5 Design Sprint Lessons from 5 Case Studies

17 Feb 2020 by Scott Middleton
Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

One of the best and fastest ways to improve a practice is to learn from the lessons of others. In an effort to improve my Design Sprinting and get prepared for a webinar on Design Sprints with Atlassian Principal Design Strategist Ben Crothers I compiled a list of 5 case studies on Design Sprints and the top takeaway(s) from each case study.

The list features lessons and insights on running Design Sprints from the likes of Lego, Facebook and the City of Denver. It tries to focus on practical takeaways relevant to those that are in control of running Design Sprints, so they can be applied immediately. 

This article won’t help you with the basics of Design Sprints, for that you’re better off visiting the home of design sprints or picking up the book Sprint, by Jake Knapp. This article also tries to avoid insights around broader culture, as often this isn’t within your control or will take too long to change. 

Let’s walk through the case studies and the key takeaways. They are in no particular order.

Case Study #1: How Lego run Design Sprints at scale

LEGO ran 150 design sprints over 12 months and, astoundingly, implemented it rapidly and abruptly. LEGO literally halted production and put the teams to work running Design Sprints with minimal training or preparation.

The key, practical, lesson on running a Design Sprint from the case study is that as the project manager running the Design Sprint you can get started and prepare as you go. The LEGO project managers took it one day at a time, preparing for the next day of the sprint while the team worked on the current day’s exercise.

This should hopefully help you get unstuck if you’re worried about jumping in.

Case Study #2: Invalidating an idea at WeWork

WeWork and the team at Toi used Design Sprints to invalidate an on-demand space offering

If you put aside any strange feelings or cynical thoughts you have for WeWork and focus on what you can learn, you’ll find a gem that highlights the importance of engaging in the problem you need to solve.

The team kicked-off their Design Sprint by trying to book into a competitor’s space. This seems to have set the context for their Design Sprint better than any amount of words or PowerPoint could have.

“Going through an actual booking and usage process created a very present understanding of what potential users experience during an on-demand booking experience.” 

Another take away from this case study is that, ultimately the Design Sprint led to invalidating the idea. Rather than being seen as a failure, it was seen to save time and money over a longer, more drawn out process.

Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash

Case Study #3: City of Denver reimagines public art in non-standard Design Sprint

The City of Denver wanted to increase awareness of public art in Denver. They mixed up the Design Sprint a bit, spacing it over days, running some parts in just 2 hours, and involving people in some activities but not others.

Ultimately, the Design Sprint seems to have assisted them in getting to a better solution for increasing awareness of public art. So, the takeaway from this is that you don’t need to be constrained by rigidly adhering to the process and timing of a normal Design Sprint.

Remember, Design Sprints are just a methodology to help you quickly arrive at a new solution or a better understanding of a problem. If you need to change it to suit your environment then do so – others have and they’ve succeeded. 

Case Study #4: Evolving the Facebook news feed

This is a case study by Facebook on how they used a Design Sprint to evolve the News Feed. Given the highly optimized nature of a product like Facebook, where small pixel level changes to spacing can have “large and unexpected repercussions” it was fascinating to see the Design Sprint applied to relatively incremental change compared with the revolutionary change it is often associated with.

The takeaway here is how the Design Sprint enabled the team at Facebook to make seemingly minor changes that have given Facebook a much improved feel. That is, applying Design Sprints to seemingly small problems and solutions can yield big results.  

Case Study #5: Creating a new home page 

Nick Butler wrote up lessons learnt from the team’s first Design Sprint to create a new home page for Boost. The team ultimately seems to have learnt from running the sprint but didn’t seem to get the “clear cut” outcome they were looking for.

The main practical take away from the Boost team is to have some methods in your kit bag for resolving decisions and avoiding groupthink. Nick calls out how they didn’t get a “shared view” on experiment results and how they fell into “design by committee, with all its downsides”. This probably links to his view that they didn’t take enough risks.

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