Google Design Sprints – Your Secret Key to Growth and Innovation?

Let me start this one with a short story.

You’re a CEO of a company, or a head of department or a product manager – your pick.

You have a problem. Even better, you have an idea for a new feature.

You get your team together for a brainstorming session.

You discuss possible solutions, everyone gets extremely excited, creative juices are flowing.

After two hours of listening to ideas being shouted around the room you have bits and pieces of ideas scribbled in a Google docs document.

It’s a good start, you sit down next day to turn those scribbles into a brief that designers and developers will use to build and release the new feature.

Brief gets into the backlog and the team will pick it up in a couple of weeks.

When it finally goes into development there is a bit of back and forth with design and development team but the feature is finally ready.

Sure, it took the development team about 5 weeks to get it ready which will put the development cost into low five figures but during that brainstorming session the whole team agreed the idea was brilliant so it was definitely worth it.

It’s the launch day, a couple of bug fixes need to be done on production but overall it went well.

You’re proud of your brilliant idea being launched.

In a couple of days you hear from your support team that the number of tickets opened by customers is rising.

Your BI team tells you that some of the main KPIs took a downturn – might just be a normal fluctuation but you should keep an eye on it.

You slowly start sweating.

2 weeks pass and heavy-heartedly you make the hard decision – you need to roll-back.

‘Clearly customers were not ready for our groundbreaking solution’ you say while scheduling another brainstorming session to get more brilliant ideas into the product backlog.

What is a design sprint?

In the story above we followed a regular development cycle consisting of 4 stages – Ideation, Development, Launch and Learnings. 1

regular development cycle
Regular development cycle

The problem with this process is the fact that when you throw a new idea into it it will take a considerable amount of time and resources to get this untested idea to production and in the end your precious users.

design sprint development cycle
Shortcut design sprint allows you to take

Some smart guys (Jake Knapp) at GV ($2.4 billion venture capital arm of Google) realised that it was a big problem for a lot of start-ups GV was investing in. He decided to find a way to validate the ideas without having to commit any considerable resources into development of untested ideas.

Enter design sprint.

Design sprint is a framework for validating new ideas by designing, prototyping and testing them with real customers in five days or less.

Compared to regular sprint or any other development process, design sprint is a lot more organised way of ideating, sketching possible solutions, discussing them and rapid-prototyping.

I will dive deep into particular exercises and schedule we will follow later on in this article, first I would like to go over core ideas that underpin every action you will take during a design sprint.

👉 Working Together, Alone

When you hear the word ‘brainstorming’ your mind probably goes to an image of a room buzzing with energy, teammates screaming over each other and the general feeling of contained chaos. The truth is this is not the most efficient way of coming up with new ideas. As proven by multiple studies brainstorming actually makes individuals less creative. 2

During design sprint every team member will work on the problem on their own in a short interval.

When the interval is over every member will put their idea on the board for everyone to see and vote on.

This process helps to solve some of the biggest downfalls of regular ‘brainstorming’ session:

  • everyone is heard – your idea is judged on merit and not on your ability to scream louder than your colleagues to get your idea through
  • easier to focus – you actually get a chance to put work in during the workshop and present tangible results

👉 Tangible discussion

Do you know those discussions where you talk for 2 hours, feel like you’re making progress but when the session is over you have nothing to show for it?

Yea, that’s banned during the design sprint.

Everytime you will be addressing the whole group during the design sprint you will be talking about something that already exists on one of the sprint boards. That way there are no misconceptions, you don’t have to imagine – you can see.

Your opinions will be expressed in little stickers you will place next to your favorite ideas, instead of trying to convince your colleagues to like your proposal you simply place a vote next to it, if there are enough votes you take it to the next level, if not we go with something else – no fuss.

It doesn’t mean talking in general is banned during the design sprint – you will have plenty of opportunities to explain intricacies of your ideas during organised and time-boxed exercises on every day of the sprint.

👉 Getting started > Being Right

You’re running the design sprint to create a prototype.

Prototypes are never perfect, due to time constraints you will need to cut corners (sometimes a lot of them) and inevitably you will end up with some small errors here and there.

That’s completely normal though. The sprint should jump-start the momentum, give you a good shove at the beginning of the development cycle so you can get on right track in the shortest time possible. You will deal with the imperfections later.

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Who uses it?

Design sprints are used by startups as well us international corporations, you can use them to determine the product you want to work on or improve the current one. It doesn’t matter if you have digital or physical product or what your current organizational structure is.

New York Times adopted design sprint methodology for their ‘Makers Week’ – 7 days event during which NYT staff has a chance to prototype some of their outside of the box ideas. Their first design sprint consisted of 13 teams and over 65 people. 3 Teams prototyped everything from a new sharing functionality on nytimes.com to a recycling initiatives for subscribers of the paper edition. 4

Lego decided to completely redesign their internal design agency workflow in the summer of 2018. Instead of trying the gradual transition to a new system they’ve opted for revolution instead of evolution. In the first week of the big switch they were running 10 sprints simultaneously, in less than 12 months they completed over 150 of them and are not planning on slowing down. 5

Deutsche Telekom is one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the world. Because of its size, different departments were working in silos which made it harder for them to align to a common product vision. While adopting design sprint methodology in DT breaking the silos between departments was as important as delivering the prototypes. Their first Design Sprint Camp included 70 participants and 12 teams and was a huge success with a lot of prototypes brought to life just weeks after the event. 6

Do I need any previous experience?

