sarah uhlarik

How Design Sprints Support Successful Collaboration





View on published by Bootcamp.UX Design.

In an article written for Data#3, author Phil Redmond describes three types of collaboration among teams:

  1. Creative — where two or more people create something to achieve a specific goal

  2. Connective — bringing together information from disparate sources

  1. Compounding — where a team builds on previous achievements to reach further

  2. Design sprints can help to achieve a unification of all three types of collaboration.

  3. What is a design sprint?
  4. A design sprint is a process framework created by Jake Knapp and the Google Ventures team, where a team looks to solve a clear, well-articulated problem by prototyping, testing and validating ideas over the course of 4–5 days. Sprints have their roots in design thinking and interaction design principles by placing emphasis on rapid prototyping and user testing.

“Design thinking is shorthand for a collection of cognitive, strategic, and practical processes combined to form an approach that’s iterative and human-centered.”


5 phases of a typical sprint

There are five phases in a typical sprint that happen over the 4–5 days:

  1. Monday — Understand: review the problem and set a specific goal

  2. Tuesday — Sketch: explore solutions through ideation

  3. Wednesday — Decide: share and critique proposed solutions and select one to move forward with

  4. Thursday — Prototype: create a working prototype with specific functionality to test

  5. Friday — Validate: conduct user testing

Design sprints are beneficial for many reasons. The user-centered focus encourages testing and validating ideas with the people who will actually be using the product, before solutions are built or launched. This allows the team to “learn fast, fail fast” from the testing feedback, then iterate in a short time frame. Additionally, the iterative nature means that changes can be made quickly, before any code is written.

How sprints support 6 facets of successful collaboration

  1. 1. Motivation: Sprints help facilitate team motivation due to the nature of a singular, shared, common goal. In his book on Sprints, Jake says “running a sprint requires a lot of energy and focus. Don’t go for the small win, or the nice-to-have project, because people won’t bring their best efforts…The bigger the challenge, the better the sprint.”

  2. 2. Communication: Given the fast-paced nature of a sprint and the limited number of people involved, communication is key. It’s critical to choose the right people for your team, in some cases it’s even necessary to bring in a “trouble-maker,” someone who see problems differently than others and isn’t afraid to voice contrary opinions. The small team size also means decisions can be made quickly without waiting on buy-in from potentially many other sources.

  3. 3. Diversity: A sprint team should be comprised of different stakeholders including a decider, facilitator, marketing expert, customer-facing expert, design expert, tech expert and a financial expert. This type of holistic, cross-team participation means multiple perspectives are taken into account and keeps the project from becoming siloed.

  4. 4. Sharing: One full day of the sprint is dedicated to sharing ideas, critiquing, and rethinking until the best solution comes forward. Time is of the essence so it’s important to have a set structure for presenting ideas and providing feedback.

  5. 5. Support: It’s best practice to conduct a sprint only after aligning on expectations and getting buy-in before starting. Ideally, this ensures support from stakeholders throughout the process. Additionally, support can come from the other team members participating and working together towards one common goal.

  6. 6. Problem solving: Sprints helps teams establish, and then reach, clearly defined goals. They are most useful when kicking off a new feature, workflow, product, business or solving problems with an existing product. Sprints are an excellent way to quickly learn if you are on the right track and allow you to easily pivot without much risk.

Unified Collaboration

Design sprints successfully unify the three types of collaboration as written about by Phil Redmond.

  1. 1. Creative — a team of 7 or so people work together to address a specific problem, define a singular goal, and develop a solution.

  2. 2. Connective — the team should be comprised of different stakeholders bringing diversity and different perspectives to the proposed ideas.

  3. 3. Compounding — sprints are incredibly useful for existing products building on previous success. Additionally, the iterative nature of design sprints allows for feedback, ideation, and testing to occur in a loop.