Designing team member experience

This is a story about a Google Ventures style design sprint. If you’ve never heard of that, you can learn more here or read the book.

The challenge

Everyone has a special talent. At Sweet Mustard, we’ve created an environment that allows people to discover and grow their talent. We believe that continuously sharing knowledge, feedback and ideas helps building a community where sweeties - as we call Sweet Mustard team members - can inspire and be inspired.

This, however, doesn’t stop at our office walls. We strive to actively help building and inspiring communities. Our talented people, inspired by our community, eventually help organisations transform ideas into innovative digital solutions.

As our team is continuously growing, preserving an environment where Sweeties can unleash their talents and full potential, doesn’t come without a challenge or two. This is why we decided to run a design sprint in order to improve team member experience and make it sustainable in the long run. Basically we’re looking for ways to improve the experience of our way of working. Being a UX designer, this looked like the perfect opportunity to finally run a first design sprint. Together with Sarah B, Scrum Master at Sweet Mustard, we took up this challenge and ran a 2-day sprint. Read on to see how it went.

The A team

At Sweet Mustard, we’re working on different projects, mostly on location. This is what made this challenge extra challenging: we had to work with our in-house capacity, which means the roles are not as typical as you’d expect in a design sprint. Fortunately, Sweeties are super motivated and enthusiastic when it comes to contributing to the community, innovating and trying out new things. After all, we believe that interest, energy and motivation already take you half the way. We were totally up for it.
We gathered around 8 people for this sprint. All together, we had our Office manager, a UX/UI agent, a Business analyst, 4 developers and our Continuous Improvement Coach who was the decider. Finally, we had Sarah and myself as facilitators.

““If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.””

- -Albert Einstein-

The sprint

In the starting phase of the design sprint, it’s super important for the team to think about the problem, not about solutions. As Albert Einstein described it so well: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” And so we did.

Shared understanding

First of all, we created a shared understanding on what exactly team member experience is for everyone. Each team member individually pursed in 3 words their reflection about team member experience on post-its. With a short explanation with each word, we collected the posts-its on the board.

User research

To make sure everyone got the full picture of how Sweeties actually experience working at Sweet Mustard, we shared some ‘user’ research findings. These findings were the result of qualitative interviews Sarah and myself had conducted in preparation of the actual sprint. After having a closer look at the findings, we managed to cluster them into four main categories. We gave each category a name, then dot-voted to decide which one to proceed with. Yay, we had our topic: personal growth. Time to set a goal for our sprint to focuspocus.

Long term goal & sprint questions

“A clear growth path for every sweetie within 6 months”. This was the goal we all committed to for the sprint, which reflects Sweet Mustard’s principles and aspirations.

After being super optimistic, we challenged the goal we had just set and questioned how we could fail. We asked ourselves questions like: “If we were to travel into the future and our project failed, what might have cause that?”. By doing so, we came up with a dozen or more sprint questions and notes that started with “How Might We” (this way we framed it more like an opportunity to which we could reflect to throughout the sprint and evaluate after the test). We grouped the questions and notes and dot-voted again. The two main questions we’d keep in mind eventually were: “Will sweeties free enough time?” and “Will sweeties get the right guidance to define a path?”.

Map and target

Next up was mapping the team member journey to see where we could take actions to reach our goal. We listed the different actors. We started at the end of the map. We filled in the blanks en put arrows in between. Our map contained around 5 major steps and it soon became clear where we wanted to focus: the first day and weeks of a new team member.

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Lots of post-its and whiteboard notes later, it was time to start sketching. Finally the team could unleash themselves into thinking towards the solution rather than problem. After having gathered and shared inspiration, the goal now was to generate as many ideas as possible.This, of course, didn’t go without having another look at the goal, sprint questions, map and target so that everyone was aligned with the purpose of the sketching.

To generate numerous ideas, we presented a few inspirational questions to stimulate the out-of-the-box-thinking. First, we asked some ‘What if…?-questions”. These sounded somewhat like the following. What if you could eat it? What if the question would be 50 years later? What if you worked for the competition?

Next, we wanted the team to step into the shoes of a child, an astronaut, a prisoner, the richest man in the world, a standup comedian,…
The team was thinking and writing stuff on paper. As Jake Knapp says in his book: that’s the moment we knew we were on the golden path.
Next, we did the crazy 4s exercise. (Yes, this is a variant of Jake Knapp’s crazy 8s. We thought 4s/force sounded a bit more powerful). Each team member picked his best idea out of the ones they had just generated. The intent now was to sketch 4 variations of that idea in 4 minutes. After doing so, everyone picked their best idea. The chosen idea was the base for creating what is called a ‘solution sketch’.

The team put their solution sketches up on the wall, as if they were going to exhibit it in an art museum. Later, we walked around in silence, looking at the sketches, each marking interesting sketching or parts of sketches with dots. A little narrative was done for each sketch and finally everyone on the team voted for what they thought was the best idea. And there we go: we have our winner! As a matter of fact, we had two winners. We decided to combine the best parts of each sketch into one flow to prototype and test the next days.

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We bet you’re wondering now what exactly our solution was. Well, basically it’s a tailor made coaching plan for each starter, based on individual needs. The intent is for the starter to gain more insight in who he/she is and wants to be, to then define goals, objectives and milestones. Of course, the role of the coach and continuously refining the coaching process is key here.

Prototype & test

The team combined their forces, divided the tasks to then conquer the prototype. We mainly used paper, markers, scissors, tape - basically everything non-digital - to simulate the solution. We deliberately made the choice to not take the digital path just yet, because we believed paper would do just fine for us to validate the solution.

For the purpose of testing, we invited three people. During the tests, we got reactions we hadn’t even expected, which led to interesting insights. By the end of the tests, we knew what to leave out, add or change. We got an answer to our big question: “How to create a clear growth path for every sweetie within 6 months?”. The answers to our sprint questions (“Will sweeties free enough time?” and “Will sweeties get the right guidance to define a path?”) were covered too. Now it’s time to further finetune, test and iterate more.

Looking back

The sprint proved that the process allows to find a solution for any problem - digital or non-digital - of any kind without having to heavily focus on the process itself. It’s a smooth path that leads to validated solutions, rather than investing (time & money) first and going for an assumption-based solution to only afterwards find out if it works - or not.