Adapting the Design Sprint

Design Sprints are all the rage right now. They’re a great way to solve problems, answer crucial questions about developing products, and help align teams and stakeholders on company and user goals. If Design Sprints are new to your company, you need to show their success quickly so you can keep them around. But what if you’re having trouble getting management on board with giving a team 5 days to do one? Here’s how you can get the small wins you need in less time.


We heard you know about “Design Thinking”…

I work for a company that grew rapidly from startup to a 200-person strong operation. We’re good at what we do, but we haven’t got all of our processes and best practices figured out yet. I’ve been preaching user centred design for our product development since I started in my current UX role, and finally I was asked to begin facilitating Design Sprints with our Agile squads after a visit from Google. It’s a start. As “Design Thinking” becomes more of a buzzword than ever before, whispers of what the hell it actually is has swept through the company. A few weeks ago the head of brand design came to me to ask if a Design Sprint could help her team align with the social media team and generate ideas for new campaigns. My auto-response was “of course!”. I hadn’t used the Design Thinking process for anything other than UX and Service Design at this point, but I have an unwavering faith in its problem solving abilities.

Ain’t nobody got time…

Time is a huge issue in our organisation. Finding a free 30 minute slot for a meeting with more than 5 people plus a meeting room is like finding a needle in a haystack. As much as I advocate for Design Sprints, the most common complaint is that no one has the time (more on this later). Needless to say, I’ve become a master at adapting the format to fit different time constraints. For this sprint we had a slot for just under 3 hours. Luckily, we did not need to prototype and test anything. Here’s what the agenda looked like:

Introduction (10 min)
Discuss Goal (15 min)
Inspiration Talks (1 hour)
Break (15 min)
Ideation Alignment (15 min)
Sketch & Review (40 min)
Debrief (10 min)

Show, don’t tell

I’m still not the best facilitator, but with each group I learn something new. What I have learned to do is show the participants what they’re getting into before they begin. It offers reassurance if it’s their first time working with this process. In general, people are interested in understanding the Design Thinking methodology, so show them one of the 600 charts that describe it. Show them how ugly and quick crazy 8 sketches should be. Show them what a solution sketch can look like. In this particular Sprint, I found I also needed to show the group why taking notes on post-its was important. Without seeing what we’d do with them next, they assumed it wasn’t that necessary. Even if you’re facilitating, don’t be afraid to jump in and participate. Show them what to do and why it’s important to the process.

Anxiety inducing Crazy 8's

“But the book says!”

I know what the book says: it’s gotta be 5 days. Welllll, not really. What’s the question you’re trying to answer? How crucial is it to the product or company? If it’s going to make or break it, do the 5 day Sprint. If you need teams to align and get their creative spark back, an afternoon is sufficient. If it’s to test a theory about an idea for a small feature, 2 and a half days will cut it.

“Research will actually end up saving you time. You have to think of research as an investment.” — Sarah Doody

This was the shortest Sprint I’ve done to date and the conclusive feedback I received was “I can’t believe how much we’ve achieved in just 3 hours. We have enough ideas now for the next 6 months!” During our discussion and goal alignment, the participants all spoke to the fact that they hadn’t taken the time before to sit down and collaborate, and it was starting to show in how static our social media pages were becoming. They now completely see the value and ROI in taking the time to collaborate and ideate. Spending just a few hours together is going to save the team time and spare them from frustration, creative burnout and, hopefully, loss of Facebook likes.


Just as the company I work for hasn’t quite got it all figured out yet, neither do I, so I’d love to hear from you. Do you facilitate shorter Design Sprints? What have you learned? What works and what doesn’t? I’m still trying to gain enough small wins to keep our Design Sprints around too — how are you getting management buy in and show them the time and resources are worth it? If you’d like to implement a 3 hour Sprint for alignment and inspiration, please feel free to get in touch for a detailed breakdown of the agenda I shared above. Happy Sprinting!


Interested in facilitating a shorter Design Sprint? You can find detailed agendas for a 2-day and 3-hour Sprint on my website.