What We Learned from Our Design Sprint with Vote Run Lead

It’s no secret that at The Design Gym we love learning and exploring. As a team, we try to prioritize time outside the office to cultivate team culture and recharge our creative battery packs—whether that takes the form of surfing the waves at Rockaway Beach, checking out the latest in VR technology at Samsung 837 or wandering the rooms in Cooper Hewitt.

Back in April, we had the opportunity to step away from our desks and do something a bit different as a team. Together, we ran a Design Sprint on a meaningful problem for an organization we’re inspired by. We took our expertise and applied it to a challenge for, what was to be, an intense, two-day Sprint.

The organization: VoteRunLead

The challenge: What might VoteRunLead’s programming look like to best meet the needs of women seriously interested in running for office in 2018/2020?

I could spend the next 800 or so words narrating what happened over the two days, but would rather share what, to us, was one of the most valuable outcomes of the activity—the lessons we learned or that were reinforced along the way.

1. You can’t be one foot in, one foot out.

This may seem obvious, but full commitment can be hard to achieve and compromises are often made. It even happened in our team. However, if you’re going to be involved in a Design Sprint, you have to be in it from start to finish. That means no phone calls, no meetings. In other words, clear that schedule and hold that time sacred. Treat it just as you would a vacation day.

2. Defining the problem is super important.

Jason 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 his words:

With only 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.

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.

3. It’s mentally taxing.

A Design Sprint is a lot of work. Be prepared to leave feeling awesome, with a sense of achievement and excitement for the next phase of the project, but with a truly exhausted brain.

To mitigate or avoid the brain drain during the Design Sprint, plan ahead. Make sure you’re fully stocked with snacks and healthy meals, build in breaks to leave the space and walk outside (we may have gone on a 30-minute journey for cold brew at one point), and play music in the background. Task someone on your Sprint team to be mindful of the atmosphere and vibe, and play the role of energizer, when necessary. At the end of the Design Sprint, celebrate together. Could be happy hour. Could be a dinner. For us, it’s usually a beer cheers.

4. When time strapped, don’t be afraid to divvy up the work.

In other words, divide and conquer. For us, being able to work in smaller groups and divide up the tasks was a great way to make progress. For instance, Erin and Andy kicked off day two working on the experience journey map—outlining phases, pain points, milestones and opportunities, while Jason Cha and I sorted the interview stories into themes and overarching insights. Later, Jason and Erin tackled the prototype, while Andy and I outlined how to test the prototype.

5. Document, document, document.

When you’re moving that fast it’s really easy to get in a room and talk about a problem for x number of days. You leave the room inspired, motivated and ready to take action! And then, well, life happens. A week or two later you’re planning next steps and you can’t remember what you ate for breakfast that day, let alone what happened during the Sprint (been there, done that).

Avoid that “oh shit” panic moment. Assign a scribe to take notes and a cellphone photographer to snap photos throughout the Sprint. Create concrete deliverables before you walk into the Sprint, such as personas, interview notes, frameworks, concept sheets and/or prototypes.

You’ll find yourself going back to reference those assets more than you think.

6. Always end with an action plan.

We’ve found that the impulse is typically to end with a celebration and share-out of the outcome (we did that). But, if you go one step further, defining what you’re going to do with that outcome and how you’re going to bring it to life, that infinitely increases the odds of it actually happening.

You want to create a roadmap that anyone can take, come in the very next day and know exactly what needs to be done to move the project forward: Here’s our big idea. Here’s what’s going to happen over the next 8 weeks. Here’s who’s in charge. Here are the steps we’re going to take to make this happened.

 

Let’s face it, running a Design Sprint, isn’t the easiest team activity. However, it is extremely rewarding. Spending focused time with your teammates solving a meaningful challenge and accelerating ideas forward feels amazing. Whether you’re working on a challenge your team is passionate about or a challenge that’s business critical, keep these learnings in mind—it’ll not only lead to a more productive Sprint, but also give your project the boost it needs to bring it to life.

2 days, 18 hours, 5 phases, many many ideas, and 2 designed programs later

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Jane Garcia Buhks
jane@thedesigngym.com
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