The Innovation Process


Inspired by Google Design Sprint (learn more, we run design sprints going from a challenge to a validated prototype in just one week.

The process includes six phases: Set the stage, Understand, Sketch, Decide, Prototype and Validate.


Set the stage

Before your sprint begins, you’ll need time and space to conduct your sprint. Below you’ll find detailed checklists for everything you need to do before the sprint begins.

But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam answers some of the most common questions that come up during sprint planning (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklist for ‘Set the Stage’

  • Search for & schedule experts. Schedule fifteen- to twenty-minute interviews with experts, spread across all phases of the innovation process. Ideally, plan for two to three hours total.

  • Pick a Facilitator in your team. She or he will manage time, conversations, and the overall innovation process. Look for someone who’s confident leading a meeting and synthesizing discussions on the fly. It might be you!

  • Block the days on the calendar. Reserve time with your team as well as for yourself.

  • Choose a video meeting space. We recommend

Key Ideas for your team meetings

  • No distractions. No phones allowed (unless of course you are using the device to access the virtual meeting space)

  • Timebox. A tight schedule builds confidence in the innovation process. Use a timer to create focus and urgency.


Kick off your sprint by sharing knowledge, understanding the problem, and choosing a target for the week’s efforts. It might seem crazy to spend an entire day talking and writing on an overall level, but if you don’t first slow down, share what you know, and prioritize, you could end up wasting time and effort on the wrong part of the problem. The structured discussions create a path for the sprint week. In the morning, you’ll start at the end and agree to a long-term goal. Next, you’ll make a map of the challenge. In the afternoon, you’ll will get to ask questions to the experts outside and inside the case company and finally, you’ll pick a target: an ambitious but manageable piece of the problem that you can solve in one week.

But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam explains what happens during ‘Understand’ and show some examples (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklist for ’Understand’

1) Approximately 15 minutes

  • Write this checklist in a shared document. When you’re done, check off this first item. See how easy that was? Keep checking off items throughout the day.

  • Introductions. Do a round of introductions. Point out the Facilitator and describe her/his role.

  • Explain the sprint. Introduce the five-day sprint process. Run through Google Design Sprint and this checklist and briefly describe each activity.

2) Approximately 45 minutes

  • Set a long-term goal. Get optimistic. Ask: Why are we doing this project? Imagine the impact your effort will have on people, planet and profit in six months, a year, or even five years from now? Write the long-term goal in a shared document.

  • List sprint questions. Get pessimistic. Ask: How could we fail? Turn these fears into questions you could answer this week. List them in a shared document.

3) Approximately 1 hour

  • Make a map. List customers and key players on the left. Draw the ending, with your completed goal, on the right. Finally, make a flowchart inbetween showing how customers interact with the product.

4) Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes

  • Ask the Experts. Ask relevant questions to the case company an interview outside experts (aim for interviews of fifteen to thirty minutes). Pretend you’re a reporter. Update long-term goal, questions, and map as you go.

  • Explain How Might We ideas. Reframe problems as opportunities. Start with the letters “HMW” on the top left corner in a shared document. Write a lot of ideas.

5) Approximately 30 minutes*

  • Organize How Might We ideas. In a new shared document move similar ideas next to one another. Label themes as they emerge. Don’t perfect it. Stop after about ten minutes.

  • Vote on How Might We ideas. Each person has two votes, can vote on his or her own ideas, or even the same idea twice. Move winners onto your map.

6) Approximately 15 minutes

  • Pick a target. Circle your most important customer and one target moment on the map.

Key Ideas

  • Start at the end. Start by imagining your end result and risks along the way. Then work backward to figure out the steps you’ll need to get there.

  • Nobody knows everything. All the knowledge on your sprint team is locked away in each person’s brain. To solve your big problem, you’ll need to unlock that knowledge and build a shared understanding.

  • Reframe problems as opportunities. Listen carefully for problems and use “How might we” phrasing to turn them into opportunities.

Facilitator Tips

  • Ask for permission. Ask the group for permission to facilitate. Explain that you’ll try to keep things moving, which will make the sprint more efficient for everyone.

  • ABC: Always be capturing. Synthesize the team’s discussion into notes in a shared document. Improvise when needed. Keep asking, “How should I capture that?”

  • Ask obvious questions. Pretend to be naive. Ask “Why?” a lot.

  • Take care of the humans. Keep your team energized. Remember to take breaks every sixty to ninety minutes and remind people to snack and to eat a light lunch.

• Decide and move on. Slow decisions sap energy and threaten the sprint timeline. If the group sinks into a long debate, call for a vote.


