Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a remote Design Sprint with Robert Skrobe owner of Dallas Design Sprint. The fundamental questions for this first virtual design sprint was to see how well the design sprint work virtually. With participants across North America, I facilitated a design sprint to develop a Design Sprint Referral Network or DSRN as the project was dubbed.
Design Sprint Facilitator
The Big Idea
A Design Sprint Referral Network - DSRN
Why are we doing this? What was the original idea?
Common practice in some design sprints there will be people called upon to do the sprint that are referrals. If design sprints were done at scale, a referral network would be needed to find out who's available, what they're skillset is and if they're solid contributors/professionals. Also, there are plenty of professionals out there (freelancers, etc.) who would love to get involved with design sprints but don't have an outlet to do so. This kind of referral network would help them find meaningful work.
Who is the target audience for this Design Sprint? Who should we recruit to test our demo/prototype?
Design Sprint Facilitators, Dev/Designers/Architects who are familiar with design sprints and how they work.
What does a successful Design Sprint look like? (% of users positively reacting to demo/prototype, etc.
A demo of an ecosystem that connects design sprint facilitators with professionals that can contribute for success. Also, a near-frictionless signup process that encourages practitioners to engage the referral network.
What roles (designer, developer, etc.) should the Design Sprint team represent?
Two sprint facilitators, a service design professional (or two), marketing, sales, design and dev. Ideally.
Subject Matter Experts
What roles should the Design Sprint team represent?
Human resource professionals
Executives running design sprint businesses
Design freelancers and community organizers (of any stripe)
What’s the specific challenge or opportunity we’re trying to validate?
Showcase InVison and Mural (as the core whiteboard tool) in a virtual design sprint process.
What does a successful endeavor look like?
The virtual design sprint event crosses the finish line with a solid prototype and 5 user tests.
Participating companies felt their product was well positioned and promoted.
Participating practitioners say the time they contributed to the effort was well spent.
Define the Challenge
Recruit Test Users
Create next steps
What’s a Design Sprint?
A design sprint is a time-constrained, five-phase process that uses design thinking with the aim of reducing the risk when bringing a new product, service or a feature to the market. At GV (formerly, Google Ventures), the Design Sprint concept developed from a vision to grow UX culture and the practice of design leadership across the organization. The Design Sprint methodology can be used to solve all kinds of challenges. Best known for injecting speed and innovation into product development, the methodology can also be used to develop new processes, create or update a brand, or even define an organization's vision.
Design sprints are born from real experience in addressing common problems in a practical ways. From my training with Jake Knapp and John John Zeratsky and echoed by the practitioners I met at Google, this is more than the latest flavor for managing teams. The process is a toolbox addressing problems such as aligning teams, prioritizing features, making decision, managing multiple stakeholders, advocating for the user and eliminating bias to name just a few. I have found design sprints incredibly powerful as a UX designer and researcher.
Understand: Discover the business opportunity, the audience, the competition, the value proposition, and define metrics of success.
Diverge: Explore, develop and iterate creative ways of solving the problem, regardless of feasibility.
Converge: Identify ideas that fit the next product cycle and explore them in further detail through storyboarding.
Prototype: Design and prepare prototype(s) that can be tested with people.
Test: Conduct 1:1 user testing with (5-6) people from the product's primary target audience. Ask good questions
• Together Alone
• Tangible > Discussion
• Getting Started > Being Right
• Don’t rely on creativity!
Design Sprint Referral Network
In preparation for the Virtual Design Sprint, I had several conversations with Robert Skrobe about his plans for this virtual design sprints “experiment”. He outlined his vision, timeline, challenges and his general success criteria. I chose to facilitate the DSRN project because it met my criteria for building a product that served the design community. I also spent time reviewing SME interviews developing a list of sample HMW, potential long term goals, and a basic map to guide me through Monday.
Team Role: Facilitator
• Starts leading activities from this point forward
• Coordinates with co-facilitator/advisors on the team.
• Lead discussions in Slack around sprint week activities
• Work directly with me on logistics for sprint week.
• Point person for the rest of the team
• Works out scheduling and coverage for sprint week
• Time boxes and coordinates activities during sprint week
Day 1 - Monday
Get the team together and map the problem being tackled. Choose the target to focus on and speak to lots of experts to get insights (notice its experts, not users being spoken to). A lot is covered in the first day of any design sprint and this was no exception. By the end of the day we were left with more questions than answers but living with ambiguity is the challenge. Thanks to great teamwork we defined the challenge and the decider chose a target user.
• Who are the users
• What are their need
• What is the context
• Competitors Review
• Formulate Strategy
Day 2 - Tuesday
Look at possible solutions for the target, both within and outside of the domain and sketch lots and lots of ideas. Looking at ideas for inspiration, I ran a lightning demo, Six Hats Evaluation, Four Step Sketch, Crazy 8s, and from this a five-step decision process (Art Museum, Heat Map, Speed Critique, Straw Poll, Supervote). Now with the long term goal and sprint questions established we storyboarded our prototype.
Diverge & Decide
• Develop many solutions
• Choose the best idea
• Storyboard prototype
Day 3 - Wednesday
Design and build a prototype to further bring the idea to life. Fake it, don’t make it. Due to an unexpected work deadline the UX designer had to drop out of our DSRN design sprint. So I was tasked with creating the prototype, which I built in Sketch and Invision while other team members scheduled users testers for the next day.
• Build something to test with users
• Enroll prototype testers
• Create interview questions
Day 4 - Thursday
Tested the prototype with five users. Team gathered notes and observations and looked for common patterns, points of frictions and specific pain points in the prototype.
• Show prototype to real users outside organization
• Learn what doesn't work
Day 5 - Friday
After reviewing our collective notes and documentation the team summarized the testing feedback into the following major key insights:
Network of vetted, experienced top talent
Closed group / invite only
Location over specific skill set
Evaluation peer to peer
Endorsement - needs clarification
DSRN is not a …
arena for job posting
What our design sprint revealed was that our initial target was incorrect and that features involving certification and learning were not ultimately needed in today’s market. What was needed was an invitation only network tailored to the needs of hiring parties such as Design Sprint Facilitators or HR departments. Was it a failure? Not even close. Yes our hypothesis was invalidated yet we what we learned in 5 days revealed with precision our target audience and outlined a marketable product.
• User test report
• Answer vital questions
• Plans next steps
• Validate/Invalidate hypothese
In person Design Sprint are the most effective way to solve big problems and align teams in a distraction and device free environment. Yet, in today’s reality of distributed teams, increasing travel costs and time savings in-person is often not feasible. I have found best practice involve generally over communicating and having a few warm activities to help foster group connection. Working within several time zones can sometimes create communication bubbles but a disciplined use of Slack and scheduling typically solves this problem issue.
Virtual meetings are the future. Today there are a growing amount of tools and services that are making this more and more a reality. As a facilitator, seeing everyone face on at the same time on screen allows me to read the group’s confusion or distractions easily. Also, having a whiteboard that can’t’ mistakenly be erased and online resource materials a link away helps to engage the group. Virtual design sprints can be difficult but a good facilitators models strategies and process that allow participants to work through uncertainties and uncover real innovation.
For further details give a listen to my conversation with Robert Skrobe where we discuss the experience and all things Design Sprint.