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8 Tips for facilitating a successful Design Sprint (2/3)

Design Sprints can cut out months of unproductive internal debates. When done right, this acts as a powerful tool for teams to work together in validating new business ideas. In this article we'll share our top 8 tips on how to facilitate a successful Design Sprint!
Clare Goldblatt

Clare Goldblatt

6 min read

In our last article 7 tips on how to set up a successful Design Sprint, our very own Clare Goldblatt shared her insights on how to prepare a Design Sprint. In this article, she’ll be sharing her tried and true recipe for step 2: facilitating a successful Sprint. 

So, let’s dig in!

1. Trust the process

I'm all for challenging the status quo and thinking outside the box, but in terms of running and facilitating Design Sprints, the methodology and agenda have been solidified for a reason. This workshop recipe is the result of years of fine-tuning and insights. While I know that each Sprint varies slightly, I do try to be consistent with the agenda, sections, and explanations as much as possible.

It can feel dissatisfying for participants when they understandably doubt this process and air their grievances, only to be told to “trust the process.” You can avoid frustration from your participants regarding the process if you explain what each step will entail and what to expect. Ideally, you will have spoken to each Design Sprint participant in advance as well, and during these talks, you can explain how Sprints work and what they should expect as participants.

Doubting the process is normal, by the way, and I’ll explain how to deal with detractors below.

2. Timekeeping is key

You’re not doing anyone any favors as a facilitator to allow time to go over. It’s a delicate balance of knowing when discussion needs to flow and when the discussion needs to stop to move on to the next exercise.

If you do need to stop someone from continuing speaking, explain why we need to move on, and explain the concept of timekeeping from the very beginning of the sprint to manage expectations.

Above is a clock from the online whiteboard collaboration tool called Miro. You can even select music as the timer goes, which can be nice if participants are doing silent brainstorming, for example.

3. Give off the aura of a confident, energetic teacher

My teaching experience helps me facilitate effective and fun Design Sprints. Even if you feel the Sprint is falling apart and are deeply worried about the potential outcome, it always pays to keep calm and be supportive toward participants. Often, if you ask the right questions, keep respectfully pushing participants, and stick to the process, Sprints will work themselves out.

In a way, teaching and facilitating Sprints are very similar because you’re imparting knowledge and lessons that your participants may not have acquired yet and might even feel uncomfortable with, so I enjoy taking them along a learning journey in an engaging, compassionate way.

 

4. Explain the sprint and its exercises before you start

Part of the warm-up and welcome of each Design Sprint should involve an explanation of how Design Sprints work and what participants should expect as a result of the sprint. Also, reassure them that this might be a different way of working for them, but tell them you’ll support them every step. I like to gather everyone’s expectations and share mine, which are always along the lines of me expecting a productive, open, respectful, and fun Sprint.

Above is a screenshot from a Miro board I made for a Design Sprint. Each section clearly and simply explains what is to be done in each exercise, how long it will take, and if they will be doing it as a group or alone.

5. Break the ice—over and over again

Energizers are an excellent way for participants to get to know each other. I welcome questions and activities that aren’t work-related, as this lightens the mood and gets colleagues to know each other on a level they might not have otherwise reached.

Here’s an image of an energizer that allows participants to copy and paste an image of their favorite TV show and explain why it’s their favorite.

6. Know how to deal with detractors

Not everyone will appreciate or feel comfortable with this Agile working method, and that’s okay! Participants don’t need to be Sprint cheerleaders but need to feel comfortable contributing, discussing, and following along with the process. Alignment calls and sessions with participants before the sprint help avoid detractors since you’ve already informed them of what to expect.

If someone is genuinely detracting from the process, I will politely and patiently pull them aside privately and ask them what they are struggling with and see how I can help.

7. Keep everyone involved in the process

When done well, Sprints allow colleagues from various departments to share insights and challenges to generate better solutions. It's crucial to give everyone a chance to share. As a facilitator, you need to be constantly mindful of who's sharing less or more to balance the discussions with different perspectives. If a colleague is consistently dominant and is not the decider, I will ask less dominant, even shy, personalities to contribute their ideas and observations. Introverts often get unfairly overlooked at work, and their ideas might be the very best, if only they're allowed to be heard.

8. Remember, we are humans

We all have bad days, and not every sprint or initiative will go exactly how we wanted it to, so it’s crucial to take a deep breath and define how we can improve the current path or find better ways of working moving forward.

Additionally, access to (preferably healthy) food, snacks, and drinks is a must for an on-site Design Sprint. I recommend taking a full hour for lunch and 10-15 minute breaks every 90 minutes, whether in-person or online, so everyone has the distance and rest they deserve.

Also, if you’re getting the vibe that participants need a break and it hasn’t been scheduled, it can be worth it just to go with the participants’ flow and then get back on track once they’ve enjoyed some breathing room. 

Conclusion

Design Sprints are a valuable workshop format for quickly answering critical business questions through prototyping and user testing. In order to optimize your results as the facilitator, here's a recap:

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  • Trust the process. While we know that each Sprint varies slightly, try to be consistent with the agenda, sections, and explanations as much as possible.
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  • As a facilitator, try not to let too much time go over. Timekeeping is all about balance, knowing when discussion needs to flow and when the discussion needs to stop to move on to the next exercise.
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  • Part of the warm-up and welcome of each Design Sprint should involve an explanation of how Sprints generally work and what participants should expect as a result.
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  • Energizers are an excellent way for participants to get to know each other.
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  • Alignment calls and sessions with participants before the sprint help avoid detractors since you’ve already informed them of what to expect.
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  • Stay mindful of who's sharing less or more to balance the discussions with different perspectives.
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  • If you’re getting the feeling that participants need a break and it hasn’t been scheduled, it can be worth it just to go with the participants’ flow and then get back on track once they’ve enjoyed some breathing room. 

Now you are all set! Don't forget to check out part 1 of our Design Sprint series where we gave out tips on how to prepare a successful Sprint and stay tuned for part 3, where we will go into detail on the prototyping & user testing phases!