What is the Business Value of Design Sprints?

March 3, 2021
John Vetan

Design Sprints were created ten years ago at Google as a better way to work and were largely unknown to the outside world before Jake Knapp, and John Zeratsky revealed the process in their book, Sprint, in 2016.

Over these past five years, design sprints have increased in popularity, making their way to the mainstream as a growing number of organizations started to adopt the process.

And this brings the legitimate question about the value of design sprints. Beyond the hype, what is the business value of design sprints? Can we quantify it using metrics? What are these?

Last month, I was invited to Relay, a conference organized by Google to mark the tenth anniversary of design sprints and look ahead at the future of design sprints.Naturally, “Measuring the Business Value of Design Sprints” was one of the big topics, and I had the opportunity to work with a select group of Googlers and community experts to find some answers.

We barely scratched the surface in the short time we had and ended up with more questions than answers.

After the conference, I continued working on the topic and involved some of the organizations we at Design Sprint Academy either facilitated sprints or helped them to implement the process. SAP, Roche, RGA, eBay, and Which? to name just a few, helped us gather relevant insights about the business value of design sprints.

The initial findings might be somewhat surprising, but design sprints have a vast and profound impact on the organizations which successfully adopted them because they affect more than one dimension.

Design Sprints produce faster and better solutions to a wide range of problems, force alignment between stakeholders, drive culture change through a new way of working that puts the customer first.

Unavoidably, these all lead to more tangible benefits such as time and cost savings, customer satisfaction, faster time to market, and ultimately more revenue.

1. Outcomes

One of the reasons design sprints are hugely popular is their versatility.

Design Sprints are not bound to any specific industry or set of challenges.They can be used in almost any business context to launch a new product, improve a process or service, test a new business idea or leap into the future, and create a vision of what that might be.

2. Alignment

Arguably, one of the most valuable benefits of design sprints has always been alignment.

It might be difficult to put a figure on it, but being able to take the people that make decisions from C-Suite all the way down on the same journey at the same time means that there is a massive reduction in the amount of time wasted thinking unproductively about the same problems in a siloed way.

3. Culture Change

Design Sprints represent a new way of working. The value of having the chance to speak and to be heard is immense because it motivates, satisfies, and gives meaning to the people involved in a design sprint. More than doing meaningful work, design sprints are full of magic moments that bring joy to work and strengthen team bonding.

4. Customer Centricity

Every organization wants or claims to be customer-centric, which in practice rarely happens, whatever the reason might be.

With design sprints, there is no way around it.Every design sprint ends with a customer-tested prototype, making the customer voice one of the building blocks of any solution.

ROI of Design Sprints

“Show me the money” is the famous line in the Jerry Maguire film, and that’s what every business executive, decision-maker, and C-suite will want to see before signing off on design sprints.

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The number will be different for each organization, and I am sure these executives can do the math and find it relatively easy by answering these questions:

  • What’s the value of a team that’s always aligned?
  • What’s the value in getting better results faster (than the competition)?
  • What’s the value in pulling the plug on bad projects in days versus investing time and resources for months? And conversely, what’s the benefit of finding breakthrough ideas in days versus months?
  • What’s the value of your decision-making being always informed by customer needs?
  • What’s the value of a motivated team that is doing meaningful work and finds joy in that?

Design sprints are not the silver bullet. Of course, there are other approaches, frameworks, and methods to improve the way we work.

But design sprints are unique in the way that all of the above-mentioned effects can be observed in a matter of days. More, design sprints are not reserved for a select group of experts; they are inclusive, which invites and welcomes broad participation from anyone in one organization. Lastly, design sprints do not disrupt existing workflows and processes, which makes their implementation reasonably smooth.

In conclusion, design sprints pack a punch way beyond their stature and have the potential to start a rippling wave of change with long-lasting effects on how we work and the future of our organizations.