Eugene Fedorenko is Writing, Reading, and Traveling



The design sprint is a five-day process invented at Google for solving tough problems and testing new ideas. It was run on a range of products from Google Search and Gmail to companies funded by Google Ventures like Blue Bottle Coffee and Slack. Here is the gist of it:


  • Agree to a long term goal.
  • Make a map of a challenge.
  • Ask the experts to share what they know.
  • Pick a piece of the problem that can be solved in one week.


  • Review existing ideas to remix and improve.
  • Sketch.


  • Critique each solution and decide which ones are the best.
  • Create a storyboard from the best ideas.


  • Adopt a “fake it” philosophy.
  • Build a realistic prototype from a storyboard.


  • Test a prototype on customers.
  • Learn by watching them react to it.

Below are some of the things I highlighted while reading a book.


On what a sprint is:

The sprint is GV’s unique five-day process for answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers. It’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavioral science, design, and more — packaged into a step-by-step process that any team can use.

On where this process can be applied:

We’ve used sprints to assess the viability of new businesses, to make the first version of new mobile apps, to improve products with millions of users, to define marketing strategies, and to design reports of medical tests. Sprints have been run by investment bankers looking for their next strategy, by the team at Google building the self-driving car, and by high school students working on a big math assignment.

Setting the stage

Picking a challenge

Three situations where sprints can help:

  1. High stakes.
  2. Not enough time.
  3. Just plain stuck.

On the importance of focusing on the surface first:

The surface is important. It’s where your product or service meets customers. Human beings are complex and fickle, so it’s important to predict how they’ll react to a brand-new solution. When our new ideas fail, it’s usually because we were overconfident about how well customers would understand and how much they would care. Get that surface right, and you can work backwards to figure out the underlying systems or technology.

Building a sprint team

Get a Decider:

The Decider is the official decision-maker for the project. At many startups we work with, it’s a founder or CEO. At bigger companies, it may be a VP, a product manager, or another team leader. These Deciders generally understand the problem in depth, and they often have strong opinions and criteria to help find the right solution.

On an ideal size of a sprint team:

We’ve found the ideal size for a sprint to be seven people or fewer. With eight people, or nine, or more, the sprint moves more slowly, and you’ll have to work harder to keep everyone focused and productive. With seven or fewer, everything is easier.

Here is a cheat sheet of whom to include:

  • Decider (CEO, founder)
  • Finance expert (CEO, CFO)
  • Marketing expert (CMO, marketer, community manager)
  • Customer expert (sales, customer support)
  • Tech/logistics expert (CTO, engineer)
  • Design expert (designer, product manager)

Pick a Facilitator:

[…] she’s responsible for managing time, conversations, and the overall process. She needs to be confident leading a meeting, including summarizing discussions and telling people it’s time to stop talking and move on.

Time and space

On a daily schedule during 5 days of a sprint:

Your team will take a short morning break (around 11:30 a.m.), an hour-long lunch (around 1 p.m.), and a short afternoon break (around 3:30 p.m.). These breaks are a sort of “pressure-release valve,” allowing people to rest their brains and catch up on work happening outside the sprint.

On the no-device rule:

If you’re looking at a screen, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the room, so you won’t be able to help the team. What’s worse, you’re unconsciously saying, “This work isn’t interesting.”

On whiteboards:

We’ve found that magic happens when we use big whiteboards to solve problems.


Start at the end

On setting a long-term goal:

To start a conversation, ask your team this question: “Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be six months, a year, or even five years from now?” […] If your team doesn’t quite agree about the goal or there’s any lack of clarity, don’t be embarrassed. But do have a discussion and figure it out. Slowing down might be frustrating for a moment, but the satisfaction and confidence of a clear goal will last all week.

On assumptions:

Lurking beneath every goal are dangerous assumptions. The longer those assumptions remain unexamined, the greater the risk. In your sprint, you have a golden opportunity to ferret out assumptions, turn them into questions, and find some answers.

List sprint questions

Assumptions and obstacles should be rephrased into questions that can be answered during a sprint. This rephrasing conversation is worth doing even if it feels a little weird:

[…] turning these potential problems into questions makes them easier to track — and easier to answer with sketches, prototypes, and tests. It also creates a subtle shift from uncertainty (which is uncomfortable) to curiosity (which is exciting).


A map will show customers moving through a service or product:

The map is a big deal throughout the week. At the end of the day on Monday, you’ll use the map to narrow your broad challenge into a specific target for the sprint. Later in the week, the map will provide structure for your solution sketches and prototype. It helps you keep track of how everything fits together, and it eases the burden on each person’s short-term memory.

Ask the experts

On How Might We method:

It was developed at Procter & Gamble in the 1970s, but we learned about it from the design agency IDEO. It works this way: Each person writes his or her own notes, one at a time, on sticky notes. At the end of the day, you’ll merge the whole group’s notes, organize them, and choose a handful of the most interesting ones. These standout notes will help you make a decision about which part of the map to target, and on Tuesday, they’ll give you ideas for your sketches.

A basic formula for Monday afternoon:

You’ll interview experts, using your map as an outline. You’ll take notes as a team, turning each problem you hear into an opportunity. By the time you finish your interviews, your team will have generated a pile of notes. In most sprints, you end up with somewhere between thirty and a hundred.


On choosing a target for your sprint:

Who is the most important customer, and what’s the critical moment of that customer’s experience? The rest of the sprint will flow from this decision. […] The Decider needs to choose one target customer and one target event on the map. Whatever she chooses will become the focus of the rest of the sprint — the sketches, prototype, and test all flow from this decision.


