Today’s Design Sprint Fundamentals

Boiling down some key components that are essential to successful Design Sprints in an organization.

Imagine the last time you were participating in a design sprint, where were you? Who were you working with? What was the outcome? Design sprints have become a staple in many organization looking to ideate and move to prototyping quickly, but the question really stands for some, is this really moving things forward? For some, it may muddy the waters with further ideas; the concepts never get full buy in from stakeholders; or even if it is successful, never make it past the sprint. This is where our Design Director, Rally Pagulayan, thinks many UX teams have tremendous opportunity to leverage their Design Sprints to deliver the results needed to keep a product engaging and innovative.

Having helped many small and large organizations like Linkagoal, Castlight Health, and Google, Rally excels in dealing with complex UX problems. He is liken to the college professor that you can go talk to when you don’t know what else to do, but knows when to call teams out on their bullshit. Rally has worked with various teams to create unique approaches to Sprints that deliver on the execution they are charged with, helping them tackle complex systems and unique usability challenges. Along the way, Rally has seen the Design Sprint as a key component to these teams success, especially when it comes to ideating and validating.

Design sprint: distilled down.

In order to really understand the key components that Rally recommends, we need to define what a Design sprint really is.

Technically, the design sprint takes its roots from Agile methodology and mashes it up with the user-centered design process. The phases are as follows:

  • Understand
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

To me, a design sprint is a way to generate something tangible, very quickly (e.g., anywhere from a day to a week), while still applying the most important aspects of the user-centered design process.

Keep in mind, D.School/IDEO use specific terms for these phases, as does Google Ventures, the words here are what we use – and they are based on what D.School/Google utilize. Within these phases, according to Rally, the most important phase is “Understand”. This phase focuses people familiar and not familiar with the user-centered design process on understanding the target user.

In general, there’s always a want and a need to move FAST. And I think more recently, there’s even more importance being placed on delivering something tangible, quickly. Design sprints support both of these goals well.

Key success areas for teams implementing design sprints:

1. Key players need to be involved.

This is one of the greatest benefits of the design sprint – it brings together all of the key stakeholders into the same place and forces them to first, come to a common understanding of the problem space, and then to collectively move forward with solutions. More than a few times, I’ve had clients come to me after a sprint and say that just simply getting everyone in the same room so that they could even agree on the problem was huge. On the flip side, if you don’t have every key stakeholder in the sprint, that one person who didn’t attend can single handedly invalidate the results of your sprint.

2. The design sprint facilitator needs to know what they’re doing.

There is definitely a “skill” to effectively facilitating these things. For a lot of people, fully participating in the activities typical to a design sprint can be uncomfortable – you have to be willing to share all your ideas, whether or not you think they’re good. This is a pretty big hurdle. A lot of us put up internal barriers to allow for ourselves to think freely and be creative. A good facilitator gets people past that fear and really gets people to open up their minds and share their thoughts. A good facilitator also knows how to read the group – different people have different needs, strengths, weaknesses… – so he/she needs to adjust his/her approach on the fly to maximize the group’s output.

3. Effective follow-up after the sprint.

The participants of design sprints always come out of it excited and motivated. But then they have to go back to their ‘real world’ and it becomes a real risk that none of the good work generated by the sprint actually gets acted on. It’s extremely important to build on the momentum of these sprints by creating something tangible that represents the work from the sprint. We’ve found that reviewing the process, summarizing the key findings and laying out specific next steps in an actual document goes a long way in helping sprint participants carry their momentum forward.

Rally Pagulayan

September 3, 2015

Related Blogs