5 Ways to Gain Momentum From After Design Sprint

I not only had the pleasure of attending the invite-only Google Design Sprint Conference, but I was also asked to run a workshop on Liberating Structures. As I’m flying back from San Francisco, I thought I would pull together a few notes and share my experience.

The part I loved the most was that this is a conference conceived by, run by, featuring, and attended by facilitators. It’s rare to be surrounded by such a highly curated group of professionals. While the content was great, the thing I appreciated the most was the opportunity to connect with so many fantastic people, share, and learn.

It’s so exciting to see the community forming, this year felt like a reunion with so many sharing their experiences in the last year. Many people are operating alone or fairly isolated and attendees remarked about how incredible it was for them to connect with other people like them.

— Kai Haley, Lead of Design Relations and Google Sprint Master Academy, Google


I came a day early so I could check out the pre-conference workshops:

  1. Intro to Design Sprints with the Google Sprint Master Academy
  2. Storytelling in Sprints
  3. Advanced Facilitation
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018

As a GV Design Sprint practitioner, I was really interested to learn more about how Google has adapted the process since Jake left for Google Ventures. Google’s process differs quite dramatically from Jake’s process.

While there is consistency in their approach, each Sprint is different. They spend a lot of time upfront to understand the challenge, starting with a brief and ending with a concrete agenda. Google Sprints include presentations rather than expert interviews where they write How Might We’s. Mapping and Sketching are also done quite differently at Google. Google has a toolkit of mapping exercises they might use for different problems and they don’t sketch alone. They share along the way so that the team can inspire and build upon each other’s work.

In addition to learning about how Google runs Sprints differently, we also learned about a few new methods. One of my favorites was different ways to run crazy 8, as well as alternatives. They’ve experimented with multiple rounds of crazy 8s, passing them round, having other team members add to, or expand upon, your crazy 8s, and sharing/critiquing the crazy 8s.

We even heard about teams using “Yes, And” improv games to develop concepts. Google also allows participants to vote on crazy 8s to bubble up and distribute ideas for sketching. Another crazy idea was to use the game WhatchamaDRAWit and have people relate their drawings to their lives.

Kai kicking the conference off!
Kai kicking the conference off!

After catching Kai Haley’s kick off (she’s the Lead of Design Relations and Sprint Master Academy at Google), I was busy setting up for my workshop so I missed a few things at the beginning of the conference’s official Day 1. Once I was setup and able to return the main room, I was pleased to see Tom Chi absolutely killing it. He was my favorite speaker of the entire conference. In his talk, Getting to Effective Session Outcomes, he shared many relatable stories about the power of prototyping.

Getting to Effective Session Outcomes

Tom shared that most meetings are just “guessathons” and I couldn’t agree more. He told a story about Google trying to decide which color to use for text on the Google Glass heads up display. After much debate, including lots of guess or “conjecture” for the smart folks, they concluded on red. Later that day, because he just couldn’t sit back and let guesses rule the day, he made a prototype that revealed that red was the worst possible color.

“ Smart people will always come up with smart reasons for their guesses”

Chi also spoke about the importance of shorting your learning loop. The faster you can get real results, the faster you can modify your ideas to align with your customer or user. He warned us that opinions of how a customer should act get in the way of real learning and encouraged us to have a cadence of learning opportunities. When one team pushed back on dedicating 6 hours a week to testing, his response was “6 hours of talking to customers saves us 15 hours of arguing.”

Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018

“It’s fantastic to see a group of practitioners coming together to deepen their practice and support each other in making ever more effective tools for their projects and organizations. I’m amazed by how this work has grown over the years.” -Tom Chi

Sprinting With a Learning Mindset

After Tom’s talk, Kai welcomed four lightning talk speakers to the stage. These lightning talks were all focused on Sprinting With a Learning Mindset. First we heard about Immersive Sprints from Sumier Phalak, product design lead for Google Station, followed by Charbel Semann, co-founder of Sprintwell. Next, Alesha Unpingco, UX designer with the Google Daydream team spoke to us about “Remixing Design Sprint Methods.” Finally, Neha Saigal, founder of N5, inspired us with a talk titled “Leading with Outcomes.”

Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018
Google Design Sprint Conference 2018

“This conference is a unique opportunity for practitioners and thought leaders to come together, share and learn from each other. The perfect setting for connecting with old friends and new, it was so great to see how others are evolving the practice.” — Neha Saigal, Founder, N5

Methods Deep Dive

Following the lightning talks, Steve Arnold gave an introduction to the deep dives session. Steve welcomed each of the deep dive session leaders to the stage to pitch their sessions. We each got 30 seconds to convince people to come to our session. To be honest, I was bummed to miss the others. I would have been fine if these sessions made up the entire conference!

After the pitches, I headed to my room to setup. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Thorsten, from Neon Sprints, and I were in the same room.

We’ve been chatting for sometime about how we might collaborate. It was great to finally meet in person and spend some time together.

Unfortunately, my workshop got rather loud and we ran him out of the room. Sorry Thorsten!

“The conference provided a platform for us to collectively explore the current Design Sprint tools and methods enabling us to take Design Sprints to the next-level together.” — Thorsten Borek, Co-Founder, Neon Sprints

Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures

I started off the Liberating Structures method deep dive with impromptu networking. I asked the participants to find a partner and take turns answering two questions:

  1. What is a challenge you are facing today as a facilitator?
  2. What did you hope to contribute or learn from the session today?

We did 3 rounds, each time with a new partner.

Liberating Structures
Liberating Structures

After impromptu networking, I gave a 5 minute micro-lecture to provide some basics on Liberating Structures and then moved on to two other methods. Critical Uncertainties is a tool to explore potential future states and help develop strategies for operating in a range of possible future states. We ended with one of my favorite structures, TRIZ, which is a tool for identifying counterproductive behaviors and determining things that you can eliminate to make room for new ways of working.

Douglas Ferguson speaking
Group at work
Douglas speaking

Douglas’ Liberating Structures session was the perfect complement to Daniel Stillman’s Advanced Facilitation workshop. I was thrilled to discover an engagement and inclusion framework of 35 microstructures that unleashes everyone. This tool should be in every leaders toolkit. — Diana Liu, Co-Founder, The Six

Abstraction Laddering

Check out Abstraction Laddering if you haven’t. Even though I didn’t get to attend Daniel Stillman’s deep dive, I was still able to spend time talking with him about his approach, various methods, and our mutual love of Liberating Structures. As I mentioned in my opening, it was interactions like these that meant the most to me and I hope to continue to nurture the relationships that started here at Google, such as Neon Sprints, N5, The Six, Microsoft, IBM, LinkedIn, New Haircut, and the Luma Institute.

Cultural Movements & Cross-cultural Innovation

The next two sessions were a blur as I was breaking down my session, answering questions, and getting sucked into a business call. I did manage to hear a bit from Josh Lovejoy of Microsoft. He shared thoughts and stories about how we can be intentional about how we build software so that we are inclusive and aware of cultural paradigm shifts. His talk was titled “Design Sprints as a Tool for Organizational and Cultural Movements.”

Next, Samuel Chua led a panel titled “Cross-cultural Innovation.” I found this really interesting. As I’ve run many Sprints across different kinds of organizations, I’ve found that I have to flex and adapt to the various culture normals and practices of each organization. Even within the same organization I’ve seen a wide range of personalities, behaviors, and beliefs. Until this talk I hadn’t imagined how drastic that would become when working abroad. Awesome topic and I will continue to think on this in the coming weeks.

“What a great time to be a Designer. The Design Sprint has changed profoundly the way we build products and sharing ideas with the best experts in the field, opens new horizons.” — Steph Cruchon, Design Sprint Switzerland

Storytelling in Sprints

Gretchen Anderson wrapped Day 1 with a talk containing highlights from her pre-conference workshop on storytelling in Sprints. She stressed the importance of sharing the process and the outcomes with the broader team, especially stakeholders who weren’t able to attend the Sprint. Gretchen reminded us, “If you don’t tell the story, someone else will.” She went on to give some practical tools and thoughts around building a good story such as structure, story arc, plot, zoom in/out, and focus on what you want them to feel.

Kai Haley

Happy hour was another opportunity to connect with other facilitators and practitioners. I especially enjoyed getting to meet the nice people from Luma Institute and reconnect with Daniel V. and Lee Duncan. Lee had gone to the Crazy 8s session and I enjoyed hearing from him about Opposite Thinking, Scamper Method, and Idea Smashing.

