When I first started my role at Alchemy, we were in the exciting phase of establishing our design process. There are lots to do in the world of consumer packaged goods, so how do we decide what’s not only right for the business and consumers but also right for our team?
Enter the Design Sprint. In no time, the Sprint book became our go-to playbook. We loved how quick and low-risk the process was, especially when working with big global brands of our well-known parent company, P&G.
However, the power in skeptics are strong and we were rarely able to convince teams to fully commit to a design sprint. But we’re designers, not quitters. We believed the power of design sprints to be stronger. So, to fit the different needs of each team, here’s how we re-imagined the typical design sprint.
The Complete Sprint
We recently launched the new website for Olay. 🎉🎉🎉 When we were first tasked with rebuilding the site, we had a very tight timeline and various less-than-ideal constraints. What would make this a worthwhile project?
Type of Sprint
5-day Design Sprint
- Define a clear purpose for the brand website
- Gain a better understanding of the website’s market fit
- Delegate clear responsibilities to the team and stakeholders
- Based on existing data, we focused our efforts on being a mobile-friendly eCommerce site.
- Our brief included highlighting newer and lesser-known brand products, so we had to think differently about engaging consumers online.
- Our stakeholder was unable to join us for the five days. We gave the decision-making power to our Product Manager, who ensured constant communication of our decisions with our stakeholder.
- Because it was our first time running a design sprint, we were all very open-minded and willing to get uncomfortable in order to secure a solid direction for the quick turnaround.
We ran this design sprint by the book. After establishing a long-term goal and listing out our sprint questions, we proceeded to sketch and vote on the solution we wanted to test. We ran into a bit of a hiccup with recruiting users for testing, but we quickly found a workaround in order to get the answers we needed.
How did it work for us?
❌ It was difficult to make effective decisions without the stakeholder in the room. Even though we were open to possibilities, we were only able to move forward with educated guesses.
❌ Prototyping roles and responsibilities were too confusing — although we were a cross-functional sprint team, stepping into unfamiliar roles affected our understanding of the scope and final deliverable. (We were too detail-oriented and prototyped more screens than needed.)
❌ The experience of our prototype was not quite what we envisioned, ending in test results that were unable to answer our sprint questions.
✅ It got us going — while the results of our sprint were inconclusive, we learned a lot about what we can do as a product team. The designers of the team took the results and created solid concepts for the stakeholder to move forward with.
✅ We were able to address every constraint listed and still stayed on track with timing and budget.
✅ Our solutions were unique for the brand and created exciting work for our team.
The Modified Sprint
Our company was rapidly growing and we were excitedly expanding our team capabilities. However, as the demand for product work increased, we were slowly de-prioritizing internal commitments, including a much-needed update to our website. How do we balance high-priority product work while ensuring we celebrate our company culture?
Type of Sprint
3-day Design Sprint + Brand Sprint
- Leverage our website to describe our unique relationship with P&G
- Create a platform to engage with potential hires and streamline the recruiting process
We wanted the website to clearly reflect our company culture, which includes celebrating design and tech, so we dove deep into exploring UI design and fun interactions for our prototype.
- Our decision-makers for the sprint were internal, so it was relatively easy to get the team moving along.
- We were a very diverse sprint team! We were three gents and three ladies, a mix of old and new employees, and we represented product managers, developers and designers. This gave us a deeper understanding of what made Alchemy special for each team member.
- We wanted to make sure we captured our company identity in the clearest way possible. So, in place of Monday’s activities of the Design Sprint, we ran the Brand Sprint to solidify what distinguished us from our competitors and to inform our design and code explorations.
- We were inspired by AJ&Smart’s approach to storyboarding with Storyboarding 2.0 to streamline the team’s thought process — and most of us landed on the same page!
- We lengthened the prototyping time to 1.5 days to accommodate more design and code details.
- Because our audiences were stakeholders and potential hires, we didn’t have a good setup for traditional testing. So we decided to demo our prototype to the rest of Alchemy and have a role-playing session, with our product managers acting as stakeholders and the rest of Alchemy as our potential hires. We captured their feedback in Feedback Booklets that we created in-house.
How did it work for us?
❌ The feedback was a little unclear. Capturing the feedback via our booklets was a little tricky as quite a few were incomplete and many weren’t specific or descriptive.
❌ We also got caught up in the details of design and code — we were so excited about all the possibilities that, even with the extra time, we were rushing to complete the prototype.
❌ It was pretty exhausting to cram everything into 3 days. 😅
✅ We held strong and fast to the results of our brand sprint — it cleared a lot of unknowns and unsures about our identity and goals and it gave us a clear direction for our prototype exploration.
✅ The team came out stronger than before — truly defining what makes Alchemy a force for good strengthened our belief in the company and resulted in a creative prototype that we were super proud of.
