Running a Design Sprint

As a UX designer, facilitating workshops and design sprints is one of my favourite parts of the product design process. Nottingham-based life sciences start-up PHARMASEAL approached me to help facilitate the design of a new, cornerstone feature for their clinical trial management product.

Following an initial consultation meeting with CEO Daljit and Product Director Ricky, I proposed the most effective way to achieve their goal was to run a design sprint. In the spirit of the original GV Sprint method we would, over the course of four days:

  • Unpack the problem they were looking to solve
  • Map their user’s journey in detail
  • Create rapid solutions, and
  • Refine the swathe of solution concepts into a single, lean design which could be implemented as the ‘first version’ of the new feature

Prior to starting our engagement, I held a half-day discovery session so we could set out the sprint expectations and explore all of the thoughts Daljit, Ricky, and the team had had to date.

Day 1

To begin the sprint, I held a brief kick-off session for the team. Because the team had never engaged a UX designer at this stage of their process it was essential to set the scene for the days to come and detail exactly what we were looking to achieve. The time we had together to achieve our sprint goal was broken into four sections:

  • Discovery and journey mapping
  • Sketching and rapid ideation
  • Reviewing and iterating on our ideas
  • Refinement and finalisation
Setting up to start the design sprint
A user journey mapping session

It was important to move swiftly at each stage (it is a sprint not a marathon, after all) to ensure that we achieved the greatest value from the four days. From the off I worked with Ricky one-on-one to reiterate the challenge statement for the sprint and walk through the existing user stories and maps in detail. Once we had a common understanding of the challenge ahead we began to map the user journey (Post-It Notes and Sharpies at the ready), breaking it down in to critical phases to focus on the goals of our target user.

At the end of Day 1 we had a full journey map, including pain points, potential solutions, and a series of ‘How Might We…’ questions to help inform our thinking on Day 2.

Parking Lot

Four days to deliver a new feature concept requires a very lean approach, keen questioning, and firm handle on the challenge statement we’re working towards.One great way to keep everyone in the sprint on track is to set up a parking lot to capture any sidebar themes or tangents that were related to the project but obviously out of scope. Anyone in the room can, at any point, add items to the parking lot to be revisited at the end of each day or at the end of the sprint.

Day 2

As we kicked off the second day of our sprint, we reviewed the user journey which had been completed on day one as a map on RealTimeBoard (I’d taken the time to keep documentary evidence of the wall of notes to bring them into a digital space outside of the workshop session). We worked through the phases and steps in this journey, focussing on important areas of the new feature. These key phases were broken into tasks and individual screen requirements were identified.

Using a ‘design studio’ approach, Ricky and I spent time sketching at a low fidelity, sharing our solutions ideas at regular intervals. We worked separately using the Crazy 8s activity and then detailed, three-step sketches before coming together to share our ideas. Discussions over features and functions were supported by collaborative sketching sessions, too.

A collaborative design studio as part of the design sprint

Day 3

After a period of re-drafting our first pass on the solution, we walked through our design with other team members to gauge their understanding and allow them time to feed back on our proposed solution (Sharing early and often at every stage of the process is really important to ensure you're on the right track, especially when you're designing at speed).

Ricky - acting as our 'decider' for the week - walked through each of the sketches, understanding each element, commenting and suggesting changes: this was the point where we could still unpick or alter our decisions from the sketching/ideation session.

Once we were satisfied with our decisions and the viability of our solution, I took the designs away to create digital versions in Adobe XD which could later be used by the development team.

Preparing to review the outputs of the design studio
The prototype wireframe walkthrough for the design sprint

Final Day

Using the digitised wireframes, we took time to review them carefully and ensure the direction was focussed and coherent against the user journey. We walked through the prototype, considering the terms and content used and the critical actions which needed to happen on each screen. Additionally we needed to be mindful that, although the screen flow had to have consistency in itself, it was consistent with models and processes already established in their live product.

Careful developer notes detailing interactions and states were added to the screens before I ran a brief close-out session with the team to guide them through the screen flows, explain thinking and concepts - the key differentiators and strategic direction as well as the functional aspects - and bring them on board to begin building the new product area.

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