5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Design Sprint


by Salem Baer

What is Slack? If your team uses the product, you know “a messaging app for businesses” is a lacking description. It’s a messaging app, a group chat room, a replacement for check-in meetings, a file cabinet, a water-cooler for remote teams, and a hub for company culture—all of which becomes clear once you begin using it. But communicating the effect Slack could have on a company can be difficult to someone who’s unfamiliar with it. This was the problem the folks at Slack realized.

Despite being the fastest growing business app of all time (a year after launch, more than 500,000 people used it every day), Slack had difficulty getting non-tech companies, who are often less likely to explore new software, to adopt their product. Their challenge became clear: in order to continue to expand, they needed to get better at explaining their product to all kinds of businesses. Partnering with Google Ventures, they ran a Design Sprint aimed at bringing a solution to this challenge. A week later, they had a wireframe of a revamped website with a clarified guide of Slack’s interface.

Design Sprints aren’t just for creating better websites, and they’re not just for Google Ventures’ portfolio companies. Different teams have used the process to solve a variety of problems from improving wayfinding in the British Museum, to building an adaptive learning platform that helps teachers create personalized lessons for their students.

If your company is interested in running a Design sprint, here are some tips to get the most out of it.

1. Ask Yourself, “What Does Success Look Like?

The answer to this question lays the groundwork for the sprint and serves as a compass when things are looking unclear. The sprint process can help you tackle big problems in a short amount of time, but if you haven’t identified what that problem is, or what you’re hoping to accomplish, you won’t know if or when you’ve reached the finish line.

2. Designate a Facilitator

To a large extent, the outcome of a design sprint depends on the Facilitator. Good facilitators layout expectations, set a positive tone for the week, manage group time, guide conversations, ease friction, and remain impartial when hearing others’ ideas. Choose a facilitator who knows how to tactfully curb tangents and isn’t afraid to tell people when it’s time to move on. On the flipside, the facilitator should know when an idea needs further exploration, even if it means adjusting the agenda.

3. Make Sure The Facilitator and Decider Have a Good Relationship

No matter how giant your sketchpad is or how brightly colored your stickers are, the week won’t be all fun and games—some of the questions are going to be tough. Tensions may rise, and your team might feel frustrated, tired, or defeated at points. That being the case, it’s important that the Facilitator and Decider are on the same team. That’s not to say they agree on everything, but that their goals are aligned, they trust the expertise of the other, and they’re working together to push progress. The week will bear little fruit if one is undermining the other.

In your pre-planning phase, budget time for the Facilitator and Decider to build rapport. It’s well worth the investment.

4. Don’t Schedule Days Longer Than 6 hours (and don’t start at the crack of dawn)

It might be tempting to jump-start your sprint with coffee and donuts at 6am, or to order pizza for dinner when it feels like more progress needs to be made before calling it a day. After all, this is a sprint! That means going 100%, right?

The reality is everyone works better when they’re well rested. We’ve found our sprints have the best outcomes when the team is given multiple opportunities to reassess and come back to the challenge with fresh eyes. These breaks also serve as a good time for the Facilitator and Decider to have a sidebar conversation, to ensure they’re staying on the same page.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Improvise

If you’re reading this, you probably already know a bit about design sprints, maybe you’ve even read the Sprint book. That’s great! But, it might give you an unrealistic expectation of what the week will look like if you haven’t run one yourself. Nothing can go 100% according to plan, especially for 5 days straight. If the Decider gets called into an out-of-town meeting, or the prototype is acting glitchy during customer interviews, don’t be discouraged. These things happen, and there’s always a way to recover—whether that means recording the Decider’s thoughts before he leaves and designating a new one, or demonstrating the product to customers with hand-drawn sketches. A good facilitator should be prepared for these types of hurdles and ready to call the audible.

You don’t have to go through product development alone. Consult with Differential to conduct a sprint around your team’s challenges.

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