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Preparing for your Design Sprint

A prequel of Design Sprint process!

I recently wrote an article about Design sprint : 40 hours to prototype at CanvasFlip. Post this article, I got a lot of response asking about the preparation of the design sprint because that is one thing that I have not spoken about in the article. So this article talks about the things you should have in hand before your kick start your design sprint.

What is a design sprint?

(If you already know about a design sprint, please skip this part)

The 5 phase “design sprint” is a methodology based off the agile sprint, pioneered by Google Ventures (GV), and followed by various startups and design teams across the world, including my team at CanvasFlip. The plan includes design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. It’s a rapid way to test out assumptions, try big ideas, and get an analysis before the team goes ahead with building a product or feature.

Google pioneered this sprint and used it for coming up with amazing products such as Hangout, Gmail etc.. Inspired by this, the startup ecosystem has adopted this technique of validating new features, markets and entirely new solutions.

Design Sprint in CanvasFlip

Very recently, my team at CanvasFlip was given a deadline that included only one week to complete a prototype and conduct usability testing. When my design team found out that we had only five work days to complete a full prototype, we panicked!

I can guarantee that every design team across the globe has found themselves in a similar situation at one time or another. We’ve all experienced crazy deadlines, and in today’s world of lean UX, increasingly agile teams, and “get-to-market” mindsets, short deadlines are something we need to learn to deal with. In order to rise to the occasion and pull together a brilliant, usable, and user-centric prototype, a team needs to have a solid, well-structured plan in mind. We found our way to success by designing a 5-day sprint model

Here’s a brief about the design sprint we follow at CanvasFlip,

The design sprint at CanvasFlip

(Read the complete story)

Preparing for the Design Sprint

Design sprints sound too good to be true! But, it does work. And for it to work out perfectly, you need to have the perfect preparation for it. So here is the checklist or the guide to preparation

1. Decide if the problem really needs a sprint

This is the first and foremost question you need to ask yourself before planning a sprint. This should really be a problem worth solving. If the problem isn’t big enough it is difficult to pull in people into the sprint.

The problem in consideration can be a wide problem such as

  • Defining the product for the first time
  • A major website/app revamp
  • Validating a new feature coming up
  • Validating new markets

Or, it can be a specific problem that you are struggling with, such as

  • Low conversion rates over a period of time
  • Visitor to sign up ratio

Honestly, to put it in a nutshell, a design sprint is perfect for any problem that is having an impact on your business or the ones you are struggling with to make a progress on. It’s also completely OK to plan a sprint for a feature with which you are trying to move really fast or has big challenges.

The last time we had a sprint in CanvasFlip was when we revamped our pricing page. We continuously got feedback on our previous pricing page format and the friction that people were facing with it. The problem demanded inputs from the customer relations team, sales team, marketing team, designers, engineers and leadership.. And, planning a 5 day sprint for it got everyone to the same table and move fast in getting a revamped pricing page that users love.

2. Build your team for the sprint

Ideally, Google Venture suggests that you should have the following in your team — Designer, CEO, Product Manager, User Expert, Engineer and Marketer. I cannot agree more with this, but with startups we have constraints. Every team member is wearing multiple hats and CEO and CTO does not really have the time to sit in the conference room for 5 days at a stretch.

So, for small sized startups like us, we modified the design sprint is a bit.. The CEO, head of marketing and other technical heads have a session on Day 1 where they talk about the expectation, technical capabilities and business goals. They are on and off the sprint but apart from Day 1, they do not have assigned roles. [Read about the complete design sprint]

But the most important thing while preparation of the sprint is to include all of them on your team list and inform them about their slot.

(<a href=”https://dribbble.com/shots/1766404-the-Peeps”>Image source</a> — <a href=”https://dribbble.com/andrewcolinbeck”>Find his other amazing designs at Dribbble</a>)

Ideally, the team so consist of-

  • Decision maker (In most startups it is the CEO)
  • A Facilitator (someone who has experience of conducting a sprint. You could ask a friend from a different company to join you if needed)
  • A marketing expert
  • A financial expert (if there is fund involvement)
  • Tech experts and developers (optional, if you have a tech expert around all the time)
  • Designers (As a startup, you might not have an in-house designer but it is highly recommended that you have atleast a good freelancer/ designer friend to guide the design decisions)
  • The Product Manager (This is kind of obvious, because he will be the one to lead the project ahead)
  • A UXer (even with usability tests lined up in the design sprint, you really need a UX guy/lady in the team to keep the project on UX tracks)

3. Define your user persona way in advance

If a team doesn’t consider the context of the persona’s typical environment and activities, they risk creating a product experience that is disjointed, broken or incomplete. And another fact is that you cannot create the exact user persona in a day. It is a continuous process. The day you had your business idea, you start building your user persona

<a href=”https://dribbble.com/shots/2848732-User-Personas”>Image source</a> — <a href=”https://dribbble.com/mhutchhh”>The amazing designer behind creating this image</a>)

Personas can be created in multiple ways, but this is usually the general formula most teams use –

  1. Interview and/or observe an adequate number of people about your solution.
  2. Find patterns in the interviewees’ responses and actions, and use those to group similar people together.
  3. Create archetypical models of those groups, based on the patterns found.

While running the design sprint you cannot halt the process to do so much to define your user persona. And moving ahead without defining one, is also not acceptable.

4. Recruit users and schedule the test

I agree that the testing needs to be done on Day 5, but I still recommend that atleast 40% of the user list should be ready even before you begin. Reason being, the sprint time is so crisp that if the team size is not big enough it becomes really difficult to recruit large sample of users from social media and email campaigns in a day.

A heads up to the users is always better than knocking his door a day before the test. It has been found that giving them a heads up a week back and then sending them a reminder on the day before, increases the turn up rate of the users.

I usually send a recruiting mail way before the sprint begins

5. Prepare a brief documentation & circulate among team members

More than a requirement, it is a good practice. Preparing a brief document prior the sprint helps us, and I am certain it will help you to create a great introduction to the challenge. The brief includes a short paragraph that specifies the current challenge, which deliverables we would like to get by the end of the process, vision of how a success outcome will look like and the initial milestones of the production process.

Email the document to every participating team member so that they have an initial idea as to what they have waiting ahead.

6. Day 0 preparations : Supplies

A day before the sprint you need to collect lots of stationery items in the conference room. Here’s a list that you can refer to

  • Lots of post-it notes! (I prefer different colored post it notes of size 3″x5″)
  • Drawing pens (I prefer the set of 10 coloured pens)
  • Atleast 2–3 whiteboards in the room
  • Erasable whiteboard markers
  • Lots of A4 sheets or notebooks
  • Time timer clock (a timer on the mobile is good enough for me!)
  • A double sided tape or some similar sticky material to stick paper to walls/boards
  • A bunch of color papers

What Next??

With all of this in place you are all set to start your design sprint. Something that I always keep in mind while we begin the sprint is : Start on a day such that you have 5 consequent working days. It keeps the momentum alive. A weekend usually slows down the process. I prefer beginning it on a fresh Monday morning.

Now that you know what a design sprint is — and you know who and what to bring to the table — it’s time to walk through a sprint.

Preparing for your Design Sprint was originally published in Prototyping: From UX to Front End on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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