How to successfully run a Design Sprint workshop?
Manuela MikuleckiUX/UI team lead

One year ago I had the opportunity to participate in a Design Sprint workshop held by  Ross Chapman - the founder of Etch Sprints. That workshop was a perfect chance to  learn how to speed up the process of product and service development and how to  identify crucial business and product questions in order to make fast critical decisions.

What is a Design Sprint and when (not) to run it?  

As you may already know, Design Sprint is a unique five-day process for answering  crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers. This one-week  method was invented by Google Ventures with a goal of boosting development process  and innovation strategy that would lead to success. 

Someone who had never tried to run a Design Sprint within their organisation or never  been a part of this kind of workshop may consider it to be a buzzword or even a  mainstream cliche in a hipster oriented startup environment, but - it isn’t. Nonetheless,  you should definitely know when to choose a Design Sprint as your go to method and  when to stick to your usual flow.

When to run a Design Sprint:  

- You have a big project or big problem to solve  

- You have a failing product and features  

- You are just starting out  

- You don’t have the answers  

- It’s going to cost a lot of time and/or money 

When not to run a Design Sprint:  

- You already know the solution or what to build  

- You are trying to cover all aspects of a very complex product/service at once  - You want to explore multiple use cases and hypothesis  

- You don’t understand or can’t articulate the problem you are trying to solve  - You are looking for just small improvements to your product or service

I have decided to run a Design Sprint and now what? 

Even though it is a five-day process which is a lot less than a usual product  development path, the whole point of it is to be successful and completely worth of  your time, money and efort. Before you dive into the whole process of brainstorming  sessions, fun whiteboard doodles and unpredictable user journeys, there is a “Successful  Design Sprint Checklist” that you should check first.

Start with a plan

Never go unprepared on this journey, especially if you find yourself in a role of a  facilitator or a decider. Design Sprint is a method meant to be used by a wide variety of  teams - from designers and developers to product managers, marketers and even  company founders. That is why is really important to learn what you are dealing with  and to be able to educate people that are going to be a part of that Sprint. You need to  understand the core, the process and the expected outcome so you don’t find yourself  wasting your time while trying to figure out the next step in the middle of the process.

Choose the right team members

As I already mentioned, almost everyone is more than welcome in this kind of a  workshop and that is why you have to be careful while choosing the right people for  your team(s). You need to combine diferent roles into one multidisciplinary team that  has a good balance of diverse skills, expertise and creativity. It is also important that  your team members are open for sharing ideas, collaboration and are purpose-driven.  Do not mix and match people that can get ofended easily, are afraid of sharing their  opinion in front of others or get easily distracted from the end goal - those are not your  Design Sprint people. Overall, it is important to put aside all the fancy titles and  hierarchy while running a Design Sprint and work together towards a shared goal.  

“This must be the place” 

If you want to run a successful workshop full of happy productive people with some  crazy innovative ideas and solutions, you need to set up the right environment for them  to work in, which means more than just snacks. Find a room that is cozy, has enough  light, comfortable chairs, maybe even a sofa. You’ll also need some big spacious tables,  a lot of whiteboards or a glass surfaces to draw and write on, and of course, you’ll need snacks. It is really important to make people feel comfortable in order to encourage  their productivity and commitment to work.

Make sure you are all on the same track 

You need to be sure that all of your team members fully understand what the Sprint is  about. Everyone has to know on which project you will be working and what is your  problem statement - loud and clear. It is crucial that everyone is focused towards the  same goal and that everyone knows what their roles are and in which team they belong  because if you fail at this point, it can cause a large mess during the process.  

Time is your best friend (and an enemy)

Since this is a five-day process, it is really important to be able follow the exact steps in  order to achieve a goal in a given time. It means that you need to be ready to think fast,  iterate more than you usually do and to follow given time frames to finish your tasks.  You will be given enough time in each step of the process to develop and work on your  ideas, but you don’t want to hang onto something and let it distract you from the  remaining steps.  

Take notes, take photos, take everything you can

Since this is a fast, iterative process, some of the ideas will be constantly taken on and  of of the whiteboard so it is really important to be prepared to capture everything and  archive it even if it doesn’t seem that important at the moment. There will be a lot of  good ideas that are coming from diferent team members and it is important to be able  to capture them all the time during the process. That way, you can always retrieve them  if you find them necessary in some point of the time. 

Take a break

Don’t forget to take a break. Although it doesn’t seem like that at first, but this can be a  really exhausting process where you’ll do a lot of brainstorming and iterations in a small  amount of time. That is why is really important to take a break and clear your head so  you can think straight the whole time. Don’t forget to eat and drink during the break,  but make sure you are eating light and healthy food so you don’t feel tired. Try not to  think of the Sprint while you are on your break because it can help you relax and have a  fresh view of things when you come back. 

Measure, document, test, improve

After you are finished with your five-day session, it is important to continue developing  your product by moving towards the same goal. Document all the insights and results  from the Design sprint and have them written down in a master document you can use  and update at any time. In order to know how successful your Design Sprint was, you’ll  need to measure the success by testing your prototypes and collecting insight along the  way. That way, you can significantly improve your product in the smaller amount of  time since you’ve already kicked-of a project so well! 

Congratulations, high 5s all around!  

You are now ready to begin with your Design Sprint session! Always remember that  Design Sprint can help you find a clear direction in just five days where you can get a  better outcome and spend way less money on a project development. This process is a  serious time saver where everyone gets heard and appreciated. It can help you get a  clear prioritised roadmap while learning some useful productivity exercises along the  way. If you are aiming to create new product, enter new market, develop new features  or answer critical business problems - Design Sprint is definitely a great way to start.  

Great innovation is built on existing ideas, repurposed with vision.

     - Jake Knapp

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