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Biggest Design Sprint in Estonia. 

How it went and what we learned.

October 2020

In the end of October, we had the opportunity to run the biggest design sprint in Estonia - as far as we’re aware of (we would love to hear your story and share your experiences!). We combined the Design Sprint format with the Future City hackathon held in TalTech Mektory Innovation Centre. The hackathon had altogether over 100 participants forming 18 teams and solving 7 different future city challenges.


Our main goal with applying the design sprint methodology on a hackathon was to bring more structure into the hacking. Especially, as the participants were university students from all over Estonia who still might lack the experience of systematically solving complex problems. The aim was to help them dive into understanding the problem instead of jumping to solutions right away.


Challenge 1: accommodating the classical 4-day Design Sprint format into 2 days. 

The hackathon format was playing to our advantage as the participants didn’t have to leave at 5 PM, like on regular sprint days. But the question remained - what to drop and what to include? Deriving from our own experience with hackathons, we knew that problem definition is crucial. So no alterations other than reducing the time limit to fit the fast-paced hackathon format were made in this phase. The ideation was approached a bit more flexibly but of course, the classic exercises- doodling, crazy 8’s, and 3-part sketch were included. In the solution phase, we freed up the format even more and the storyboarding was seamlessly combined with prototyping. However, to make sure that team members were aligned on their vision, we put quite some attention on the user flow before final prototyping began.


Challenge 2: prepping the mentors before the event. 

The hypothesis was that not all the mentors are aware of the design sprint methodology and that it would be beneficial to align their roles and expectations beforehand. This turned out to be true and the pre-hack training was a success, as all the parties had a better idea of what was going to happen.

The hackathon

After we had a good plan together and the mentors were aligned, it was time for the hacking. 


Friday evening - Onboarding:

  • Pre-formed teams gathered

  • Intro to Design Sprint methodology

  • Fun team-building activities

  • Preparatory tasks for problem definition


Saturday was the core of the hackathon and the design sprint. By the evening, the teams had to be prototyping so the whole day was filled with concentrated workshopping.


Saturday morning - Problem Definition:

  • Expert interviews with challenge hosts

  • Regular Design Sprint exercises speeded up

  • Mentors and challenge hosts roaming around and supporting teams

Additionally, we got a lot of help by strictly timeboxing the exercises, as it was crucial for compressing the design sprint concept and being on time. Of course, for the creative exercises, we gave the teams more time and freedom. When the challenges were clearly defined we moved on to ideation. Here we were also sticking to the classic exercises, although with a reduced timeframe.


Saturday noon - Ideation:

  • Looking for inspiring solutions

  • Doodling for gathering ideas

  • Crazy 8’s for thinking out of the box

  • Creating an individual solution by 3-part sketching

By the way, facilitating crazy 8’s from a stage, we felt like fitness trainers. We never knew a Design Sprint could feel that way… 


By the second part of Saturday, participants had made their 3-part sketches and the teams started to pick out the best ideas and move towards a more tangible solution. It was crucial that also Studio Leek team members were in the room to guide the teams when they were confused with the process. 


Saturday afternoon - Refining solutions:

  • Preliminary concepts together

  • 6-part user journey exercise to structure the solution

  • Further detailing by storyboarding

  • Mentoring session for additional feedback


After receiving feedback from the mentors, the teams had an opportunity to fix the details on a storyboard and finish Saturday by prototyping. Saturday might seem intense, and it was nothing less, but at the end of the day it was a hackathon and the participants knew what they were getting into.


On Sunday the teams gathered early to finalize their prototypes because they had one final task before presenting their ideas - validation with users. In this stage, we supported the teams on taking different approaches as there were many hindering aspects for user testing (it was Sunday, it was COVID times and they had only a few hours to test). So everything from Zoom meetings to phone calls to user surveys was used. Sunday afternoon, it was finally time to pitch the ideas to the jury. All the teams did really well and we loved the ideas!

“Trust in the process.” This is one of the most apt statements by Tähe during the second day of the workshop which introduced the Google Ventures sprint methodology in a Hackathon format. As a person that has facilitated and participated in ideation workshops before, I was impressed with how this particular methodology was able to scope, funnel and sharpen my team’s thinking throughout the event. The process enabled us to stay sharp and focused on our users and their problems – Had a great time!


-Kenneth Chung Yee Khye, Skill U

Key takeaways

Did we mention that it was our first time to conduct such a large design sprint?! All in all, we were really satisfied with how everything went but we were even happier for all the learnings we got from the process.


Training for mentors

It was really a good call to prep the mentors before the event. Having an overview of the design sprint methodology, the mentors knew better how to contribute different parts of the process. Through lively discussions they aligned their vision for the hackathon and were able to give more relevant and thorough feedback to the teams. 


Extra mentoring session

Next time we would include an additional mentoring session for the teams somewhere in the most intense sprinting time around Saturday lunch so that major pivots towards the end of Saturday could be avoided.


Provide more time and tools for user-research in the beginning of the event

We knew that the time was limited and aimed to make the most of it. Nevertheless, ideally, we see that ideation and solution blocks could have their dedicated day and problem definition could be started already on the previous day. This would give the teams time to really dig into the challenge, digest in overnight, and take more time for creating solutions.

Moreover, we would incorporate more user-research tasks at the beginning of the hackathon. It can either be a simple survey that participants send out or input from organizers/challenge owners but it’s absolutely crucial to define the problem that is being solved.

All in all, it was so inspiring to expand our boundaries and bring something new to the hackathon world. Huge thanks to TalTech Mektoy Innovation Centre for inviting us on board and Ülemiste City and Tehnopol for providing great challenges to solve. We can’t wait for new hackathons and challenges!


Design Sprint hackathon - innovative approach for innovative solutions!

Let's design sprint together!

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