Design Sprint: a Facilitator’s Perspective
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Design Sprint: a Facilitator’s Perspective

on / by Tom Goulooze

If you’ve spent any time reading Medium, attended a tech-conference, or hung around a startup office; you might have heard the term ‘design sprint’, seen a curious blue book, or been generally confronted with a lot of post-its. Like so many business books, “Sprint” by Jake Knapp holds the promise of the perfect way to work – a revolution for those wanting to get real work done. Well, it may not be quite that, but it’s certainly a great way to solve a problem that’s been bugging your team for a while. In fact, we at Usabilla just finished our very first design sprint, and if you got a big question to answer you should probably do one too.

So, what is a design sprint?

The Methodology from Google is outlined in the book as “a five day process for answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers”. For me, it was a step by step process to go from a defined problem to a tested solution in five days. On Monday you delve deep into your problem, listen to experts and pick a target to focus the sprint. Tuesday, everyone sketches their solutions. Wednesday, you pick the best one(s). Thursday, you build it. Finally, on Friday, you test your solution on real customers.

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If you follow the book’s advice for a week, you’ll actively remove factors that stand in the way of momentum. This means: no brainstorming, no devices during most of the sprint, and removing bias from decision making. The cherry on top of this unconventional process is the Facilitator; a dedicated member that focuses only on process. The Facilitator guides the team through the daily schedule, sets timers, and leads discussions.

This was the role I played during our sprint. And while the book and the internet are full of examples explaining how design sprints have ‘revolutionized’ businesses, as I got progressively more nervous about standing in front of a whiteboard for 5 days, I could have done with a little more context about the role and its function. If you’re still reading, my guess is I might not be alone. Therefore I decided to give ‘past me’ the article I needed, while sharing my biggest lessons from my sprint. A Facilitator’s perspective.

The Facilitator: Why are you there in the first place?

The design sprint takes productivity very seriously, and it strives to eliminate all factors that can make office work a drag. When was the last time you were in a meeting that went on like one long discussion without really getting to a decision? Sucks the life right out of the room, right? Well, what if you had someone in the room that could make that go away, without hurting anyone’s feelings or influencing the outcome?

A Facilitator is there so the team is always focused on the goal, no energy is wasted on the “who’s doing what” part of teamwork. You are there so the others don’t have to compete for the role. It’s not really about you; it’s about having someone that knows the plan so the others can focus on the solution.

Supplies

Monday: Know your shit

When you meet the team on Monday morning, not everyone will have read the book or even looked at the videos. Some will have high expectations and others might not be convinced this is such a great idea. Members might feel they already have a perfect solution, worry that they will get bored in what is essentially a day-long meeting, or feel guilty about not being at their desk. Your biggest task is to reduce uncertainty and inspire confidence. This, is going to be awesome.

I found the best way to make a team feel safe about going on this wild adventure is to absolutely know your shit. Embody Hermione Granger. In preparation, read the book, then reread Monday’s chapter on Sunday night. Know the schedule, have the answers, be ready. If you look like you know what you are doing, it’ll be easier for the team to let go of their doubts.

Tuesday: Know the players

On the second day you’ll come up with solutions for Monday’s defined sprint goal. If you are thinking brainstorm, think again. Tuesday is all about structured steps towards individual ideation. Your team has to step up and you’ll realize that not everyone feels comfortable with a blank piece of paper, a felt-tip pen, and a looming timer.

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Creative efforts flow smoothly from fresh minds* so the book actively schedules breaks and keeps the first half of the day light on the brain. Your team might feel compelled to spend their extra energy on emails and quick work discussions, but it’s best if they don’t. Ask them instead to play some pool or take a stroll around the office, giving the mind some breathing room will help the work. Identify people that are hesitant about bringing in their own ideas and make them comfortable to contribute. A solution chosen from all minds will stand stronger on Wednesday.

* not sure if this is true, but it sure sounds cool.

Wednesday: Don’t get involved, but kinda do get involved

For me, Wednesday was pretty intense. After two days of discovery, this one is about making calls and killing darlings – this is when you decide what to build. As a Facilitator, it’s wise to have the following mantra: take control of the discussion; keep away from the solution. When you get to the nitty gritty discussions of what to incorporate in the winning solution, things can become taxing quickly.

Essentially, six people will attempt to debate details of a user flow that is wholly represented by three sticky notes with square boxes filled with quasi-legible text. Finding a shared representation of abstract ideas is challenging and can bog down progress or drain the battery; to prevent an exhausted team after lunch, you’ll have to intervene. Trust the Decider and defer to them quickly (that’s what they are there for), don’t be afraid to actively step in but don’t get sucked into the discussion.

Thursday: Be the interviewer

Building day. The book is pretty vague when it comes to Thursday especially when it comes to the role of the Facilitator. When it’s all hands on deck you might feel compelled to get your hands dirty too. However, you are much more valuable protecting the prototype from straying too far from the target you set on Monday. You should ask ‘why?’ a lot and that’s going to be hard when you are stressing over an incomplete prototype. My solution: prepare the script for friday’s interviews instead. This way you are providing value to the team while still maintaining appropriate distance from the prototype. As the interviewer you’ll run through a draft version of your team’s work in the afternoon which is a great time for a lot of ‘why’ questions.

Friday: Sell sell sell

Batter up, it’s game time. When testing the prototype with your customers, make sure to include tasks for the interviewees that directly relate to questions you are trying to answer. This way you can verify your results much easier; if a majority of testers react how you’d hoped, it is a success. Whether you homerun, strikeout, or only get to second base, you should be proud of what you have accomplished. At the end of the day two words should be plastered across your whiteboard: Now What?

This is it, this is the moment you should grab to make sure the idea goes further than the six people that worked on it. From the following Monday on, the momentum you feel now will rapidly start to fade and that’s okay (it really is). People have to get back to work. As a Facilitator, you should switch your perspective to ‘how do we get this done’ mode as soon as you start seeing patterns in the interviews. Who would you need to talk to first? Remember when you inspired confidence and reduced uncertainty in your team on Monday and do it again for those who weren’t in the room. At Usabilla we organized a company wide presentation of the sprint findings that same Friday.

After that: hussle, schedule follow up meetings, pitch to stakeholders. Make it happen while the company feels the urgency, your team has earned it.

Then sleep, a lot, you’ve earned it.

Article by

Tom Goulooze

Tom Goulooze is a Growth Consultant @Usabilla. He loves to talk tech, big ideas and the power of good communication. Please don’t get him started on flag design because he will go on for ages.

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