How to use discovery sprints to build the right product faster

Published January 25th, 2020

Design sprint post-its on a whiteboard

A Harvard Business Review study found 74% of ideas are overvalued. This is part of why every startup idea is partially or completely wrong at inception. If you succeed, the idea the market buys won’t look like the idea in your initial ah-ha! moment.

The problem is many founders spend months and tens of thousands of dollars building the perfect version of their idea before testing whether the market finds it valuable or not.

The best way around this common challenge is to increase the speed at which you learn about your customers and adapt to their needs.

Running a customer discovery sprint provides a fast track to learning and collecting concrete insights to help you build the right product faster.

What is a discovery sprint and why should you do one?

A discovery sprint is a framework for quickly learning about your customers and validating your ability to deliver value to them.

GV Sprint Loop Diagram

Source Google Ventures

In just 3-5 days you can go from an idea or challenge to a working prototype you can test with real customers.

A customer discovery sprint provides a short-cut to learning that can de-risk a new product idea and help align your team around a clear outcome before investing weeks or even months building something customers don’t want.

A clear path from idea to testable prototype in just 4 days.

Each step in the discovery sprint process will help you move quickly from abstract ideas to tangible solutions you can test with real customers.

Step 1. Understand

The starting point for a discovery sprint is a current challenge or hypothesis. In our sprint, this will take the form of a discovery call. During this time we will seek to answer questions like:

  • - What’s the challenge we are trying to solve?
  • - What is the expected outcome?
  • - What does the current status quo look like?
  • - What could go wrong (open questions)?
  • - How will we measure success?

Output/Documentation: We will co-create a one-pager that outlines the opportunity and our current hypothesis and assumptions.

Your Commitment: 60-minute discovery call. Sharing and linking prior research and observations to the one-pager.

Step 2. Diverge

Now that we have alignment on the problem we are trying to solve. Step 2 is all about exploring possible solutions. We’ll explore existing solutions and sketch possible solutions of our own.

The goal is to map out the system and experience we are trying to create rather than get stuck in the minutiae with high-fidelity design at this point. This is why we use “fat-marker” sketches to turn abstract ideas into concrete solutions that clearly describe how the problem will be solved.

Output/Documentation: Sketches of potential solutions we could prototype in step 4.

Your Commitment: Optional* Involvement in the sketching and solution exploration process. You may wish to include existing design work or sketches.

Step 3. Decide

You will now have a set of concrete solution ideas you could build. In this step, we will decide which one to prototype and create a plan for how to execute it. A decider (typically the CEO) will have the final say on which solution idea moves forward to the next step. It’s important to remember here that until tested the perceived value of each idea is based on assumptions. Don’t get caught up in the details at this stage, we’ll have real customer feedback to inform next steps very soon.

Output/Documentation: A storyboard that provides a frame-by-frame blueprint for the solution we will prototype.

Your Commitment: 60-minute design review and making a final decision on which idea to prototype.

Step 4. Prototype

Today might be the most exciting day of the sprint. We will use our solution storyboard to create a tangible prototype you can test with your customers.

This is not a static mockup or paper prototype, we will use no-code or low-code tools to create a prototype that not only looks and feels like a real product but acts like one too.

We will use no-code tools to do the heavy lifting and help us move quickly. Here are a few examples of the tools we typically use to create a working prototype without code:

  • - Webflow: A visual design and development tool for creating beautiful web interfaces.
  • - Zapier: The “glue” between the tools in our no code stack, used to connect the data we need in our workflows.
  • - Typeform: A form builder that combines logic-driven functionality with a simple user experience.
  • - Airtable: Provides a visual database that can be easily connected to other tools to power data-driven experiences.
  • - Glide: Testing a mobile app? Glide makes it possible to create a testable prototype without code, using data from a Google Sheet.

Output/Documentation: A high-fidelity interactive prototype ready to test with real users.

Your Commitment: 60-minute prototype walkthrough and design review.

Step 5. Test

We’ve now turned an abstract idea into a testable artifact in less than 4 days. The next step is to test our prototype with 5 real customers. We’re looking to identify patterns and determine whether our prototype is a hit, a miss, or somewhere in between with room for iteration and improvement.

Ideally, this testing step will be conducted in-person or via a screen share so we can observe in real-time. If this isn’t possible feedback can be collected asynchronously using question prompts to ensure the depth of feedback is sufficient to inform decision making.

Output/Documentation: A “test kit” including question prompts and interview guidelines. An actionable report of learnings from user testing that you can use to make confident decisions about your next steps.

Your Commitment: Identifying and scheduling 5 customers to test your prototype with. Optionally, you may choose to conduct the tests yourself.

At the end of the week you will have tangible, documented learnings you can use to make a decision about what to do next.

  • - Do you want to continue testing and iterating on your prototype?
  • - Should you abandon this idea and run another discovery sprint from scratch?
  • - Are you ready to move ahead and build a production-ready product?

There are no wrong answers here and you’ll be in a position to move forward with confidence supported by your sprint learnings.

Ready to take the next step?

I have years of experience facilitating discovery sprints and rapidly prototyping products to save you the time and money of building in the wrong direction.

Schedule a free call