Learnings From My First (Corporate) Design Sprint

Sometimes I feel like a product management baby. Especially when I try new things like facilitating a whole Design Sprint.

Ok, not a baby, more like I am in elementary school: I did my homework, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing. And I wasn’t in a start up, I was amidst a corporation with lots of corporate culture.

Source: http://thepeoplesmovies.com/2016/12/new-boss-baby-trailer-enemy-puppy/

“The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.” ~ gv.com/sprint

Here are my learnings.


  • Make sure you got the right decider.
  • Get all stakeholders on board before hand, explain in detail what’s about to happen and why it is a great idea.
  • Explain all the activities better and connect them to the bigger picture.
  • Have everyone agree to follow the rules very explicitly and enforce them.
  • Sit down with participants before the sprint and make sure they understand what the sprint is about and ensure they wanna be there.

It’s no start up life for us… when you’re in corporate!

I did not anticipate the problems that I would encounter.

“Everyone’s first sprint is always difficult. It’s a very different way of working.” ~ Heath Sadlier

Always keep in mind humans are humans, they surprise you and yet they’re creatures of habit and learned behaviours. Make sure that you keep the behaviours, that you already know about, in mind and anticipate the ones you do not know about yet as best as you can.

I wish I would have read Heath Sadlier’s posts earlier:

Do that product manager thing: Say no. A lot.

I had taken a lot of time and all the information available to me to come with a list of team members and experts for the Design Sprint. I’d had a lot of requests to add more and more people. And I ended up being presented with three additional people on our starting day.

Here are two things you can do, to prevent that situation.

First of all, make sure you have all the context you need to make the right decisions. Is the general problem clear? I found it helpful to write a sprint brief and roughly define the scope.

Our scope changed 2 days before we started, the context had changed, yet the schedule and booked expert interviews stayed. Oops, but we already told stakeholders we would do it this way in that week.

Second of all, find the right people. For the team and for the expert interviews.

If you’re in a big company a lot of people will feel the need to be included. They want their voices heard. It might even sound “cool” to be in a Design Sprint, so people want to join for that reason. Everyone is important. Or not.

I recommend to start by finding your deciders. Again, a lot of people will present themselves to you as that person that gets to make the decisions. Oftentimes, a person has a manager or director above them. Ensure that the person in your sprint has full authority to make decisions. If their superior is the person able to put a halt on everything, that’s your decider.

If you identify the right decider, they can usually tell you who you need to talk to outside of the sprint team. Those are the people you want to invite to your Lightning Talks.

Do that other product manager thing: Communicate!

Be transparent.

Be ridiculously transparent.

Be ludicrously transparent.

Be plaid transparent.

Source: http://honda-imid.blogspot.ca/2011/09/space-balls-ludicrous-speed-imid.html

All jokes aside, if you think you’re being very transparent already, just add a little more. Make all the information easily accessible for your stakeholders. Get in a room with them and explain, answer all their questions. You need to make sure they know what’s going on.

You also need to make sure that your team knows and understands what’s about to go down. Their buy-in is just as important and it is very likely they’ve never been in a Design Sprint. Talk to your peeps and help them understand. Because:

You’re most likely the only Design Sprint nerd in the room.

Yes, that’s right. If you’re even a little bit like me, you’re a nerd. You get excited by processes and frameworks that sound amazing and have been proven to work. You absorb all the information like a sponge and it’s hard to remember how it was when you didn’t know “all the things”.

Let’s try real hard to remember and give our team and stakeholders a chance to catch up. That means you have to explain everything. And explain again. And again.

Here are some questions you need to clearly and comprehensively answer before you start the sprint:

  • What is a Design Sprint? What’s the goal? What is the outcome?
  • Why is a Design Sprint a great fit to find your problem’s solution?
  • What happens during a Design Sprint? What are the different activities? How do they lead you towards your goal? How do they fit in with the bigger picture?

And then during the sprint go over those answers again and add more:

  • How does each activity work exactly? Repeat how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • What’s the next step after this? How does this activity fit into the flow of the sprint? What’s its value?

If people do not understand the sprint or the individual activities, they might seem useless. That can lead to frustration among the team and people questioning the whole process. Don’t let ignorance lower morale or fun!

Rules are there to be broken. That’s a myth.

Don’t believe it! There’s a reason for rules to be in place within the Design Sprint. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

Write the rules down somewhere on the wall. Well, use some paper, business people don’t like it if you write on their walls. Go through the rules and make sure people understand why they should follow them and have them agree.

Be firm about the rules throughout the sprint. Especially, no phones, no discussion and no leaving for unnecessary stuff… so everything. Be funny and friendly when reinforcing them, that way you don’t come across as a dictator. Not a good look!

What about my 15 min of fame?

Rockstars, heroes, know-it-alls, in a sprint you don’t really need any of those and it’s your job to handle them.

“What happens when you’ve got a difficult person, a long talker, an endless debater, a time waster, or a straight-up jerk? You have to deal with it, but you can start out very nice.” ~ Jake Knapp

Steamroller personality types usually know that they are that type of person and they know that they need to be stopped from time to time. So don’t worry too much about it.

Be confident, be friendly, but also be very clear.

Make all the rules known to everyone in the room and display them somewhere so you can refer back to them in a situation like this. Remind people of the time constraint.

Kaizen, b*tches!

There’s always room for improvement. My first sprint felt incredibly disastrous to me, so what I can take away from it, are my learnings and my personal fan girl moment. Jake Knapp said, it sounds like I handled the situation well. *swoon*

To become better you need to reflect. Try to get everyone’s perspective on how the sprint went and what should be improved. And, don’t be too hard on yourself.

A great way to surface all the learnings is a post-sprint retro with the team. Start out with the good old prime directive.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” ~ Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

Another important questions for me was: what different circumstances do I need to succeed next time?

I will try to incorporate all my learnings into my next sprint as well as share them with team members and you!

About me: I am Lisa Mo, that’s short for Monika, 33, passionate about product management, agile methodologies, learning (right now web development), craft beer and makeup. I moved to the Great White North aka Toronto a few months ago. I am always happy to connect and chat about my experiences and what I have learned so far, sharing knowledge is fun!

If you liked this, your applause is much appreciated! You can also find me on Twitter and all the PM slack teams, like Hands on Agile, ProductStack or Mind The Product, etc.

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.