How Product Design Sprints Can Save Time and Money Regardless of Your Industry

Mallory Merrill

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We all want to save time and money. Perhaps especially so when it comes the product design and development.

Wouldn't you like to know if your latest idea for a product is a good one before investing your precious resources in a gamble?

Stephen Henderson is a Software Product Manager at Cricut where they use Design Sprints to build product prototypes that save them headaches down the road. Sprint planning and product validation carry their business strategy from the genesis of an idea all the way to the deployment of their products.

Stephen is a true renaissance man with many different interests; he has a unique blend of artistic creativity and technical prowess. Stephen started at Stanford in creative ventures and eventually made his way to tech over the years where he is always looking forward to the future of product development.

We spoke with Stephen in this week’s episode of SaaS Academy about what Design Sprints are, how to execute them, and what skills you need to get data from prototyping.

Product Development Sprints vs. Product Design Sprints

There are two basic types of sprints in Stephen’s product management world: Development Sprints and Design Sprints.

In a Development Sprint, you look to build on ideas that have already been validated in hopes of making the development process as efficient as possible.  You seek to answer the question. “What can we build or expect to build in a certain amount of time?”

Design Sprints, on the other hand, happen first.  In this case, you are looking to validate ideas before resources are spent.  They help you discover how or why ideas work before you spend company time and money making them a full developed reality. Design Sprints are Stephen’s primary way of creating a backlog of projects to determine what he and his team will work on.

According to Stephen, Design Sprints should answer this question: "out of all the conceivably good ideas to work on, which ones should we work on, and when?"

With a Design Sprint, you seek to solve problems in a condensed amount of time with minimal resources.  Design sprints help you go rapidly from an idea to actionable data before actually launching a product.

In the SaaS world, you always want to validate first with a Design Sprint.  There is simply too much at risk not to do that. The good news is that it is easier than ever to validate ideas before fully developing a product.

Executing Design Sprints

Now that we have defined what a Design Sprint is, let's talk about how you execute one...

The first thing to do is to map out the customer experience of your product including what problems you want to solve with that product.  Do your best to start with the end in mind; what will your customer actually be using this product for on a regular basis?

After you decide on which prioritized ideas are best to move forward with, you build prototypes trying to solve that core problem set.  This process helps you see what did and didn’t work. If the product idea is validated with the prototype, then you can proceed to actually building product.  If not, it is back to the drawing board.

Development Skills Required

How complicated is it to successfully execute a Design Sprint? The answer to that question depends on how realistic you want your prototype to be.

In Stephen’s particular case, his projects have not needed a single line of code, so he has kept things fairly simple at this Design Sprint stage.  But this of course varies depending on the time and complexity of the project. One thing is for certain: you need talented designers to develop these prototypes if your sprint is going to give you realistic data in order to validate your idea.

Career-Defining Moment

Stephen was kind enough to share a career-defining moment with us on the podcast. When he was the VP of Marketing at an early stage startup, his lead developer left to work with a competitor.  At that point, he was asked to oversee product for the company in addition to his marketing responsibilities.

At that point, Stephen got hooked on product management after seeing the backlog of projects to work on.  He was excited to prioritize the team’s backlog with the marketing focus of getting customers what they need.  Stephen hasn’t looked back since!

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