No.

However, if your team is already using design thinking principles, scrum or general methodologies of agile development a lot of the concepts will already be familiar to them.

Familiarity with exercises will make the design sprint go smoother and possibly faster which therefore gives you more leeway into adjusting and adopting the whole sprint schedule to your particular needs.

If you have no idea about what the design sprint is though you don’t need to worry.

The whole process is designed for a complete newbie and you don’t need any pre-existing knowledge to run a successful design sprint even if you work in the most siloed, waterfall enterprise.

I don’t like blogs like this one, is there a book I can read instead?

I feel you! As a matter of fact, Jake Knapp (yes, same guy I already mentioned earlier) wrote a great book called ‘Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days’. It’s excellent read and I highly recommend it!

You can get it on amazon in paperback, kindle or audio format or visit the official website thesprintbook.com.

How to read this guide?

I’ve decided to summarize the design sprint by day of the week to make this post easier to follow for future design sprint facilitators.

In the section below you will find a short summary of each day with links to specific sections to make navigation easier.

I will focus mostly on the physical setup for design sprints because I feel that in the end of the day when you want to do it remotely you should aim to imitate physical presence as much as possible.

Don’t worry though, you don’t have to figure everything out on your own if you want to run a remote design sprint (not that you have much choice nowadays 🤷). In each section I’ve included overview of my favorite tools that will help you run the sprint remotely.

You might notice that the version of the design sprint I present in this article is slightly different than the one you can find in the ‘Sprint’ book. Mainly adding a separate ‘reflect’ section on Friday morning and squeezing most of the exercises in first four days instead of five.

There are many different versions of design sprint process you can find online and small adjustments I’m presenting here are based on my personal experience. If you want to check out other design sprint models you can check out official Google Ventures website, Google website, AJ&Smart agency or refer to ‘Sprint’ book.

When the design sprint starts you want no distractions whatsoever. That’s why you should start preparing a week earlier.

You will start by defining the challenge and finding the right team to tackle it. The facilitator will make sure you have a right space to run the sprint as well as all the necessary supplies.

MONDAY

📝 Overview

💻 Remote Setup

On Monday morning you will invite domain experts for a quick interview, map the user journey and define the goal of the sprint.

In the afternoon you will start sketching out possible solutions for your challenge and presenting them to the team.

TUESDAY

📝 Overview

💻 Remote Setup

On Tuesday morning you will present the solutions and vote on the best one using heatmap voting.

In the afternoon you will create a storyboard to further visualise your solution.

At this point the deciders can go back to their usual work for next two days.

WEDNESDAY

📝 Overview

💻 Remote Setup

You have Wednesday and Wednesday only to turn the ideas from last two days into a working prototype.

You can use specialised prototyping tools or something as simple as Keynote or MS Powerpoint. The key is to have it ready by the end of the day since you should have user interviews already lined up for Thursday.

THURSDAY

📝 Overview

💻 Remote Setup

Thursday is the judgment day. Things are out of your hands while you interview at least five real users.

You can do face to face interviews in your office or use online services. Don’t worry, I will recommend you the best setup and process for conducting user interviews.

FRIDAY

📝 Overview

💻 Remote Setup

In the morning you will reflect on the past four days. You will assess the results of the sprint, make plans for for the future and run a retrospective to improve the design sprint process itself.

In the afternoon you’re free to go back to work but I recommend the whole team to set some time aside to celebrate running a successful sprint by grabbing late lunch together or maybe going for a Friday drink to let some steam off.

Set the stage

You need to plan your sprint before it even starts to make sure the whole process goes smoothly and you get the most of of the time of your team.

Starting on Monday a week before usually gives you plenty of time to prepare everything without overthinking it.

You will mostly contemplate the reasons for running a design sprint, recruit the team, book the room and gather all necessary supplies.

In remote conditions the preparations are almost the same with the exception of booking a room which transforms into choosing the right facilitation tool.

Here is a great, quick explanatory video straight from Google Ventures offices covering set the stage process:

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky from GV walk you through ‘set the stage’

General setup

The first question you need to ask yourself is: What is the challenge I’m facing?

Answer to this question will determine all the other decision you will make this week, the team you recruit, the format you assume, the long term goal you will set and even if it’s worth running a design sprint at all.

Secondly, if it’s not you, recruit a facilitator. She will play a crucial role in the sprint set up.

Your next step is to recruit the team and experts for Monday interviews. Assuming most of the readers of this blog will be within iGaming and will face challenges like coming up with a new slot game, gamification process for a casino brand or better payment solution for an online bookie I would suggest to pick a team as follows.

  • Decision maker (CEO, CPO, Product Manager, Product Owner or team leader)
  • Facilitator (scrummaster, project manager or a product person)
  • Marketing expert (CRM manager, CRO manager, marketing manager or product team member)
  • Development expert (Fullstack, front-end or back-end developer – depends on the project)
  • Customer expert (Customer support agent or lead, UX researcher – not a manager that has no contact with actual customers!)
  • Design (UX designer)

In general I recommend to recruit up to 7 people to your team. Less is more.

