3 Ways to Customize a Design Sprint for Any Project

In the last post, we discussed why you’d want to run a Design Sprint. The reality is a great idea alone is not enough. You have to have the right collaborative process for building momentum and excitement to bring that idea to fruition. And Design Sprints are one way to do that.

We see a Design Sprint as an immersive experience where a team collaborates, focuses, and makes progress on a problem using design thinking methods in rapid succession. While we love Jake Knapp’s work at GV, we’ve noticed that many teams and organizations have acquired a bad case of “Google Envy” and see Design Sprints strictly as the 5-day process laid out by Knapp. We’ve experimented with a more flexible approach and have had great success using the Design Sprint framework across a wide range of situations, from 2-day Sprints to 2-month Sprints and everything in between.

So, based on our experiences, how should you go about customizing a Design Sprint to fit your problem? To start, we like to use a simple framework we call the 3P’s: Problem, People and Process.

Problem

When running a Design Sprint, coming up with the right solution is important, but identifying the right problem is even more important. There’s a natural tendency to move quickly and jump straight into generating solutions only to find that you were solving for the wrong problem in the first place. And the time limits of a Design Sprint certainly don’t allow for many opportunities to course correct!

Taking the time to define the right problem before (or during) your Sprint is critical for its success, even (especially!) when you don’t have a lot of time.

A really good example of this is the Sprint our team did with VoteRunLead, a nonprofit that empowers women who want to run for public office. Our challenge was to help the organization develop their next generation of programming—in just two days. We came in on a Thursday morning with tons of caffeine and excitement, ready to tackle the challenge.

Since we only had two days to work, there was an impulse to jump straight into brainstorming, coming up with ideas quickly. But, as we started to unpack the data and pre-research, we found that we really needed to spend some time refining the challenge.

The first significant insight from the research was that running for public office is a long journey—from deciding to run to actually filing—and not all women are in the same place along that journey. Given their resources, VoteRunLead couldn’t possibly help every single woman. And in two days, we couldn’t come up with solutions for all those potential candidates.

Collaborating with the founder of the organization, we decided to focus our solutions on women who were further along on their journey, those who had already decided to run for office. Because, first: There were already a lot of organizations helping women along the early stages of the journey. And second: we knew we could make more of an impact with women at this latter stage.

So ultimately, we ended up spending the first day of our two-day Sprint reframing the problem. Even though that took away from valuable brainstorming time, that investment led to more impactful solutions on day two than if we had started generating solutions on day one off the original challenge.

People

What do cancer treatment teams, tech startups in Silicon Valley, special forces teams in the military and superhero teams have in common? They all believe in teams made up of people with diverse expertises. There’s no denying, multidisciplinary teams perform better!

You probably know where this is going—the same thing applies to Sprint teams. So, how do you build your Sprint team? What are the expertises you want in the room?

First, you’ll want to make sure you have someone that understands the end user and what they’ll want in potential solutions—your hipster (this name comes from the fact that these people are often in tune with the culture of the end user or customer, including what’s cool and interesting to them). That may be a UX/design pro, market researcher, sales or frontline staff, or even the users and customers themselves.

You’ll also want someone who understands the technology involved and whether potential solutions are technologically feasible—your hacker. This could be someone from R&D, engineering or the tech department.

And you need an operations person, someone who understands your business and can figure out if your solutions are viable and profitable—your hustler. That may be someone from operations, finance, legal, or someone from the senior leadership of your organization.

Nod to Rei Inamoto for the hipster, hacker, and hustler descriptors!

And we recommend having one additional expertise in the Sprint room. They’re the creative instigators, the individuals who can help you see things in new ways—your heckler. They could be lateral experts, extreme users, or rejectors, for example.

Having a diverse team will help you generate better ideas as well as create more engagement and enthusiasm for those ideas across your organization. So the next time you’re designing your Sprint, make sure to bring in a hipster, hacker, hustler, and heckler.

Process

Sprints aren’t just about managing time, they’re also about managing momentum and morale.

Eight hours of work spread out over eight weeks is the same amount of time as a one-day, 8-hour Sprint—but in one case you get a cluttered calendar and in the other you actually get stuff done.

According to a study by Bailey and Konstan, “when peripheral tasks interrupt the execution of primary tasks, users require from 3%-27% more time to complete the tasks, commit twice the number of errors across tasks, experience from 31%-106% more annoyance, and experience twice the increase in anxiety” compared to focusing on the primary task alone. In other words, building up that momentum in your work means you produce a better result in less time, with less annoyance and anxiety!

Let’s take it one step further…what if we didn’t just try and reduce the annoyance and anxiety of a project but actually increase the enjoyment and engagement around it? Doing that is no easy task—designing a Sprint is an art, not a science. As you design your Sprint agenda, think about how you can make progress on a problem to gain enough momentum to carry you through to the next stage of implementation. You should take into consideration activities that will energize your team. For instance, you can take fields trips, conduct the Sprint in a creative space, use sketching to explore and share ideas, or create mood boards. Download our Design Sprint Planning Worksheet for more activities that engage teams and build momentum throughout a Design Sprint.

Customizing Your Sprint

Taking your ideas from your head to reality isn’t easy, but a Design Sprint is a great way to build the mojo you need to get going. And whether you’re trying to support women running for office or reimagining your technology department’s learning and development program, you can (and should) customize your Design Sprint to fit your problem and your team. However you decide to customize your Sprint, remember your 3P framework—take the time to nail down the right problem, bring the right people into the room, and be thoughtful about your process. Then dive in and watch that project mojo grow!

Jason Cha
jason.cha@thedesigngym.com
2 Comments
  • What We Learned From Our Design Sprint with Vote Run Lead
    Posted at 15:54h, 12 July Reply

    […] Cha touched upon the importance of defining the right problem in his post, 3 Ways to Customize a Design Sprint for Any Project. He did such a killer job at explaining just how essential this step is, that I’m going to borrow […]

  • Joanie Friedman
    Posted at 06:48h, 22 July Reply

    Wonderful article!

Post A Comment