Good product ideas getting lost in the stakeholder maze? We’ve developed a sprint method to take a concept from powerpoint slide to prototype in just two weeks, with the user-centered evidence needed to decide whether to invest in the idea or not. Here we share what we’ve learnt about running this process.
Many companies struggle to know which ideas to invest in; not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of effective and consistent methods to develop, test, and validate them. The challenge is even greater for technology and hardware companies with more to lose in developing and manufacturing early-stage concepts.
Despite the best intentions to be user-centered and agile, early-stage concepts often get bounced around between stakeholders and shaped by non-user perspectives. Initially great ideas therefore become lost in a maze of competing perspectives and priorities. Many good ideas don’t even see the light of day.
IXDS PROTOTYPING SPRINT
At IXDS, we developed a Prototyping Sprint method ideally suited for the needs of hardware technology companies hungry to innovate with greater agility. It’s a design sprint beefed up to tackle the specific needs of hardware companies. A high-energy, collaborative two-week adventure, designed to test a clearly defined opportunity area or use case, the main goal of the sprint is to reach a go/ no-go recommendation based on user evidence. Along the way, we rapidly develop the design of the concept, bringing it to life in low-fidelity prototypes, test assumptions and pick up valuable user insights.
The focus of the first week is nailing down concept variants and identifying a design direction based on target user feedback. The focus of the second week is creating a low fidelity protype and testing the desirability of the concept with users.
Powering the Prototyping Sprint is a unique constellation of experts from the IXDS team: a facilitator, user researcher, creative technologist, industrial designer, and interface designer.
BEST PRACTICES FOR PROTOTYPING SPRINTS
With many of these sprints under our belts, we’ve learnt a fair bit about what makes the Prototyping Sprint a success. Here are our main take-outs:
Prototyping Sprints are fast-paced and high-octane. To keep up that pace, facilitators need to be energy-conscious, provide clear time-boxing and cater for healthy bodies.
The success of a sprint is marked by a go or no-go recommendation. We celebrate a successful failure almost as much we do discovering a winning concept. The important thing is: we failed fast.
A Prototyping Sprint is not market research. We will collect insights along the way, but without e.g. stringent methodology. For example, we will not do unnecessary admin tasks like transcribing user interviews.
There should be just one Decider to allow final decisions to be made fast and for the sprint to always progress. Typically, the Decider is the project lead from our client organisation and does a good job of keeping wider stakeholders out of the sprint until the end.
Sprints bring together a unique mix of creative talent, from technologists to researchers, UI designers and strategists. Humor, and a flexible attitude, are vital to the team to help diverse profiles work together, in one room, at high speed.
Sprints mean rolling up sleeves. Technologists need to be ready to take notes in an interview, researchers ready to glue prototypes and project leads at-hand to make coffee when needed. Apart from the one Decider, hierarchy has no place in a successful sprint.
Sprints can scale. We have found that the Prototyping Sprint can be applied to an entire innovation pipeline. The advantage of scaling the process is a consistent and efficient approach for new concepts to be compared against each other in their performance with users.
At IXDS, we find our flow as designers and technologists in Prototyping Sprints, and some of our proudest working moments in our organization come from the heat of the sprint.