Getting organized for a Design Sprint

I first read “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days” about 5 years ago. I wasn’t even in Product yet but I loved the idea of smart people focussing and swarming an idea.

Then when I moved into my Product role, I set off on a journey of self-education which led me back to “Sprint” only this time in audio form. My organization was busy growing an existing product, so there wasn’t any occasion to plan a Design Sprint, so I quietly tucked it away in my toolbelt – hoping to have the chance to use it.

And then, the BIG idea arrived. This problem is one worth sprinting through. After I got organizational buy-in on the idea of a Design Sprint – I signed up for Jake Knapp’s course on Dribble.

It was going to be a long wait – 3 months to be exact, until that live course took place, so I read “Sprint” two more times and set about a plan to make my internal Design Sprint kick ass.

I won’t be going into the details of what a Design Sprint is here – there are loads of places to get that info. Instead, I am going to talk about a few people-oriented optimizations I tried.

Hype Man

Only our designer could make headshots look so superhero. Hype mission – SUCCESS.

For the last two years or so, my organization has been mostly remote. After two years of remote meetings, I knew it was beyond my skills as a facilitator to keep a Sprint Team engaged remotely. We were going to have to do this bad boy in person. At 6 weeks out from our sprint, I contacted my desired Sprint Team with this Slack DM and asked them to join.

I am writing to draft you for the role of [ROLE NAME] in our first ever Design Sprint. A Design Sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. There are only seven participants in a Design Sprint and you were selected because I think you will bring immense value. The focus of our Design Sprint will be [PROJECT NAME].

Our Design Sprint will take place January 31- February 4 at the office. It will run 10-5 most days, with a 9 a.m. start on Friday. Here’s the thing: it is 100% in person and you will have to clear your schedule for the week. No other meetings or emails. 

If for some reason you are not able to join us, please suggest who should sit in for you. Either way, I need to know your decision by Monday, December 20. I will be sending out detailed invites and instructions. 

FAQ:

In-person, Rachel? Really?

Yes. This is a very screen-off process. We will be moving super fast and making decisions together and in-person is the best way. 

No other work?

Yep. Clear schedule. We start at 10 so you can do what you need to do but once you are in, I need your full attention.

Who else is doing it?

There is a max of 7 participants. I will not reveal the team until the roles are settled. Here are the roles: The Decider, The Facilitator, The Customer Expert, The Design Expert, The Tech Expert, The Marketing Expert, The Subject Matter Expert

How can I prepare?

Well, once you agree, I will be sending you daily calendars with the outline of each day but if you want extra credit or prep, read or listen to, “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”. To learn more about teamwork making the dream work, may I suggest a watch of “Apollo 13” and “Oceans 11”.

Lucky for me, the team said yes! Whew! With those yeses in place, I created a private Slack Channel with just the Sprint Team and revealed them with the addition of a little hype. This Slack channel remained key to collaboration. 

Schedule Blocker

Now we had a Team. I wanted to make sure those calendars stayed clear, so I went ahead and made calendar events for each day using the daily descriptions on https://www.thesprintbook.com/the-design-sprint

I think having these big, blocky calendars early on was a big help to keep schedules clear and it also let the Sprint Team know that I was serious about their time.

Prep Time

In the weeks leading up to the Sprint, I used a few different ways of getting organized. I tried to find a good schedule online, to no avail, so I created a rough schedule on Google Sheets using the timelines in the back of the “Sprint” book. This helped me a lot. I shared a screen shot of the schedule the week before the Sprint in my Design Sprint Slack channel.

My pre-class Sprint schedule.

Food

Taking care of people is just as important as the book suggested. So many of the pre-Sprint questions I got were about lunch! So I used my Slack channel to gather takeout and snack suggestions. I organized them into themes that they could vote on each day.

Yes, Currito twice. Never did get it though…

The Sprint Team loved seeing what was coming. This was more important than I realized – I was asking them to wade into majorly ambiguous territory having something like lunch settled was one less thing to think about.

Testers

Since I knew the problem, I mean, opportunity that we were Sprinting for, I was able to set up testers ahead of time. The folks we wanted to talk to are pretty scheduled, so I wanted to make sure we had them on the books in time. This was the right call for us, but your mileage may vary.

The Class

I was feeling really good about my prep work as I prepared to take “Master the Design Sprint with Jake Knapp” the week before my scheduled sprint. Yes, a week before.

In the class, Jake revealed some new optimization techniques that weren’t in the book that needed to be added to my Sprint like map planning, hypothesis, hot takes, and many others. You can see those in action on his Miro template.

Pink cards mean stuff that’s new to the process since the book was published. Might be time for a new edition, gentlemen.

That Google Sheets schedule was out of date. So, I went to paper. I decided to break each day into envelopes filled with index cards. Each card had the activity name, time box and any helpful facilitator hints like gear, goal, and language. This really helped me get and stay organized throughout the Sprint.

The colors mean nothing. That’s just the note cards I was able to snag from my middle schooler.

The Sprint

Finally, the room was set and it was time to Sprint. All parties were present and ready to work. Phones went into “Phone Jail” and for the first time in nearly two years, we were all together, tackling a giant opportunity.

Great ideas on paper.

The first three days went off pretty well – we were far ahead of schedule on Tuesday and were able to move the timeline up quite a bit so that we were starting to prototype on Wednesday afternoon. I can see why some practitioners have moved to 4-day Sprints

The Art Museum opened early.

That time was a gift because, on Wednesday night, Winter Storm Landon came to town to dump snow and ice on my best-laid plans.

Dang you, Landon. I wanted Currito.

We were going to be remote for the last two pivotal days of the Sprint. PIVOT! 

Going Remote

I decided to host open Google Meets rooms for the time between check-ins so people had a place to pop in and ask questions. A lot of the conversations were taking place in our Design Sprint Slack channel which kept everyone moving and informed.

We were able to complete the prototype on schedule and more beautiful than the Sprint Team thought would be possible. (I knew the whole time they would pull it off).

The tests were great. I am ashamed to admit that I served as Interviewer… but let me explain! As the Product leader at my org, I have a ton of experience doing customer interviews so the Decider thought this would be for best. The conversation during the interviews was happening in the Sprint Slack channel and everyone put their votes on the Hot Takes sheet after each call.

Results

The Design Sprint created 6 new internal idea ambassadors to help disseminate the how, what, and why throughout our org as we prepare to tackle the BIG idea. As a team, we grew closer and developed more understanding for the challenges that each of us face in our role. It was a lot of work, but where we landed was so much further than we were the week before and I am proud of our progress. 9/10, would Sprint again, but I am going to need a little recovery time.