Dissecting the Design Sprint Event


When AF CyberWorx gets a request to run a design sprint, it’s like kicking an anthill…without all the biting that follows. There’s a series of meetings scheduled, logistics starts plans to make everything run smoothly, and team members are selected. One of the most important pieces to this initial organized scramble is the discovery call.

Dr. Dan Padgett, one of AF CyberWorx’s excellent user experience designers, describes the role of the discovery call as letting the facilitating team get a glimpse of the situation. This glimpse allows them to get into the stakeholders’ minds a little. As he explains, “At the end of the day, as UX designers, we’re not the subject matter experts in the field, so we need to try and understand as much as we can so that we can effectively plan for the problem solving session, whatever form that might take.”

The forms an AF CyberWorx event takes can be from a full five-day problem solving and design sprint to a simple site visit. The discovery call narrows down how long the process will take and what needs to be done.

One of the big pieces the team tries to discern is how solid a problem statement the stakeholders have. As Dr. Padgett explains, “If through a discovery session, we feel like we’ve got a really good handle on the scope of the problem and what they’re actually trying to solve, then we might do a lot less on the discovery portion of the design sprint.” The first day of an event is taken to refine the problem. How long the team spends on this exercise depends largely on how thoroughly the stakeholders have explained their situation and what they want to improve.

Paired with that is the need for clear goals. Everyone has problems, but fewer know what they want the end state to look like. “We want the problem to go away,” is not a goal. “We want the system to improve,” is not a goal, either. A goal needs to be actionable and measureable. The clearer the desired end state is, the more focused a problem solving team will be.

A piece of information that most people don’t think of is the understanding that not all AF CyberWorx team members are well steeped in every cyber career field. We don’t always understand the jargon. As Dr. Padgett describes it, some calls are extremely technical. The experts are on the line and use “acronyms without ceasing.” In the case that our team does not understand,the biggest help is to know what the acronyms mean and pass on that information early in the process. The discovery call is what shapes the overall event. It gives the team at AF CyberWorx the information it needs to build an event that will have the greatest impact. The best way to make the event as successful as possible as early as possible is for the discovery call to go well. Dr. Padgett explains some items to get the most out of discovery calls:

  • Provide enough time before the event that an AF CyberWorx team can make a site visit. Seeing the work environment and the job actually being performed by the users themselves always gives information that someone used to the environment won’t recognize as significant.
  • Ensure the right people are on the call. Stakeholders are important, yes; but having some of the users that experience the pain points normally adds more practical information.
  • Know who the stakeholders are and who the decision makers are. They aren’t always the same. Knowing who will receive the information to make the final decision helps ensure that the final products are designed for maximum impact.
  • Provide concrete information. Who are the users/customers of the system in question? What process/product/challenge is needing improvement or a solution? What are your goals?
  • Exploring the situation and asking questions are part of every discovery call. Come with information and have people in the know on the call so the facilitating team can get a clear picture of what’s going on.
  • A high-level comprehensive picture is more important than a detailed breakdown of the process. The detailed work will go into the event.

Ultimately, the discovery call is an introduction to the problem solving event. It shapes it, defines it, and prepares the AF CyberWorx team to guide a team of experts through the problem solving process. Information goes both ways. We also explain expectations while we’re gaining information. We aren’t the experts on the problem, but we are experts at guiding others through solving their problem. Help us help you.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

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