The power of technology to shape our world is undeniable. From self-driving cars to advances in health and fitness, technology has the power to transform the lives of those who use and produce it.

Since the very first chip sets were soldered, incredible progress has been made toward dramatically reducing the risk associated with the experimentation and innovation required to make great products. Using agile methodologies to create minimum viable products, individuals and teams have reduced the time investment needed to take an idea from concept to early validation from years to a matter of months or weeks.

But what if you could validate an idea in just one week?

Before committing thousands of dollars to an idea, entrepreneurs and product managers today are using design thinking and creative problem solving to test ideas with real customers in just five days. This method, known as a Design Sprint, has revolutionized how companies like Google, thoughtbot, Brewhouse, and others determine whether an idea is worth building at a fraction of the cost of developing a minimum viable product.

Design Sprints are an opportunity for teams to share ideas and collaboratively solve big problems in a matter of days. Teams made up of product owners and managers, designers, developers, sales and marketing people, and other interested stakeholders follow a 5-phase process that helps them understand the problem at hand, explore as many potential solutions as possible, prototype the best ideas, and validate our ideas with real customers before committing a single line of code.

These 5 phases — Understand, Diverge, Converge, Prototype, and Test — take the current best practices in business strategy, design thinking, behavioral science, and innovation and allow teams to cut through the bullshit and validate their ideas with real human beings quickly and cost-effectively.

Understand

Critical Path
A critical path for email newsletter curation

We begin the sprint by sharing knowledge, understanding the problem, mapping our customers’ journey, and establishing our goals for the sprint. Assumptions and knowledge gaps are identified and captured here and throughout the sprint and serve as the basis of our testing. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and share ideas so that we can come to a shared understanding of who our customer is and what problem we are hoping to solve for them.

Diverge

Critical Path
Early storyboard created during the diverge phase

The team explores as many potential solutions to the problem as possible and insights are realized through the consideration of radically different approaches to solving the problem. By building upon each participants’ ideas and evaluating the differentiation between them, we are able to more quickly generate unique solutions to our customers’ problem.

Converge

Not all of the ideas generated over the previous two days can or should be tested. By evaluating and eliminating so many ideas, we can decide which will have the best chance of solving our customers’ problem and be confident in our choices. By the end of the converge phase, the team will have created a complete storyboard that illustrates step-by-step the plan for our prototype.

Prototype

By adopting a philosophy of “fake it ‘til you make it”, the team will turn our storyboard into a prototype that will allow us to test our ideas and assumptions and fill any remaining knowledge gaps. We’ll create our prototype with a tool that fits our needs, time constraints, and learning goals with the understanding that our ultimate goal is to validate our ideas and capture our customers’ reactions. We’ll also use this time to confirm our testing schedule, review the prototype, and write an interview script.

Test

Testing with Lookback
Capturing a prototype test with Lookback

Through interviewing existing or potential customers and capturing their reaction to our prototype, we can validate our ideas and assumptions and gain invaluable insight into our riskiest knowledge gaps and what problems remain. With this knowledge, we can plan what to do next with confidence.