RealtimeBoard design sprint guide

RealtimeBoard Team | 12 min read

You’ve got a killer idea for a new product, but aren’t sure if it’s viable, and you’d really like to test it out without wasting a lot of resources. How can you quickly and inexpensively come up with a prototype? The use of a Design Sprint could be one possible solution.

Success requires innovation, organization and speed. Startups and established organizations rely on the ability to quickly get solutions on the market, and this can work for you in the situation described above.

Employing a Design Sprint to test new ideas may require some changes to the status quo as teams adjust to the new method. Here are our best practices to get you started. 

To illustrate the process, we decided to share one of our latest Design Sprints for the Learn & Inspire center project. Here is the demo board with the results we got at the end. Let’s take a closer look: how it was created, how it evolved and what value it delivered.

 

Merging innovation & speed: the design sprint

Agile Methodology is the genesis of a problem solving process called the “Design Sprint”, which was developed by Google Ventures. A Design Sprint is a framework that can be used with an on-site or even a remote team. However, in a distributed team situation, it is best to use members that are experienced in Design Sprints or have an experienced Sprint Master to lead them. The timeline of a Design Sprint, which is used to design and test solutions within a short time frame, is typically 2-5 days.

Why is the length flexible?

In some scenarios, time is of the essence. Teams that simply don’t have 5 days or cannot gather all the team members for the full Sprint can adjust the Sprint and complete it more quickly, in as little as 48 hours. Experienced Sprint Design teams may have already bonded and “know the drill”, so to speak. These teams simply may not need additional days to complete the work. Or you can run a 5-day Design Sprint for more complicated problems or less urgent challenges.

The most important point here is that there is a space for experiments, and you can adjust this approach or create your unique approach suited for your team.

Design Sprint

The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching.
Image source: http://www.gv.com/

 

The GV image above illustrates the major benefit of a Design Sprint. What’s to love about this innovative approach? A lot, as it turns out. The ability to test the next “big idea” quickly, without extensive building and launching stages is extremely valuable to companies fighting for power in a “next to market” business environment.

A Design Sprint can be used when any of the 3 following conditions are met:

  1. A quick solution is required
  2. The challenge you’re facing is big and complex
  3. The team is stuck

Ready to learn more? We will begin with the basics.

Meet your design sprint team

Who are the collaborators you’ll find in a Design Sprint? Most Design Sprints are made up of 5-8 people: smaller is better for this fast-paced challenge. Look for a good mix of expertise, skills and personality.

More importantly, select members that are committed to the Design Sprint. Each team member needs to dedicate time for the sprint activities and be fully involved. It requires engagement and mobilization over the 2-5 day period.  

Here’s some tip from the pros:

  • Put a “no phones policy” in place to maintain the team’s focus.
  • Set up the space the team will work in with everything they need and remove distractions.
  • Schedule all interviews and lightning talks ahead of time to keep to the schedule.

You may want to consider who is applying these tips and how: that would be the leader, the Sprint Master.

Sprint master

It starts with the Sprint Master, the designer and leader of the process and team. The Sprint Master develops the challenge, invites other members and leads them through the design sprint process. Typically, this person should be experienced in UX methods and project management. Consider this person the facilitator of the project. An experienced Sprint Master is highly skilled in the design process and possesses the ability to manage the team to success.

Sprint designers

It doesn’t need to look like a finished product, but it needs to look good enough to convince everyone else of the potential. A great designer is required to make your ideas look good, fast.

Sprint engineers

At some point, you’ll probably need to build something. It may be a prototype or a software version 1.0, but the testing process will require a product, and your engineer is the person to build it.

Product managers

Product managers are a starting point but the title isn’t as important as their ability to express the needs of the customer. A bonus would be a marketing person that not only knows the market and client but has the ability to turn your idea into gold on paper. Their opinion represents the customer, but their output is your team’s work, in words.

Experts

The expert can be an outsider or a visionary within the company. Look for a partner, a guru, someone that just might be able to add a nugget of information or the seed of an idea that can take the group outside the box.

Preparing for the design sprint  

The Sprint Master’s job is to set the workflow for the challenge that needs to be completed before the Design Sprint starts. 

Step 1: We at RealtimeBoard start with creating a template for the Design Sprint. The Sprint Master adds a design brief to a template, explaining challenges and constraints together with a timeline for the launch.

Design Brief

The design brief

Step 2: The Sprint Master invites team members, shares the Design Sprint board with the team and schedules lightning talks and interviews with users, partners, gurus, etc. All lightning talks and interviews in the team will need during a Design Sprint.

Design Sprint

Sharing the board with the team

A lightning talk

Lightning talks are short presentations from the experts on the challenge, usually lasting only a couple of minutes. Consider these a “data blitz” of information for your team.

Step 3: The next step in the planning process is the Design Audit. In this critical stage, the goal of the Sprint Master is to collect as much data as possible on the existing product/project. This research should validate the goals of the sprint, as well as aid in determining the direction of the process and set the direction for the team.

There are two accepted scenarios for this phase.