After a full day of understanding the problem and choosing a target for your sprint, you get to focus on solutions. The day starts with inspiration: a review of existing ideas to remix and improve. Then, in the afternoon, each person will sketch, following a four-step process that emphasizes critical thinking over artistry. You’ll also begin planning customer test by recruiting customers that fit your target profile.

But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam talks about Sketch activities (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklist for ‘Sketch’

1) Approximately 1 hour

  • Lightning Demos. Look at great solutions from a range of companies, including the case company. Three minutes per demo. Capture good ideas with a quick drawing in a shared document.

2) Approximately 30 minutes

  • Divide or swarm. Decide who will sketch which part of the map. If you’re targeting a big chunk of the map in your sprint, divide it up and assign someone to each section.

3) Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes

  • The Four-Step Sketch. Briefly explain the four steps. Everyone sketches. When you’re done, create an individual but shared document.

  • Gather key info. Twenty minutes. Take notes based on the goal, map and ‘How Might We’ questions - check reference material and reexamine old ideas.

  • Ideas. Twenty minutes. Privately jot down some rough ideas. Circle the most promising ones.

  • Crazy 8s. Eight minutes. Fold a sheet of paper to create eight frames. Sketch a variation of one of your best ideas in each frame. Spend one minute per sketch.

  • Solution sketch. Thirty to ninety minutes. Create a three-panel storyboard by sketching in three sticky notes on a sheet of paper. Make it self-explanatory. Keep it anonymous. Ugly is okay. Words matter. Give it a catchy title.

Key Ideas

  • Remix and improve. Every great invention is built on existing ideas.

  • Anyone can sketch. Most solution sketches are just rectangles and words.

  • Concrete beats abstract. Use sketches to turn abstract ideas into concrete solutions that can be assessed by others.

  • Work alone together. Group brainstorms don’t work. Instead, give each person time to develop solutions on his or her own.

Recruit 5 Customers for ‘Validation’ (testing)

  • Put someone in charge of recruiting. It will take an extra one or two hours of work each day during the sprint.

  • Recruit on social media. Do a post that will appeal to a wide audience. Link to the screener survey.

  • Write a screener survey. Ask questions that will help you i entify your target customers, but don’t reveal who you’re looking for.

  • Recruit customers through your network. If you need experts or existing customers, use your network to find customers.

  • Follow up with email and phone calls. Throughout the week, make contact with each customer to make sure he or she will be available for the ‘Validation’ process.


Now you and your team will have a stack of solutions based on your sketches from Yesterday. That’s great, but it’s also a problem. You can’t prototype and test them all—you need one solid plan. In the morning, you’ll critique each solution, and decide which ones have the best chance of achieving your long-term goal. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll take the winning scenes from your sketches and weave them into a storyboard: a step-by-step plan for your prototype.

But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam talks about decision-making exercises (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklist for ‘Decide’

1) Approximately 1 hour

  • Sticky decision. Follow these five steps to choose the strongest solutions:
  1. Art museum. Share all solution sketches.
  2. Heat map. Have each person review the sketches silently and select every part he or she likes.
  3. Speed critique. Three minutes per sketch. As a group, discuss the highlights of each solution. Capture standout ideas and important objections. At the end, ask the sketcher if the group missed anything.
  4. Straw poll. Each person silently chooses a favorite idea.

2) Approximately 1 hour

  • Rumble or all-in-one. If more than one winner, decide if the winners can fit into one prototype, or if conflicting ideas require two or three competing prototypes in a Rumble.

  • Fake brand names. If you’re doing a Rumble, use a Note- and-Vote to choose fake brand names.

  • Note-and-Vote. Use this technique whenever you need to quickly gather ideas from the group and narrow down to a decision. Ask people to write ideas individually, then list them in a shared document, vote, and pick the winner.

3) Approximately 2 hours

  • Make a storyboard. Use a storyboard to plan your prototype.

  • Draw a grid. About fifteen squares in a shared document.

  • Choose an opening scene. Think of how customers normally encounter your product or service. Keep your opening scene simple: web search, magazine article, store shelf, etc.
  • Fill out the storyboard. Move existing sketches to the storyboard when you can. Include just enough detail to be able to do a prototype. When in doubt, take risks. The finished story should be five to fifteen steps.

Facilitator Tip

Don’t drain the battery. Each decision takes energy. When tough decisions appear, vote. For small decisions, defer until tomorrow. Don’t let new abstract ideas sneak in. Work with what you have.


Yesterday, you and your team created a storyboard. Today, you’ll adopt a “fake it” philosophy to turn that storyboard into a prototype.

