In the process of building Style Counsel, I came across a brilliant method of designing and testing an idea which I want to share with you. The Sprint Method, originally developed by Google Ventures, allows teams to test key assumptions, design a prototype and test it among your target customers in just five days. If you are sceptical, so was I, until I learnt that Airbnb, Facebook, Slack and McKinsey are just some of the companies that use it. So, as we needed to create Style Counsel’s Minimum Viable Product, we submitted ourselves to the Sprint. Our handlers for this journey were the team at Ribot, an award-winning product design company (which has incidentally created products for Google using this very method).
The Sprint takes place over five days and requires your full-time attention. You will need a team of up to seven (we had five), one of whom is The Decider, a couple of industry experts for short calls and five testers from your target market. You will also need a stop watch, dot stickers and a LOT of post its. Most importantly, you need the curiosity to test your assumptions and humility to understand when you are wrong.
Here is how the five days pan out:
Monday: big picture day. Start by setting your long term goal. Ours was “Help women decide what to wear and buy”. In order to get the best out of the Sprint process, you need to call in a couple of advisors for a 20 minute chat each. They shouldn't be an immediate part of the project, but should know about the field you are operating in. In our case, we spoke to Anne-Marie Tomchak, who set up a BBC format reporting on social media news, about current trends and how they could be relevant to Style Counsel. After all this theorising, you need to pick a target: decide what main topic you want to test.
Tuesday: drafting day. Start the day with every team member bringing ideas of how other companies have solved similar problems. Don’t look for your competitors (you’ll just end up copying), but instead look for companies who have solved a comparable issue, e.g. Uber and Airbnb.
Wednesday: decision day. This is the day you decide which ideas you are going to prototype and start your storyboard. The most important decision of the sprint is made on Wednesday, so make sure to be focused and energetic at this stage.
Thursday: prototyping day. On Thursday you turn your storyboard into a realistic prototype and prepare for testing day. A realistic prototype is a façade, it is not the real thing. To the testers, it must feel like a real experience so their reactions to it can teach you useful lessons. For example, we built our prototype in Invision and it worked almost like the real thing.
Friday: test day! The first time I did it, I was terrified: what if they hate it?! It is better to find out what your target market really thinks before you throw time and money at an untested idea. On Friday, you should have four or five people from your target market to test your prototype. User research by Jakob Nielsen has shown that 85% of problems in a product are observed after just five testers. Therefore, it makes more sense to fix the 85% of observed errors and then go back and test again, rather than interviewing hundreds of people to uncover the last 15%.
After the last round of interviews, you will be too tired to think straight. We noted all the user feedback and dissected it the following Monday. After that, we began another sprint to fix the mistakes in the last prototype.
After two sprints, we had a realistic prototype which testers loved and which helped us raise our funding round. It is the Minimum Viable Product, but testers could immediately see what it does and delighted in using it. We are Beta testing this product as I write this, but of course the real test will come when our product is open to the public. We cannot foresee the future, but we’re happy to live with 85% certainty for now.
Here are a couple of screenshots from our Sprint prototype: