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Design Sprint: Facilitator tips for Monday.

Here’s our first part in a 5-part instalment of Design Sprint tips. We’re going to do a deep dive into tricks and techniques we use to get the most out of the exercises each day.

Monday is about exploring, defining the challenge and choosing a target. We set goals, draw a map, talk to experts and come up with opportunities to go after.

But before all that we need to become acquainted with one another. By the end of the week everyone in the sprint will be the closest of buddies. Celebrating in triumph and basking in the glory of doing more work in a week than they’ve done in the last 6 months. However right now they’re total strangers (potentially).

So here comes the first tip.

1 — Ice Breaker.

Sounds simple but before you get stuck into explaining how a sprint works, let’s get to know the people in the room a little. After all as facilitator you’ve probably helped assemble this crack troop of multi disciplined masterminds, a melting pot of cross collaboration that is going to nail this particular business problem.

Also, disclaimer: We know Jake Knapp says you don’t need one and the ice will break itself. But it really does help to propel you through the first few exercises, especially when everyone is trying to remember everybody else’s name!

Here’s the trick though, don’t just go around the table and repeat name, job title and role stuff - yawn. Make it more memorable by adding a fun, quick game called ‘Who is it?’. Get everyone to write down a strange or unique fact about themselves on a post-it. Pop them all into a hat and read them out one by one. Have the group decide who they think it could be. This is a great way to find out about your fellow team members and hit the ground sprinting.

Introductions are done, but here’s another trick to help you navigate the possible unknowns of personality types and whether there is previous design thinking / sprinting experience amongst the group collective. As we’ve mentioned before it’s super important for ‘Sprinters’ to ‘Trust the Process’, we call this statement our get out of jail free card, and we even suggest printing this out and sticking it on the wall. But there’s more you can do to manage and bend the group dyamamic to the will of the Sprint process.

2 — R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

This is where you can set out some ground rules for the week ahead. Firstly respect each other, listen to others’ views and opinions. As a facilitator you need to make sure everyone is being heard, if someone got interrupted or talked over make sure you create an opportunity to go back to them. This is also the time for the group to extend the same respectful courtesy to the facilitator.

The timing schedule is precious and they must respect each timeboxing exercise, when the facilitator says it’s time to move on, then it’s time. Just say, ‘When the buzzer goes off all discussions will be parked and captured if needs be.’ That way you can avoid lengthy debates, and digression rabbit holes.

As a facilitator you’re going to have your hands full pretty much all of the time. It’s no mean feat to steer a Sprint team through each exercise, keep them on point, capture their points. All of your senses are on high alert, watching, listening, speaking combining to get a good feel for the group dynamic, teasing out every detail to let the mix of minds cross pollinate ideas. However we are only human and it is bloody exhausting to write, think and listen at the same time.

So here’s our 3rd tip to help lift some of the cognitive load off the facilitators shoulders – vital if you’re running back to back sprints.

3 — ABC Helper.

There are going to be many moments during the sprint where the group will come up with a fantastic idea that will need recording, time is not our friend but all these ideas need documenting rather than exploring there and then, the path of digression will set us off course. So to keep within the time-boxing exercises, nominate somebody each day to be in charge of the ‘Notes’ board. That way you as a facilitator can always keep the group moving forward while someone takes a moment to pick up the ‘Always Be Capturing’ duties.

Now, your helper might be super on point and hoover up all the good stuff that isn’t applicable for the problem in hand and jot it down, but it’s perfectly fine for you to ask them to capture something if they missed it. All you have to say is, ‘That sounds like it’s worth noting down, can you capture that one as well - thanks’.

Ok, so that’s some of the set up sorted to get you through the first few exercises and set the tone for the next few days. Now let’s give you some nuggets for some of the key exercises that form day one.

4 — Mapping a Map.

Now as a facilitator you know you have to keep it simple, you start by tagging up the ‘actors’ on the left hand side, you draw the goal on the right. So far so good. Now is a great idea to remind the team that the main point of this exercise is to see where the problem areas are. Ignore the small details, keep it high level. Keep it flowing. The sole purpose of the map is so we can target a particular area of it with the HMWs, this forms the focus for the rest of the sprint. It doesn’t need to be perfect or even correct. It’s not about accuracy, it’s about finding a rough target area.

That being said, a great tip to keep everyone to sticking to the main flow is to fill the middle space out with funnel headlines that fit with most product journeys. ‘Discover’, ‘learn’, ‘use’, and ‘decide’, are perfect for conversion and acquisition user journeys. However, you may need to be more flexible with your lane headings if the particular problem doesn’t span the sales funnel for the product or business. Example: An onboarding b2b journey where the user has already been acquired.

5 — Expert Interviews.

Plan interview questions ahead of time.

The team will learn a lot from the expert interviews, it’s a good idea to write down all of the key questions you want answers for ahead of time, to make sure you keep the flow going like a pro, but also so you don’t leave any stone unturned.

Some basic skills when conducting any interview is to avoid closed questions that have binary answers. Keep the questions open, and do follow up questions if you want the interviewee to go into more detail.

Here are some good basic questions to get the ball rolling:

  • What does the product do?
  • Who are your users?
  • What problems are you looking to solve?
  • What’s your number one pain point right now?
  • Where do you see this product in one or two years?

The best interviewers are like researchers, and the best researchers have learned a lot from investigative journalism and psychology.

This is a tough one, but it’s super important to be comfortable with uncomfortable silences. Sometimes it’s best to let it play out, rather than breaching a pause, stay cool. Sometimes the best insight comes when the interviewee speaks first after these moments.

And one last thing, try and keep your reactions to answers as neutral as possible. You don’t want to unknowingly steer the interviewee’s next answer because of how you reacted positively or negatively to the previous one.

Take a look at our tips for:


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