A realistic façade is all you need to test with customers, and here’s the best part: by focusing on the customer-facing surface of your product or service, you can finish your prototype in just one day. Sound crazy? It’s not, and here’s why:

  1. You made all the important decisions Yesterday and captured those in your storyboard.
  2. Your team can “divide and conquer” by splitting up the storyboard into smaller scenes.
  3. You’ll make use of all your team’s skills by assigning prototyping roles like Maker, Stitcher, Writer, and Asset Collector. Today, you’ll also make sure everything is ready for Tomorrow’s test by confirming the schedule, reviewing the prototype, and writing an interview script. But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam talks about the prototype mindset, picking the right tools, and prototyping as a team (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklist for ‘Prototype’

1) Approximately 30 minutes

  • Pick the right tools. Don’t use your everyday tools. They’re optimized for quality. Instead, use tools that are rough, fast, and flexible.

  • Divide and conquer. Assign roles: Maker, Stitcher, Writer, Asset Collector, and Interviewer. You can also break the storyboard into smaller scenes and assign each to different team members.

  • Makers: Two or more Makers create individual components (screens, pages etc).

  • Stitcher: Melds components into a seamless, consistent whole.

  • Writer: Makes the text realistic.

  • Asset Collector: Gathers photos, icons, sample content etc.

  • Interviewer: Runs the user testing and is usually not involved in building prototype.

2) Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes


3) Approximately 30 minutes

  • Stitch it together. With the work split into parts, it’s easy to lose track of the whole. The Stitcher checks for quality and ensures all the pieces make sense together.

4) Approximately 30 minutes

  • Do a trial run. Run through your prototype. Look for mistakes.

  • Finish up the prototype. Throughout the Day

  • Write interview script. The Interviewer prepares for tomorrow’s test by writing a script.

  • Remind customers to show up for Friday’s test. Email is good, phone call is better.

Key Ideas

  • Prototype mindset. You can prototype anything. Prototypes are disposable. Build just enough to learn, but not more. The prototype must appear real.

  • Goldilocks quality. Create a prototype with just enough quality to evoke honest reactions from customers.


Your sprint began with a big challenge, an excellent team—and not much else. By today, you’ve created promising solutions, chosen the best, and built a realistic prototype. That alone would make for an impressively productive week. But you’ll take it one step further as you interview customers and learn by watching them react to your prototype. This test makes the entire sprint worthwhile.

But first, check out this video! The GVdesignteam talks through today’s customer test (NB with some reservations since Google Design Sprint is originally designed for offline sprints Monday to Friday).

Checklists for ‘Validate’

Makeshift Research Lab

  • Set up video stream. Use any video-conferencing software to stream the interview. Make sure the sound quality is good. Key Ideas

  • Five is the magic number. After five customer interviews, big patterns will emerge. Do all five interviews in one day.

  • Watch together, learn together. Watching together is more efficient, and you’ll draw better conclusions.

  • A winner every time. Your prototype might be an efficient failure or a flawed success. In every case, you’ll learn what you need for the next step.

Five-Act Interview

  1. One interviewer. Everyone besides the Interviewer must disable their cameras and microphones and take notes.
  2. Friendly welcome. Welcome the customer and put him or her at ease. Explain that you’re looking for candid feedback.
  3. Context questions. Start with easy small talk, then transition to questions about the topic you’re trying to learn about.
  4. Introduce the prototype. Remind the customer that some things might not work, and that you’re not testing him or her. Ask the customer to think aloud.
  5. Tasks and nudges. Watch the customer figure out the prototype on his or her own. Start with a simple nudge. Ask follow-up questions to help the customer think aloud.
  6. Debrief. Ask questions that prompt the customer to summarize. Then thank the customer.

Interviewer Tips

  • Be a good host. Throughout the interview, keep the customer’s comfort in mind. Use body language to make yourself friendlier. Smile!

  • Ask open-ended questions. Ask “Who/What/Where/When/Why/How?” questions. Don’t ask leading “yes/no” or multiple-choice questions.

  • Ask broken questions. Allow your speech to trail off before you finish a question. Silence encourages the customer to talk without creating any bias.

  • Curiosity mindset. Be authentically fascinated by your customer’s reactions and thoughts.

Before the First Interview

  • Draw a grid on a whiteboard. Create a column for each customer. Then add a row for each prototype or section of prototype. During Each Interview

  • Take notes as you watch. Write down direct quotes, observations, and interpretations. Indicate positive or negative. After Each Interview

  • Collect notes. Place your interview notes in the correct row and column on the grid in a shared document. Briefly discuss the interview, but wait to draw conclusions.

  • Take a quick break. At the End of the Day

  • Look for patterns. At the end of the day, read the board in silence and write down patterns. Make a list of all the patterns people noticed. Label each as positive, negative, or neutral.

  • Wrap up. Review your long-term goal and your sprint questions. Compare with the patterns you saw in the interviews.