Golden Tips to Run Outstanding Design Sprint Workshop

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A threefold increase in the popularity of the term “Design Thinking” (DT) in the past five years.

Why? You may ask?

By the advent of Design Thinking, a philosophical upheaval occurred in ways we solved problems. You can deem Design Thinking as Problem-Solving 2.0.

To illustrate my point, let me use a more sensical analogy. You can compare DT vs prior methods to the difference between the first iPhone and the prior mobile phones.


In case you want to know about the differences between the two, I talk extensively about them here in this article. To summarize,

Design thinking is a philosophy to internalize and a mindset to adopt. It is about structuring our thought process to understand and define the problem, conceptualize, actualize and test solutions. In contrast, ‘design sprint’ is a methodological process, based on design thinking, which tackles and solves the problems in the most efficient way within a specific time range.

This year I’ve had this chance to work with over 10 organizations of different sizes and run Design Sprint (DS) workshops for them. This is an introspective article which I’ve reflected on my experiences.

The Design Sprint Workshop I run for Redi School Berlin

1. Design Sprint is great to tackle a defined goal

It’s a missed opportunity to start a Design Sprint Workshop where its goal hasn’t be defined precisely. This is especially a bottleneck for sprints involving multi departments /organizations where it’s difficult to align on goals with decision-makers prior to the actual workshop.

Let me unpack it. Bear with me.

Design Sprint is all about getting works done together, INDIVIDUALLY. It’s based on time-bounded sessions, thinking by yourself, taking notes, sketching and voting. There’s no space for extensive discussion. And if there’s, at some point during the discussion, you’d get the frowning look from the facilitator who wants to cut the cord.

An ideal frowning look for a facilitator. Cute and expressive! Source

If there’s a discussion, you miss deadlines. You get behind the timeline of the day and you cannot follow the process. No one’s happy here.

Therefore, if you enter the workshop having few directions in your mind to pursue, then this is an alarming signal.

2. Every Design Sprint workshop requires a pre-workshop to align on the goal

Before committing to a Design Sprint workshop, it shall be clear to you the aim of the workshop. If your client has already done the discovery phase, then they’re down with few directions. Then you’d require a 2 to 4-hour workshop to break down each direction and prioritize them. The top candidate would grant permission to the DS workshop. In the worst-case scenario, you can bring the top 2 candidates and let the DS participants vote on them.

If no discovery phase was executed, you’re facing decision-makers having fuzzy ideas in their mind, then that’d call for a Design Thinking workshop.

Why do I prefer to run a Design Thinking workshop versus Design Sprint in this case?

Design Thinking workshop tends to be less strict when it comes to discussions and time-bounded activities, and that’s what I love about it. It’s great for the discovery phase of a design project in which we want to understand the nature of our ideas. If you want me to write on how I conduct such workshops, highlight this note.

3. Choose the right number of participants for the workshop

I’ve seen my colleagues run Design Sprint with 3, 5, 9 and 10 participants. For me, the golden number for the participants is 7. That’s the number I’m comfortable to work with. Some prefer 5. Find your number. Unfortunately, you don’t have so many options; it’s either 5 or 7. Any other number of participants per facilitator is proven to be ineffective.

4. You need up to 3 weeks to prepare a design sprint

I used to run Design Sprint within a few days after signing the contract. Over time I learned this is not the wisest act. You want to lay that intentional buffer to have enough time to hash out all the details. As a facilitator, here are some of the things you have to think before the workshop

A. Is the goal of the workshop clear? If not, how can make it clear?

B. Who should we invite for the lightning talks as expert?

C. Who should we invite as the potential target group for the customer interview?

D.1 Booking the location and catering

D.2 Making sure everyone dietary preferences included

F. Making sure the deciders can attend to the specific events

E. Booking the testers for the testing day

G. Making sure the equipment for the user testing are set up

H. Preparing the presentation and workshop materials

5. Ask for feedback at the end of the workshop

This is crucial. I’ve been in workshops that I thought it was fantastic but it turned out to be suboptimal based on the feedback and I was in workshops thinking it has gone south but it turned out to be great as to the feedbacks.

Have a feedback slide only for that. Make the feedbacks anonymous. This feedbacks are priceless to improve your work.

I hope these key points gave you an out-of-body experience. If you like what you read, leave a comment for me and share your feedback.

☎️ Talk to me in case you want to know how you can run a workshop for your organization. I’m here to help.

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