How to Boost Your Career with Design Sprints (Even If You’re Not in UX)
You put in the hours, you hit your targets, so why are you still stuck in the same role?
Climbing the company ladder takes more than talent — it’s a mix of skill, initiative and getting noticed by the right people. If you want to advance your career, transition to a leadership role, or change careers entirely — The Sprint method is exactly what you need to make your move.
Developed at Google Ventures by Jake Knapp (author of Sprint), the Design Sprint is an indispensable arsenal of problem-solving strategies, decision-making exercises and facilitation techniques that you can apply in almost any profession (here’s a recap of how it works).
The best part is: you don’t have to be a UX designer to harness the power of the Sprint. This article is for all business owners, product owners, consultants and workshop facilitators who are ready to boost their skills, expand their business and own a better way to work.
How agency owners can do better business with Sprints
So you decided you wanted to stick it to the man, by becoming your own boss? Right on.
Of course, with the perks of entrepreneurship come the perils of business ownership: packaging services, growing the business and making decisions that set the direction of the company.
Sprints increase the value and effectiveness of your services
Circular discussions and busy work — the hallmarks of an agency gone wrong. Clients are left feeling like they’ve paid tons of money for a slight variation of an idea they already had. How do you get it right?
The Design Sprint methodology helps agency and business owners make their services more attractive to clients by providing a set timeline for solving their problem.
No need for “to-be-determined” billable hours or estimates. The Sprint format lets you give your client exactly what they want upfront: a set cost, a step-by-step plan, and a solution — in 4 days.
Time-boxing each step of the project also gives entrepreneurs an added layer of transparency around the number of hours it takes to get the job done. It’s a win-win situation for you and your clients that results in more fruitful outcomes and repeat business.
Sprints show you the best place to expand your business
Let’s say your business does product and web design, but you’re thinking about bringing on some copywriters to start selling content marketing services. How can you be sure this is the right move for your business?
Test new services in a low-risk environment
The Sprint process can help you evaluate the desirability of new services within your target market before you invest time and money hiring talent. Using the prototyping and user-testing exercises on Day 3 and 4, you’ll get invaluable insights from potential customers so you can add services that meet a real need.
Change the way you solve your clients’ problems
If you are not seeing the ROI you want on client projects, you could be suffering from a condition common to creatives: bad habit. Bad work habits live long, happy lives when we believe creativity alone will lead us to the promised land.
Sprints reveal an unholy truth: creativity without structure won’t get you anywhere.
The Design Sprint 2.0 exercises are structured to cover the key stages of validating any idea: defining the problem, devising solutions and testing those solutions with real people. This fast-paced process eliminates the need to rely on creative epiphanies. Instead, it gives you a clear North Star or Two Year Goal to guide your work.
Result: your clients leave with a rapidly-iterated, tested solution that demonstrates your value.
Why product owners and managers should use Sprints
Product owners and managers — in the battle against directionless meetings and idle chatter, the Design Sprint is your Excalibur, your Mjölnir, the shield that guards the realms of productivity. And just in case those fictional weapons didn’t drive the point home, the Sprint is absolutely vital to any product owner or manager who wants to deliver successful outcomes.
The Design Sprint method lets your team quickly generate and prioritize the right ideas.
Imagine this: your team has just been tasked with launching your top-selling product in a brand-new market. Everyone has competing opinions on how you should sell it, what it should be like, and when you should start. How do you get anything done?
Using Design Sprint 2.0, you can rapidly pool your team’s knowledge about your business, sketch potential solutions (anonymously) and choose a solution to pursue (with the Decider casting the final vote) all by the afternoon of Day 2. This lets easily avoid common time-sucks and traps along the design process like design by committee and hidden bias.
Generate solutions that will actually be implemented.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: marketing team spends 100+ hours creating the future of deodorant, VP kills it in 3 minutes. Losing support from stakeholders after months of work can have a devastating effect on budgets, time and morale.
Design Sprint 2.0 helps align stakeholders, sprint participants and “The Decider”.
Having the Decider present from Day1 of the Sprint process ensures that all decisions made throughout the Sprint process will be implemented — that way you don’t waste two days discussing solutions that will never make out of the conference room.
Sprints: lifelong partner of consultants and workshop facilitators
Consultants and workshop facilitators — your participants may never know the countless hours you put into planning exercises, managing egos and ordering pizzas — but we do. Facilitating an effective, high-value workshop means knowing how to (figuratively) crack the whip, blow the whistle and deliver value to your clients. That’s why we sprint.
Sprints prove your services have real impact and value
Repeat business is fundamental to any consultant’s career — but how do you tout the value of your workshops with no way to quantify it? Let’s say you facilitate a five-day branding workshop and the client leaves with one good idea. Was it worth forty hours of work?
Sprint exercises help workshop facilitators and consultants demonstrate the value at each step. Example: Day 4’s User-Testing will provide your client with enough evidence to ensure they don’t invest tons of time and money in the wrong solution. At the conclusion of their sprint, your client leaves with several tangible takeaways: pooled expertise, a defined problem, a two-year goal, a tested solution and measured confidence in their idea.
Remix your current workshop format exercises from the Design Sprint 2.0
Already have a style that works? Keep your preferred format and pepper in the Sprint exercises that are most relevant to your goals. Maybe your group just needs a way to make a quick decision, rather than a fully developed, prototyped solution — this is where we would use the Lightning Decision Jam: a framework for solving problems without discussion.
What the Design Sprint can do for you (in any career)
Sprints can help all types of professionals move up in their careers by giving them a better way to work. Here are some of the big benefits you get when you apply them in any role:
You can work faster (with zero burnout)
The Design Sprint cuts out all those hidden inefficiencies that can drag you down. It prioritizes progress over perfection, so you invest your time where it matters. An example from our own work: after hundreds of sprints we found adding granular details to the User-Journey Map actually slowed the process and made it even harder to find a solution. So in Design Sprint 2.0, we trimmed the exercise to only include high-level details. This gave us the power to eliminate an entire day of work from the process.
Learn crowd-control and facilitation techniques to bring to every workshop you run.
The Sprint technique can help you add form (and reduce chaos) to corporate training programs, branding sessions, and team-building workshops. The 2.0 update optimizes the method even further to minimize discussions, maximize momentum and ensure that both small and large groups can reach the goal line in the fastest time possible.
Mastering these facilitation techniques, means you don’t have to rely on your wit to keep the room under control. The Sprint process has all the exercises you need to drive efficiency.
You can minimize the risk of trying new ideas.
The sprint method gives you the power to say those four words every business owner wants to hear: user-tested and approved (or “we know what’s wrong”). Trialing solutions with a small group lets you forecast how your customers will react to your idea. These insights are key to maximizing budgets and creating products that reflect a real need in your market.
You get an in-demand skill you can leverage in any role.
The Sprint is a repeatable process for solving complex problems with a clear plan. It functions as a self-contained playground for testing new ideas without getting burned, which is why it’s used by hundreds of top companies: LEGO, Slack, Airbnb, and Google…to generate the best solutions in the fastest time possible. Knowing how to run Design Sprints is a skill that will get you noticed.
Want to learn sprint techniques you can apply tomorrow?
Watch our free 1.5-hour Design Sprint webclass now to learn how to run and sell Design Sprints like a pro from the Sprint-inventor himself: Jake Knapp and AJ & Smart’s fearless leader, Jonathan Courtney.
You’ll get a taste of all the insights we’ve gained after running over 200+ sprints at AJ & Smart, plus dozens of practical tips for facilitating successful Design Sprints.