7 tips to run better Design Sprints

At The Next Lab we have facilitated 90+ Design Sprints over the past three years. We have learned from the grand man Jake Knapp himself, worked with the best of the best on some of the greatest impactful innovations of these times, marveled at the brightest minds to walk with us, laughed, tried and cried.

Tip #1: Visualize your test set-up.

When running a Design Sprint outside of your comfortable surroundings, sketch the test set-up with a set-up on a whiteboard. Then test it the day before, making sure everybody on the team understands its technical workings and leave the sketch in place. It takes away the last- minute stress and ensures the show goes on if somebody gets stuck in traffic.

Tip #2: Serve Brain Food

When facilitating a Design Sprint, it is your job as a Facilitator to keep the energy levels and good spirits up all the time.

Part of the trick is in the food and beverages. No soft drinks, no sweets, no greasy stuff and NO beer fests after a hard day’s work. (“Hey, we consider Design Sprinting top sports. You don’t see professional athletes drinking during tournament days ”). All the sugars are nice, and they will give you that instant rush, but they will also drag you down, once that rush is gone.

Instead, serve brain foods: in the morning we do yoghurts, granola, fresh dades, nuts, ginger tea, dark chocolate, and fruits. For lunch we serve homemade veggy soups, salads and light sandwiches. In the afternoon it’s raw veggies, nuts and lightly salted oven-baked tit-bits. A smoothie around 15:30 to give it that last push and you will be rocking!

Tip #3: Never run a Design Sprint if there is no follow- up plan.

Don’t just run Design Sprints for the heck of it. It is a waste of time and energy and creativity if you don’t follow trough. We always make sure of the #WTF (by lack of better abbreviation) before we run a Design Sprint with customers.

#Willingness of decision makers to start building on the results of the Design Sprint.

#Team in place to build what needs to be build.
#Funding to pay for the development.

Too often, we have seen what happens when you don’t get into gear right after the Design Sprint…..nothing happens. Don’t fall into that trap. Have the courage to tell your customer to postpone the Design Sprint until everything and everyone is in place. Trust me, they will go WTF!?

Tip #4: Make sure you have great support staff

When running a Design Sprint, you need the participants to fully focus for 5 consecutive days. This means no distractions whatsoever. Not for them, and not for you as a Facilitator. If you have to be the one making sure everyone has their coffees and their fruits and worrying if all pencils are sharpened, you will fail in focusing on the energy of the group. You will fail in capturing that one golden nugget that will change a good result into a great result. And all just because you went out to refill the water bottles…

Always work with great support staff, trained as hospitality kings and queens. Make sure they are like that super waiter in your favorite restaurant: invisible, but always there refilling your glass 2 minutes before you even thought of it. Leaving nothing to chance. They are worth their weight in gold, because they allow you and the group to focus on the best Design Sprint you have ever produced.

Tip #5: Interview real users beforehand

Assumption really is the mother of all f*ck ups. (pardon my French) One of the objectives of the Design Sprint is to get rid of all the assumptions you might have in designing your product. We run a total of three exercises during the Design Sprint to make sure these assumptions are put to the test. Still, we thought that we could do better.

A lot of the times we find that teams running Design Sprints start with a complete blank sheet, convinced that an open mind is the best way to enter a Design Sprint. They assume (woops!) that all the answers to their assumptions will be given by the real users on day 5. Wrong! We have learned – the hard way I must admit – that you really improve the speed and results of your Design Sprint when you interview your target audience before you run a Design Sprint. Ask them what their pains and gains are and what they would expect from your new product.

Tip #6: Start with running 5-day Design Sprints

The way that Jake Knapp originally outlined the Design Sprint process is the best possible way. It takes place over five days – Monday to Friday. Each day takes you through part of the process: understanding, solutions, deciding, prototyping and user testing.


At Connext Lab we, like other agencies, tweaked the Design Sprint to meet the specific needs of our customers and challenges, constantly improving the process with little tweaks. But we stay true to the original 5-day concept as developed at Google. We strongly feel that shortened Design Sprints are a knee fall to the agendas of the customer and are NOT beneficiary to the quality of the Design Sprint.

“5 DAYS!”, they will yell at you. And before you know it you find yourself trying to sell a 4, 3 or even 2 days Design Sprint. Don’t. It’s like hammering a square peg through a round hole. Never make concessions to the quality of your Design Sprint. Start with the original recipe and when you are experienced enough start tweaking it to meet your specific needs.

Tip #7: work with diverse teams

“You know what you should do!”. If I would get a penny for each time I heard that one…

I call it the Male Gene, or rather: the Solutions Gene. The presence of the Y chromosome is responsible for triggering male development. It is also the reason why guys always think in solutions, rather than truly understanding the nature of the problem.

If you have 7 guys in your Design Sprint Team you will have a tough time not going straight for solutions. By the same token, if it’s only girls things can turn into a very talkative hen house.

The solution: diversify. Not only in gender, but also in age, religion, background, culture, income, beliefs and whatever you can think of. The trick is in diversity. The book Sprint tells you to diversify in roles: 1 role of each (marketeer, designer, customer expert, etcetera). Very, very true, but take it a step further and really diversify. You will run far better Design Sprints.

Voor financieel dienstverlener Finnerz hebben we in één dag focus gelegd op nieuwe proposities en deze gevalideerd met hun klanten. Direct resultaat: het product, een financieel dashboard voor hun MKB klanten, is met succes live gegaan.

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