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Ask the Experts - The Design Sprint Unpacked

| Sam Hutchings

Sixty Second Summary

In this series, 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.

Today, we look at the “Ask The Experts” activity and how by looking inside your own organisation, you will find all the knowledge you need to understand the problem your Sprint is aiming to solve. We’ll also take a look at when and how to look outside your own organisation to find additional experts if needed.

Asking the Experts

When it came to selecting your Design Sprint Team, you were advised to keep it to between 5 and 7 people (plus yourself). Whilst this number of people in the same room (or Zoom) is great for keeping the pace of the Sprint with a hopefully diverse team, it’s definitely not enough people to have experts on all the areas your Design Sprint will touch in the room with you at all times. Because of that, we dedicate a chunk of time early on in the Sprint to asking experts to input on the problems we’re looking at, the solutions we’re contemplating, and to answer any questions you may have.

There are two main ways of doing Ask The Experts, each developed in a different iteration of the Design Sprint, so we’ll take a look at both ways in this article.

The original five-day Design Sprint schedule
The original five-day Design Sprint schedule. Thanks to our friends at Invision for the graphic.

Design Sprint 1.0

The original Design Sprint outlined in the Design Sprint Book is now known as Design Sprint 1.0. This is the traditional five-day Sprint you may have seen and heard of, as it was first run at Google Ventures for a handful of years.

In this version of the Design Sprint, Ask The Experts is run on Day 1 as an after-lunch session that’s about two hours long. In this version of Ask The Experts, you’ll interview experts on your sprint team and guests from outside of it, aiming for each interview to last between 15 and 30 minutes. You’ll ask the experts about the Sprint vision, customer research, how things currently work and could work, and previous efforts in the same problem space.

This way of performing Ask The Experts interviews is particularly well suited when the subject of the Design Sprint is something new to the team or business, and where you may need to bring in outside help to add to the knowledge pool.

During the interviews, everyone on the Sprint Team should be writing down “How Might We” questions, which we’ll cover in-depth in next week’s article. If you’d like a sneak peek at How Might We questions, check out our blog post on reframing problems.

The four-day Design Sprint 2.0 schedule.
The four-day Design Sprint 2.0 schedule. Thanks to our friends at Invision for the graphic.

Design Sprint 2.0

In Design Sprint 2.0, popularised by our friends at AJ&Smart, Ask The Experts is one of the first activities you’ll undertake in the Sprint timeline, and it will take a slightly different form to the activity created for Design Sprint 1.0.

Rather than interview people individually, like in Design Sprint 1.0, the goal of Ask The Experts in Design Sprint 2.0 is for the facilitator to ask questions to get the information needed for the sprint ahead from the Sprint Team themselves.

So, instead of setting aside 15-30 minutes to interview each expert, and bring in experts from outside the room, the Facilitator will instead spend the Ask The Experts session asking questions focussed on helping the team build on the current state of things and their knowledge and understanding of where they’re going.

This way of performing Ask The Experts is particularly well suited for Design Sprints building on the success of an existent product, where the team has an understanding of what’s being done and what might be possible within the problem space.

As with Design Sprint 1.0, everyone on the Sprint Team should write down “How Might We” questions during the interviews, which we’ll cover in next week’s article. If you’d like a sneak peek at How Might We questions, check out our blog post on reframing problems.

Finding The Experts

If you’re using the Design Sprint 2.0 flavour of “Ask The Experts”, the experts are assumed to already be in the room with you - they’re your Sprint Team. This is why it’s important to create a diverse team from different parts of the business which will be affected by the Sprint’s work, so that each member of the team can bring expertise from a different business function or area into the room with them.

The focus in Design Sprint 2.0 is in using and expanding upon your own expertise and knowledge to get to moving forward, rather than on spending hours asking external experts.

Design Sprint 1.0

For Design Sprint 1.0, you’ll likely want to augment the expertise within your Sprint Team with a couple of experts from either elsewhere in the business or from outside of the business entirely. As I said earlier, this style of Ask The Experts is better suited for new and innovative projects, where you’ll maybe need expertise the business doesn’t currently have.

If you’re running this style of Ask The Experts, you’ll want to get some feeling before the sprint about the type of problem, product or service that the Sprint Team will be working on, so that you can spend some time finding and organising experts for the session.

Ideally, you’ll start within the business itself, looking for those who may have appropriate experience from a previous position, a hobby or interest of theirs, or because their role actually skirts the area of expertise. This can make it easier to get the time from that person, as the business will hopefully want their Design Sprint to go well and can release that person for 15-30 minutes for an interview.

If you’re unable to find the expertise you need within the business, you’ll want to look elsewhere to find them. As a facilitator, you may find experts by:

  • Using social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to find experts and influencers
  • Use your own network to find experts you’ve worked with before
  • Ask friends and colleagues if they know of someone with expertise in the required area
  • Use search tools like Google and DuckDuckGo to find experts and influencers who may be willing to help

Social media and search are often good ways to find those experts and influencers who are already willing to share their expertise through Tweets, updates, blogs, etc. Those who are already sharing are more likely to want to share with others, so starting with them is a good way to go.

Organising the Interviews

Once you’ve found the experts, you’ll need to organise the interviews. As facilitator of the Design Sprint, it is your role to schedule the activities within the Sprint and keep everything to time, so you should have a good idea of when the Ask The Experts activity will happen within your Sprint. You’ll then want to split that section up into a number of slots based on how many people you’re interviewing (3 to 5 experts works well for a two-hour session), and book each person in for a specific slot, making sure they’re aware of when they’re due “on stage”, and asking them to be available for 5 minutes or so either side of the slot, just in case.

If you can, it’s great to have the expert in the room, as they can see the preparatory work that the team has put in until this stage, which shows how serious you are about solving the problem. But if you can’t get them in the room, use tools like Zoom to bring everyone together into a virtual meeting room.

If you believe that certain experts will bring more to the Sprint than others, you can book interview slots of different lengths, so that those with more information to bring have more time to share it with your team. Just remember, no matter how you schedule people, timeliness mixed with a little flexibility is key.

Note Taking

During the interviews, everyone on the Sprint Team who isn’t talking should be taking down notes about what the expert is saying, so that we have all this information available for the rest of the Sprint.

When taking notes during these interviews, we use a specific note-taking technique, called “How Might We questions” to keep a consistent approach to the notes and make them most useful for the ongoing performance of the Sprint. Because of how important these are to the Sprint, we’ll cover note-taking and “How Might We questions” next week.

An image of four example How Might We questions, each on a sticky note.
Join us next time, when we'll take a look at How Might We questions together.

Next Week

Join us next week as we take a look at note-taking as “How Might We” questions, and how they help us take effective notes and set the right tone for the rest of the Design Sprint.

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