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Before the Sprint - The Design Sprint Unpacked

| Sam Hutchings

Sixty Second Summary

In this series of articles, we’re taking a look at the individual parts which make up a Design Sprint, how each part helps us work towards a user-tested prototype, and how you can use the activity on its own within your business’s Design-led decision making process.

In today’s part, Before the Sprint, we’ll take a look at the activities you’ll need to do and the resources you’ll need to acquire to make sure your Design Sprint goes smoothly, allowing your Sprint Team to run ahead and get things done.

Full Article - 6 Minute Read

Before the Sprint

To make sure your Design Sprint goes as smoothly as possible for your and your Sprint Team, there are a few activities you’ll need to consider undertaking before the Sprint week begins. There are also some resources that you’ll want to make sure you have access to, depending on whether you’re running the Design Sprint in-person or online.


Assemble the Team

For any Design Sprint, you’re going to need a Sprint Team, the people who will actually take part in the Design Sprint activities, understand the problem, and work to create and test a prototype by the end of the Sprint.

Bringing together the right people for a Design Sprint is the most important part of Sprint preparation, and you’ll find yourself likely having to say no to a lot of people as you try to work out the best 5-8 people to have in the room.

A group of five people sit at a table working together on their MacBooks.
It can be a good idea to gather the team for a quick briefing before the Sprint starts.

You’ll want a variety of people from across the business to take part in your Design Sprint, but at the core you’ll need:

  • A facilitator (this is likely you. You may need two if running an online Sprint)
  • A decision maker (someone who can make final decisions, sign off spend, etc)
  • A designer or two
  • A prototyper or two
  • A voice of the user/customer

All but the decision maker must be available for the whole duration of the Sprint. The Decision Maker can make an appearance during critical decision periods, such as the concept sketches and storyboarding activities.

If you’re running a remote sprint, the Sprint Team must be comfortable with having their video cameras on for the duration of the Design Sprint. A second facilitator can focus on team engagement, ensuring everyone is taking part, happy, etc.

Schedule the Week

A Design Sprint is an intense period of work, focussing on identifying, understanding, and reframing the key problem to your business so that the Sprint Team can create a prototype solution and test it with 5 real customers. Because of this, the schedule is an incredibly important part of the process, especially if you’re doing a one-week Sprint.

When preparing for the Design Sprint, make sure that you create a schedule for the week and share it with everyone on the Sprint Team. For the Sprint to work, every member of the team needs to agree to this schedule, or you won’t have enough time to fit everything in.

Recruit Experts and Testers

As well as your Sprint Team, there are two other types of people you’ll need for an effective Design Sprint - Experts and Testers. Before the Design Sprint starts, you’ll want to start thinking about who you can recruit to fulfil these roles during the Sprint, but you may not know who you need to call on until the last minute.


An Expert is someone who has a high level of domain knowledge in one of the areas your Design Sprint is addressing. This could be someone from inside your company who works with the problem you’re trying to solve everyday, or it could be someone from outside the company who has experience with similar problems or who has worked to implement a solution to a similar problem in the past.

Experts will need to be available for up to 45 minutes during the “Ask The Experts” activity, where they will either talk about their expertise to your Sprint Team, or they’ll be interviewed by your team. Experts do not need to be in the room, though, so they can join the Sprint through Zoom or a similar video conferencing tool.

An iPhone is set up underneath a remote webcam for user testing. Behind the camera and the iPhone is a little succulent plant.
User Testing can be done safely and remotely with the use of the right technology.


One of the last things you do in a Design Sprint is test your prototype solution with five (yes, five) real customers or users, who you will need to have recruited before the testing day.

Ideally, you’ll want a range of testers to cover a representative sample of your product’s user base (or expected user base, if a new product), so that you can get a diverse range of opinions and results from your testing.

Testers will need to be available for an hour or so on the Testing Day, and may need to be in the same room as the product to be tested, if you’re working on a physical product. You’ll want to have a range of questions and scenarios for them to work through, and someone in the room who is able to ask those questions and people who can observe the session and make notes.

You may need to incentivise Testers to join you on the testing day, such as with Amazon vouchers and snacks, but make sure that you’re still hiring people who will give you an objective opinion on what you’re producing, not just people who will love what you’re making because you gave them a gift card

Gather Resources

Software Tools

The range of software tools available has exploded since the Design Sprint was first developed, but the requirements for them are much the same. No matter whether you’re running a remote or in-person Design Sprint, you’ll need some software.

For in-person Design Sprints, you’ll likely just need a tool such as Sketch, Figma or Keynote in which you can design and prototype your end product. The choice of software here will depend on what your Sprint Team is familiar with, so speak with the Designers and Makers on your team for this.

If you’re running a remote Design Sprint, you’ll also want tools which make it easy for people to collaborate online remotely. For example, you’ll want a tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts to enable video chat, and something like Mural for online collaboration on a digital whiteboard.

If your company uses Microsoft Office 365, and you have access to Microsoft Teams, you should find all the remote working tools you need built into the Teams service and software.

An array of stationery and craft items, including cutting tools, adhesives and tape, and sticky notes.
A range of craft tools can make prototyping fun and easy.

Physical Tools and Resources

Every member of your Sprint Team is going to need pens and paper to sketch, draw and take notes with, whether they’re all in the same room or hundreds of miles apart. A box of Sharpies and some loose printer paper can go a long way to fulfilling the needs there.

When it comes to prototyping, if you’re working on a physical product, you’ll need to think about the sort of resources you need and either order them in advance or have someone on the team who can rush to the shops on Prototyping day and get what people need. If you’re working together in a room, we recommend you have two large whiteboards available, so that people can write up ideas and sketches for all to see. You’ll also need a LOAD of sticky notes (like 3M Post-Its) and sticky dots for sharing ideas and voting on them.

If you’re working in a room with whiteboards, make sure that every pen in the room is a whiteboard marker. This means that you won’t have any accidents when someone picks up the permanent market they’ve been sketching with and uses it to sketch all over the whiteboards.

A selection of healthy snacks, including fruit, nuts and cheese.
A range of healthy snacks can keep energy up during the day without leading to sugar rushes

Healthy Food and Snacks

Whether you’re running a Design Sprint with everyone in the same room, or everyone distributed across the globe, you’re going to need healthy snacks, drinks and food to keep everyone on the Sprint Team working together at a good pace.

If everyone will be co-located in the same room, then make sure that you’ve purchased snacks in advance for the Sprint, but also make sure to have lunch available each day, to keep the momentum going into the afternoon sessions, where energy can start to dwindle if a proper meal hasn’t been had.

If everyone is working from their own space, try to organise a delivery of healthy snacks to their location, so that they feel they’ve been included in the planning and requirements for the Sprint. If this isn’t possible, let them know to stock up on healthy snacks in advance of the Sprint.

Check the Checklist

To make sure you have everything you need, it can be very helpful to have a checklist. The author of the original Sprint Book, Jake Knapp, has made a comprehensive checklist available to download from the book’s website.

You can download and print the checklist, which includes a summary of each day’s sessions for a 5-day Sprint, from The Sprint Book Website.

Next Week

Next week, we’ll start to unpack the Design Sprint proper, as we look at the Introductions and Icebreakers part of the first day, where the Sprint Team gets to know each other and understand the process they’re about to go through.

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