in Design Sprint, User Experience

I facilitated my first design sprint over two years ago. For me design sprints offer a great way to tackle huge problems with the right people and get actionable results within just a week.

As the sprint master it is key to prepare and plan your design sprint right. Here’s the ultimate guide to set up and run your design sprint in the best way possible!

Spoiler: At the end of this article you will find a handy and free Design Sprint Starter Kit to download. But make sure to read the article carefully first. 😉

Read the Sprint Book

First things first. You may have heard people and UX designers cheer about design sprints and you want to try it for yourself. That’s great! I just highly recommend reading the Sprint Book first. Jake and John, who created the method of the design sprint, have put down the perfect words to learn about the methodology and how to get started with your first design sprint.
Even though I have changed some of the tools and methods used during my sprints this book is the right boilerplate and you should not miss it.

Present the method to the company

This method is new. When I ran my first sprint two years ago their wasn’t even the book published. I had to get my information from all kinds of distributed blog posts and interviews.

Without a surprise only a small number of people at my company had even heard about design sprints. So when I planned our first sprint I encountered a lot of skepticism. The method just sounded to good and to fast.

I missed the opportunity back in the days, but you should definitely take the time to prepare a presentation about the methodology for your company. Maybe only for some stakeholders and the managing board, or even the complete team. Just make sure that everyone who will have to deal with the sprint or the sprint results is in the room and shares the understanding of what you are up to afterwards.

Plan ahead

As a sprint participant, or expert as I recommend calling them, you don’t need to prepare anything for the sprint. Walk into the sprint room on Monday with your head on your shoulders and you’re all set.

That’s completely different as the sprint master. You need to plan ahead. And with planning ahead I am talking about weeks.

Don’t get shocked here. It’s really not the big issue, when you follow this guide. Just make sure to get started early so that every expert has enough time to clear their calendars, or even get approval from his/her boss to take part.

From my experience you should send out the invitations to the sprint about 4 weeks before the sprint. That’s enough time for everybody to get ready for the sprint, but not to long so that it’s already forgotten when it happens.

All other planning steps below follow accordingly. I’ll wrap the planning timetable up later in this post so you can read on without taking down notes.

Manage Shareholder Expectations

I often heard the complaint that the result of the sprint would not be a „real working product“, as in a hackathon etc., but the result of a design sprint is so much more. It’s knowledge. Knowledge about your teammates and their daily struggles, knowledge about the topic your concentrating on and first ideas how to solve it. Knowledge about the customers/users opinion on your solutions.

In my opinion a design sprint is a great kickstarter for the following process and not the ultimate weapon to solve any issue in product development. Make sure to manage all shareholders expectations – taking part in the sprint or not – from day one. The company wide presentation clearly is a great starter, but you will need to repeat the benefits and desired outcomes of the sprint on any given occasion. It may also be necessary to tell some shareholders that there is nothing in for them in the first place, but maybe later on in the process. It’s better to have them a bit disappointed before the sprint than afterwards.

Chose the topic right

This will sound strange to some, but it’s so important to chose the right topic for your design sprint. A lot of issues, challenges or problems just aren’t big enough for such a method. Remember: You will take a group of seven people and make them clear their calendars. You will produce costs for booking a room and purchasing sprint material. All this should only be done if you can’t find a better way to go ahead quicker and cheaper in the process.

If you are just trying to solve a small problem during the development phase of a feature or product it may also work to build various small prototypes and A/B-Test them to get your results.

But if you are facing a problem that is so huge and fundamental that you feel good about getting your CEO to sit in a room with you for a week crunching that issue, than it’s the perfect time to take out the Sprint Book.

Chose your experts

For our first sprint I invited over 25 people. Most of them from the product development department. It was pure chaos and two years later we are still surprised about the quite good results of that sprint.

The Sprint Book recommends a group more or less 7 experts and I can only agree on this.

When inviting your experts you should try to think of the sprint as the final frontier in conquering the issue you are tackling. Who are the right teammates that you need on your side here? Is it John from the Marketing? Or Jane from Sales? Maybe it’s Clair from the reception desk, because she is the one handling the incoming calls in the first place …

It’s super important to think outside of your regular development team here. Anyone who has a stake in the problem, or has some knowledge advantage can be a good fit in the sprint. Try to diversify when inviting your experts. Having just sales people in the team may put the spotlight on the wrong part of the problem.

Another important consideration is the position of the decider in the sprint. This expert has the final call for some decisions. It’s her honor and duty to make this decisions right. From my experience (and how the Sprint Book describes it) in most cases this position is taken by the CEO or some other manager, who could also block any decision made in the sprint afterwards. That’s why it’s a great idea to have her take part and form the decisions with you and the other sprint experts.

Invite Experts for Mondays Interviews

On Monday Afternoon you will have experts joining you for short interviews to answer questions and help you get a shared understanding of the problem.

My experience is that you should try to invite them as early as possible. After inviting your sprint experts, ask them who they think could further help you in the sprint. Then schedule short interviews in advance, so that also these people can make room in their calendars for their appearance in the sprint. This does of course not mean that you can not invite someone on Monday morning, but you get a bit more relaxed when some experts already agreed on joining.

