4 tips to brush up your Design Sprint facilitation skills

Katrien Meijdam - 24 April 2019

Jake Knapp, author of NYT and Wall Street Journal bestseller Sprint was in town recently. I took the opportunity to brush up on my facilitation skills, and participated in his masterclass, designed for newbies and seasoned facilitators. Filled with inspiration, I put my new knowledge into practice the following week, and facilitated a design sprint at a large oil & gas company. Here’s what I discovered.

Jake Knapp giving a masterclass on Design Sprints at Amsterdam Design Better event

Clearly explain the difference between the default way of working and the sprint way

As facilitator, you’ve probably experienced a bit of resistance from people who are ambivalent about working with design sprints. Quickly tame this slight defiance by sharing pertinent information. Jake made clear from the beginning–which I found very useful– the difference between how people work in a design sprint, and the default way of working. This information makes new people less nervous, and more open.

Difference between default and sprint way of working

For the love of efficiency, encourage participants to preselect HMW notes

Ever looked at a wall full of HMW notes, thinking that it will take too much time to sort and categorise them? Ever ploughed through badly formulated or vague notes, and debated about the category they belong to, only to put them in a bland miscellaneous cluster? During our latest sprint, we had interviews and sprint questions, and both generate a lot of notes. So instead of letting the team share all their notes on the HMW wall right away, I first asked them to make a preselection. Each person could select their 3 most valuable notes from the interviews, and same from the questions. An extra benefit of this practice: all team members get an equal voice because they all contribute the same number of notes.

Make a distinction between questions you can answer during the sprint week, and those that will be answered after

Questions will arise, of course. At the beginning of the spring, the team is asked to come up with possible reasons this project will not be a success. They’re also asked to formulate questions closed-ended, (requiring a short answer, ex. Can we…?). Tip: As questions can pop up at inconvenient times, it helps to gather these questions up to a determined moment, and then close.

On the final day of the sprint, everybody wants answers. However, I've often experienced that sprint questions are not always answerable by then. For instance, questions about securing the budget, getting stakeholders on board, or technical feasibility. Not being able to answer these questions by the end of the week feels like a letdown because you’ve put so much energy into them.

My solution to avoid disappointment: hand out differently coloured stickers when voting for sprint questions: one colour for those that are relevant during the sprint, and a different colour for those that should be looked at after the sprint. The relevant ones will become the sprint questions. The rest will be placed aside, for after the sprint.

Celebrate success

Thanks to Jake, I finally learned the trick to successful high-fiving: look at the other person’s elbow instead of their hand. Works every time. No more failed and half-assed high-fives! Ask your team to practice this, by high-fiving every other person in the room. Repeat this a few times during the sprint, whenever there is reason: after the map, the voting, the storyboard, prototyping, etc. I love this small exercise. It’s physical, it makes you appreciate the hard work, and it creates a good team energy. And here’s your ice breaker for Monday morning.

Celebrate success

Even if you’re an experienced facilitator, there’s always room for improvement. Jake has given me useful pointers and I had an amazing time in his masterclass. It made me appreciate the design sprint I facilitated the week after, even more.

Are you also looking to up your facilitation skills? Check out our masterclasses!

Katrien Meijdam

Digital Strategist, Design Sprint Facilitator

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