Remix and improve

You’ll begin Tuesday morning by searching for existing ideas you can use in the afternoon to inform your solution.

On synthesizing existing ideas:

Our method for collecting and synthesizing these existing ideas is an exercise we call Lighting Demos. Your team will take turns giving three-minute tours of their favorite solutions: from other products, from different domains, and from within your own company. This exercise is about finding raw materials, not about copying your competitors. We’ve found limited benefit in looking at products from the same industry. Time and time again, the ideas that spark the best solutions come from similar problems in different environments. […] By the end of your Lighting Demos, you should have a whiteboard full of ten to twenty ideas. That’s enough to make sure you’ve captured each person’s best inspiration — but it’s a small enough set that you won’t be overwhelmed when you start to sketch.


On working alone together:

We know that individuals working alone generate better solutions than groups brainstorming out loud. Working alone offers time to do research, find inspiration, and think about the problem. And the pressure of responsibility that comes with working alone often spurs us to our best work.

On four-step sketch:

You’ll start with twenty minutes to “boot up” by taking notes on the goals, opportunities, and inspiration you’ve collected around the room. Then you’ll have another twenty minutes to write down rough ideas. Next, it’s time to limber up and explore alternative ideas with a rapid sketching exercise called Crazy 8s. And finally, you’ll take thirty minutes or more to draw your solution sketch — a single well-formed concept with all the details worked out.



On decision-making meetings:

These discussions are frustrating, because humans have limited short-term memory and limited energy for decision-making. When we jump from option to option, it’s difficult to hold important details in our head. On the other hand, when we debate one idea for too long, we get worn out — like a judge at a baking contest who fills up on apple pie before tasting anything else.

Five-step process for making decisions:

  1. Put the solution sketches on the wall.
  2. Look at all the solutions in silence, and use dot stickers to mark interesting parts.
  3. Quickly discuss the highlights of each solution, and use sticky notes to capture big ideas.
  4. Each person chooses one solution, and votes for it with a dot sticker.
  5. The Decider makes the final decision, with more stickers.


On what to do when there are two good ideas:

When you have two good, conflicting ideas, you don’t have to choose between them at all. Instead, you can prototype both, and in Friday’s test, you’ll be able to see how each one fares with your customers. Your prototypes will battle head-to-head, like professional wrestlers whacking each other with folding chairs. We call this kind of test a Rumble.


On creating a storyboard:

[…] you’ll take the winning sketches and string them together into a storyboard. This will be similar to the three-panel storyboards you sketched on Tuesday, but it will be longer: about ten to fifteen panels, all tightly connected into one cohesive story. This kind of long-form storyboarding is a common practice in movie production. Pixar, the film studio behind movies like Toy Story and The Incredibles, spends months getting their storyboards right before committing to animations.


Fake it

On building a facade instead of a real thing:

You’ve got an idea for a great solution. Instead of taking weeks, months, or, heck, even years building that solution, you’re going to fake it. In one day, you’ll make a prototype that appears real, just like that Old West facade. And on Friday, your customers — like a movie audience — will forget their surroundings and just react.

On switching to a prototype mindset:

To prototype your solution, you’ll need a temporary change of philosophy: from perfect to just enough, from long-term quality to temporary simulation.

There are four principles behind this mindset:

  1. You can prototype anything.
  2. Prototypes are disposable.
  3. Build just enough to learn, but not more.
  4. The prototype must appear real.


On prototyping tools:

The trouble with your team’s regular tools is that they’re too perfect — and too slow.

On the best tool for prototyping:

We know it sounds crazy, but we’re 90 percent sure you should use Keynote to make your prototype.


Small data

On interviewing target customers:

These interviews are an emotional roller coaster. When customers get confused by your prototype, you’ll be frustrated. If they don’t care about your new ideas, you’ll be disappointed. But when they complete a difficult task, understand something you’ve been trying to explain for months, or if they pick your solution over the competition — you will be elated. After five interviews, the patterns will be easy to spot.

On collecting data vs doing interviews:

When all you have is statistics, you have to guess what your customers are thinking. When you’re doing an interview, you can just… ask.


On reminding the customer that we aren’t testing her:

“There are no right or wrong answers. Since I didn’t design this, you won’t hurt my feelings or flatter me. In fact, frank, candid feedback is the most helpful.” It’s easier for customers to be honest if they don’t think the Interviewer is emotionally invested in the ideas.

On thinking aloud:

Thinking aloud makes the interview format especially powerful. Seeing where customers struggle and where they succeed with your prototype is useful — but hearing their thought as they go is invaluable.

On asking the right questions:

When you ask an open-ended question, you’re more likely to get an honest reaction and an explanation of why.


On watching interviews together:

Watch the interviews together. It’s much faster, because everyone is absorbing the results at once. Your conclusions will be better as a group, since you have seven brains working together. You’ll avoid problems of credibility and trust, because each sprinter can see the results with his or her own eyes. And at the end of the day, your team can make an informed decision about what to do next — the results of the interview (and the sprint) are still clear in everyone’s short-term memory.

On looking for patterns:

Look for patterns that show up with three or more customers. If only two customers reacted in the same way but it was an especially strong reaction, make note of that, too.

On deciding which patterns are the most important:

On Monday, you came up with a list of sprint questions. These are the unknowns that stand between your team and your long-term goals. Now that you’ve run your test and identified patterns in the results, it’s time to look back at those sprint questions. These questions will help you decide which patterns are most important, and also point you toward next steps.

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There is a special page about design sprints at Google Ventures website — I highly recommend to check it out. Jake Knapp also regularly publishes great articles on Medium.

Read from August 15, 2016 to August 22, 2016 .