By recruiting team member from the 6 areas I mention above your team collectively will be able to handle almost any task. Even the smartest teams don’t know everything though. That’s why on Monday morning you will run a series of quick expert interviews.

Experts you recruit will be highly dependant on the particular challenge you choose, some examples of expert you might invite to an interview include:

  • compliance experts
  • finance experts
  • people who worked on similar projects that failed in the past
  • literally anyone you can learn from and gain more insight into the issue at hand

When you’re done recruiting make sure to block calendars of your team and experts for the time you will need them.

The last thing on your agenda for the week is to book a cozy room with ample supply of walls to hang papers on or at least 2 big whiteboards, you should also make sure you have all the supplies and access to water and coffee without having to leave the work area.

design sprint timetable
Design Sprint timetable

To make things easier for all the facilitators out there I’ve created a google spreadsheet with a checklist of everything you need to do in set the stage process and a timetable for the whole design sprint. You can access it here, just click ‘File>Make a copy’ so you can edit it.

💻 Remote setup

If you’re planning to run your design sprint remotely basically all set the stage steps are the same as for physical setup but the last one.

Instead of booking a room you will need to find an online tool where your team can visually collaborate in real time.

My favorite tool for that is Miro (formerly RealtimeBoard).

If you click on the embedded canvas you will see a design sprint template miro provides to its users for free.

What I love about Miro is the fact it can replicate a feeling of being in one room together really well without having to use multiple tools.

It’s an infinite whiteboard with video chat functionality and other little perks like timers, agenda notes and live pointer tracking.

Just check out the 1-minute video below to get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Miro is an excellent real-time collaboration tool

If you already have tools for the job though I suggest using them instead.

Jumping to a new tool will add another level of complexity and stress to an already unfamiliar process of a design sprint.

Monday – Map & Sketch

Monday is a busy day of learning, questioning everything you know, researching new ways of achieving your goals and finally coming up with low fidelity sketches of you ideas.

Start with a short intro

You want your team to perform well for next four to five days that’s why you should not rush the start of the sprint and take and opportunity to explain the schedule and make sure everyone is on board with the plan.

As a facilitator you might feel a bit silly in the beginning telling everyone what to do (possibly including your boss) so it’s important for you to explain what facilitator role is and what everyone might expect.

One of the things that will make things less awkward for you is to ask the group for permission to facilitate the meeting. Simply getting the consent from everyone in the room should help your team to accept you will be in charge of the process for next few days.

Expert interviews + HMW notes

This is the first exercise of the design sprint and it’s an important one!

Expert interviews will give you a deeper understanding of what stage you currently are in as a company, where do you want to get and who your users are so your team can focus on the most important part, the how.

I gathered a cross-functional team, don’t they already know everything?

They might think so but it’s rarely the case. CEO’s, managers and leaders usually have a good overview of what’s going on in the company but there are certain intricacies only domain experts know.

If you want to find out more about most common customer complaints recruit a customer support agent as an expert, if you want to know more about issues with payments get someone from payments and fraud department who deals with it everyday.

In the end it’s up to you who you recruit as an expert, each company and project is unique so I’m not going to give you any exact job titles of people you should invite. Broad categories of who you might include in the interviews usually are:

  • customer voice expert
  • compliance expert
  • fraud and payments expert
  • strategy expert
  • previous efforts expert

You’ve gathered a lot of clever people together and asked them the right questions, how do you capture it?

Enter HMW notes.

HMW stands for ‘How might we?’. General idea of taking notes in a form of how might we questions is not new, it was developed in 70s by the guys over at Procter & Gamble.

Before I go into examples of how to take HMW notes, let me explain why I really like this technique.

  • it makes you focus on solutions not the problem
  • it unifies the way everyone takes notes so it’s easy to compare
  • it keeps the notes short
  • it opens you up to out of the box solutions

How to take HMW notes?

Each person should get a pad of sticky notes and and a sharpie.

During the expert interviews, when you hear about a problem or opportunity you were not aware before turn it into a HMW question, for ex.

Expert: “When players coming from land based casinos visit our website bounce rate is 20% higher than in other segments”

You: “How might we make online experience more welcoming for first time visitors used to land based gambling?”

Obviously if you have other questions, using above example, like “What is the average bounce rate then?” just ask the expert out loud. This is not an opportunity just a gap in data.

After a few interviews you should have a stack of notes with HMW questions next to you.

When interviews are finished find a wall and stick all your notes there, it’s time to see if there are any patterns.

As a group try to find a couple common themes for all your questions. Just write a theme name in bold on another sticky and put it on top of the board. For everything that doesn’t fit any group just stick them under ‘miscellaneous’.

When you have rough idea of general themes it’s time to prioritise the ideas with dot voting.

Each person gets two sticky dots. The decider gets four sticky dots.

Cast your vote on most important ideas by placing your dots on the sticky with a question. If you wish you can use all your dots on one question.

When everyone is done voting take the stickies with most votes and put them on your main whiteboard organised by the number of votes.

You can leave the rest of the notes on the wall for now, even though they are not going to be used in this sprint there might be some interesting ideas out there!

Long term goal & sprint questions

Long term goal is exactly what you think it is – your goal for the future.

In some cases the goal seems so obvious that discussing it would seem like a waste of time.

