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Sprint Zero™: Clarifying Your Product Before Ever Writing a Line of Code

Clients walk through TWG’s doors at a variety of stages along the road to a successful product. That’s to be expected. Still, when time and money matter, and for our teams to be their most efficient and effective at developing software, it’s vital to establish a common baseline for well-formed ideas so that the Agile development process can commence with minimal waste.

Enter Sprint Zero.

Sprint Zero is TWG’s proprietary approach to early-stage product development. It is much more than a discovery process. It enables sufficient time to confirm the foundational thinking behind a product before starting costly development efforts. Although Sprint Zeros do include research, they are not, fundamentally, a research process. The Sprint Zero’s key purpose is to prepare effectively for a product build. Generative research is a separate process designed to focus on things like product ideation, meta-level technology innovation or disruption.

TWG’s Sprint Zero is a toolkit adapted to solving the problem at hand. It is essentially a ‘first principles’ philosophy for product builds, and helps our clients to get a solid understanding of what we plan to build before we have any kind of software to point at. It also serves double-duty as a communication tool both internally and with our clients.

TWG first developed the Sprint Zero more than five years ago with four key goals:

  1. Help clients understand the way TWG ideates around product development, driving to clarity through easily digestible concepts as well as thorough and transparent thought processes
  2. Focus on outputs delivering solid design that enables an efficient, effective development kick-off that reduces rework
  3. Provide a clear, repeatable path to achieve clarity on functionality, look and feel, and project scope
  4. Develop/support a formal product roadmap

TWG’s Sprint Zero is modular in nature. It includes:

  • Value Proposition : Lean Canvas, Primary Research, Comparables Research
  • Business Model : Pricing & Revenue structures, Competitive Analysis
  • UX Design & IA : User Flows, Wireframes, Information Maps, Mood Board, Design System
  • Technical Architecture : Technical PoC, System Architecture
  • Go-to-market Planning : Launch Planning, Marketing, Release Planning
  • Key Assumptions : Capturing unknowns

Some of the tools at our disposal are familiar — things such as Lean Canvas, User Flows and wireframing are common methodologies. For other aspects of the product development process such as revenue modelling and go-to-market planning, we have evolved our approaches in-house over time. Given the number of projects TWG undertakes in any given year, the ability for the team to constantly revisit the Sprint Zero process means the toolkit is rooted in emerging best practices. For example, it’s evolution took us away from using style tiles as a communication device with clients. They simply proved to be ineffective and slowed the process down unnecessarily. No matter the combination of tools used during the Sprint Zero process, it follows a logical progression so as to remove subjectivity from the design and product planning processes.

For product ideas that are well formed, we spend the majority of our time using the design tools in our kit. If the client needs to validate an idea, we’ll add primary user research tools to the mix. If they have a concept but no business model, then we’ll do a deep dive using pretty much all of the tools at our disposal to ensure we get things right.

While a typical Sprint Zero runs around six to eight weeks, they can be shorter if the client is willing to take on more risk (carrying more assumptions into the build phase), or longer if we’re doing a full exploration of a complex platform build.

Beyond the value of the Sprint Zero itself is the fact that TWG has done more than 100 of them across a broad cross section of verticals. The value-add for our clients is that they do not need to have a team already in place at this stage of the product build, and even if a team is in place, the majority has not likely to have been involved in 100+ builds. Additionally, “zero-to-one” product builds are not the core competency most companies seek to develop, which is why TWG’s experience in this arena is our value (although we can help with this, too, if it’s a need). We’ve been through this critical stage of product development over and over. It allows us to bring a mash-up of insight, the necessary speed as well as the clarity that’s required not to accidentally omit critical things that can, and do often, get overlooked by teams that are deep into their own projects.

Sprint Zeros fundamentally focus on outcomes over outputs. Our goal with this process is to help our clients build the right product, not just any product.
 
 

Carrot Rewards: How TWG’s Sprint Zero Helped a Business Model in Search of a Product

Social enterprise, Carrot Rewards, wanted to build a product to help drive Canadians to live healthier and better lives. They came to TWG with a concept and funding from the Federal Government, but needed assistance to help them build an MVP.

A six-week Sprint Zero, the goal of which was to validate Carrot’s business model, define the first version of the product, and help get additional funders on board, was a significant undertaking given the speed at which our client needed to move. The Sprint Zero included: client workshops, stakeholder interviews, persona development, feature comparables, UI designs, clickable prototypes, competitive analysis & product comparables, secondary research, user flows, technical prototyping, and user testing.

The Sprint Zero process was exceedingly helpful for the Carrot team. It validated their suppositions about the market, helped our engineering team team understand the complex mechanics of this build, and helped our client to understand exactly what their product market fit was.

For more about Carrot Rewards, see our video case study.
 
 

Coinsquare: Using Sprint Zero to Help Dramatically Improve the User Experience

Today, Coinsquare is Canada’s leading cryptocurrency trading platform with more than 200 employees. Two years ago, it was two founders with a big vision, a basic website they knew wasn’t hitting the mark, and no mobile presence at all. With a mission to revolutionize and simplify the buying and selling of digital assets, while delivering on industry-leading and user experience, Coinsquare turned to TWG looking for help to redesign and rebuild their front end to ensure it was user friendly without compromising security.

In a complex and often misunderstood industry (where I our client needed to move extremely quickly), the Sprint Zero process was critical for this rebuild. Fundamentally, this was a “know your customer”/service offering project. To meet these needs, the TWG team led multiple “Design to Align” sessions, developed user flows to simplify things for crypto beginners, and built a Lean Canvas to see if there were gaps in knowledge and value proposition for segments they were targeting. We also undertook a comparative analysis around look and feel and feature sets we needed to be aware of. User interviews were also key so we didn’t leave any of Coinsquare’s already loyal power users behind. Finally, useability testing rounded out our approach once we had an idea of the site’s direction.

The result was a beautiful, easy-to-use site that helped Consquare to meet their goals. We followed up with iOS and Android builds for their mobile presence doing a much shorter Sprint Zero informed by the original work.

Read more about our work with Coinsquare in this case study.
 
 

Flexday: Helping a Client Understand their True Business Model Using the Sprint Zero Method

From time-to-time a client will come to us after significant ideation on a product. That was the case with Flexday. They wanted to build coworking as a service for property managers with excess building space using a credit-based payment model. What they were unsure of was how or even if they should bring the product to market — the perfect situation for a Sprint Zero.

Over the course of an eight-week engagement, TWG did primary research clarifying the market need around co-working spaces, ideation and divergence, rapid prototyping, wireframing and user testing through a workshop to get to convergence of ideas. The result was a pivot from the original hypothesis to a distributed model that taps into useable spaces in small establishments (e.g. restaurants not open for business during the day). The pivot was the solution for the challenge of long sales cycles working with large property management enterprises. The result is the Flexday we know today — unlimited access to hundreds of seats in a community of thousands of creators for $49 a month — democratizing the desk by creating a productive and beautiful work environment at an affordable cost.

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