Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading a lot about Design Thinking, Design Processes, and Design Sprints. The idea being to understand how these three areas interact, and to understand how to best add value to a business through the use of Design.
Remember: Design is the intentional application of a creative process to solve a problem.
This here blog post is a summary of what I’ve learned after the last few weeks, focussing on Design Sprints, their application, composition and results.
What Is A Design Sprint?
A Design Sprint is a tool used to bring people together to solve a problem - often a design or business problem. The idea is to use Design Thinking and practices in a time-limited form (3-5 days) to focus on the problem presented and work towards finding a solution.
Design Sprints can be used as the main way a company works - there are many companies who treat every week as a sprint - or they can be less frequently used - for example, when a big problem comes along that needs the attention of a whole team.
When Do You Use A Design Sprint?
When you use a Design Sprint is up to you. As I just said, some companies use them every week, breaking everything they do into problems and iterating over the Sprint methodology each week to solve a new problem or problems.
Most of the time, though, companies use Sprints as a tool when they have a particularly big problem to solve. One that’s causing a major issue or that has evaded solution for a long time. The unique atmosphere of the Sprint - multiple people working together, no distractions, with an emphasis on creativity - lends itself to solving problems that could be otherwise impossible to solve in the day-to-day operation of a business.
What Happens During A Design Sprint?
A design sprint typically lasts between 3 and 5 days. The 5-day Sprint is where most companies start, as it allows the most time for learning the process and exercises within the sprint, with the 3-day Sprint used once a team has familiarity with the process and is able to shorten it down.
Your typical 5-day Sprint has a set structure.
Set The Stage
In the run-up to the Sprint, it’s important to get a few things sorted.
Time and Space
Obviously, when working on a 5-day activity, it helps to make sure that the team and room you’re using for the Sprint will be available for the whole time.
You’ll need a room with enough space for the whole Sprint team, tables and chairs for them to sit at, and a couple of whiteboards for use when sharing and sketching ideas.
A room with natural light and good ventilation is always good when working as a team and on creative problems. Natural light keeps headaches to a minimum and flowing air helps keep the ideas and room fresh.
A diverse team leads to diverse ideas, so it pays to have a variety of people on the Sprint team. As well as having a diverse team (up to 7 people) made up of people who interact with the problem you’re looking to solve, there are key roles that need to be filled for a successful Sprint.
These roles are:
- Decider The role of the Decider is to be able to make decisions during the Sprint. You can have one or two Deciders, and they don’t need to be available for the whole Sprint. They can make cameos when decisions need to be made, such as when deciding on the problem definition at the end of the first day, or when deciding which prototype(s) to take forward for testing and interviews.
- Expert Experts are people who have experience close to the problem. On Monday, they’ll be interviewed for 15-20 minutes to help everyone on the Sprint understand the problem better.
- Facilitator The Facilitator is someone with experience of running Sprints. Their job is to make sure everything goes to time, help to resolve problems as and when they arise, and be a point of call for best practice going forward. For many Sprints, this will be a freelancer or agency staff who have been hired in to help run the Sprint.
Stationery and Snacks
You’re going to be working together, generating ideas for a whole week. This means you’re going to need some tools. You’re also going to need some healthy snacks, because coming up with and testing all these ideas will be hungry adn thirsty work.
Stationery should include:
- Large sheets of paper - butchers paper works well
- Markers - large, chisel-tip markers work best
- Post-It Notes - as many as you can get
- Sticker dots - for voting
- Masking Tape - for safely posting ideas to the wall
Good snacks include:
- Healthy whole foods, such as nuts, cheese, fruit and vegetables
- Water and sugar-free drinks
Monday is dedicated to setting the structure and path for the rest of the week. Activities revolve around defining the problem to be solved, the optimistic approaches you could take to do so, and the pessimistic appraisal of those things that could stand between you and success.
Tuesday is all about creating as many ideas as possible. As well as looking at existing solutions, the idea is to create new solutions that could solve the problem the Sprint is organised around. You don’t need to be realistic here, as the idea is to validate them later.
Wedneday is about taking all of the ideas from Tuesday, critiquing them, and then taking the best ideas and turning them into a storyboard around which you can start making prototypes.
Thursday is prototyping day. The morning is spent creating “realistic façades” that can be used to interview users and help understand if your solution is working. The afternoon is where you’ll plan for Friday, creating a schedule for the day, writing interview questions, and reviewing the prototype.
Friday is when all the hard work comes together. By interviewing prospective users - 5 works best - you can understand how your idea will work in the real world. This gives you an idea of how much further you need to go to make your prototype a reality and what to do next.
After The Sprint
After the Sprint, it’s time to send the idea you’ve prototyped and validated off to be made. This may mean handing it over to developers for code to be written or to a supplier for parts or a whole to be made.
Further refinement may happen during the production process, but the idea is that this will be handled in the traditional way for the organisation.
Another Sprint may be run, to solve another problem, immediately or at a later date, depending on your experience with the Sprint and how it fits with your workflow.
What Should I Expect From A Design Sprint?
A well-run Sprint should have you skirting the line between time-boxed organisation and creative chaos. The idea is to faciliate the free flow of ideas and cooperation, whilst also keeping the problem scope limited enough that solutions can be ideated, prototyped and validated within the 5-day timespan.
If you’d like to book a design sprint, please get in touch.