After happy hour, Kai treated speakers to a lovely dinner. (Thanks Kai!) I had the pleasure of sitting next to Daniel Stillman over dinner and we continue to chat about methods and even what to look for when you’re hiring a facilitator.

Jake Knapp even showed up for dinner.
Jake Knapp even showed up for dinner.

I had to attend to a few critical issues on Wednesday so I missed a few things, but I’ll still do my best to cover a bit of what I saw.

Access your own Next Level Leadership

Day 2 kicked off with a session on “Design Sprint: Access Your Own Next Level Leadership.” Nadya Direkova, Director of R&D for Airbnb, began the session with a talk on leadership and how Sprints can demonstrate gaps in your leadership abilities and pointers on how to address them. After her talk, she welcomed a panel of leaders to the stage to broaden the conversation.

Design Sprint Mastery

Design Sprint Mastery (and Measurement); What’s Up With That?!!

Richard Kelly led a provocative panel including Meeta Panel of Design Catalyst, Jenny Gove of Google, and Daniel Stillman of The Conversation Factory. I’m constantly evolving my approach and looking for ways to level up, so it’s inspiring to hear how others hone their craft.

“I was happy to return this year as I like the emerging community and I get inspired by other doers of change vs talkers” — Richard Kelly, Chief Catalyst FungGroup

Dana Vetan, from Design Sprint Academy’s session on “Biases on Sprints

Biases in Sprints

Dana Vetan, from Design Sprint Academy’s session on “Biases on Sprints,” was especially interesting too me, as I’m a fan of Danny Kahneman and all the work in biases. In fact, I was reminded by a comment made during Kai’s workshop about how the lightning demos are basically leveraging the recency bias to our benefit.

Transforming Organizations at Scale

After the biases talk, the conference split into two tracks: one on future visioning and the other on enterprise design sprints. We work with lots of enterprises and I was recently feature’s in Richard Banfield’s book on Enterprise Design Sprints, so I was especially interested in this track.


Barry O’Reilly’s talk, unlearn, was really interesting. The concept of “unlearning” resonates with me deeply. In fact, you could argue that the TRIZ exercise I did the previous day could be way to explore opportunities to unlearn. I couldn’t resist including this slide about transformation. Something we see all the time, people want everyone else to change!

“What’s not difficult for leaders in any sort of organization is to start to learn more. What is difficult for leaders is to know what to unlearn, what things to stop, and what was once-useful but now limits their success.”-Barry O’Reilly, founder ExecCamp, business advisor and author of UNLEARN and LEAN ENTERPRISE

@barryoreilly, www.barryoreilly.com
@barryoreilly, www.barryoreilly.com

Enterprise Sprints: Transformations at Scale with The Six

Kandis O’Brien moderated a panel including her co-founder of “The Six”, Diana Liu, Brooke Creef of Home Depot, and Vivek Bedi, VP of Product at Northwestern Mutual. I enjoyed hearing from Vivek. In his first month leading a startup, LearnVest, it was acquired by Northwestern and he decided to stay on and tackle the challenge of transforming a large and slow moving organization. I’ve been following Brooke’s medium posts about Home Depot adopting Design Sprints and so it was also a pleasure to hear her speak on the same.

Cisco Enterprise Innovation Incubator

It was interesting to hear from Amy Benziger, Innovation Architect at Cisco, about the work that CHILL (Cisco Hyper-Innovation Living Labs) is doing. I’m fascinated with innovation programs, especially outside innovation where corporations are working with startups to find new and novel solutions to their problems. I’m eager to learn more about CHILL.

“Three full days of magic moments … starting with the moment Gretchen said ‘We are hardwired for stories ..’“— Kandis O’Brien, Co-Founder The Six


Unfortunately I missed Becca Carroll, senior venture designer at IDEO, speak on Shifting Industries — Ideo CoLab, the Design Sprints for a Better World lightning talks, and Pauline’s talk on “Interactive Session — Creating a Shared Vision for our Communities.” I was really looking forward to Pauline’s talk as I had met her in Paris last year, but duty called! I had to help someone plan a Design Sprint!

“Prototype like you’re right but test and listen as if you are wrong” — Becca Carroll, Senior Venture Designer, IDEO

I look forward to coming back next year. Thanks again Kai, and team, for all your hard work. I continue to be excited about collaborating with all of you. If we haven’t connected, please reach out on LinkedIn or on the sprint Slack group. Until next year!