A 5-day journey to living from your priorities

It’s easy to spend our day reacting to what comes at us. What if you could be proactive, intentionally making decisions based on your priorities? It is possible!

Our five-day short course guides you through the process of identifying your life priorities and scaling them day to everyday decisions. You’ll learn how to establish a rhythm to build good habits and grow a team that will be with you in the journey.

I recently shared some things I was learning about running remote design sprints, and a colleague asked, "Can you define what you mean by design sprints?"  Here is my off-the-cuff definition: 

"A design sprint uses a set of methods to lead a team over a short period of time (less than a week) to learn, ideate, design, prototype and test solutions to a specific problem space."

I still think this is a pretty good definition, but if you're looking for more, let's break it down.

A Set of Methods.

In a sprint, you’re balancing a triple constraint of time, focus and decision-making capacity. At the macro level, a key method to focus is theming each day's activities, giving a day to each step: learn, ideate, design, prototype and test.

Managing the time requires some specific methods for discussion, recording notes, giving feedback and making decisions. Here's a quick list of methods you'll see fleshed out more below.

  • Learn: Site Visits, Ask The Experts, Experience Mapping
  • Ideate: Design Charrettes, Crazy 8s, Lighting Demos
  • Design: Sketching, Story Boarding, Dot Voting
  • Prototype: Paper Prototype, Digital Prototype, Analog Prototypes
  • Test: User Testing

To Lead a Team.

A design sprint is a team activity. 

The team is often composed of people with varied skills and expertise related to the project.  Your cross-functional team might include an engineer or two, a manager, a project manager, a customer service expert, a designer, someone from finance, and the product owner. 

In addition to skills, it is best to build a team with members who take different approaches to problem-solving. 

  • Do members approach the problem from a people orientation or task orientation? 
  • Do they view the problem at a high level or down in the details? 
  • Do they follow a linear or circular line of thinking?

Working as a team doesn't mean everything is done out loud as a group. Some of the methods I unpack below help combine the benefits of people working independently and working collaboratively.

These diversities of skills, perspectives and experience will contribute to a better design. It can be hard to communicate and sort through all the views and ideas, but that's where the facilitation methods come in.

A Short Period of Time.

A design sprint is often five days.  

Sometimes it can be squeezed into four or even three days if the prototyping and testing are done at a different time.  All these count as short periods when you go from concept to tested prototype.

Each activity is also done over a shorter time than is typical in traditional meetings or projects. For example, during an activity called "lightning demos," team members will pitch a solution in just 3 minutes.  It’s critical to manage both time and attention; therefore, almost all activities are timed.

Learn, Ideate, Design, Prototype and Test

A design sprint follows a consistent progression, and the steps in this progression typically define each day of the sprint.


Learning is crucial to design, and it's where we start the sprint.  After defining the goals and questions for the sprint, we begin listing to others. Three common and effective methods for learning include site visits, asking the experts and experience mapping.

  • Site Visits.
  • Ask The Experts.
  • Experience Mapping.

Site Visits.

Site visits involve going to where your users are and observing them trying to complete the task you're designing for. Look for pain points or coping mechanisms. Ask them to talk out loud and narrate what they are doing. Ask clarifying questions. Learn what they do, how they do it, and why. Take lots of notes.

Ask The Experts.

Ask The Experts is an activity where you bring in experts about the problem space you're working in. Similarly, you want to spend your time listening, not talking. Ask clarifying questions to uncover more. As you take notes, you'll use the "How Might We..." template abbreviated as "HMW\." This structure forces you to frame all your notes with a question of curiosity, leading you later to discover creative solutions.

Experience Mapping

Experience Mapping begins by synthesizing what you have learned so far. If you didn't take your notes on sticky notes already, first convert them with one observation on each note. Get all stickies on the board and order them left to right by time. Divide or combine groups as needed. Create a name for the group of tasks the observations describe, then group sets of tasks into activities. Identify pain points and set goals for how your product could overcome some of these pain points.

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To find the best solutions, we need to surface great ideas. These ideation methods are both art and science, adding more structure than the typical brainstorming method.

You can use three facilitation activities to help your team ideate effectively. 

  • Design Charrettes.
  • Crazy 8s.
  • Lighting Demos.

Design Charrettes.

Design Charrettes involve the whole team working individually, in pairs, and as a whole to develop and critique new ideas. 

First, review what's been learned to ensure alignment with the problem being solved. Everyone sketches solution ideas individually for 10-15 minutes. Share and critique ideas as a group, identifying the concepts you want to be sure to take to the next round. 

Synthesize in pairs, combining the good concepts to develop better ones. It can be a partially implemented design. A team could be focused on how the interface behaves, how customers and users interact or how the interface assists the users. 

Present new solutions and critique as a group. Decide which solutions to carry through to prototyping.

Crazy 8s

Crazy 8s is a fun and fast process for creativity. 

