Dissecting the Design Sprint Event


AF CyberWorx design sprints are tailored to the needs of the stakeholders. One crucial aspect is the number and diversity of participants in the group. Events at AF CyberWorx can have as few as five people and as many as forty or fifty. In each group, dynamics are determined by individual personalities, experience with the problem area, and strength of opinion as well as rank and positions (and perceived deferment to such). Each element may affect how people interact with one another.

However, each event is very short. The typical forming, storming, and norming growth of a group needs to happen as quickly and painlessly as possible while still gathering as much information and as many ideas as possible. The answer to this is to break a larger group into smaller diverse teams of four or five people.

Ideas are the meat of the problem-solving process. Ed Mikos, UX Design Analyst at AF CyberWorx, explains that “the information that’s created and captured [during an event] is going to be built on in a series of expansion and contraction steps leading to one final outcome.” In each step, ideas are generated from the group to expand potential. Those ideas are then vetted to contract focus down to the best, most impactful ideas that will push problem-solving efforts further. A team needs that pool of ideas to find which are the best.

Breaking the group into smaller focus teams gives everyone a voice. Ed states, “Everyone in the group brings something to the table.” Each person in the event is there for a reason and has good ideas from a different perspective. Smaller groups composed of diverse people takes out the possibility of a single, strong voice speaking for their peers in a larger crowd. Position becomes less of an issue when the higher ranked person is in a different group. The senior airman who actually uses a program has equal voice to the colonel who oversees the management of a similar office.

Another benefit of breakout groups comes when the groups return from a session and share their findings. Sometimes more than one group will have the same or similar ideas. That’s O.K.! Ed says when the same idea comes from multiple groups, “there’s probably something there [that needs to be explored].” Instead of being repetitive, the multiple groups reinforce each other, giving consensus and higher strength to that idea.

Groups increase idea generation, break down group dynamics to give everyone a voice, and often generate consensus faster than a large group as a whole. With those three benefits of breakout groups, Ed gives some key points for participants to remember when they move into the smaller focus groups during an event: “Everyone in the group brings something to the table. There are no bad ideas. Trust the process.”

He goes into more detail on some of these by explaining that “When someone is locked on an idea or someone is being too negative, like saying ‘Why are we doing this?’…that negativity is infectious.” Being a champion for your own idea is fine; that idea may be validated. However, keep an open mind. Each member of a group has a unique perspective and adds to the quality of the end product. “Allow for diversity of ideas…people come up with different ideas and know what the different feasibility and technical and organizational shortcomings will be.” When a diverse group works together with a positive attitude towards the process, the entire problem-solving team improves.

For those who are still hesitant to speak up or grab a marker and add their ideas, Ed reassures that “no one cares how good an artist you are or how eloquent you are. We need your ideas. You’re in the room for a reason.” Each idea adds to the whole. Each group’s findings add to the quality of the event. Every participant who speaks up adds valuable feedback that ensures a quality end product.

To assist the problem-solving team, AF CyberWorx provides experienced facilitators to encourage breakout teams to participate and stay on track. We know time is precious during a design sprint and how valuable each participant’s voice is in the group. Speak up and allow us to help you find the best possible solutions to your unique problem.

*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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