Part of my job on the Innovation Team at Constant Contact is to facilitate design sprints and workshops to come up with fresh ideas for our product and company.
Sometimes our workshops focus on addressing a specific issue. Other times we just focus on sharing innovation methods like the value proposition canvas, job stories, or journey maps.
Regardless of the focus, preparation for success is key.
Facilitating a room full of people is never an “easy” task. But with the right tools, the experience is engaging, consistent, thought-provoking, and fun for facilitators and participants.
Yes, facilitators get to have fun, too.
For participants, preparation is mostly in the mind. Some sprints may include some pre-work like a survey, or online research. By and large, participants should be thinking about the goals they want to accomplish as a part of the sprint.
They should also understand why they (instead of their neighbor) have been invited to participate. Taking part in the innovation process is an opportunity to share, learn, and grow with a team. It’s a process companies of any size or diversity can use, providing they have the right perspective, and enough flexibility to take some very (very) small risks.
For facilitators, part of preparation is making sure both they and participants have what they need, before they know they need it.
To ensure every sprint is ready to go when the participants are, we started ideating on “sprint kits”.
We started by taking a look at the sprints performed at Constant Contact over the past two years. Then, our team shared engagements members of the Innovation Team had been a part of outside of Constant Contact.
And finally, we looked for best practices from companies we love to be inspired by like IDEO, Google, and Thoughtbot.
Where did we land? Let’s open up the box and find out!
Planning: Who, what, when, why, where?
While some participants may know one another, making it easy to refer to people (the right way) is an inexpensive way to build community in the room.
Name tents or tags can be used, although they can also be conveniently printed. Reusable name tents for use with dry-erase markers are in our sprint kits.
In order to help keep participants on task, a visual way to check the remaining time for an activity is also very helpful. We use Time Timers to set and share activity times, and to keep both ourselves and our participants from getting too deep into conversations on topics not germane to the sprint.
Painter’s tape can be a simple way to create divisions on tables, walls, between people, or for fun activities.
Capturing: Write, sketch, and share
The most important output from a design sprint is the artifacts produced by participants. Depending on the room(s) the sprint is taking place in, facilitators may want to use paper instead of whiteboards, or the other way around.
Some type of surface to capture thoughts and writing may also be necessary. We packed our kit with Post-It notes of assorted sizes, sharpies, pens, dry-erase markers, paper, and index cards.
Small whiteboards for individual use are also an interesting consideration. If there are only walls (and no whiteboards) large Post-Its can be used as capture points. If participants will be voting on ideas, small sticky dots are a great way to quickly visualize where votes have been cast.
Technology: Get (and stay) connected
It’s embarrassing to show up at a room, need to access a projector, and have to scramble to find an adapter. Or worse, not to be able to find one at all!
To avoid that problem, we include a set of display adapters for the most common types of displays and computers, as well as cables for video and audio.
Also, we include a small, rechargeable, wireless Bluetooth speaker. Having beats in the room can go a long way to keeping participants focused and motivated. If you’re using a laptop, bring your power cord!
Entertainment: Have a little (or more!) fun
Aside from the speaker, and the totally sweet case we use for our sprint kits, we think about ways to integrate more fun into your facilitation.
Think up some unique, interactive ice-breakers to help people get out of their minds and into the room. Bring a camera and Tweet pictures of the sprint as you work, and to share with the rest of your team/organization/company.
At a recent retreat with Code for Boston, I used a small tripod to take a short time-lapse video of our “wallpapering” of the room during the day, and shared it via social media.
Cleaning up: We aren’t your mom!
Yeah, I know it sucks. Cleaning up after yourself is a bit of a chore, so keep the music running while participants (and the facilitator) capture artifacts, erase whiteboards and clear tables.
Bring your phone (or a dedicated camera) to capture photos of whiteboards and large Post-Its before erasing! To help with this, we include dry-erase marker erasing fluid, and a cleaning cloth. The larger the group, the more cleaning there is likely to be, so consider asking your participants to be accountable for the cleanliness of the space you are sharing up front.
Set reasonable expectations throughout their experience.
What will it cost me: Let’s talk number$
So, maybe you’re thinking, “Ethan, that all sounds great, but what is it going to cost me?” Good news, everyone! If you bought everything I’m including in the list at the end of this post (including the case) you’d top out right around $400.
Of course, depending on who is attending and what you will be doing in the sprint, you won’t need everything. Keep in mind, you don’t have to purchase all these things every time you want to sprint — you’ll just want to refill what is used. Most sprints will leave you needing more Post-It notes, and not much else. Thankfully, the Post-It notes are some of the least expensive parts!
I’m a Boy Scout when it comes to being prepared with the right gear for any occasion (you should see what’s in my backpack), so don’t take my list as gospel. If you want to DIY your own specialized sprint kit (and I hope you do!), click through and copy this Google Doc.
It includes the (most recent) pricing for each item, and links to buy. Don’t let yourself be at the mercies of the room!
Finally, if you have any feedback on this article, our kit, or think we’re missing something, please let me know.