Sprints are often a very effective way of getting to ideas quickly. We are regularly amazed by what our sprint teams achieve in a very short space of time.

But does being quick mean you have to cut preparatory research and validation? A recent article by Jonathan Courtney sparked a debate in the Nile office because it argued that such user research was largely an expensive waste of time, and even dared to call it ‘product procrastination’.

There may be a slight tongue in our cheeks as we feign outrage, and we agree that there can be cases where commissioning and running research is delaying or derailing the creative process, but to damn up front research in a clickbait headline is a little bit irresponsible.

Luckily, there is an easy way out of this conundrum. Before we start our sprints, we ask the fundamental question: ‘Are we certain we know enough about the problem we’re trying to solve?’

This isn’t over-cautious, it is common sense. Your sprint should innovate around a true opportunity or solve a real problem. If you don’t have the data and insight to use as a springboard then jumping straight into ideation will be based on the knowledge, experiences and prejudices of those in the sprint room. And that means you might not leap as far as you want to.

Here are some of our learnings to help you sprint more creatively, knowing that your innovation is securely grounded in insight.

The most important thing to do is to clearly define and validate the problem or opportunity. Based on powerful and true insight, you will have fertile creative territory to work with. Insight prevents the direction of your innovation being too assumptive, too driven by a dominant voice, or constrained by what technology or ‘the system’ can achieve. In our experience, up-front research can uncover fundamental differences in the way different user groups think, and more crucially, how users think versus the how your organisation thinks.

Overhead photo of design ideas on post its

Ideation works best when your ideas are based on real insight about your users or the market.

Our second piece of advice is not to rely on the prototype entirely. Some believe speeding to a working prototype is the best use of time, that it’s best to forego research and put something tangible in users’ hands for testing.

No one here would disagree with the value of a working prototype for gathering useful feedback, and that it’s essential to test and refine your concept.

Our point is that if you’re not trying to come up with a solution too quickly you might come up with a better solution.

Thirdly, it’s worth remembering that research can be tailored to the complexity of your problem, or the time you have. Useful user data from an online survey can deliver workable results in days if not hours. There are also tools like our soon to be available Insight Canvas you can use to structure insight gathering in your design sprints.

Ultimately, the biggest risk with rushing ahead to ideation is that you’ll create weaker solutions than you would, had the team been steered by insight. You’ll no doubt create lots of useful consumer feedback at prototype stage, but it may cost you time and money in future iterations to fix a weak concept and get the solution right. At worst, your tested idea misses the mark with users and a competitor quickly nips in to benefit from your mistakes.

Nile work with a number of clients driving innovation within highly regulated environments such as financial services and healthcare. The projects they are wrangling with usually feature tightly bounded problems. For them, there’s value in making sure the solution is answering the right questions and the right user needs.

We love sprinting with our clients; it’s just that experience tells us you need insight up-front to get off well from the starting blocks.

To read more on this subject download our White Paper, ‘Is it wise to jump into ideation without up-front research?’.

Nile are developing insight and ideation canvases which you are free to use as you plan and structure your next Design Sprint. They will be available later this month – keep an eye out for the link in our next newsletter.