Design sprints have been steadily gaining popularity within corporations across different industries for years now. And it’s not surprising, as more and more companies become aware of their potential to produce key insights, change infrastructures, and generate ideas with real impact.
But how do you create the energy and momentum needed to take your design sprint to the next level? How can you ensure that each and every member of your team is 100% committed to reaching stellar new heights in terms of creativity and resourcefulness?
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can effectively manage expectations, create a high energy environment, prepare your team and avoid some of the common mistakes made by design sprint beginners.
But first, a bit of background…
What is a Design Sprint?
Simply put, a design sprint is a framework that allows you to harness the different talents and strengths of your team to solve a problem. You can apply the technique to all sorts of situations that might come up in a corporate setting e.g. assessing new opportunities, experimenting with new technologies and restructuring a business model. Just to name a few.
A typical design sprint takes about a week and can be broken down into 5 different stages:
- The Kick-off
- The Ideation stage
- The Concept selection stage
- The Visualization
- The Pitch
Ideally, by the end of your sprint, you’ll have diagnosed your bottlenecks, come up with some creative solutions and possibly even have a detailed plan of action on how to get to where you want to be.
How Do You Prepare for a Design Sprint?
Like most things in life, preparation is key and that goes double for activities that involve team-work and creativity. With that in mind, here are some useful tips to help engage your team in the days leading up to your sprint:
- Make sure your team is fully aware of the topics to be discussed and invite them to share any suggestions they might have on the matter.
- Make your design sprint an absolute priority. Let your team know that other projects should take a backseat to the upcoming event.
- Extend an invitation to any relevant profiles outside of your department. Make sure you have a diverse team that is equipped with the skills and talent you need to reach your goal.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can even hold a “practice session” the week before your sprint. It’s a great opportunity for team members to share their expectations and feedback with each other and for people with complementary skillsets to connect.
Energize Your Team: 1 Tip and 5 principals
Day 1 of your design sprint is finally here. You’ve done all the prep work, gathered all the feedback, and created a nice bit of momentum.
Now it’s time to lay some groundwork to KEEP your team energized, motivated, and free from distractions.
Break the Ice
We’ve all been there before. Whether it’s a networking event or your first time working with someone you don’t really know, it can be hard to get creative and 100% focused when you’re not familiar or comfortable with the other people in the room.
This can be especially cumbersome during a sprint because its fast-paced nature doesn’t leave much room for the typical getting-to-know-you chit chat.
Ice-breaker exercises are a great way to get your team members interacting in a quick and effective way. They can foster a sense of ease, decrease distractions, and eventually increase productivity.
Here’s an exercise you can try during your next design sprint:
- At the start of the sprint, explain to the team that they’ll be doing an exercise that is meant to familiarize them with each other (and why it’s important).
- Ask each person to share one thing that is NOT listed on their LinkedIn profile. Some examples can be their very first paid job, a sport they practice, a hobby, a side-hustle, a fear, or a funny incident.
- If you’re the one hosting, make sure you kickstart the activity yourself. This will set an example and foster inspiration. Try to get a really good one 😉
- Don’t let people go too in-depth with their answers. This isn’t very likely to happen, but if an answer sparks a longer conversation, let them know that they can continue during the break and move forward to the next team member.
Once you’ve laid out the rules of the game, just sit back and watch the ice melt away…
“You should always start with an ice-breaker…we really want to find out what makes you tick, and maybe find out something different or exquisite that’s not on your Linkedin profile…”
Afonso Rebelo De Sousa, Senior Venture Builder
Focus on your ultimate goal
Keep your team focused on the goal of the sprint (e.g. coming up with new venture ideas, creating a new business model, exploring a new market, etc.). It’s important to keep an open mind and encourage a free flow of ideas but do it critically. Even the most brilliant concept should be “shelved” for later exploration if it’s not relevant to the topic of the sprint.
Also, be practical and get all the basic information out of the way right from the start (e.g. where’s the coffee? The bathroom? What’s the wifi password, etc.). It’s easy to get distracted by basic questions or by the sheer flow of ideas that tend to rain on you during a sprint. But keep your eye on the prize and make sure your team does too.