WRONG!

Your goal will guide your work for at least next 5 days and if everything goes as planned possibly for next 5 years. Least you can do is commit 15 to 30 minutes to discuss your main objective with the team to make sure everyone is aligned.

An easy way to make sure your team is on the same page is to use a technique called ‘note and vote’.

  1. Each of team members (except the decider – she just observes) writes a long term goal on a post-it note starting with “In one years time… “
  2. You stick all the post-its on the wall and each team member votes on the one they prefer
  3. The decider looks at the votes and picks the goal for the sprint.

This exercise has three main benefits:

  • you get to see if the team is on the same page
  • you get a fresh perspective on the company goals
  • everyone is included in goal-setting

When you have your sprint goal written down in bold letters on the whiteboard it’s time to put on your pessimist hat and start asking questions about things that could go wrong.

Sprint questions are about turning your assumptions and obstacles into actionable questions.

For example, based on your previous user research you know that players trust is an issue. The question you would write down is:

  • How can we get the players to trust us?

You might also be aware of an obstacle you’ve discovered during expert interviews. For ex. due to regulations in the region the user needs to enter their ID number during registration process. That could be a potential drop-off point, you can rephrase it as:

  • How can we motivate players not to drop-off when forced to enter the ID number?

As a group you should be able to come up with a couple questions like that focused on the biggest issues.

When everyone is ready, again put the questions on the wall and vote with dots to pick questions that will go on your whiteboard. This time, since there will be more questions on the wall each team member should pick up three voting dots.

Give your team a couple minutes to vote and when ready sort the questions according to the number of votes.

Write down your top questions on the white board just below the sprint goal and you’re done with this exercise!

Map

Map you will create in this exercise is a simplified customer user journey graph. It doesn’t have to be as accurate as the latter because it’s here to guide you through different stages of the user journey without necessarily focusing on optimising every single step of the journey.

The most straight-forward technique you can use is called ‘note and map’.

Watch this short (1:30) video below to get the gist of it. 👇

Remember, your map doesn’t have to be perfect – focus on main touch points that will guide you through the creative process.

When your rough map is ready it’s time to go back to your top HMW questions and place them along the customer journey. You will find that each HMW question can usually be pinpointed to one of the steps of the journey, if that’s not possible place the note at the earliest applicable step.

You should find a place for your map somewhere close to your sprint goal and questions. Those three things will guide you though the whole process for next few days.

monday setup

Lightning demos

Lightning demos are one of my favorite parts of the design sprint. It is a strategic research exercise at the end of which you present your findings in a 3-minute ‘lightning’ demo.

I suggest to ask your team to do the research part of this exercise in the week before the sprint starts to get the best results.

  1. Come up with a list of competitors, industry leaders and other companies that you think have better solution than you for a particular problem you’re facing. Remember, you can always look outside igaming for inspiration. For example if you want to improve your registration form think about apps or websites you use daily like amazon, booking or any other app your feel good about.
  2. Go through the experience yourself, take notes, screenshots and screen recordings.
  3. Give a 3-minute demo of your favorite solution. You don’t have to prepare a big presentation, you can simply narrate the recording you took or go through the funnel on the spot on your phone.
  4. Capture the big idea. Everytime someone gives a demo ask ‘What’s the big idea behind it?‘ Take quick notes supplemented by rudimental wireframes on the whiteboard.
  5. By the end of the exercise you should have about a dozen of ideas derived from competing solutions. Don’t worry about which ones you can use for now, you’ll decide on that in the next exercise.

4-part sketching

I have to admit I might like 4-part sketching even more than the lightning demos. It’s not only an excellent exercises to transform your research into solutions but the reactions you get from your team are priceless. You can expect a lot of ‘It’s impossible to do all that in such a short time frame!’ and ‘there is no way this will work!’ and of course the all time classic ‘I can’t do it, I can’t draw’

Before we even start let me assure you, it’s possible to do all that in the assigned time frame and you don’t need to be able to draw anything more than a stick figure.

Part 1 – Notes – 20 min

monday notes

You’ll be probably doing this exercise after lunch. You and your team did all the research in the morning and now is the time to make sure you put the puzzle together.

Walk around the room, re-read the sprint goal, HMWs, sprint questions, look at them map and lightning demos ideas, make sure there are no gaps in your understanding of the problem. If needed take notes so you don’t need to get up when you move onto the next part of the exercise.

Part 2 – Scratchpad ideas – 20 min

Based on your notes start sketching very rough ideas of solutions, just bare bones – don’t worry you won’t be showing them to anyone so you can go crazy but try to make a couple different sketches. Give yourself about 15 minutes to do so, in the last 5 minutes you will choose and refine the ideas you will work on in part 3.

Part 3 – Crazy 8s – 8 min

crazy eights

Take an A4 piece of paper and fold it in half three times so you end up with a sheet divided into 8 equal parts.

You have exactly 8 minutes to sketch 8 different variations of your best solutions. Yup, that’s right you have 60 seconds per mini-wireframe so move fast! The differences between each solution don’t have to be huge but should have an impact on user experience.

This crazy pace forces you not to overthink your solutions and helps you jot down solutions you would otherwise discard.

Part 4 – Solution Sketch – 72 min

It’s time to get serious now, you should have a couple good ideas in the bank and your creative muscles are fully warmed up.

