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The Dirt: 10 Things to know when planning a Design Sprint


We get a lot of questions around what to expect when it comes to Design Sprints. Some clients have studied up on design thinking methodology and maybe even flipped through the O’Reilly book on Design Sprints, while others have only heard the name in passing. In this episode of The Dirt, Fresh Tilled Soil strategists C. Todd Lombardo and Jill Starett discuss what to expect when it comes to Design Sprints, and what organizations can do to prepare in order to get the most out of them.

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Show Notes

Here is a summary of a few things we do to help our clients understand what they are getting into and what they can do to prepare.

  1. It always helps to know what a Design Sprint is. We approach it as a flexible design framework broken out into 5 stages: Understand, Diverge, Converge, Prototype, and Test. It’s customizable to each client’s specific needs and walks a team through the process of diagnosing a crucial problem to be solved, identifying many possible solutions, and then zeroing in on the best concept to test with users.

    The five phases of a Design Sprint
  2. The purpose of the Design Sprint is to get answers to a set of vital questions, not to produce the prototype for the next version of your solution. We joke that the prototype gets set on fire at the end of the Design Sprint. Learnings tend to be qualitative (not quantitative) and focus on perceived value (not functional feasibility). Design Sprints are not a substitute for usability testing and should come much earlier in the process.
  3. Big (sometimes scary) problems / ideas are best for running through a Design Sprint. Low-risk ideas with high confidence usually don’t need the attention and structure that a Design Sprint provides.
  4. Bring a diverse group of people into the room. Make sure you’re pulling in people from all levels across your organization. Employees from support and sales teams that talk with customers and prospects every day often have the best context and insights to share. We like to aim for 4-8 participants per design sprint but have done sprints with anywhere from 2-30 people.
  5. One of the most frequent questions we hear is, “do you really need 5 days?” YES. We know it’s tough to carve out the time but doing so allows for teams to really focus and go deep on critical areas. Five days may sound like a high price to pay, so let’s give you an example of the time you could save: a client told us recently that it would have taken a year for her team to get as far as they did in a one-week Design Sprint.
  6. Assemble and distribute an agenda. It doesn’t have to be detailed to the minute but it’s a good idea to give people a sense of what they’re going to be doing each day. We like to run design sprints from 10am to 4pm with a 30 minute lunch break. This gives participants time to catch up on emails and check in with their teams. Stay tuned: we’ll be sharing an agenda template next week.
  7. Do some pre-sprint research before you jump into the first day. We recommend conducting a handful of interviews with current or prospective users to better understand what their pain points and motivators might be. A little bit of secondary research doesn’t hurt either. The goal is to set the stage for participants without overloading them with too much data.
  8. Prepare your space. A big room with plenty of whiteboards and windows is always a plus. We recommend, if possible, securing a location off site and away from the daily grind. You’ll also want to stock up on supplies (you can never have too many sticky notes!). Here’s our go-to list.
  9. Hungry people do not concentrate well. Make sure you’ve got some snacks for participants to munch on. Proper hydration is also important. This is a sprint after all.
  10. Have a plan for what comes next following the Design Sprint. Participants get pretty invested in their ideas and want to know what the next relay of the course looks like after the sprint is over.
  11. BONUS TIP! Get participants in the groove by incorporating music into your design sprint. Music keeps the energy up, gets the creative juices flowing, and is a good mechanism for crowd control. Here are a few of our favorite Spotify playlists: electronic beats, soundtracks, and salsa.

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Author Jill Starett

Jill’s attention to detail, inquisitive nature, and impressive tabletop strategy skills bring an incredible force to every project. With experience at organizations large and small, cultivating digital, mobile and early stage product innovation, Jill relishes the opportunity to go after big ideas and work through complexity to discover the highest impact solution every time.

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