Collect data from open sources

The master should start research and collecting all the existing information on the project. Has work already been done? Any existing documentation, user research, use cases and current designs should be collected. Consider including case studies in this phase; this is an external view of the current product or idea. All the information is collected in an online whiteboard that everyone can contribute to. In an online whiteboard environment, a true collective view of the existing work will become clear to the team.

Collect data from team members

In the second scenario, the master turns to team members. The master usually take the interview from stakeholders and the internal decision makers, or anyone inside the company whose opinion may sway the outcome of the challenge.  

Design Audit

Collecting references

Step 4: The final step includes room booking and a room preparation (note: besides an online whiteboard, the team will need paper and markers) and a sprint playbook arrangement.

A sprint playbook

To help with organization, the Sprint Master puts together a playbook that includes a schedule and the methods that will be used in the Design Sprint. A Sprint Playbook is a part of the Design Sprint template in the online whiteboard.

Design Sprint playbook

The Design Sprint playbook

ReatimeBoard toolkit for a successful design sprint

Before we go to the detailed review of the Design Sprint process, here is a demo board and the RealtimeBoard toolkit, which you are free to use for your Design Sprint.

1) Use infinite canvas: the team can collect all the references, prototypes, etc., and access them with the click of a button.

2) Digital sticky notes: use them to organize your team’s thoughts.

3) Real sticky notes recognition: this feature can be used to establish a smooth connection between the physical and online world.

4) Wireframes library for prototypes: use premade wireframes to save time on mockup creation during the prototype stage.

5) Real-time collaboration: allowing everyone real-time access and collaborative tools is particularly helpful for remote teams.

6) Voice and video chat for better communication: it’s best for a Design Sprint team to work “together” as much as possible. Using RealtimeBoard’s options for remote communication mimic an on-site meeting place.

The time has come to develop your process for the Design Sprint.

The 6 stages of the design sprint

If you want to make the most of the Design Sprint methodology, pay close attention to what comes next. We’ve put together some strategies and tips you can implement that will make a real difference when testing your idea.

So, what do you need to do? Follow the 6 Stages of Sprint Design. Let’s get started.  

Understand

You’re not going to fix anything if you don’t understand it. Keep that in mind as we discuss the first stage.

In the “Understand” phase of the sprint, methods of data collection are used to learn everything there is to know about the project. Basically, your team needs to have a comprehensive view of the challenge, inside and out.

So how do you make it happen? This is where those killer organizational skills of yours come into play.

Methods for understand

Expert interviews

To gather the data that forms the team’s 360-degree view of the challenge, turn to the experts. Share your Sprint Design Template with them and start asking questions. Input all the answers directly into the Sprint Design template, so it can be shared instantly with other teammates. Consider interviewing partners, gurus, internal experts, the end user and the stakeholders.

Competitive analysis

Researching every aspect of the competition will help understand the market and the need for the challenge. Use your competitors’ apps and websites. Research their market, the user, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Field visits

By field visits, we mean actually go on-site. Where and how is this product used? Making sure the team understands the context surrounding this product or service can be valuable in upcoming phases. You may have interviewed the stakeholder, but an on-site visit can be very educational.

For our Design Sprint, we mostly used the Competitive Analysis method, and also conducted some Expert interviews. Here is what we got:

Design sprint

Day 1. Understand stage

Collect and organize all that data in an online whiteboard. Using sticky notes, your team can sort and group different aspects of the issue and then vote on what they believe is popping to the forefront.

Is anything a foregone conclusion in this phase? Not at all. But by sharing ideas within a Design Sprint Workshop, you’ll be prepped for phase 2: Define.

Define

The Define phase of the design sprint is where the team’s ideas and data become gel, and your team begins to form a strategy or plan.

All those ideas and sticky notes on the whiteboard need to be put into a map, which begins to flesh out where the project is headed.  

Below are some recommended methods for the Define Stage.

Methods for define

User journeys

The user journey is a tried and true method that organizes the phased life of the idea or product from an end user standpoint. By breaking down the phases into a map, the team can see more meaningful data.

Design principles

In this method, the team brainstorms ideas about which 3 words you would like users to describe your product. Come up with a list and vote, selecting the top 3. At the conclusion of the Sprint Design, ask an end user to do the same. The results are really interesting.

First tweet

This is a fun method that relies on the team’s ability to communicate the concept they are working on. Have the team develop a product launch tweet; just 140 characters. What would they say?

Define the key metrics

At this stage, pause for a moment and come up with a list of the key metrics that your challenge will be judged on. Once you have the list created, the group should set a standard acceptance metric for each. This method will help keep the team on track throughout the next phases.

How we might

This method converts notes into questions to encourage creativity. This format relies on an open ended question to drive creativity and keep everyone thinking outside the box. Here’s an example:

How might we increase the daily usage of this application by double?

How might we include additional functionality that keeps our users on our app longer?

Use sticky notes for each question and watch the team come up with valuable answers you can apply to the following phases.

At the Define stage we chose User Journey, Design Principle and the First Tweet as our primarily focus.