We will move on to creating an actual solution sketch you will show to the rest of group. You will have more time for this one so try to include a bit more details and notes.

Start by grabbing a couple pieces of A4 paper, you solution sketch will actually be a short story and each piece of paper will be one frame.

Good rule of thumb is to have 3-4 frames in your story but you can adjust to whatever your needs are.

When you’re done sketching each step now glue the pieces together and add notes on stickies. It should look something like that 👇

Things to remember:

🎨 It doesn’t matter if it looks good

Don’t let your lack of talent for drawing stop you from conveying the message. Use stick figures, notes and whatever it takes to make sure others will understand what you have in mind. Tip: Sometimes if I have no idea how to draw something I head to the noun project library of icons and try to copy the simplest icon.

🧠 Make sure it’s easy to understand

Every now and then stand back and pretend to be a 10-year old you, would you get the idea? What questions would you ask? Try to answer those question in the sketch or write a short explanation on a sticky note.

💰 Sell it

Give your sketch a catchy, easy to remember title. Highlight it’s best features and make sure it appeals to the rest of the group. In other words – be in it, to win it!

Keep it anonymous

It’s a small group closed in a small room, yes – it will be quite hard to keep it anonymous, give it your best effort though. People are easily influenced by HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) and we want to eliminate as much bias from voting process as possible.

When you’re ready place your sketch on the wall (make sure it won’t fall off) and you’re done for the day!

💻 Remote setup

To keep it simple I will assume you’re using the miro board I’ve recommended earlier on in this article.

In most cases it’s pretty self-explanatory how to transfer the offline exercises with a video call and an online whiteboard app but let me share a couple tricks and tricks that might come useful to you.

Intro

Apart from introducing the design sprint idea to the team make sure everyone knows how to use the collaboration tool you’ve settled on. Set clear rules about video and mic setting (on or off).

4-part sketching

Depending on your teams experience with online wireframing tools it is usually more efficient to do the drawings by hand. I recommend doing the sketches on A4 paper and uploading the photo to your whiteboard app or sketching right on the screen with a stylus.

Tuesday – Decide & Storyboard

Good. You made it to day two!

By the end of the day today you will settle on the best solution for your long-term goal.

Start by making a pot of strong coffee and introducing the team to what’s going to happen today.

The Art Museum

This is the easiest step today and that’s why we’re starting with it. All the sketches should be placed on the walls just like paintings in a museum. You have 15 minutes to walk around, take notes and make up your mind on which ideas you like and which not so much.

Heatmap Vote

heatmap voting

You get a voting dot, you get a voting dot, everyone gets unlimited voting dots!

In this exercise there is no limit how many dots you can use for voting, pick single elements of solution sketches you like and place a dot next to them. It’s all about creating a heatmap so don’t be shy about sticking those dots all over the place.

If you have any questions about any elements of the solution sketch simply place a sticky note on the wall with your question and it will be tackled in the next step!

Speed Critique

This is the part where you can finally have a discussion, organised discussion following a premeditated structure that is!

The facilitator is going to be doing most of the talking so to speed things up she needs an assistant that will write things down. The job of the assistant is to write down standout ideas the facilitator calls out – nothing complicated!

The structure of speed critique is pretty straightforward:

  1. Set a 3 minute timer
  2. Facilitator narrates the sketch and calls out standout ideas (ones with the most dots next to it) – assistant writes them down on sticky notes and places them above the sketch
  3. The team calls out any missed stand out ideas
  4. Review concerns and questions from sticky notes placed below the sketch
  5. The author of the sketch reveals herself and explains any missed ideas

Straw Poll Vote

straw pool vote

In this step everyone apart from the decider casts their vote for their favorite solution. The decider will make the final decision in the next step.

Each person grabs a dot and puts their initial on it. Now place this dot on top of the sketch you think will work the best with your long-term goal. When all votes are placed each person gets 1 minute to explain to the group why they think the solution they voted for is the way to go.

Decider vote

This is the last step of the voting process where the actual decision is made. Deciders get 3 votes (dots) each. You did the heatmap, critique and straw poll exercises to give deciders an idea of what the general consensus of the group is. It’s up to them now to listen to what the group thinks or go their own way.

Deciders can put all of their votes on one sketch or each on a different one. Whichever sketch has a dot on will go into prototyping phase.

When the vote is over, leave only the chosen sketches on the wall and pat yourself on the back! The biggest decision of the sprint is over! Now it’s time to find out if it was a good one.

Storyboard

The decider(s) has chosen the solutions that will go into prototyping. Before we proceed to the next step though we need to make sure all the steps makes sense together.

The storyboard is a short sketch of how your user will interact with the chosen solution. It’s a simple way to make sure your prototype will work properly and you haven’t omitted any steps!

storyboard preview

The first thing you’ll want to do is to assign a person responsible for drawing, that way facilitator and decider will be able to do their jobs without any distractions.

Your artist should start by drawing eight empty boxes on a whiteboard, they should be bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. You don’t have to fill in all of them but if you run out of boxes you can always add more.

Before you start copying your solution sketch into the boxes think a bit about the opening scene. Before the user lands on your chosen solution how did she get there? It might be an affiliate site, news article, banner ad or internal page of your product.

