Why Are Design Sprints Useful to Product Managers?

Having originated from the need to solve a big product need fast, it’s safe to say design sprints are a natural fit for product managers looking to build better products, craft memorable experiences and solve pressing product questions faster. 

Why are design sprints useful to product managers you ask? Product managers benefit from design sprints because the intense 5 day process allows product teams to quickly identify the key problems, align around a specific goal, create a host of viable solutions, design a realistic prototype, and validate the hypothesis based on real user feedback. This makes it a fantastic way of testing ideas and concepts at low cost, fast.

Read on to see the specific ways product managers can benefit from adding design sprints to their product toolbox.

Why do product managers find design sprints useful?

1. They validate your product hypothesis early

Often, the biggest problem when teams are proposing an idea or launching a new product is that they assume they already know what their customers want. It’s a self-given sense of assurance that what you design and build is exactly what’s needed, without really talking to the person who will be using it (not very UX orientated of them!).

This is where design sprints come in handy; they help teams answer those big challenging questions without having to actually launch the product to great cost through a strictly defined process. 

Ultimately, the product manager can create backlogs based on validated user needs that solve genuine business problems based on actual findings, rather than those based on gut feeling (that could turn out to be expensive flops). This has the side benefit of reassuring your product team that they are on the right track and that the idea is worth their time and effort. 

2. They prioritise ‘getting started‘ over ‘perfection

We’ve all been in meetings that overstayed their welcome, weren’t necessary or left you with no definitive follow up activities.

Urgency of getting things done and building momentum can often be lost in email chains, aimless meetings and prolonged research periods, putting promising ideas on hold indefinitely.

Design sprints however benefit from being compressed to a short period of time and allowing teams to build momentum fast, racking up wins like concept validation early.

Design sprints are not about making the perfect final product, it’s about seeing if the idea has legs when finally with a customer, hearing their thoughts and making an informed next step without having to commit months of time to getting started.

We’d been limping along on a video conferencing project and we finally said: Let’s check our calendars. Let's forget about making this thing perfect. At the end of the week, we had a good enough prototype that people started to use and it took off.

3. Everyone is aligned from the off

Ever wanted to push on with testing a hypothesis or launching a new product, but you’re carrying team members who aren’t fully onboard or have stakeholders who don’t agree with the direction?

According to ProductPlan, building product consensus is the biggest challenge, while managing internal politics is the most painful part of being a product manager. In otherwise, getting buy in and establishing alignment is mission critical.

Design sprints enable this by:

  • Inviting multi-departmental teams to solve problems, ensuring you get maximum insights from across your organisation and give team members a chance to voice their opinions
  • Mapping out the problem and the everyone getting oversight over areas of concern
  • Allowing a decision maker (whether that be the product manager or a higher powered stakeholder) to make the decisions during the sprint

With all these points in mind, product managers can get buy in from their team and enable stakeholders to get all the facts that will support your attempt to approach the challenge.

Project meeting with a client

4. The team expands beyond the product team

Expanding on the previous point, design sprints provide the opportunity for everyone to contribute to the success of a product. This is because decision making is democratic and nobody in the team holds a passive role in the sprint. The success of the process relies upon the diversity of a team, aligning on the big problem and knuckling down to get ideas together.

According to Douglas Ferguson, Founder of Voltage Control, the entire team benefits and learns from working collaboratively, ‘”Simply getting people talking, disconnected by an organisation’s complex structure, is an undervalued part of the Design Sprint process.” 

As all individuals in the team are given equal responsibility for effective decision making, there is less pressure on the product manager to make the decisions alone or use their sole expertise to make decisions. 

What helps a product manager to do good work is they need that full perspective from working with the engineers, designers and the customers and the stakeholders.

5. Product managers can embed the prototyping mindset

Plenty of product teams still run on the ‘spec it, build it, launch’ mindset. That can be perfectly fine for some, but where we’re testing big bets and want an indication of user sentiment before going all in, the prototyping mindset is the go-to approach.

Prototyping has the advantages of:

  • Being lower cost to produce (don’t require a single line of code)
  • Being realistic enough to gather feedback
  • Being early enough that you can iron out any problem areas or usability issues through minimal testing (around 5 tests can find 85% of all usability issues)

Because design sprints produce tangible results quickly from prototypes, team’s can reprogram their backlogs according to what will make the biggest impact for end users and trim any unnecessary features. 

"One of my favorite quotes is “creativity loves constraint,” and I think the sprint methodology completely embodies that. It gives a structure for approaching innovation and ideation, which for some teams can seem very daunting. But in a sprint, you can kickstart amazing ideas that people can continue to develop."

6. They emphasise how important design is to product success

When a product comes to mind, we often think about what it does. The functionality.

But what often goes under the radar is how usable something is, the journey customers go to get from A to B, and how things feel to use.

When you consider that 88% of users would not return to a product if they had a bad experience, how something is designed is critical to it’s overall success when live.

Design sprints build in an emphasis on good design in multiple ways:

  • You start with mapping out the user journey, giving a good insight into user expectations, where the company needs to act, etc., which all plays a role in how you build your digital experience too
  • Teams will storyboard out the chosen solution, meaning you’re not going straight to coding while winging it
  • You gather usability test results and recordings of actual users that can be used to iterate on the existing prototype
Design isn’t just what it looks like and feels like — design is how it works.

7. You never fail a design sprint (and it’s just the beginning)

Even if the design sprint does not end with a prototype that’s validated to be the right thing, it does not mean it is necessarily a failure.

Design sprints often leave product teams with 3 possible outcomes:

  • Hypothesis proven: Concept seems to be positively received by the users, proving the hypothesis. Make improvements based on the feedback and retest in follow up sprints to prepare towards formal development
  • Hypothesis partially proven/unproven: Feedback seems to not give the full picture of if the concept will work. May require additional testers or further tweaks to verify
  • Hypothesis disproven: Concept seems to be negatively received by users, showing the hypothesis to be false. Teams can go back to the drawing board with the feedback received and prepare for a new sprint with a concept that accounts for the information gained

Teams may end a sprint with more questions than answers, but being able to address these questions before a launch means that product managers get to see the bigger picture through the users eyes and allow the feedback to guide the next big step.

How Can Design Sprints Benefit Product Managers?

This table summarises some of the key benefits design sprints have for product managers. 

Why might a product manager consider a design sprint? Benefits
To save time Sprints save months, even years of wasted efforts towards issues that benefit the end user.
To save money Companies can save money because the process is packed into a single week.
To test a risky concept or idea The framework is excellent for reducing risk, clearing up ambiguity, and unpacking complex problems.
To adopt a prototyping mindset Rather than spending months on design and code, a high-fidelity, clickable prototype is enough to get honest feedback from users.

How Involved Should a Product Manager Be in the Design Sprint Process?

Whilst the design sprint is primarily based around collaborative working, the product manager is still expected to lead in the understanding of the business and prioritising decisions in the sprint. After all, the product manager, also known as the ‘Decider’ is ultimately responsible for making the final judgement call. They should be available at all times during the process to share insight, manage information appropriately and ensure all tasks are completed.  

To find out more about the responsibilities and qualities of the product manager, be sure to take a look at our recent blog.

Design Sprints with PixelTree Media 

Now that you know why design sprints are so useful to product managers, it’s time to act! Take a look at Pixeltree’s design sprint service.

We also offer a design sprint workshop, ideal for people looking to test new concepts before fully committing. 

Kickstart your design sprint process today by downloading our FREE guide or getting in touch with our team of UX-perts.

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