Using design sprints to solve COVID-19 business problems

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Because of the rapid spread of COVID-19, business leaders across all industries collectively learned the utmost value of fast solutions.

Suddenly, operations are in limbo, worker safety is compromised, remote work policies are needed, and with a drastic shift in consumer spending, many companies are still looking for alternative revenue streams.

But just because a business needs a solution fast, doesn’t mean it should be hasty. Hasty solutions tend to be haphazard and may even cause more problems than they solve.

As soon as possible, businesses need innovative ideas, and more importantly, evidence these concepts work. Getting insights into your solution early is the best way to avoid spending months developing—or worse, using—a concept that does not work.

Fortunately, there already is a proven methodology for cutting down months of effort into just five days: Design Sprints.

A Design Sprint is a five-day process to tackle a business problem. The methodology was originally developed at Google Ventures and is gaining increasing popularity in the tech community because of its focus on design thinking, innovation, and speed.

Also Read: An introduction to running design sprints for startups and enterprises

Over and over, Design Sprints have led to innovative solutions. A fine art marketplace startup, Twyla, used a Design Sprint to improve its customer experience, swapping the standard 30-day return policy with a US$30, 30-day trial, charging the full price only if the customer keeps the art.

The delivery app, Favor, found ways to increase hourly earnings for their runners, and decrease runner frustration. Adobe used a Design Sprint to align the mobile strategy of its many products and apps.

The Design Sprint team should be diverse, including product designers and other professionals adding additional perspectives and levels of experience to the process. Everyone clears their schedule for the week and each day of the sprint is focused on just one step of user-centric product development.

Day 1 – Map: Identifying the problem, defining key questions, and determining a goal

Day 2 – Sketch: Individual brainstorming and sketching different ways to solve the problem

Day 3 – Decide: As a group, reviewing and deciding which concept will move forward

Day 4 – Prototype: Create a visual and tangible way to test the solution with users

Day 5 – Test: One-on-one user interviews to gather feedback and determine your direction

After the Design Sprint, the company should be ready to debrief and invest resources into the solution. But there’s just one problem: we’re still in the middle of the pandemic.

Also Read: An introduction to running design sprints for startups and enterprises

Design sprints involve a lot of in-person collaborative activities. Whiteboards, Post-it Notes, and Sharpies are mainstays, and sitting in the room with your team for five straight days feeds the collective creativity.

On one hand, Design Sprints might be the answer to finding the solution you need. But on the other hand, remote Design Sprints need to be treated a little differently in and of themselves. Now that I’ve been through a few virtual Design Sprints, I have tips to make it work.

Tweak the schedule

Remote Design Sprints are going to take a bit longer. People have more distractions at home than when they’re in a room together. It takes longer to read the room and make sure everyone is on the same page. And unlike a typical Design Sprint where the team gets up and moves around the room, a virtual Design Sprint expects the team members to stay chained to their desks.

Adjusting to these circumstances, we have scheduled our Design Sprints across several mini-workshops with homework in between.

One bonus we have found with this format is that it’s now possible to loop in team members around the world because travel is not an issue and it is easier to accommodate different time zones.

Pick the right tech

Taking the conference room, whiteboard, and sticky notes online is going to require a few different tools. We haven’t found an all-in-one platform for virtual Design Sprints, but there are a few tools that stand out.

Also Read: The lean UX design method that will make a real difference

MURAL and Miro are virtual whiteboards with digital stickies. Both allow collaborative work in real-time. We prefer MURAL because of a few of its advanced features. We also use Figma for real-time collaborative digital prototyping. And Zoom is our preferred virtual meeting platform because the team can divide up into breakout rooms. Be sure to ask everyone to turn their camera on to facilitate the in-person atmosphere!

Plan and Prep

Whether your Design Sprint is in person or virtual, there are always logistics to figure out, but it does take more effort with a remote team.

It doesn’t take long for someone to get acquainted with sticky notes and whiteboards, but virtual Design Sprints require everyone to use the same digital collaboration tools. We start with the expectation that it is the first time everyone has used a tool and build in time and resources for onboarding. Throughout the sprint, deadlines, and deliverables should be clearly defined and we’ve found it helpful to have handouts and other materials ready to send out.

Putting in the work ahead of time or hiring a facilitator will free you up to focus on solving problems. The extra effort is worth it to make sure everyone is on the same productive page from day one.

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Image credit: Andy Beales on Unsplash

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