As mentions above, make sure to also give them an insight on the methodology and manage their expectations from the interview.

Be descriptive in your emails

When inviting your experts as part of the sprint team or to take part in the interviews on Monday it is important that you give them all the information they might want to have or need right in the first email.

Therefor I use pre-written email templates, so that I can make sure to not miss a critical point in one email or the other.

You can find my email templates as part of the Design Sprint Starter Kit at the end of this article.

Order the right material

During your design sprint you will need a large box of material. Following it the list that I check of every time when planning a sprint. Make sure to order early so that you have everything ready when you need it.

You can find this shopping list as part of the Design Sprint Starter Kit at the end of this article.

Set up your Sprint Room

This might be one of the most important things to plan and organize for any sprint. You will be in that room with your sprint team for the complete week. So the room needs to fit every expectation your team can have on such a room. As described in my previous article about the 7 Google Design Sprint Hacks I recommend booking a conference room offsite. This room should include minimum 2 large whiteboards and enough space on the walls to put up hundreds (!) of post-it notes. I also alway put a Flipchart in the room, because it comes more natural to some team members to scribble, paint or write on paper, than on a whiteboard. In addition it’s good to have a large screen or beamer set up to show the introduction slides (Spoiler!) and run the lightning demos on day two.

Other than that you should get all sprint material (see the shopping list following later) in the room before the sprint begins. Your team should see the room ready to use, as the enter on day one.

I always try to have (more or less) health snacks, like nuts etc. and water and juice for the team on all sprint days. The experts should care about the problem and solution and not about where to buy a coke.

Not really part of the room itself, but none the less important is the surrounding food offering for lunch. Take some time in advance to see where good places are to go at noon, so that your team doesn’t need to waste time discussing the best bagel place.

Plan your User Interviews

Since you don’t really know where your sprint will head to before it begins it is nearly impossible to plan your user interviews in advance. Sadly the experience shows that it’s super important to do so.

Especially when you are focusing on a user group that is not quickly attracted by offering a 20 $ Amazon voucher you should think about how to get your focus users on site for the interviews on Friday. In most cases you will in advance have a picture of what type of users you will focus on. Consider if it will be hard to get them onsite or not. If so try to invite the users in advance and cancel the invitation at the beginning of the week if need be.

Follow a defined Sprint Schedule and share it daily

In my sprints I follow a defined schedule. It’s a mixture of the methods and steps described in the Sprint Book with my learnings from running design sprints. All methods and tools are either described in the Sprint Book or in my previous article on 7 Design Sprint Hacks .

You can either define your own schedule or simply use mine. You will find it as part of the downloadable design sprint starter-kit down below.

Make sure to share the daily schedule with your team each morning. I tend to write it on a flip chart and check off the the items that you’ve already completed. This helps everyone in the room to keep track of the daily process.

Present an introduction Keynote

I mentioned it before and I won’t get tired of mentioning it again: It is key to get your sprint team to understand what a design sprint is all about. This is why I present an introduction keynote at the beginning of each sprint that explains the methodology to the sprint team. The keynote shows details of each sprint day and what will be the outcome of that day. It’s also the right format to introduce the team members to each other, since they may not be acquainted if your working for a big company.

I’ve added my slide deck as part of the free Design Sprint Starter Kit at the end of the article. Feel free to take the content and adapt it to your corporate design.

Start with a daily video

Starting with an introduction keynote it great for getting all experts on the same page. But you’ve got to make sure that this keeps up during the sprint week.

To get the creative process started each day I screen one of a series of Youtube videos that Google Ventures provides. Each video give an insight on the things that will happen on that particular day.

You can find the videos at the Google Ventures Youtube Page.

Take a break or two

Running the sprint, as well as taking part in the sprint as an expert is quite exhausting. You will work and think a lot. That’s why it’s important to take breaks often. Try to slip in 5 minute breaks over 45-60 minutes to get a fresh coffee, visit the restrooms or simply have a look at your phone. Your experts will thank you for it!

Try not to take to long breaks to not also break the workflow in the sprint. Of course a nice long lunch break is not only allowed, but absolutely recommended. Go get a fresh salad or even a good burger with all your experts. This will also help to build a team spirit.

The Design Sprint Starter Kit

Planning and organizing your design sprint isn’t too hard, if you are well organized. I’m happy to help you out with a starter-kit that will kickstart your planning with a set of documents, templates and lists.

Download the Design Sprint Starter Kit for free now!

The download is free, but if you like it feel free to chop in a dollar for my next coffee. ☕️

The starter kit includes:

Planning Schedule

A handy timetable that assists you to not forget to order something or invite somebody.

Expert Invitation List

A little spreadsheet to fill out and check of to keep track of your sprint team invitations.

Shopping List

It’s basically the list from above to print out and check off.

Email Templates

All my email templates for inviting people to the design sprint

Introduction Slide-Deck

A slide-deck that will help you to explain the design sprint methodology to your sprint team at the beginning of the sprint.

Sprint Week Calendar

A schedule that defines all methods and steps for each day of the sprint.