It’s important to start with the right opening scene to put yourself in the right state of mind and think like your customer.

When you’ve chosen you opening scene it’s time to fill in the rest of the steps. Try to reuse as many of the solutions sketches as possible so you don’t have to draw from scratch.

If some steps that are not crucial to journey are missing or some buttons lead to dead-ends – don’t worry! Your sketch doesn’t have to be perfect all you need is a coherent storyline.

Once all the winning sketches are incorporated into your storyboard you’re almost done. Run through the whole journey again and try to estimate how much time it will take for a user to go through.

If you managed to complete the dry run of the journey without a hiccup you’re finished for the day and ready to prototype tomorrow! 🎉

💻 Remote Setup

Having completed day one there won’t be many surprises today when it comes to the remote setup.

The most tricky part will obviously be the storyboard, in an office environment you would have one person drawing on the board and others commenting in real-time. To replicate the same dynamic online we will need our artist to either be very proficient in using an online wireframing tool to keep up with the tempo or use a device with a touch screen and a stylus (my prefered solution).

Keep that in mind and check with your team before the sprint starts if they have a tablet and a stylus available to create wireframes on the fly.

Wednesday – Prototype

One of the common objections to running a design sprint is that you cannot build a functioning prototype in a day.

The truth is you can prototype anything in a day and I mean it. It can be something as simple as a landing page or as complicated as a mars rover, all you need is a day. The secret is it all comes down to the level of detail.

To illustrate that even further let me show you exactly what I mean, below is a screenshot from a video created by an artist Howard Lee attempting to draw a popular comic book character Joker in 10 minutes, 1 minute and 10 seconds.

Time to make a prototype depends only on the level of detail

As you can see the 10 minute version looks great, there is no question who the character in the drawing is and you can see that Howard paid a lot of attention to details. This is an equivalent of a fully developed design you would create to deploy on production for your real users.

On the other side of the spectrum the 10 second drawing is barely recognisable, if you didn’t know who is supposed to be in the drawing chances are you wouldn’t guess it. Clearly there is not enough detail in that version and your users would have no idea what to do with it.

Finally the 1 minute version, the middle ground between attention to detail and speed. There was not enough time to add any little touches but there is no doubt about what the drawing is. This is exactly what you’re aiming for. You prototype needs to have a bare minimum level of detail not to confuse your users during the test but not an ounce more.

How do you create a prototype?

Rapid prototyping is becoming more and more popular in the new era of design. Below are just three of my favorite prototyping tools out of many available on the market right now.

Marvel is a tool I personally use when I need to create a quick wireframe or prototype without the help of a designer. The tools is extremely easy to use, has intuitive navigation, extensive library of ready-made elements and requires no design experience whatsoever. You can use Marvel to create wireframes, prototype and perform user testing all in one place.

https://marvelapp.com/

Sketch is the most popular design software for macOS and it’s for a reason. There is a chance your designers are already working in sketch, if that’s the case just ask them to use it’s prototyping features to create one. Later on prototypes can be easily shared on the web.

https://www.sketch.com/

Figma is an online design tool allowing for real-time collaboration, creation of complex design systems and obviously prototyping. If you want to keep your designs from conception till hand-off online it might be a choice for you.

https://www.figma.com/

Do a trial run before you let anyone see it

At 3pm you will do a trial run, take anyone that was not involved in creating the prototype and ask them to use it. Some parts might not be finished yet, no one expects them to be, but at least you will see if the general idea is well received by the user and what to focus on in the last few hours of prototyping.

prototype test

To do a trial run you can use a user testing tool of your choice to get familiar with it or just observe how your subject is using the prototype in the wild. It’s up to you.

When the trial run is finished take any feedback you received and try to make your prototype as usable as possible. However do not pull an allnighter just to make the prototype look good, this is not the point.

💻 Remote setup

You will be doing your prototyping online regardless of the environment you’re working in.

For the trial run a video call with screen-sharing enabled is more than enough.

Thursday – Test

The day everyone has been waiting for!

Today you will find out if your idea resonates with your target audience or not. You will find out by performing a user testing session with 5 people that match your target demographic criteria.

In the traditional user testing scenario you would identify five of your target customers, invite them to your office or rented space, set up recording equipment and assign an interviewer giving the subject instructions.

It is clearly a lot of hassle and investment. That’s why I suggest doing user testing online, there is virtually no hassle in setting it up and you can get your first user test running in minutes. Usually user testing apps allow you to record your remote user screen, audio and video from the built-in camera. Tests can be performed on desktop or mobile device anywhere in the world.

Some of the apps allow you to tap in to the directory of user testers you will have to pay a fee to recruit to your test. The other option is for you to recruit the users on your own. To decide there is one question you need to answer yourself: ‘How niche is my audience?’.

In general, if you’re in the igaming I suggest you recruit subjects on your own. Trying to recruit users from existing directories is a quite costly and most of the time the audience will not be as targeted as you wish.

How to recruit your own user subjects?

Recruiting study participants might be a bit more complicated than you expect it to be. There are literal books written on the subject, for example this free 190 page ebook from Norman Nielsen group.

You will need your user testing participants to match the profile of your actual users, you will need a steady supply of new participants and you probably don’t want to pay an arm and leg everytime you want to run a test. Keeping those costs low is important to run tests often and even for seemingly unimportant design changes.

