At the Google Ventures Design Studio, we have a five-day process for taking a product or feature from design through prototyping and testing. We call it a product design sprint. This is the second in a series of seven posts on running your own design sprint.

Now that you know what design sprints are good for, you’ll need a few important ingredients to make yours successful. Start with a big, important problem; pitch it to your team; and schedule a user study before you even start. Get the right people and the right supplies in a room and you’re on your way to a successful design sprint.

Pick a big fight

The first thing you need is an important design problem, and if you work at a startup, chances are good you probably have one lying around the office. Maybe more than one. It might be something big, like defining your product for the first time, or a big redesign or new feature. Or it might be something detailed, like improving conversion on a single user action. It just has to be really important to the company, and it has to be something you’re struggling to start or to make progress on — otherwise it can be difficult to get the other people you’ll need involved.

As long as it’s an important problem, it’s perfect for a design sprint. It’s OK if you don’t feel ready to start on it yet. No matter how overwhelming or ambiguous, you’ll be able to cut a big swath through the jungle of possible solutions.

Get the right people

The ideal sprint team is between four and eight people, but you can get by with more or fewer than that. Just make sure you have at least one:

  • Designer – If your startup doesn’t have a designer yet, try to bring in a ringer.
  • CEO – At a small startup, the CEO is the key decision-maker and needs to participate in order to get an actionable solution out of the sprint. At a bigger company, you’ll still need buy-in and it’s best to include the CEO, but if they can’t be there the whole time you can bring them in at key decision-making moments.
  • Product manager – The PM (or whoever is filling this role) will likely need to implement the solution that comes out of the sprint.
  • User expert – The person on the team who has the most direct contact with customers often has great input, and can be the lead on user testing.

It’s also great to include:

  • Engineer
  • Marketer
  • Anybody else who’s interested

Schedule the user study before you have anything to test

Once you know when you’re going to do the sprint, recruit users and schedule the user studies for the last day of the sprint. This is a bit terrifying: you haven’t even started to talk about the problem, let alone design solutions, and people — outsiders! — are going to come in and need to be shown something. This hard deadline, even though it’s artificial, will help you move faster and make tough decisions to focus your work throughout the sprint.

Find a facilitator

Pick someone to be the facilitator of the sprint. The facilitator is going to be responsible for managing the sprint and moving things along. They need to be confident leading a meeting, including synthesizing discussions and telling people it’s time to stop talking. They also need to be comfortable with not getting to participate as much in the actual design work, because facilitating is a lot of work. Since you’re the one reading this, you may be a good candidate — but it’s always easiest if the facilitator is an outsider. See if you can get a friend from another company to help out.

Put it on the calendar

Clear everybody’s schedule for five consecutive days. It’s also very important to have a dedicated room for the duration of the sprint, usually a conference room with lots of whiteboards.

Much of the magic in design sprints comes from the sense of urgency. By their very nature, startups always feel time-constrained; the short, focused time of the sprint adds another constraint.

Gather the ingredients

Luckily, you don’t need anything fancy to run a sprint. Here’s everything I use:

  • Sticky notes — I like the yellow 3×5 size.
  • Drawing pens — Any standard black or blue pen is probably fine. I like these or you can get these for extra credit.
  • Whiteboards — If your war room doesn’t have a lot of whiteboard space in it, find another war room or some rolling whiteboards or, heck, get some IdeaPaint and get busy.
  • Whiteboard markers — I like to use these instead of Sharpies because they’re so versatile. Buy some good ones and be sure to have enough black markers for each person in the sprint.
  • Dot stickers — for voting. You want something small with uniform color. Post-It brand dots are great.
  • 8.5 × 11 blank copy paper — Nothing special, just have a pack of this on hand.
  • Time Timer Clock — Optional, but totally awesome, see here. I guarantee you’ll find it useful during the sprint, and probably during regular meetings afterward.
  • Snacks — You’ll need caffeine and food handy. Trail mix, bananas, and dark chocolate covered raisins have proved especially popular at our sprints, although it is possible that it’s just me eating all of it.
  • Sticky stuff — You’ll need to stick your drawings and storyboards on the wall. This removable gummy material is inexpensive and works great, with less fuss than tape.

Okay, the stage is set. Now it’s time to start the sprint.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we’ll explore the exercises we use on the first day of a sprint.


Product design sprint series
Previous: Overview
Next: Understand (day 1)