The Deconstructed Sprint
At the start of the new fiscal year, I had the privilege of being placed in a team with an exciting project: a brand-new experience for a new physical product. New brand identity, new website, new everything — all to be done within an already jam-packed schedule. We were elated with such an opportunity, but how do we get started?
Type of Sprint
A mix of Design Sprint and Brand Sprint activities spread throughout our development process
- Design an innovative space for a brand-new product
- Our brief included a customized direct-to-consumer platform as an alternative to traditional online retailers.
- We worked closely with a branding agency who were tasked with creating the brand’s visual identity.
The Deconstruction 🛠
- Before we started, the Alchemy team dove into existing P&G research to determine our product direction and find any gaps in information.
- Armed with data, we ran a brand sprint with the stakeholders and branding agency to solidify our visual identity and to define our goal and target market. This served as our Monday of the Design Sprint.
- With the target market in mind, we conducted user interviews to build our user persona. This helped us stay focused on our user-centered goal.
- We then scheduled a 2-day workshop to ideate and dot-vote on the most innovative solutions to test. This covered part of Tuesday and Wednesday of the Design Sprint. We ended up with 3 big concepts to move forward with.
- Before we started prototyping, we ran more user interviews to understand the current user experience with existing competitor products. This gave us a detailed experience map, which served as our high-level storyboard. (The remaining Wednesday of the Design Sprint.)
- Finally, we wireframed our 3 big ideas in the form of low-fidelity landing pages and tested with more users to determine the winning concept. (Thursday and Friday of the Design Sprint.)
- Our stakeholders were understandably skeptical at first but because the process itself didn’t feel too different from what they were used to (weekly updates and feedback sessions), they soon trusted us to lead.
- Starting with a brand sprint, the process as listed above took about 3 months.
How did it work for us?
❌ While the “short workshops” made it easy on people’s schedules, it was easy to misinterpret the activities as “fun” (and not “real work”) and the team received constant pushback on our decisions despite them being data-informed.
❌ It was not so much of a “sprint,” as it took 3 months of meticulous work and constant communication to test our big ideas. (Though, 3 months is still pretty amazing.)
✅ The excitement of the team was undeniable — using a brand sprint to kickstart the process got everyone’s gears going and we couldn’t wait to explore all the possibilities.
✅ It was definitely much easier to get everyone in the same room at a time — the stakeholders found the deconstructed “short workshop” format more easily integrable with their busy schedule and found great value in the outcome.
✅ The flexibility allowed for all experts (P&G, Alchemy & our branding partner) to be available to share their insights, ensuring that all voices were heard and all decisions made were thoughtful.
✅ The “fun” was truly fun! We welcomed the opportunity to be creative in amidst the busy workday. It also made it easier to keep ideas at a higher level.
So, how do we best use the sprints?
When I first learned about the Design Sprint, I was convinced it was going to change the traditional design process for the better. But nothing is ever one-size-fits-all. So, how do you know what to do? When do you run a full sprint and when do you improvise?
I believe in the purpose and outcomes of the Design Sprint. With every sprint, I define the goals and get to know my sprint team so that I can adjust accordingly. Here’s what I keep in mind as I plan them:
🗓 Scheduling will always be tricky
Everyone prioritizes their days differently and it’s hard to schedule strict long hours, especially for a first-time sprint. Know your sprint team and accommodate accordingly. It’s no use forcing long hours on people who will spend that time anxiously checking their watch. (It’s also not productive for the sprint.)
💪 Play to your team’s strengths
No matter how I coordinate it, prototype scope and responsibilities are hard to manage as everyone is completely outside of their comfort zone and probably a little stressed out. It’s nice to have everyone involved but it’s also ok for each member to participate as needed. If they’re invested, they’ll find their own way to help (even if it’s not prototyping).
💡 Run sprint activities that bring out the best in people
It’s hard to argue against something as fun as sprint activities — they’re certainly the highlight of the process. Having specific time set aside to let loose and explore seemingly impossible ideas truly lets people shine, internal team members and stakeholders alike. We always end up with interesting ideas that get the whole team really excited and the process moving along in a very efficient way.
📝 Know what you need out of a sprint
Outcomes trump process. A design sprint can’t provide all the answers; it’s simply part of a bigger process. And just like with any process, each step builds on the previous step. What do you need from a design sprint so the team can move forward? In our case, a lot of our work involves an exploration of brand identity or product purpose, so we love running the Brand Sprint. But you might find your needs to be different. Don’t be afraid to mix it up to get to your goal.
At Alchemy, our main goal with any work is to ensure alignment on its purpose and to have clear and consistent communication with our stakeholders. Design sprints fulfill those needs for us perfectly and have become a significant part of our process. But we’re always experimenting and who knows what we’ll try next? All we know is where we need to get to, and that we’re deliberate and thoughtful about how we get there.