DESIGN SPRINT DAY 1: UNDERSTAND


By MICHAEL MASON

March 13, 2019

Now that we have an enhanced understanding of how to prepare for the design sprint, it’s time to dive into the details of Day 1, Understand.


As mentioned in previous posts, the design sprint process varies based on the specifics of the actual challenge. For this reason, we will be covering a number of best practices that are used on Day 1 to better understand the challenge at hand, not the one and only way to execute Day 1.

Understand The Challenge

Day 1 is all about the team putting their heads together to fully understand the challenge at hand. This starts with explicitly stating the goals for the week ahead, then connecting those very goals to the long-term strategy of the company.


Once this is complete, the team will map out stakeholders’ interactions with the product or process being placed at the center of the challenge. This simple diagram will help the team visualize the challenge.


Next, the team will consider and take notes on expert testimonies. These testimonies, prior to open dialogue, will set the basis of understanding for all those in the room. Nearing the end of Day 1, the team might create a target individual (a.k.a. “persona”) that will guide future days’ discussions.

Setting Goals

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins


It may sound elementary to many, but the very first step on Day 1 is to set long-term goals. The team starts by discussing how the ideal solution to the problem being explored will help the company in the future; the team should set goals for a few weeks down the road, a year or two down the road, even five years down the road. This should all be written on a whiteboard and remain visible for the rest of the week.


Next, the team uses the long-term goal to form a few general questions bringing attention to the difficulties of achieving such a goal. For example, a wedding retailer wanting to increase sales on its recently launched ecommerce site may ask, “Will online customers trust the quality of our dresses?”


Such questions will help the team get started on mapping out the challenge. Optimistically, answers to at least a few of these questions will be clear by the end of the week.

The Moving Map

Now it’s time for the team to make a simple diagram of stakeholders’ interactions (touch points) with the product or process being placed at the center of the challenge. This diagram – what Jake Knapp, the founder of the design sprint process, calls the map – displays the challenge difficulties while highlighting those kinks that should be further explored by the team.


It is important to recognize the map as a display that transforms as the team’s understanding of the challenge evolves. The diagram, drawn on a whiteboard next to the explicit goals and skeptical questions written previously, will likely be tweaked several times as the team’s original assumptions are proved to be incorrect.


The diagram should be stakeholder-centric and, many times, customer-centric. This map can be thought of as a display of the journey stakeholders currently have with the product or process being explored. Below, view the common layout of a map.

As long as the map is rather simple, displaying no more than 10-15 steps, the map can be created in many different forms. In the book Sprint, Jake Knapp explains a very specific method for mapping, but as the design sprint has evolved, so has Day 1. For example, at times, there are benefits to more than one map, one for each persona developed later in the day.

Experts Testify: Put On The Hot Seat

With three or four hours left in the day, the experts on the team will give their testimonies. Many times, it’s beneficial to have the customer expert kick things off, sharing his or her insights on the challenge. He or she will informally present customer data, surveys, specific customer stories, and more.


Other experts to testify will likely include the finance expert, marketing expert, technology expert, and design expert. Testimonies from a diverse group of experts will help fill in each team member’s knowledge gaps and attack the challenge from all angles. These individuals will paint a complete picture around the map formerly drawn; the map should be revised as the understanding of the challenge develops.


As experts share their insights, discussion should remain informal. This means that things can stay conversational and questions can be added as testimonies progress. At the end of each testimony (or at the end of all the testimonies), the expert(s) should be put on the hot seat. Team members should drill each other with questions, testing all assumptions.

Sticky Notes Galore

Throughout testimonies, all listeners should have his or her own stack of post-its to write individual notes on. More specifically, they should write “How Might We?” statements. This means listeners turn their thoughts into questions on how the team can solve a certain problem.


For example, a team member of a wedding retailer attempting to improve its recently introduced ecommerce site may write a note such as, “How might we help our customers feel as if online wedding shopping is upscale?”

By the end of all testimonies, there will be a pretty good stack of such notes. They will be hung on the wall to be voted on. Voting can be done is a number of ways. What the Google Ventures team has found to be most effective is dot voting.


Dot voting is simple: each team member has two circular stickers; the Decider has four. Each team member reviews the long-term goal of the design sprint, the few general questions written earlier in the day, and then places a sticker on those sticky notes that he or she finds most valuable.


After silent voting is complete, the notes with more than one vote should be taken off the wall and stuck onto the map in a location that is representative of their meanings.

The Team's Target

Day 1 concludes with the Decider determining—who can ask for help from the rest of the team—which stakeholder(s) and part of the map (challenge journey) should be the point of focus in the proceeding four days. This part of the map will be circled on the whiteboard.


As Jake Knapp says in Sprint: “After interviewing the experts and organizing your notes, the most important part of your project should jump right out of the map.” Teams will be surprised how this proves to be true, even for the most complicated challenges.


For example, for the wedding retailer’s map below, it becomes clear that the team has the most pressing questions about the customer’s interaction with the website. This is the part of the journey that, if effectively changed, should have the biggest impact on the retailer’s online sales. This part of the journey, as well as the surrounding “How might we?” sticky notes, will become the center of focus in the following four days.

Note: The above map is a very simple example. You may think that the team’s progress is far from enlightening, an obvious choice even without the map. However, no matter the simplicity of the challenge, the map will force the team to ask the right questions and develop the proper mindset for the rest of the design sprint. Trust the process.


If time allows, many teams decide to develop a more in depth persona for the challenge target stakeholder(s). The team will work together to explicitly state and name a hypothetical stakeholder who plays a role in the map. A second more specific map may be drawn showing this individual’s journey.

Day 1 Concludes

Day 1: Understand is now complete! The team had a great first day, coming together to help one another understand the challenge from a diversity of perspectives. Day 1 is especially important because it sets the foundation for the following four days.


The team needs to get some rest and prepare for Day 2: Ideate. For many, this can be the most exciting day as a number of innovative ideas come into fruition.

Other Resources:

As always, if you’d like to know more about design sprints, we recommend you checkout Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint. Also, check in with us as we continue to add posts on the design sprint process.

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