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Design Sprint Best Practices

As mentioned in Article 1 of this series, The Home Depot uses Design Sprints as a problem-solving tool within the Design Thinking toolkit. To reiterate, Design Sprints are a flexible 5-day framework for reframing business challenges through mapping solutions, ideating, refining, prototyping, and testing. Google Ventures introduces the process in their 2016 book, Sprint. Since then it has been the go-to Sprint resource for outlining the process. The storytelling is excellent and jammed packed with examples. In addition to Google’s thought leadership, New Haircut is another leader in the space with an emphasis on training and sprint execution. Specifically, they offer Bootcamps and workshops both in-house and publicly. Additionally, Capital One hosted a SxSW panel on the foundational elements necessary for a successful sprint. A takeaway from their session was around correctly framing your problem ahead of the sprint. Using time before the sprint to frame your problem is imperative for identifying core value propositions.

To summarize learnings, I’ve combined critical points from various thought leaders as well as our team as an outline of industry Design Sprint best practices.

Pre-sprint

Leaders agree that pre-sprint work is critical for a successful Design Sprint. To highlight, I have broken out essential steps below into 3 buckets, People, Logistics, Process.

People

Identify the core team of 5–7 members with diverse set of skillsets — from execution to specialized knowledge

Team members must commit to the full duration — it’s vital that people aren’t coming and going as it disrupts an already tight deadline.

Appoint a Decider who is the driver of sprint decisions and must commit to the full duration — you don’t want someone coming in mid-sprint and derailing the team’s momentum

Appoint four additional experts for Monday’s Ask the Experts panel (more on this later) — these individuals help foster a broader view of the problem space

You also need a skilled, unbiased moderator to facilitate the sprint’s activities

Here at the Home Depot, we work in nimble interdisciplinary teams. By working as a collective whole, team members advocate for the entire process instead of his or her department. This organization supports autonomous teams because leadership trusts them to deliver an intelligent solution. Additionally, we focus our Ask the Experts sessions on strategic insights that align the project with critical business initiatives. Lastly, our core teams have a kick-off meeting where we discuss the problem space and fill out a sprint brief. This sprint brief aligns groups ahead of time on the initial problem statement, logistics, goals, and deliverables. By defining these, teams pinpoint the duration of the Design Sprint, which is anywhere from 1–5 days.

Logistics & Materials

When planning logistics, try to secure one whiteboard room for the duration of the sprint as moving causes re-work of sprint artifacts

Bring the Google Ventures sprint supply list, which includes sharpies, post-its, dry erase markers, tape, printer paper, dot stickers for voting and a timer

Try to stay in one room for the sprint duration. However, if space is limited, use large Post-it notes to capture sprint activities. This will allow for quick transport and minimize re-work. Also, use post-it notes to capture steps in the user flow, this helps expedite the process when the team is working through the user flow.

Process

Before the sprint, it is essential that the team assess the sprint challenge, define goals and deliverables and get logistics squared away

Design Sprints solve for substantial customer challenges where risks are high, and the solution is unknown

As mentioned, problem-space validation is at the core of a good Design Sprint. Furthermore, this is the subject The Home Depot teams and facilitators have the most questions around. Over the past year, we have refined our problem-framing approach. It is imperative to understand both the business model and value proposition for any new product, service or feature set.

Through both a robust understanding of these strategic drivers and supporting UX research, the team decides if a Design Sprint is the right tool for solving a particular problem. Additionally, we have a governance program around our framework to provide guardrails because not every problem warrants a Design Sprint.

Following these guidelines will help set your sprint up for success. Additionally, you’ll be able to minimize challenges along the way.

During the sprint

Since the core sprint team has set aside time to tackle the challenge, it is crucial to protect their time and make the most use of it. That said, keep everyone on the agenda, parking lot ideas that don’t have immediate sprint impact, and institute a no-technology rule.

Now for the fun part, the sprint is comprised of 5 stages. The typical Design Sprint is 5-days, but the framework is flexible to support shorter durations based on project goals and deliverables. Using a 5-day schedule, “on Monday, you’ll map out the problem and pick an important place to focus. On Tuesday, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you’ll make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you’ll hammer out a high-fidelity prototype. And on Friday, you’ll test it with real live humans” (http://www.gv.com/sprint/). Check out the Google Ventures Medium channel and Sprint book for specifics on each phase.

At The Home Depot, we have refined the 5-day framework to fit within our organizational constraints. Initially, we used the agenda from the Sprint book, however, it was challenging to have teams commit to a full five days. To determine the best fit for our organizational structure, we tested combining days in various ways. Currently, we implement a phased 1–5-day agenda depending on the project’s goals and deliverables.

I’ve highlighted additional organizational changes below.

First, we collaborate with our User Research to provide research context and refinement around usability testing/script writing. Second, we have a new approach to both the Business Value and Risks. In this exercise, the team groups post-its into themes using the affinity mapping process. Third, we incorporate share-outs at different points of the sketching process to provide context and clarity around the designs. Fourth, we require the core team to work on a debrief deck during prototype day. This deck captures the sprint’s process and findings. Collectively, team retrospectives have shown positive support around all of these changes.

After the sprint

This week is all about testing assumptions and gathering learnings. Work with your team on iterations/next steps; it’s always necessary to run subsequent sprints to refine the designs. These are shorter in duration because research and alignment are completed.

Here at The Home Depot, there are essential steps we continue after the sprint. Specifically, teams present their findings to Senior Leadership which increases program visibility and socialization through the Enterprise. Additionally, this leadership debrief contributes to transparency, executive buy-in and feedback both to the process as well as the project itself. Design refinement is also critical, remember the purpose of a sprint is to gather learnings and validate/invalidate assumptions. The goal is NOT to have a development-ready artifact. Teams always run subsequent sprints to refine concepts. As mentioned, these sprints are not a full week as teams have completed problem framing and research. Also, user stories and roadmap planning are other Design Sprint outputs to help with development and PM allocation. Finally, spin-off ideas are a significant benefit from this process. These ideas live in our “Innovation Lot” where spin-up teams are created to ideate and explore these problem spaces.

These innovations speak directly to The Home Depot’s ability to embrace Design Sprints as a catalyst for transformation. As demonstrated, our teams understand the importance of rapid iterations, initial alignment and failing-fast/pivoting early.

To set the foundation for program scalability, we implement a phased-process for onboarding new team members and facilitators. This consists of a combination of classroom learning, shadowing and train-the-trainer sessions. Furthermore, our facilitators are discipline-agnostic which provides a wider facilitator-base and contributes to a broader program lens. We also hold team retrospectives after each design sprint and have regular facilitator retrospectives as well. The aim here is constant iteration based on learnings. All of these decisions were made with the goal of scaling design sprints within the Enterprise through fostering a culture of innovation at rapid scale.

Now that we have a thorough understanding of Design Sprint best practices, we will explore the fundamental tenets of an innovative culture. Keep an eye out for the next article and thank you for reading. Comments and feedback are always appreciated.

Links to other series articles are below.

Design Thinking and Design Sprints at THD

Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Scaling Design Sprints for Design Transformation

THD Design Sprint Training Manual

2018 Google Sprint Recap

2018 Year in Review

Sources:

http://www.gv.com/sprint/

https://designsprint.newhaircut.com/

https://schedule.sxsw.com/2018/events/PP80708

UX Manager Design Sprints @ The Home Depot

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