September 25, 2019

Pre-Sprint Planning: Advice For Starting Off Right

Anya Elgueta

We talk about design sprints a lot on our blog, but something we haven’t covered yet is the pre-planning that happens before a sprint kicks off. The design sprint planning stage, often referred to as sprint “0” or zero, is the most important part of the entire process. It’s an opportunity to set expectations about the process and results, and to prepare the individuals who will be participating in the design sprint for what’s to come. That last part is especially important because design sprint exercises are typically very different from anything clients have experienced in the past.

This article highlights our pre-sprint planning process at Checkmate Digital. We’ll also share some advice on how to plan effectively and get off to the right start before the sprint begins.

A 4-Step Pre-Sprint Process

Our design sprint facilitator takes the following steps to plan for a design sprint.

1. Conduct calls with the sprint team.

One of the first steps we take is to schedule a 1–2 hour phone call with the main decider—the individual from the client’s team who will make all the final decisions during the actual sprint. We use this call as an opportunity to ask questions that will help us get a feel for the direction the sprint is heading. While this could change on day one of the sprint, it helps us feel more prepared and get a better idea of what the decider is thinking, and what he or she is expecting from the process.

We also like to touch base with the client surrounding their expectations of the sprint. To do that we conduct shorter phone calls with each person from the client team who will be participating in the process, and send out a survey with the following questions:

The answers to these questions help us understand ahead of time if we’re on the same page regarding the results. If they say something like “We expect to walk out with a fully-functioning product,” then we know there’s some more explaining to do. Managing expectations before day one of the sprint will increase your chances of success.

2. Conduct and compile market research.

A major part of the sprint pre-planning stage is doing market research. We filter through data to better understand the landscape; the direct and indirect competitors; what research has been done already; and whether or not any of it can be used to benefit the sprint. The decider sends us any and all of their research materials, including any slide decks, and we filter through it to understand what we can use, what's important to reference later, and what isn’t useful at all. 

We’ll help you navigate the design sprint process from start to finish—and gain strategic insights to inform where you’ll go next.

3. Prepare physical and digital materials that will be used during the sprint.

Another important aspect of pre-sprint planning is readying the necessary supplies and resources. If the sprint will take place in person, it’s critical to secure and prepare the physical space. We like to reserve a dedicated space for two full days—almost like a war room. Then we stock it with a plentiful supply of sticky notes and markers.

If it’s a remote sprint, we use this time to make sure all the templates we’ll use are placed in a dedicated client folder. We also onboard clients into our digital ecosystem, which includes giving them access to remote testing tools like Mural so we don’t experience technical difficulties at the start. By making sure everything is ready ahead of time—whether it’s physically or digitally—we can get up and running faster.

4. Hold a design sprint kickoff meeting. 

We do a kickoff meeting on Thursday or Friday before the week of the sprint. During the meeting we lead a simplified version of some of the activities we’ll do in the sprint to get clients used to thinking a certain way. At this point, we also introduce the “no device rule,” which prevents clients from using their computers and/or phones once they're in the sprint room. This helps us avoid distractions and stick to the design sprint timeline.

We also send a detailed email with each day’s agenda, as well as logistics about where we’ll meet and planned break times. Having this information allows clients to schedule check-ins with their team during the sprint week, or plan to answer emails during those times. 

Tips To Navigate Sprint Zero Smoothly

You might find these few tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way helpful in planning your own sprints:

The best ideas often come from the greatest collaborations—that’s our mindset here at Checkmate Digital. Our intensive design sprint workshops are the perfect opportunity to test your ideas and gain validation before moving forward. Let’s talk product strategy and how we can collaborate to bring your project to market faster and smarter.

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