If you’re already familiar with Design Sprints, then you’re also familiar with one of the hardest parts of running one—getting everyone to dedicate an entire week to the process. If you’re unfamiliar with what a Design Sprint is, it's defined by the author of Sprint as a, “five-day process for solving problems and testing new ideas.” (If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read the book.)

The Design Sprint method is built upon a collection of design thinking exercises that have been working both in and out of the Design Sprint framework since before the original authors of Sprint got their jobs at Google. So, it is possible to get similar results and follow the methods over longer periods of time.
slow motion design sprints
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get your stakeholders to commit to a 5-day block of time making running a Design Sprint more challenging. While I am a firm believer in the value of the Design Sprint process and will advocate for the dedicated time, I have seen variations of a Design Sprint work. But like all deviations from best practice, those ‘customization's’ come with a cost – so I’d like to share six thoughts, three in this blog and three more in an upcoming blog, that you need to consider if you are going to run a Design Sprint over a longer period of time and want to still see results.

1. Please don’t call it a Design Sprint!

design sprints or design thinking

First of all, you definitely should not call it a Design Sprint.  A Design Sprint is something specific and requires dedicated stakeholder support for 5-days. So, if you don’t have 5 consecutive days with your stakeholders, don’t call it something it isn’t. Instead I suggest you call it a ‘Design Thinking process' (DTP) instead. It may seem like semantics, but it’s important to be clear about what you are doing and how you are going to be doing it. By calling it a DTP, you reduce confusion for those who have participated in a Design Sprint before, you maintain the value of a fully baked Design Sprint but still leverage the most vital pieces of the Design Sprint process.

2. Keep the team small and consistent

A key to running a successful Design Sprint is having the right stakeholders involved during the entire process. When running a DTP, this is even more important. You need to have a clear decision-maker who is involved consistently throughout the process. Equally important, but often overlooked, is the need to have the same people in the room from meeting to meeting. This isn’t often an issue in a Design Sprint because of the condensed timeline, but is essential if you need to spread things out over a longer period of time.

keep design team small

In a recent experience I had with one of these DTP groups, the product owner on our project did a good job selecting the team as if we were running a Design Sprint. In the end we had a team of 9 participants in total. That’s two more than the maximum participants suggested for a Design Sprint but, in my opinion, 4 more people than you should have involved in a Design Thinking group (that’s a suggested max of 5 for those of you who hate to do mental math). Let me explain:

We certainly had the right combination of people. As a group, they all possessed the domain knowledge and application experience to make the product a success, but the challenge of getting all nine of those people to commit to a Design Sprint was no different than trying to get them all in the same room for a two-hour meeting at least once a week. In fact, it was harder.

One of the strengths of DTP is that each exercise is intended to build on the last one until your prototype starts to take shape. This is enabled by the fact that each individual on the team carries with them a specific understanding of what has taken place in the previous exercise and where they see the solution going. If any of the individuals steps out halfway through an exercise, or can’t make it to one of the meetings, the process begins to weaken and the results likely with it.

3. Time is your friend and your enemy

You can imagine, trying to get 9 people to find a time in their calendars when everyone is free for two hours is extremely difficult. With this group in particular, we ended up booking several working lunch meetings…which wasn’t always a popular option.

For those of you who have read the book or have been watching any of the hundreds of videos available on YouTube regarding the Design Sprint process, you’re probably wondering why I’m suggesting two-hour meetings when most of the exercises in a Design Sprint only take a half-hour at most. Admittedly, two hours is a slightly padded amount for the facilitator…most of the meetings in my experience only take about an hour and a half.  But let me explain why I suggest two-hour meetings when your design cycle is taking place over a longer period of time.

time design sprints

If you’re following the process, you will have setup a dedicated room with ample space and whiteboards that is seconded for the entire length of the process. That way the hundreds of post-its and whiteboard notes/sketches that get generated during the process will stay in one place. This is obviously a lot easier to do when you’re running a Design Sprint but extremely challenging and potentially a major inconvenience to your co-workers when you spread the process out over a month or two. I have yet to work in an office where there are so many meeting rooms available that you can tie one up for up to 2 months without any issues.

So, part of the two hours for each meeting is to allow the facilitator to unpack the notes and set everything back up in a way that makes sense. Which should always be done before the rest of the group needs to arrive. The remaining hour-and-a-half is to bring everyone back up to speed on what happened in the last meeting, and what the exercise and goal for the current meeting is.

Depending on how long it’s been since the last time the group got together and how many people from the previous group where in attendance, there may be more questions and discussion required. And of course, there’s always someone scrambling from meeting-to-meeting where the meeting prior went, “longer than expected”.

In short setting up, waiting for people, bringing everyone to order, bringing everyone up to speed and scheduling the next meeting takes a lot of time and energy. But all of these issues become easier to manage with a smaller group. 

In my next blog I'll share three additional tips you need to consider when running a Design Sprint over a longer period of time. In the meantime, if you have any questions about how to run a Design Sprint or start a Design Thinking process, Online Business System’s Digital Studio is available by email, or phone; we'd love to hear from you.

Online’s Digital Studio specializes in designing and building amazing digital experiences and products. We help businesses understand their customers better and create compelling experiences through web and mobile applications that are purpose-built to deliver business results.

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