Ideate ⇛ Prototype ↣ Test ⇝
Repeat ➰

At any given moment, you have tons of ideas bouncing around your head. Some of them, if executed correctly, could make a difference in the way we work and live. Whether it’s an innovative solution for your community’s waste program or a better material purchasing process for your industry, there’s no shortage of possibilities.

Still, you’re a sane person with limited resources. You know you can’t pursue them all. So, how do you know which ideas are worth pursuing and which are just whimsical daydreams?

Concept image showing several lightbulbs that are turned off and one that is turned on

When it comes to deciding, you probably start weighing these factors:

  • How much will the solution cost to build and maintain?
  • What are the associated risks?
  • What are the potential rewards?
  • How long will it take to get to the payoff?

However, before you can start answering these questions, you have to decide what “it” is.

Designing a Solution

Perhaps you’re very aware of the problem that you want to solve, but what is the right way to solve it? We’re not talking about an elevator pitch or a sales presentation. We’re talking about getting specific about what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to work in its earliest usable forms.

App designer sketching interface views

And, while we are talking about design, this is not just about aesthetics. One of the most challenging parts of designing a digital solution is keeping it as lean as possible, getting feedback early and often, and iterating as quickly as possible until you’ve nailed it. If you’re too hung up on your idea, you could miss the opportunity entirely.

When you’re trying to build something innovative, time is not your friend. The longer it takes for you to test ideas and roll out a minimum viable solution, the more expensive the process is in the long run and the greater the risk of failure. You’ll inevitably have to pivot a few times before you land on the right solution, and the sooner you can make those discoveries and shifts, the better.

The Design Phase

If you can’t tell by now, we really want our clients to succeed in their software journey. We know that maximizing the impact of their investment is a big part of that. And, since digital strategy evolves quickly, we’re constantly trying to put what we learn to work for our customers.

In 2013, our sixth year building dream apps for clients, we launched a service called Story Plans, a software planning phase with a customizable set of deliverables for every software-building scenario. During a typical Story Plan, we clarify the business case for building new software, learn what we can about each type of user, map out critical information and workflows, and perform the necessary research. We use this information to design the minimum viable product, which we then leverage to estimate the build-out.

With the introduction of Story Plans, we saw a marked increase in successful customer outcomes. A few of these successful outcomes include:

  1. Leveraging the outputs to secure SBIR grant funding.
  2. Realizing that it is not wise to proceed with development at all.
    (Yes, we consider this a win.)
  3. Developing market-ready systems in less time and with fewer features than originally anticipated.

Even with these and other obvious successes, we saw opportunities to improve. What can I say? We are a bunch of reformed perfectionists.

A Case for Sprints

While Story Plans are still a great option for some clients and have been shown to save time in the long run, they often take longer than we’d like to complete.

Graphic of business people running around a clock

Working collaboratively and asynchronously with a client, an average-sized Story Plan takes several weeks to complete. When clients are less available, it can easily take over a month. We recognize how valuable time is when it comes to innovation.

Recently, we introduced the Design Sprint to address these concerns. They constrain time, provide a tested, efficient framework for design and validation, and minimize the impact to business processes.

Completing the work in a room together may require setting aside a big block of time upfront, but it ultimately takes a lot less time and gets the work done much sooner.

What is a Design Sprint?

The Design Sprint is a proven framework for reducing risk when bringing a new product to market or solving a big challenge in an innovative way. It is typically delivered as a five-phase, facilitated process. The natural constraints help participants move from ideation to validation as rapidly as possible.

Graphic showing five phases of design sprint: map, sketch, decide, prototype, test

This process was originally developed at Google and has since gained momentum among large recognizable brands, as well as startups and entrepreneurs. While it is often put to use for the sake of efficiency and cost savings, it is also a great way to boost creative problem solving and productivity in the workplace.

Everyday Business Cases

Whether your team has an idea for a marketable app, is looking for help framing a technical solution to an internal problem, or wants to learn more about how to put the innovation process to work, a Design Sprint is the best way to get from idea to validation as quickly as possible.

Interested in learning more about hosting a facilitated Design Sprint for your business or product idea? Get in touch for a quote.

About the author

enjoys working with entrepreneurs and innovators to solve problems using technology. She heads up Ascend from beautiful Eugene, Oregon.