There’s an old adage in the user experience design world: every $1 spent on the user experience of a website or digital product returns up to $100 in business value. Many innovation leads struggle with the notion of user experience for products that only exist on the whiteboard. Yet user impact remains just as critical early stage ideas as it is for market-ready products – and it can deliver far greater ROI than late-stage user experience design.
That level of targeted product thinking can help innovators answer a number of vital questions: Do customers want this idea? Will a product solve a specific goal of the business unit? And finally, is this product worth building? How can we minimize the risk of building an unproven idea?
We know that many innovators struggle to answer those questions in the early stages of an innovative product, and that struggle often paralyzes the output of the innovation lab or shifts its focus away from their tasks of disruptive innovation.
In my work life developing digital products, I’ve found that focused innovation time to simply build and test product prototypes is the most effective way to identify projects worth pursuing. In the development world, you might call it a hackathon – which sounds a bit too, well, hacked together for the enterprise – but change-makers can take that model of focused innovation into their product labs through a process called the design sprint.
5 Days to Proven Product Ideas
As Google Ventures began rigorously developing its own products, it needed a framework to validate creative ideas and determine which projects were worth pursuing. It struck upon a five-day framework it called the design sprint, a collaborative workshop that brings business stakeholders and innovators to the table to agree on a core problem, identify a possible solution and rapidly deploy a prototype to test with a small pool of real-world customers.
Most enterprises have a framework for generating ideas, but they often struggle to prove if ideas can become viable products or new business lines. A design sprint offers that framework to take ideas off the drawing board to test its viability and then kill it or pursue further development.
Though it’s certainly possible to manage a design sprint internally, we’ve found it’s valuable to have an outside facilitator who can manage the biases of your stakeholders and keep the process moving through each phase of the design sprint. Like all good innovation projects, the design sprint begins at the end by identifying the outcomes of a potential product. With this framework, 352 has helped multiple Fortune 500 companies identify disruptive product ideas and generate actionable prototypes for brand new business lines.
Day 1 – Understand
The design sprint begins by agreeing to a long-term goal; your team will choose a problem to solve and start mapping a journey to that solution. At the end of the first day, both sides of the table should have agreed upon a single product idea worth testing and one target metric that will validate if the product warrants further development.
Day 2 – Sketch and Refine
Now it’s time to focus on solutions, and the team will start sketching possible products that may impact your business problem. It’s time to embrace the old saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” and explore every idea your team has – no matter how crazy. Through the group refinement, you’ll slowly build a journey map from problem to user-focused solution. You’ll also begin recruiting 4 or 5 people to test your eventual prototype on Day 5.
Day 3 – Decide
Once you have a pool of ideas aligned around your goal, it’s time to narrow your focus to an idea that will truly prove the worth of an idea. Many (perhaps most) of your team’s ideas will not be feasible, but working together to hone your solutions builds confidence in the project and helps improve your eventual winner. At the end of Day 3, your team will construct a storyboard for a lightweight prototype and map out all the assumptions you believe to be true.
Day 4 – Build
Equipped with a prototype plan, it’s time to start building a prototype and a plan for testing it with your identified users. Developing a HTML or CSS digital prototype may seem daunting, but it’s vital to remember that a true MVP should focus on proving only a single metric that validates the product.
Day 5 – Test
By Friday, your team and idea will have resulted in a lightweight prototype of a realistic product. This could be as simple as a cardboard kiosk with a laptop for users to interact with – or even a fully paper prototype. Your goal is merely to determine if your idea resonates with a small pool of likely users; you’ll observe their interactions, mark their feelings and report your findings to the team.
Creating early alignment around a validated product idea is truly invaluable for an innovation department. Many companies choose to streamline a design sprint to just two days, but the outcome is the same: your lab’s rate of learning is drastically accelerated, allowing your innovation team to focus on what matters.
The true outcome of a design sprint is knowledge – there’s no success or failure, just simply learning if your hypothesis was true or if an idea truly solves the core problem facing your business unit. Done right, a design sprint can minimize risk, save thousands of dollars by killing an early idea with no legs, or millions of dollars by setting the stage for successful commercialization.