Five Things Learnt From Running Design Sprints

As discussed in my last blog post, everyone seems to be running Design Sprints right now as they are a super quick way to build and test new ideas. Let’s start by saying that Jake Knapp’s book ‘Sprint’ is the tool for running a Design Sprint. It clearly states what you need to do each day and has helpful check lists at the back. It’s designed specifically so you can just pick up the book and have a go. Be wary of those who try to sell an improved Design Sprint or even offer to run a Design Sprint in 2/3 days. Grab the book, have a go and treat your first Sprint as an experiment and see what you learn.

Here are some things I’ve learnt from running Design Sprints with my clients.

1. Get the right people in the room at the right time …

The suggested number of people in the room is 7 people over 5 days, with your additional ‘experts’ being in the room on Monday. It’s a big ask for 7 people to clear their diaries for 5 days and to be present 10am to 5pm every day - in fact this rarely happens.

You need to avoid the revolving door feeling, with different people turning up at random points during the day needing an update and then providing a useful piece of information or insight that you needed hours ago. A Sprint just moves too fast (clue in the title) for these kinds of interruptions. Get people to commit to specific time slots when they will be available and then build this into your programme. For example, in a recent Sprint the Decider was not available on Wednesday, so we worked late on Tuesday with him to pick the right ideas to test.

Thursdays are not great days for people just to pop in as you will be ‘heads down’ building prototypes and writing scripts. But Fridays can be good as visitors can observe customers reactions.

A Senior Director once flew in to attend a Sprint on a Thursday and the first thing he said to me was “I don’t think your Sprint question is right.” Further discussion and I understood he was questioning the grammar, but my heart did stop for a moment. So get sign off from Senior Executives early and if you think someone might be a trouble maker, invite them to the Monday session.

2. Navigating the Map…

Monday morning begins with mapping your problem. This is the most important exercise of the week. If you have a good map and understand your key players, their direction and end game then you will likely have a great Sprint. The key to a great map is keeping it simple. There is a temptation to layer on complexity, particularly as individuals are keen to show off their knowledge and to demonstrate how complex their world can be. This is where you need strong facilitation. Before the Sprint begins have a practice at drawing your map; it will and should change but a least you will have a starting point. It’s also important everyone is ‘bought in’ to the map – look for the quiet thoughtful people, the map may not quite work for them and they may need help articulating their thoughts. Often, when I see the map on a Tuesday morning after a good night’s sleep I can tweak it to make it clearer. And don’t be afraid to scrap your map and start again.

3. Timing and Snacks…

A Sprint day usually starts at 10am and finishes at 5pm with a full hour for lunch. Don’t be tempted to start early as teams can run out of steam and they do like that first hour of their day to check in with their day jobs. Despite the best facilitation in the world, Thursday is likely to be a late night particularly for your developer/prototype builder. Remember, good enough is good enough when it comes to the prototype. Although our default position is to reach for Haribos when the going gets tough, teams work best on good fuel so keep stocked up with healthy snacks, fruit and water.

4. Writing Stuff Down & Sketching…

There are always people in a Sprint who will not write things down on post-it notes. This seems to be for two reasons. One, they are less experienced and scared they might get it wrong or look foolish and two, they are senior people who genuinely feel it is beneath them to write stuff down. With the former, praise and encouragement generally does the trick and with the latter what sometimes works is to personally give them a pen and post-it notes and stop the session till they start writing … you will have to do this repeatedly. Honestly, it doesn’t always work. There are some people who dread Tuesday when we start to sketch ideas. It’s not that people don’t want to sketch, it’s just they have a real mental block with the word sketch and genuinely think they can’t. Just stick ruthlessly to process and timings and make it clear they must only share their best idea and that words are as important as drawings. As people realise there is no escape from sketching, they become enthused about their idea and I have seen minor miracles occur.

5. What Next…

Let’s be honest, a Design Sprint week can be exhausting and by the end of Friday the last thing you want to think about is Monday. Strangely, if you’ve had a good Sprint week, and this doesn’t always mean that customers loved your product idea, then planning for Monday can be very clear. If you’ve had a good Sprint, then you will have learnt some stuff you didn’t know; you may need to ditch an idea; you may need to tweak a prototype and test again; you may need to run a follow up Sprint. I think it’s always to useful to close Friday with a review of the week and some thoughts about what Monday might look like. A Design Sprint is only the beginning …

Here are some resources that you might find handy for running your first design sprint

1. Sprint by Jake Knapp - everything you need to know and more.

2. Duco App from New HairCut - a day by day app useful for keeping on track.

3. AJ& Smart YouTube Tutorials - key sessions explained

So, if you fancy having a go at running a Design sprint then we would really encourage you to grab the book and have a go. Or, if you would like to work with us to deliver your first sprint, we can ensure we upskill you as part of our process so you feel confident to deliver the next sprint on your own. If you would like to hear more stories about Design Sprints, then please get in touch at

#designsprint #innovation


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