Fold a piece of paper three times to make eight sections. Choose your favorite idea so far. Ask yourself, "What would be another good way to do this?" 

Sketch that new way in 60 seconds. 

Repeat this immediately in the next square, asking the same question and sketching a solution in one minute. After iterating eight times in just eight minutes, you will push yourself to look at the problem in new ways.

Lighting Demos.

Lighting Demos help stretch the scope of the solutions by bringing in inspiration. 

Ask team members to list products and solutions to review for inspiring solutions.  Think outside your industry and inside your company. Have them narrow their list to the top one or two. 

One at a time, show the whole team what's so cool about your inspirations. Set a timer for three minutes. Make a quick drawing of that inspiring component. Write a headline about it and other notes below it. 


Designing now involves synthesizing the ideas into the best testable solutions to answer the critical questions of the sprint.

Try these three activities to structure your design process.

  • Sketching.
  • Story Boarding.
  • Dot Voting.


Sketching may sound scary, but don't worry. It's not an art contest. 

Customer and user interaction is one of the most critical parts of design and is often the focus of a design sprint. Sketching is better a communicating these interactions than words alone.

Story Boarding.

Story Boarding is a standard method used by movie producers to plan out a movie or scene before shooting it. We're using it to plan our solution's customer interaction before building the prototype. 

Draw about fifteen frames in rows across a large whiteboard. The top left is the opening scene of the user's experience. Try starting two steps upstream of the actual solution you want to test. Work through one frame at a time. If there are gaps, fill them in only if it's critical to understanding the flow.

Dot Voting.

Dot Voting allows decisions to be made quickly and analytically. Analysis paralysis is a real danger because of the quantity of information and options being processed. 

In dot voting, everyone receives dots to vote on ideas (or elements of ideas) they like. Combined with sketches, this creates a visual heat map of good ideas. This method is critical in speeding up the decision process and stewards the team’s attention and decision-making capacity.


Prototypes allow you to get initial feedback on solutions before building them. They can help validate new products or concepts, test usability, and communicate the design to others.

Here are three types of prototypes you can use.

  • Paper Prototypes.
  • Digital Prototypes.
  • Analog Prototypes.

Paper Prototypes.

Paper Prototypes are useful in testing interfaces. You can change them on the fly during the testing session based on the user's feedback. 

The low fidelity of paper allows users to give more honest feedback because they understand the product is early in the design process.

Digital Prototypes.

Digital Prototypes are helpful when you're testing a digital interface or need to do your user testing remotely. The downside is they usually take longer to make, and users may be less willing to give honest feedback if the product looks too finished. Using the Keynote app can reduce the time to create a digital prototype. 

Analog Prototypes.

Analog Prototypes are a category I made up for testing non-digital products like an event, a system or a process. Not all interactions happen on a screen, and you need a way to prototype and test interactions like conversations, written communication, meetings, etc. 

These prototypes can include scripts, templates, agendas, storyboards, role-playing or brochures describing the product.


Testing early in the process facilitates changes before implementation and serves as a guide for later development. UserTesting.com is a service that nails this step, but it isn't cheap, so I'll outline how you can pull this off on your own too.

There are two primary steps in your testing process.

  • Recruiting users.
  • User testing.

Recruiting users.

Recruiting users is critical because you need feedback from those who represent your customers.

You can find these users by placing an ad on Craigslist or Facebook with the offer of a gift card if they're chosen. Your ad should link to a survey where they will answer questions you set to determine if they represent your target audience. 

Be sure to ask for their contact info so you can follow up to let them know if they are a match.

User Testing.

User testing lets you finally see a customer interact with your product. The experience will likely include emotions ranging from frustration to delight. 

First, set specific, realistic tasks for the user to perform with the product. Encourage them to talk out loud, describing what they are thinking a feeling. Ask follow-up questions to help them continue to give feedback. 

If done right, you are not only learning what does and doesn't work but why or why not.

Solutions to a Specific Problem Space

Design Sprints are fun, but they're not just for fun. They are to solve a specific problem. 

The sprint begins by defining the problem.

At the beginning of the first day, you identify the long-term goal of the product or project in focus. Immediately after that, you identify a few key questions that must be answered for that goal to be realized. During the first day, you learn, synthesize and refine to pick a target for the sprint. 

This target is what you will spend the rest of the sprint solving for.

Next Steps for learning about Design Sprint.

We covered a lot here. If you 're ready to take the next step learning design sprints, here are some options.

A 5-day journey to living from your priorities

It’s easy to spend our day reacting to what comes at us. What if you could be proactive, intentionally making decisions based on your priorities? It is possible!

Our five-day short course guides you through the process of identifying your life priorities and scaling them day to everyday decisions. You’ll learn how to establish a rhythm to build good habits and grow a team that will be with you in the journey.

This post is part of an upcoming Design Sprint Guide, where I walk through how to run design sprints and share lessons learned from facilitating them both in-person and online. The Design Sprints Guide will release in 2023.

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