Google Design Sprints: How to build *your* Perfect Week

I had a really amazing time this week at the Google Sprint Conference…it was a blast to be in a room full of talented pros, hand-picked by the Google Sprint Master Academy! I wanted to take a moment to reflect and capture some insights for myself and hope they’ll be of use to you as well!

Wipe the Week Free: Designing a Perfect Week

Jake Knapp opened the conference (he literally wrote the book on sprints) and did a great job of sharing the history, the why and the how of sprinting in his world: The pain points of brainstorms that were fun, but didn’t lead to anything, hackathons that were solving the wrong problem…and busy, busy calendars that suck our focus and make work expand to the time available, namely, Parkinson’s Law! Could a there be a perfect week that helped us really focus on the critical questions at hand? Could he wipe away the other things on his plate and move the needle on one big, critical question? The five day sprint format was his answer.

Applied Design Thinking: A Checklist manifesto

For those in the room with a design thinking heritage, this all looked familiar, and Jake gave a lot of props to the IDEO and Standford DSchool people who paved the way with Human Centered Design, codifying so many of the tools we all use.

What Jake did an amazing job of was breaking it all down into a no-fail recipe. At the time, he was reading the checklist manifesto, and thought: What would it look like to bring together ALL the critical components into one ideal process?


How might we…break the process?

It was really great to see some industry vets lift up the hood and show the group how it works in their contexts… sometimes, a week is a *lot* of time to set aside…even at google, they’ve started to tinker with the checklist and ask: Can we do it in less time? Can we leave out parts? Can we focus on learning or alignment and get to validation later? Can we link Sprints together and solve bigger challenges?

Sara Khoury’s talk was one such conversation. She dove deep on the AM of Day 2 into the question of “What’s the purpose of your sprint?” with the idea that you should design your sprints with that goal in mind.

Focusing on Learning, Storytelling, Brand, Alignment…the idea of validation, so key to the process, looks very different in each case. This is where the checklist gets fuzzy, when an expert’s eye helps make adjustments, additions, deletions. The five day recipe *has* to be adapted for the kinds of needs Sarah is designing for (her awesome slide is below).

thanks to Jay Melone for capturing this slide…it went past before I got it!

Organizational Velocity: Go to where the door is Ajar

Richard Kelly was another long-time industry vet who talked about how to make this fresh type of thinking work at very old orgs (He and Sarah Plantenberg at IBM were battling for oldest org using design thinking!) At 110, Li&Fung won by a nose…

At GV or Google, these sprint structures are welcome…at a 110 year old public/private Hong Kong conglomerate, it’s not always an easy sell. You have to start somewhere, often with the brainstorms and hackathons that Jake takes (rightful) issue with.

I worked with Richard to do an 8 week co-creation sprint for one of Li & Fung’s brands late this year. We met for a half-day each week which was a big ask! The “wipe the week clear” ethos wasn’t getting traction…so we adapted.

Some sprints are focused on creating choices, others on making choices. Knowing your focus can smooth the journey of the participants. Starting where there’s energy and willingness in the organization for this type of work and making the process work for their needs is essential. Start with the open doors and work from there.

Mapping Experiences: Where the Insight comes from

Another truth of sprinting is that sometimes you have to do *prework*! Erik Flowers and Jim Kalbach both dug deep into the skills of building a great map of the experience or system you’re trying to redesign…and getting deep insights into systems change might not happen on day 1–2 of a design sprint. Jim does a lot of pre-work and brings in a “roughed in” map that he had stakeholders work with, add to, or modify as a way of stimulating conversation. As Erik says, building an experience map is building shared knowledge…an essential component of a design sprint.

Open Space Conversations

I was particularly thrilled to see that the Google crew was into Open Space Conversations, since I’m a big fan. They’re almost the *opposite* of sprints: they are an un-designed conversation….or rather a minimal designed conversation that still gets groups to a solid set of agreements.

I was also particularly thrilled to be invited to seed the first open space conversation as a topic host on the idea Conversation Design. For me, conversation design is core to what I do. I’ve spent 2017 on the first season of a podcast about just this topic: How do you design great conversations?

Each session produced proceedings, gathered into a booklet, printed at the end

It was great to have designers and facilitators from IBM, Intuit, Uber and many others hunker down for 45 minutes in my breakout session and think about how to design great conversations *about* design. A lot of the conference attendees come from the UX world, as I do. As designers of products and services there are lots of helpful frameworks and heuristics to guide the process. As designers and facilitators of conversations, there is much less help to know how to do it well. Jake’s book is one, very powerful design for one big conversation. But there are many other conversations that need designing throughout the design process.

Which brings me to…

Micro Sprints: Designing effective conversations

Evie Alexander of Airbnb (and a former google sprint master) talked about using the tools and techniques in smaller ways, all throughout a normal week. She used the term “micro sprints” and I love the term. The team from AJ&Smart did a session on their Lightning Decision Jam, which uses some sprint essentials, but in a right-sized format for everyday use. They use this as an introduction to teams to help them understand the concept of sprinting, to help choose a topic for a sprint, as well as at the end of their week for retrospectives. They don’t call it a “micro-sprint” but it has that flavor.

Building your own recipes for Innovation

I was also happy to help LUMA facilitate the final session of the conference, working with Vidya Dinamani to give the attendees a chance to reflect on their leanings over the two days and process them into some insights and actions, all while showing everyone some new ways to sketch out and think through designing micro-sprints. I’ve been consulting with LUMA for almost 2 years now and I find the architecture of their methods to have a great balance of clarity and detail.

group number nine, working on their abstraction ladders

Here’s the agenda Vidya and I ran for the group, broken down into LUMA building blocks, simple component activities for working together with people. I built the agenda on LumaWorkplace, which is a handy tool with lots of pre-made recipes for micro-sprints, as well as the full google sprints format broken down into components.

Why and How

Some of the final questions and insights people were leaving with are captured here, in the abstraction ladders teams made together.

How might we use design sprint thinking, every day, naturally? How might we create a sprint community that makes us weep for joy? How might we taste all the sprint flavors in the room? How can we Open Source the design sprint?

I’m thrilled that I got to be a part of this community for two days and I look forward to staying part of the community as it grows!

The Google team, especially Kai Haley did an amazing job and their generosity with their space, their knowlege and community was outstanding. Oh, and they gave us all giant sprint kits. :-)

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