Success story: The Self-Guided Sprint


Madison Spain Sales Training Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC

New to Design Thinking? Read more about what it is and why it’s valuable

This is the story of how Madison adapted the collaborative Design Sprint process, made famous by Google Ventures, to create her own version of a virtual, self-guided Sprint.


In my role at GP PRO, I was challenged with re-inventing our on-boarding process for the sales organization. In order to achieve this, I knew I'd have to talk to many stakeholders to understand their wants and needs to shape our overall focus and plan.

I came from an innovation background (MBA) and had participated in some prior innovation sprints, so I had first hand experience with the value of Design Thinking methods and believed that I could apply a human-centered approach to solve the challenge in front of me.

What was the business goal?

We needed to run our first on-boarding class for new sales hires that would join us in two months. Our business had changed a lot and so the existing on-boarding process wouldn't work for new team members. We knew that big decisions needed to be made in order to come up with an innovative, new solution that could support the new team members and set them up for success through the 'creative destruction' process.

By making the choice to solve this problem through a self-guided virtual sprint, our desired outcome was to walk away with a prototype that could be tested internally and approved by key stakeholders, and have a working version ready for new recruits in two months.

Creative destruction is the process of constantly evaluating what you are doing, and letting new innovations drive out the old. Read: Creative Destruction

What was special about this challenge?

We were in a time-crunch so a (virtual) Design Sprint seemed like the most efficient way to generate innovative ideas and make big decisions, fast. Because of the tight timeline we couldn’t get everyone together for a full week. As such, I adapted the 'in person' process and created a plan for a 'self-guided, remote' version of the Design Sprint which meant the team could work asynchronously in MURAL and still get results in one week.

The team worked in a single MURAL board - both offline and together
The team worked in a single MURAL board - both offline and together

Because we were able to cut down the hours and fit the process into everyone's existing workload, it meant we didn't need to request extra funds to run the project. Which meant one less hurdle to achieve the innovative outcome we were after.

What does the process actually look like?

Instead of blocking 5 full days of everyone's time, we spread the Design Sprint activities over two and a half weeks and reduced the contact hours by more than half. This meant that many activities could be done offline and each team member was able to work at their own pace and guide themselves through the steps.

Fewer contact hours and more flexibility in the Self-Guided Sprint schedule
Fewer contact hours and more flexibility in the Self-Guided Sprint schedule

We also created short instructional videos to make offline work easier. Each day, the team checked-in with a short meeting, and on some days there were longer collaboration sessions so big decisions could be made together quickly.

Every "self-guided" activity comes with a short video and detailed instructions
Every "self-guided" activity comes with a short video and detailed instructions

What was the outcome?

Everyone in the team contributed different ideas for the new on-boarding program in the form of sketches and diagrams. From these, the team used Design Thinking methods to make collaborative decisions and highlight the most promising ideas.

"Solution sketches" contributed by the Sprint team members
"Solution sketches" contributed by the Sprint team members

The ideas were then stitched together quickly into a rapid prototype of the new on-boarding program, so that the basic flow and concept could be tested in context.

The concept included:

  • All on-boarding material in one place
  • A dashboard to browse and navigate content
  • Clear steps to progress through the content
  • Contextual training support (training offered at the right time for each person)
  • A leaderboard for peers to see the cohort's progress

The draft of the first prototype in Mural
The draft of the first prototype in Mural

We tested the rapid prototype internally to collect feedback on the concept and format, and quickly iterated the concept with a few minor adjustments. After that we had the confidence to develop the remaining content in detail, and we ran the first on-boarding class with new hires with great success.

Here are some snapshots of the on-boarding material used in the first on-boarding class:

The new onboarding program is "ELEVATE"
The new onboarding program is "ELEVATE"
The dashboard with progress markers
The dashboard with progress markers
The full onboarding roadmap
The full onboarding roadmap

Learnings. What would you recommend to others?

Facilitation time

While the participants loved the flexible timing and breaks in each day to work on other things, the facilitator should still block out full days to provide support and guidance to the team for the duration of the Sprint.

Get ready to use Mural

Prepare the team to be comfortable using Mural. Ask your team to watch

and checking out
Mural Tutorial: Advanced Tips & Tricks
Mural Tutorial: Advanced Tips & Tricks

Use video instructions

The video tutorials in the Mural board were very helpful for the team to be able to work independently. I recommend using the videos in the template Mural board or creating your own custom versions.

Parts to watch out for

The killer questions and user test flow sections were the toughest for the group to do independently. Make sure you tee up and explain those sections thoroughly, or consider doing those parts together in a group session.

Give time estimates

Even though activities were spread out, our participants would have liked a better sense of the time commitment for the ‘self guided’ sections. Next time we'll give a clearer estimation of time requirements to help participants plan their overall days.

Is "self-guided" right for you?

Consider whether you may prefer an in-person Design Sprint. Virtual sprints like this "self-guided" version are great when the team can't be in one place or can't commit to a full week, but in-person still has great benefits for immediate support and feedback, and team focus.

How you can use this method!

Check out Madison's recommendations above ☝️
Read about the original Sprint method by Google Ventures
Read more about Design Thinking: What is it? and Why is it valuable?
Use this Mural template to plan your own 'Self-guided Sprint'
Need help? Connect with the Advance Concepts Team or reach out to Madison to chat about her experience (internal Koch employees only)