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  • Writer's pictureAngiemille Latorre

The Power of Design Sprints for Project Management

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

If you are here, most likely you participated in PMI Puerto Rico's 2022 Simposium November 2, 2022. Let me take a moment to give the organizing team a HUGE SHOUT OUT on an amazing conference. It was so content-full and fun! Following is a quick summary of the key points in my talk on 12 specific takeaways from this Design Sprint's framework that have made me a better facilitator and project manager.

So let's get to it!

It all starts with HUMANS. Teams are human and projects run on humans, so to run successful projects we have to mind what drives and motivates them.

First tip: humans value energy and progress.

This important because it is precisely what inspired Jake Knapp to create this framework. How many of us have experienced projects dragging and wasting our time, energy, engagement. Time we would rather spend being productive, hobbies, growth... family. In his case it was time he could not get back with this late dad.

Design Sprint is about progress and not wasting time. It is agile time-boxed process for answering critical business questions through design. Where Design Thinking is a mindset, not a checklist (I like to say). Design Sprint is indeed a checklist process that gets you from having a hunch or opportunity to building a prototype and testing it with people in 4-5 days.

Inside this framework, I found so many amazing tools to help me as a facilitator, that I wanted to highlight a few.

  1. Do a Problem Framing Workshop: Before you start a project take a day to do a Problem Framing Workshop and invite your key stakeholders. It helps you get buy-in and the right project criteria, priorities (or if you want to call them requirements) from the start.

  2. Cast the Right Team and Set Expectations: I love some key roles for their design teams such as Expert/Decider - helps create context and make decisions, Troublemaker better have them on our side, Designer - a good illustrator, Doer - the person and Communicator - someone good with copywriting - comes in handy for UX and even summarizing the strategy. Get the key stakeholder (from the problem framing session) to invite the group in a meaningful way and the WHY behind the project. This helps build exciting and engagement.

  3. Expert Panel: Kickoff the project with an expert panel (it could be composed of your expert and/or decider). This gives a chance for everyone to ask clarifying questions for the challenge, understand expectations, create shared context and have a clear starting point for project.

  4. Get Negative Early: Almost at the beginning of the process, you have to look at the goal and make a list of all the reasons why it’s not going to happen. I really love doing this early in the process instead of waiting until the end to find the blockers. Also, I love how they map the “target moment” by finding that great tension between “it’s not going to happen” and “how might we" - that is possibility. I know, I know… I am going too deep int the process. If you want to know more come to one of my workshops :-)

  5. Inspiration Sparks Connections: To start the design phase of the sprint, I love the concept of doing what they call Lightning Rounds. Participants have to do a quick show and tell of how others fix a similar problem to the “target moment”. They document these references into a “features gallery”. Each of these features becomes a cool reference for later in the design phase.

  6. Get Individual and Visual: Different from the usual group brainstorm, design sprints push every participant to be accountable for a full 6 frame storyboard proposal. The exercise called "sketch-storming" gets people to progress from journaling to doodling then crazy eights, sketches and into delivering their individual storyboard proposals.

  7. Galleries Rock: Each person’s work gets their proposal exhibited in a group gallery. This is a really cool moment that shows progress and appreciation for people’s efforts and sets up for an objective discussion on the alternatives presented.

  8. Theater and Structure makes for Productive Discussions: Discussions become more like rituals: structured yet fun. It all starts with silence and heat dots to mark the areas you want to know more, like or have questions about. Then the facilitator has a specific script to follow and drive focused discussions.

  9. Nominate and Why: Instead of having people raise hands, dot vote etc., in design sprint every person has to nominate an idea and why. This gets put in in writing which adds pressure for objectivity and accountability. Remember the DECIDER? Yep they have super-vote powers. That is they get to listen in and take note of all nominations, but in the end, they have the final vote. . He/she can go with the crowd, or in a complete different direction, as long as they explain WHY.

  10. Do Not Assume: Moving into the next phase which is to decide a prototype; In the key is to "think vulnerable"; that is identify all those reasons why this solution could go wrong. Make a list of all we don’t know or are missing (and that people with who have the answers) that would give us the confidence we need to move forward.

  11. Test Aggressively: Instead of taking 3 weeks in scheduling your user test, design sprints challenge you to time-box all your user tests into one action packed day (or two). Again, this is possible, try it and get it done.

  12. Dedicated Facilitation is Key: It does not work to have a facilitator who also is vested in the project. My recommendation is to get an outsider dedicated to that task. (If you need one, what can I say... #WeAreSeriouslyCreative)

As I mentioned in my talk, more than thinking of the cost of taking a team out on this project; think of the value the organization gains from finally knowing. Having clarity and alignment around a solution that could be the next BOLD MOVE in your organization. Imagine if in a very short amount of time a Design Sprint can get you to discover something even bigger and better. Imagine that.

Just do it! Dedicate a team. Focus them for 3-4 days. Get it done and you'll know.

Hope you enjoy this post!

If you would like to access the full presentation you can access it here.

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