Here are three ways you can recruit participants if you want to run user tests of your gambling app.

Start with the users you already have

Who matches your user profile better than your actual users?

There is a couple ways you can recruit your own users, you can try:

  • using a pop-up or a widget when the user is on a target page
  • recruiting through live chat (when the user comes to you with feedback on design or functionality)
  • using your CRM and social media channels
  • setting a referral scheme and offering a small reward

Ask friends and colleagues

If you’re just getting started and don’t want to invest too much in subject recruitment asking your colleagues, friends or even family to participate in the study might be any easy solution for you.

Remember to be impartial when analysing the results and treat all the participants according to the same protocol to get statistically significant results.

Recruit through online communities

Reach out to your target users on forums, telegram channels or other discussion groups popular with your target demographic.

People in these groups are actively interested in the industry and clearly want to share their opinion. Offering a small amazon gift card will usually be enough compensation for test participation.

What’s the best user testing platform?

Maze is a relatively new design user testing platform founded in 2018. I love it for being straight to the point without unnecessary bells and whistles that distract you from the job. You get user testing abilities for low fidelity static designs or working prototypes from figma, sketch, adobe XD, invision or marvel. All of that is accompanied by rich, visually stunning UX reports.

https://maze.design/

Lookback is a full-blown self-serve user testing platform with ability to test prototypes as well as live products. Each test consists of a recording of the users screen and devices camera so you can analyse non-verbal queues as well. If you want to see a preview of a lookback test, click here. Lookback allows you to run both moderated and unmoderated sessions.

https://lookback.io/

Usertesting.com is one of the biggest and best established players in the market of user testing. This tool will offer you everything you might want from a user testing platform including a massive base of participants you can filter by demographic and interest data. Be aware though it comes with a price tag.

https://www.usertesting.com/

How to run the test?

Analysing qualitative data is never easy that’s why here is a very easy to follow framework to get a straight answer out of your user interviews.

Set the test scenario in a way that will validate your assumptions – on day one you’ve listed your goals and sprint questions on a big whiteboard. In your test scenario incorporate actions that will directly answer those questions based on how the user behaves.

During all user tests you should be on a look out for common themes and patterns emerging. Taking quick notes in Google sheets is my favourite.

Sample user testing feedback sheet – you can find it in the same spreadsheet as the design sprint timetable

It’s important to keep in mind every user is different. If the first test fails it doesn’t mean you should pack up your things and go home, that particular user might just have been a statistical anomaly.

What if I there are no patterns emerging after 5 tests?

This is rather unlikely but if 5 user test really didn’t give you much of an answer, here is what I would do:

  • Check if the audience matched my criteria – remember that your solution is designed for specific audience. If you want to test a solution aimed at high-rollers but show it to grinders making a $20 deposit once a month the feedback might be overwhelmingly negative. For your VIP customers making $200 bets the solution might be exactly what they were looking for. Make sure to recruit audiences that will match your target customers.
  • Reevaluate the scenario – try narrowing down you tasks and guide the users a bit more toward giving you quantifiable answers
  • Run 5 more test – you might have been lucky and recruited 5 ‘outliers’ for your test, it’s rare but it happens. Just run 5 more tests and reevaluate the results.

💻 Remote setup

As the day before this is another activity you will be doing online regardless of your setup.

Friday – Reflect

You’ve made it! You’ve brainstormed, prototyped and tested a solution to your pressing problem in just 4 days.

All is left is to assess the results, come up with an actionable plan and figure out how to make next design sprint better. These three things are a natural progression to any planning activity but usually they’re not included in the design sprint planning guides.

I like to bundle them up together on the last day of the design sprint and have the whole team along with the deciders present for all of those activities. I’ve seen too many good solutions buried in the backlog for months just because it lost its momentum after the planning phase excitement burnt off.

Officially including those activities in the design sprint timetable enables your team to put things into life quickly.

Asses the results

Come up with a short presentation of the results from user testing on the previous day. If the tests were short you can even replay videos for your team and highlight patterns and key pain points on the flow.

You don’t need to overcomplicate this step, it’s all about getting the whole team on the same page so they can make an informed decision in the next step.

Actionable planning

Now that everyone is familiar with the results of user testing it’s time to call the verdict. You have three options here:

  • results were overwhelmingly positive and you move forward with the solution as is
  • results were overwhelmingly negative and you need to find a new solution
  • results were mixed, solution still has promise but will need work

Positive results

That’s where we’d all want to end up. Important thing is to keep things moving and start development of the new solution as soon as possible.

Step 1gather all the documentation, sketches and the prototype so that the whole development team has the same understanding of the solution as you do.

Step 2 – Decide if the solution will go directly to production or if it’s going to be A/B tested. Yes, results from user testing were positive but if the new solution affects a lot of existing site features it might be worth to run an A/B test on your actual users to see what the bottom line impact will be.

Step 3 – Give it a timeframe. Development team will take the solution apart and split it into user stories during the sprint planning. Using the knowledge of your team experts you should be able to venture an estimation of when the new solution can be launched.

Step 4 – Based on sprint questions identify KPIs to keep a close eye on after the solution is launched. Remember when you put on your pessimist hat earlier during the week? Make sure none of it happens!

