New Feature Product Development 101 by Elephant PM

Ever since Google founded the Design Sprint, many companies are using this technique to create prototypes in a collaborative environment without having to actually build the product. This new feature development technique boosts innovation within the team and encourages conception of new ideas. There are several frameworks and approaches that can be used in these sprints.

In this article, Jennifer discusses the stages of a design and discovery sprint, what are the methods to gather ideas and hypothesize a solution for each, and finally shares tips on how to make the entire process more fun. Add some spice to your sprint sessions!

A Product Leader: Educating, Entertaining and Informing

Jennifer Sheldon is passionate about pioneering products that help educate, entertain and inform. Currently, she leads product management for an upcoming Apple product via Elephant. Prior to that, she led the product management team at IfOnly and Sourcebits. She has also managed an award-winning personalized news reader and produced mobile apps for Apple’s productivity team.

The Design Sprint

A design sprint is a shortcut to learning without building and launching. It is a process where several teams work on gathering ideas, build a rapid prototype, and validate their solutions, keeping in mind the customers’ requirements.

In a design sprint, you involve the entire team and make tangible solutions while testing them in context.

Benefits of a design sprint:

  • They help kick off the definition of your product or create a shared vision.
  • They help unblock your product when the road gets bumpy or your product reaches an impasse.
  • They can help align your development team and energize them.

Who to involve in a design sprint:

Stage 1: The Problem Space

This space is divided into the ‘Understanding’ and ‘Defining’ phases.

  • Understand: The ‘Understanding’ phase is an opening phase where you collect insights from everyone using the approaches mentioned below:
    • Once you collect all the required data, use post-it notes with the How-Might-We format to come up with the solution.
  • Define: The ‘Defining’ phase is a closing phase where you define a problem after collecting the insights using the below approaches:
    • Share Ideas and Map Affinities – Collect the ‘How-Might-We’ notes from everyone and post it on a big board. This will help you structure the notes while also reminding your teammates to be actively involved in the sprint.
    • Future Press Release – In this framework, you basically imagine having built a feature for your product and how you would like for it to be written about in a press release.
    • User Stories – Define the user story by filling out the words in the brackets “As a [user type], I want to [goal] so that [benefit]”.

Stage 2: The Solution Space

This space is divided into the ‘Diverge’ and ‘Decide’ phases.

  • Diverge: The ‘Diverge’ phase is an opening phase where you collect ideas from different people using the approaches below:
      • Brainstorm ideas on your own and copy from others if required!
      • Crazy Eights! – Generate eight ideas very quickly which will help narrow down the solution space.
      • Create a Solution Storyboards where each participant sketches out what they think is the best solution.
  • Decide: The ‘Decide’ phase is a closing phase where you hypothesize the solution together using the methods below:
    • Dot Voting – Ask everyone to stick a dot on their top three ideas so that areas of interest can be easily identified. This is the easiest and one of the most implemented frameworks.
    • Buy a Feature – Ask your team member which feature they would likely buy and for how much.
    • Create a User Value vs. Feasibility Map where you plot the ‘How-Might-We’ post it notes w.r.t the feasibility and user value. This will help you isolate solutions that are not feasible and that don’t add any customer value.

Stage 3: The Development Space

This space is divided into the ‘Prototype’ and ‘Validate’ phases.

  • Prototype: The ‘Prototype’ phase is an opening phase where you develop and refine the solution collected from the previous step. Use the below approaches:
    • Paper Prototype – Build prototypes using paper. This will help your teammates to focus more on the product than the UI.
    • Mock Prototype – Create a simulation of your prototype using the Wizard of Oz magic!
    • Live Data Prototype – This is a high tech prototype that uses real live data and lets you explore the idea from quantitative and qualitative perspectives.

Jennifer recommends the Paper and Mock prototypes because the latter requires a lot of tech skills.

  • Validate: The ‘Validate’ phase is a closing phase where you evaluate your solution with the users using the below approaches:
    • Usability Tests – Recruit users and define the set of tasks that you want to test so that they can give you their feedback.
    • Stakeholder Design Review – Involve expert stakeholders who can give their insights to the early conception of your product.

A classic design sprint is usually run for 5 days, however you can customise your sprints as shown below:

The Discovery Sprint

A discovery sprint is a quick, inexpensive way to address critical questions like will the customer buy our product? Is it possible to build it? Does this product help our business grow?

In a discovery sprint, you identify a substantial area of risk, build tangible solutions and validate with customer data, all while involving the entire team.

  • Benefits of a discovery sprint:
    • They help define a product by getting the whole team aligned on a shared vision.
    • They help your team learn to collaborate effectively when you reach an impasse.
    • The result of a discovery sprint gives you the necessary data and evidence needed to fuel the growth of your product.
  • Who to involve in a discovery sprint:
    • Similar to the design sprint, you should include representatives from all roles working on the product like Product Manager, Engineers, SMEs, Stakeholders, etc.
    • Do not forget to include the top Executives in the sprint since you’re focusing on a high-risk problem.
  • A discovery sprint is similar to the design sprint except that the prototyping and validating phase is extended to include framing and planning, and the development phase is converted to development and testing where testing continues until evidence is found.

For example, you can pick a few items from your current product backlog and work on them on a design/development sprint. Then, you can either launch your product or re-evaluate your solution and begin from stage one as shown below:

Preparation Phase: The framing and planning phase is called the preparation phase which includes research that can go for a really long time.

  • Methods to Plan:
    • Reference Customer Recruiting – Identify a set of reference customers who can give you feedback on your products.
    • Story Map – Create a chart with major user user activities ordered by time from left to right, then progressive detail from top to bottom to get a holistic view. Also, include a context for every story you map.

Prototype Phase: The methods used for prototyping are pretty much similar to the methods used in a design sprint. An added method is the feasibility prototype where you can get engineers to write enough code to mitigate feasibility risks such as performance, scalability, etc. thereby making the product robust.

Validate Phase: There are different methods that can be used for validating the product in a discovery sprint:

  • Usability Tests – Recruit users and define the set of tasks that you want to test so that they can give you their feedback.
    • Quantitative Value Test – Combine your prototype with Analytics to collect evidence of customer behavior.
    • Feasibility – Examine the feasibility of the product by considering the architectural changes needed, the performance and scalability of the product, and the infrastructure necessary to test and run this.
    • Qualitative Value Test – After completing a usability test and learning how to use the product/prototype, have a careful conversation with your customer about the value of your product.
    • Business Viability Tests – Ensure that the product solution your team proposes will work within legal, security, finance, customer success, marketing, sales, and other domains.

You can implement the discovery sprint in a 5 day timeline.


  • Find ways to engage your team. Use frameworks that engage your team in the product you’re building together. Set goals. Be flexible and have fun!
  • Recognize new ideas and collaborate to illustrate how they fit into the bigger picture. Connect “what” an idea is about to “why” it’s valuable to help the team articulate reasons for prioritization.
  • Take time to understand insights and back them up with evidence before framing your plan of action.

Good luck!

This post was adapted from content summarized by Varsha Jayaraj

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