Design Sprint

Day 2. Define stage

By the end of this phase, your team should be able to concisely describe the product and its core efficiencies. Well done! It’s time for phase three: Diverge.

Diverge

This phase is where your team really goes to work. Ask them to put pen to paper and draw their ideas out. Phase 3 is an opportunity for individual (that means you too, Sprint Master!) and team brainstorming. Here are some methods Google Sprint Masters recommend for this stage:

Methods for diverge

8 ideas in 5 minutes

In this method, the team works as individuals and are given a sheet of paper which are folded into 8 sections. In each section, the individual team member must sketch eight different ideas in 5 minutes. This is a fun and fast warm up that can generate some creative ideas.

Sketch 1 idea in 5 minutes

As a continuation of the method above, the team continues to work on their own. They should be directed to choose 1 of their 8 ideas and expand on it for the next 5 minutes.

Sketch 1 storyboard in 5 minutes

This method is recommended for teams that are facing a big, complex challenge. In this situation, the team should move to a storyboard layout, which allows them to break the challenge into phases.

Once the team completed the exercises, the team members should upload the photos with their sketches to the Design Sprint template to keep all the ideas in one place.

Design Sprint

Day 3. Diverge stage

Does anything stand out as a great idea? If so, it’s time for phase 4: Decide.

Decide

It’s decision time.  

Within the workshop template set up by the Sprint Master, the team can access the original challenge, existing data and the new ideas and sketches they have contributed. Take the ideas from the previous phase and pull them into a clean physical whiteboard that allows everyone to make notes, comment and vote on favorites.

Here’s a potential stumbling block. YOU NEED TO AVOID BIAS. It’s really important to protect the integrity of the sprint from groupthink and bias in this phase. Easier said than done, right? Here’s how…

Methods for decide

Anonymous input

One option for this is to collect data and votes anonymously, so no one is intimidated by strong voices in the group. Collecting everyone’s unbiased opinion helps protect against group thinking, a major downfall of group collaboration.

Thinking hats

To avoid groupthink, try the “Thinking Hats” method, which assigns the team new points of view, which they need to consider and express. You can read more about the Thinking Hats method here.

Team review & decision on what to prototype

Bring the team together to choose the best idea to prototype. Commit to meeting in one room for the entire day. This can be done easily if everyone is in the same location. If not, take the day online.

We use this method for our Learn & Inspire center Design Sprint.

Design Sprint

Day 3. Decide stage

You’ve got a decision, free from Russian hacking. Now what?

Prototype

In the fifth stage of the Design Sprint Process, it is time to build the product.

Your team has one goal in this phase. Create a version of the product that is mocked up enough to test and get feedback. In this phase, your engineer or designer gets to shine.

This is the longest stage of the sprint and can take various forms, which can include a prototype, a mockup, sketch designs, videos and online demonstrations. This decision depends on the challenge itself.

Methods for prototyping

Google Ventures describes a selection of methods to help develop a fast and testable prototype. The decision depends on the challenge itself: Is this a product feature? New software? An advertising campaign?

Mock—Often a digital version of the future product or idea

Demo—A personal and hands-on “show” that presents how the idea would work

Video—Video can rely on sound, color and speech to test your idea

Prototype—A testable but perhaps not marketable version of the product.

Design Sprint

Day 4. Prototype stage

At this point your team should be working together like the Chicago Blackhawks at the Stanley Cup finals. Precision, flow and great teamwork have come together and brought you to the final phase: Validate.

Validate

In the final stage, the time has come to test your prototype. Below, you’ll learn our best practices and the process for validation testing.

Methods for validate

User testing

The first step is a simple user test. Pool potential users and ask them to take a look or test out the prototype. Ask for simple feedback and remember not to ask leading questions. Gathering unbiased feedback from potential users is a useful way to determine if the challenge has been met.

Prototype pitch

The next step is to take the prototype to the stakeholders. An online review and approval process can be used to gather feedback and approval from stakeholders around the globe. Using an online whiteboard for this step can be a valuable way to gather feedback in one place and allow all the stakeholders to contribute.

Prove it can be done: feasibility

Finally, the last method for validation is a technical feasibility study. This simply requires the engineering team to validate that they can put the prototype into production. Is your prototype feasible?

From the onset of the project, the Sprint Master and the team rely on speed, innovation and organization to meet the challenge they’ve been assigned. An ideal companion to Design Sprints, particularly those with remote team members, is an online whiteboard which can support each phase of the project.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve covered the valuable work of the Sprint Master and how organization, along with the application of the RealtimeBoard Tookit, can aid the team throughout the challenge.

We’ve covered how to choose and work with a selection of team members that enhance the outcome. By including the right mix of engineers, marketers and stakeholders, nothing will be missed along the way.

Finally, we gone through the steps to follow in the Design Sprint, including suggested methods from Google Sprint Masters.

The use of a RealtimeBoard for Design Sprints gives your team the ability to flip between comments, phases and feedback in one shared space. It frees up time and increases productivity, but most importantly it can provide a 360-degree view of the Sprint at each phase. And for a team new to Design Sprints, the decision to use RealtimeBoard can provide the templates you need for success.

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