investment into a Sprint on paper is time, distributed across many people with different backgrounds and perspectives, usually done at the expense of delaying anything your Sprint team are currently working on by one week. Given all that investment into a Sprint, there’s got to be a payoff… right?

Benefits of a Sprint

Whilst I may have painted a gloomy picture of the time and energy required of a Sprint, bear with me. I could whittle down a big list of benefits to running one, based on experience and opinion, but I’ll narrow it down to three.

It gets everyone on the same page

When was the last time you could get everyone on the same page, thinking about the same problem and collectively draw on the strengths of everyone in your team? In a larger organisation it could take many email chains going back and forth, several meetings where the action list is endless and there’s a constant recap of previous information. Let alone the new information you can discover in between that can put a damper on a project or cause everyone to go back to square one.

By the end of day 1 everyone in the Sprint is on the same page. Let’s skip all of the dancing around the issue, sit down, buckle in, share our understanding of the problem and get some outside advice from the unsung heroes – the customers and employees down on the ground. You may not get every single piece of information, but you don’t need that. Getting everyone on the same page and coming to a common understanding can be tough, but once they are you can make a great deal of progress.

Making a decision

The next biggest benefit is making a decision. Just like getting everyone on the same page can be a monumental task, making the big decisions is difficult in itself. Information changes all the time, new propositions come up and you’ll never make the “perfect” decision. All you can do is make the best decision that you could given the information at the time. Within the context of a Design Sprint you’ve already decided the problem you’re trying to solve on day 1, and you decide on what idea or concept you want to try by day 3.

If I’ve learnt anything from Design Sprints and the Startup world in general, it’s not so important that you get it exactly right. It’s significantly more important that you get started, get it out there and learn.

The Proof is in the Pudding

If those benefits weren’t enough, you spend some time seeing the proof before your eyes. Not just your eyes, but the eyes of the entire team. Most people are used to the idea that you need to spend significant amounts of time and money into creating a “real” prototype to get results and end up going through justification mayhem. By the end of day 5 your entire team has seen what works, what doesn’t work and will often know what to do next. It can be exhausting being in the war room for 5 days straight, but by the end everyone has experienced the proof first hand and will usually know what they would need to do in order to take the next step forward.

What’s the Weigh In?

In short the costs to you are: 5 working days of your time, 5 working days of at least 3 other people who can help you solve a risky business problem, a few 10-15 minute phone calls and 30-60 minutes of compensated time from five representative users.

In short the benefits to you are: getting your team on the same page, making a decision, and getting validation of the best solution your team could come up with in the time available.

Even though the time involved can seem costly at first, even just these three benefits that I’ve highlighted here could have taken much, much longer than a single Design Sprint. This is usually a good yard stick to decide if it’s worth running one; if the problem you’re trying to solve will probably take longer than about 3-4 weeks (the time your Sprint team spend collectively) through the usual channels then you have a great candidate for a Design Sprint.

Don’t forget, you have an interactive prototype to share and showcase your collective thinking post-sprint. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but a demo is worth 1000 meetings.

Summary

Whilst that initial upfront cost of time can be daunting and put off some people from trying it out, the benefits you can reap from the learning just keeps on giving. Instead of shying away from bringing in multiple people and multiple perspectives, I’ve only ever see it strengthen a proposition or help redirect your efforts to something of better value.

What are you waiting for? Get in touch and see if you’d like to work with us to solve your thorny business problem in just 5 days.

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