Clarify your team’s roles
One of the reasons the design sprint framework is so effective is because of how the teams are built. Essentially, you choose each member based on how their expertise can help you get closer to an ultimate goal. In the end, the participants should fit together like puzzle pieces, each with a crucial skill or knowledge base to form one unbeatable whole.
It’s important for each team member to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them (in terms of skills and competences). This ensures that your problem is being examined from all angles and that everyone knows who to look to for support in areas that may be outside their realm of expertise.
This doesn’t mean your participants should be confined in any way. On the contrary, you should encourage an open dialogue and all the feedback you can get.
Encourage natural bonds and synergies
During a design sprint, you don’t have the luxury of time. The whole framework is about coming up with solutions (in a week) that would normally take months to formulate. It’s all about efficiency and constantly moving forward.
A great way to keep things moving is to allow for natural bonds and connections to form among team members. As your design sprint progresses, you’ll start to notice certain team members gravitating towards each other and working together on multiple activities.
Don’t waste time separating them…and resist the urge to “mix up” the synergies.
In most cases, people gravitate towards each other either because they enjoy each other’s company or because they have complementary work skills or styles. Separating them will not only take time, but it can also disrupt momentum or be a cause for distraction (e.g. finding another partner, etc.).
You need to be ruthless
It’s not always easy to keep everyone on your team consistently moving forward. Team members can get tired, have disagreements, reach stalemates, or even get stuck.
Try to move swiftly from one exercise to the other. You’ll keep participants from attaching too much to one concept, and maintain a good pace throughout your event. A good strategy is to have predetermined time frames for each exercise (e.g. 10 minutes to brainstorm and 2 minutes each to present, then we move on).
Think of your sprint as a boat full of people you’re leading to dry land. As the captain, it’s your job to be “ruthless” in terms of keeping everyone on board, energized and moving forward.
Make sure everybody is heard
Everyone has to be heard during a sprint. This might seem a bit obvious but it’s the type of thing that can be easily overlooked.
If even one participant is unheard because you moved on too quickly, it could change the outcome of your entire sprint. You never know where that next wonderfully radical idea might come from (or who’s feedback might trigger it).
So remember to give everyone a voice consistently throughout your event.
My 3 Rules of ‘what not to do’
Don’t Make Room for Impromptu Poles
At some point during your design sprint, it’s likely you’ll be faced with someone who might not agree with the direction you’re moving in.
It’s always important to remain open-minded and give everyone a platform to express their opinion, but be careful. The last thing you want to do is create an impromptu pole.
It’s important to make sure you keep your general direction and goals intact. Opening things up for a vote can be time-consuming, decrease motivation and distract from previously established goals.
Don’t Feel Obliged to Stick to The Script
On the other hand, if you feel like your sprint has come to a stand-still or you’ve made a discovery that would deem your original goals unattainable, then it’s definitely time to consider a new direction.
Don’t be afraid to explore your options (e.g. you might want to move from a design sprint to a validation sprint). If you feel a change in direction is needed, then do it – your team will thank you for it.
Remember, design sprints are about unlocking associations, and finding new ways to solve problems. If you discover that your original premise or plan was flawed, then you’ve reduced the risk of putting more resources into it, and crossed out another “no go” solution from your list.
It means you’re that much closer to finding your ideal solution.
Don’t Make the One who Hates Presenting…Present
it’s time to present, it can be tempting to try to get a subdued participant in the corner to speak up and become more involved. But resist the urge when possible!
Participants who are shy, reserved or simply not prone to public speaking can be pretty painful to watch during a presentation. This can have a detrimental effect on the energy in the room and the way your ideas land with other team members.
Bottom line: Let the talkers talk! It makes for a much better presentation…
Bringing it all together
Design Sprints can be formidable in terms of their potential for return. They’re a great way to get your team from an idea to a fully formed framework in just 5 days.
Even when you don’t find the solution you thought you needed…when it comes to design sprints: learning is the ultimate goal.
Don’t hesitate to review our techniques on preparing your team and creating the right mindset, before your next sprint. It’ll make your event unstoppable!
Are you interested in running your own design sprint? Let’s talk!