Negative results

So you’ve just spent a week working on an idea that was a bust. And you know what? It’s great news!

This is exactly why you’ve chosen to run a design sprint rather than a quick brainstorming session followed by weeks of development. You’ve spent ONLY a week on a bad idea, if design sprint mechanics were not in place to let you know about the results so early on you could’ve easily spent months developing a solution your customers would reject anyway.

Not all is lost though. Based on the user tests you’ve conducted you should be able to figure out what was the problem with the current solution. That gives you a great starting point for your next design sprint, you already know what to reject.

Mixed results

Your test subjects generally liked the idea but most of them agreed that one particular part, well.. sucked.

You will just do a quick fix and the feature is ready for development, right?

WRONG!

That fix you just made might make matters even worse. Depending on the severity of the issue you might have to plan to repeat the design sprint (it could be a sped up 1 day version this time) or if you’re really confident in your fix you can repeat the user testing only.

The main take out is: without successful validation from the user test the feature does not go to development.

Retrospective

You’re officially finished with the design sprint now! It wouldn’t be an agile process though if you didn’t run a retrospective in the end.

Retrospective is a short meeting you usually hold at the end of every sprint (design or regular). This meeting highlights improvements opportunities, solves process issues and paves a better way for the future.

To run a retrospective all you need is a whiteboard and a marker (sticky notes are a good solution as well). Divide the whiteboard into 3 columns with headings: ‘What went well?’, ‘What can we do better?’, ‘Actions’

Example of a quick retrospective board you can find at miro.com

Before we jump into the process here are some ground rules for every retrospective you run:

  • do not point fingers and assign blame
  • let everyone speak their mind
  • don’t be afraid to speak even if it’s uncomfortable
  • focus on improvements
  • be respectful
  • do not spiral out into discussing problems irrelevant to the sprint

Make sure to highlight those rules at the beginning of every retrospective meeting.

👍 What went well?

Get every team member to highlight what went well during the design sprint. Focus on team dynamics, things you managed to accomplish, positive aspects of the process and things that you enjoyed.

👎 What can we do better?

Here each team member will try to find areas of improvement. Make sure to follow the ground rules and the resulting discussion should help the team make next design sprint a well-oiled business idea machine!

💪 Actions

Based on the discussion items you will need to take appropriate action, it might be making changes to a process, getting some data from the BI team or running to the shop for a new coffee machine if one of the discussion points was broken espresso machine.

Take a note of WHAT needs to be done, WHO will do it and BY WHEN.

💻 Remote setup

I recommend you use miro to run your retrospective to avoid tool switching but you might as well do it over a video call using confluence or even a notepad.

When the sprint is finished

You should be able to finish your retrospective before lunch. Depending on the urgency you might go straight into development mode and start breaking up the solution into user stories but I suggest you take a moment with the team to celebrate completing your design sprint.

Splurge on a team lunch in a nearby restaurant, grab a drink after work or get some cupcakes in the common area. Design sprint is a very intense process and your team needs to unwind before jumping into a next project.

In a remote setup this will obviously need a little bit of coordination beforehand, having a drink over zoom is an option but personally I find that adding a theme to virtual team meetings removes some of the awkwardness, you can find a pretty exhaustive list of ideas over here.

Happy Sprinting! 😉

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make the design sprint shorter?

I do not recommend it, especially if it’s your first design sprint but you can adjust it to your needs as you wish. Make sure you adjust the schedule beforehand to keep things organised. You should also your team know you’re running a condensed version of a design sprint so they are aware of the circumstances.

My problem is too complicated for a design sprint to work.

I doubt it. It’s all about the approach you take and focusing on the right elements. Internet is full of stories about companies using design sprints to prototype some insane things like autonomous hotel delivery robot, immune-related biomarker database for the immuno-oncology community (CIDC) or Telemedicine platform for one of the biggest insurance providers in Argentina. So if you think a slot game or a betting site redesign is too complex for a design sprint, think again!

Is design sprint going to turn me into a product development guru?

Running a design sprint doesn’t mean your usual sloppy user research and mediocre ideas will instantly turn into gold. Design sprint simply forces you to use certain design thinking, user research and agile methodology techniques while removing external distractions and limiting time to overthink your decisions.

We’re all adults here, do we really need those silly techniques to come up with good ideas?

You don’t need to run a design sprint to come up with a killer idea and sometimes even perfectly executed sprint won’t result in the golden bullet solution. A lot of techniques described in this post are actually derived from various other project management and brainstorming methodologies. The main goal behind a design sprint is to cut down on variable elements of usual brainstorming session and focus only on the key elements that bring results without omitting ideas from any of the team members that normally would not speak up.

  1. http://theleanstartup.com/principles[]
  2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/01/30/groupthink[]
  3. https://open.nytimes.com/how-to-run-13-design-sprints-at-once-inside-maker-week-at-the-new-york-times-5d3b95ca2441[]
  4. https://open.nytimes.com/maker-week-roundup-homegrown-product-development-at-the-new-york-times-4a32c5250a0[]
  5. https://uxplanet.org/how-lego-run-design-sprints-at-scale-47bf56b785f7[]
  6. https://sprintstories.com/deutsche-telekom-how-we-ran-an-enterprise-design-sprint-with-70-people-b406430c603c[]

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