Digital Playbook 3 day sprint

I have competed my first 3-day design sprint to build a prototype digital playbook. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – so while a little hectic, sometimes intense – all in all it was a great experience and I am becoming more used to feeling comfortable with the uncomfortable! Below for the record sets out what we did, how we went about it and what we discovered.


The purpose of the sprint was to build a prototype digital playbook.  Developing a digital playbook is a key action that has come out of our recently published digital strategy. We want to create a central reference place to share successful practices containing useful templates, information and resources that if followed will enable us to apply a consistent approach to the design and delivery of effective digital services in Birmingham City Council. We decided that a design sprint would be a good way to kick this off quickly as well as being a great introduction to taking a ‘co-ordinated and focused approach to doing something’ quickly.

Our sprint team

Between us we were committed, enthusiastic and eager to learn and to get the most of the time we had to work on this together. This was our line-up:

  • Facilitator (agile coach and design strategist): @hannah (Methods) who did the job of structuring and running the sessions and activities and managing to keep us to time
  • User researcher: @Surita who led the user research and testing elements, which was done in a very condensed and effective way to give us the information we needed to get started and then test out what we had built
  • Tech expert: @Simon who rapidly brought together the concept and content into a fully working alpha prototype
  • Design experts: (@simon @surita @janine (Methods)) who collectively helped guide the process from a content and user experience point of view
  • Content designer:  all of us did this in breakneck speed to get some useful content drafted, peer reviewed and uploaded  
  • Delivery manager: @steve who kept us in check managing the daily stand ups and overall process, helping to resolve any issues
  • Product manager: that was me – there to have the final say along the process
  • Subject matter experts: these were people in our wider digital team that we could call on easily to give us their input on content

Preparation for the big ‘little’ sprint

@dave briggs (SensibleTech) had already done a little bit of background research into other playbooks to provide a starting point ahead of our sprint. We then took an hour the week before the session as a team to organise a rough schedule for the 3-day sprint. This enabled us to:

  • think through our long-term goal as well as our sprint goal so we could hit the ground running on the Monday
  • set out how we wanted to work. We had all committed to block out our diaries and focus on this from 10 – 4pm, Mon – Wed, giving us sometime outside of this to catch up on emails and other work building in a stand up @10.00am  and wrap up @ 3.45pm
  • be clear about our roles and responsibilities as part of the sprint so that we knew what was expected of us

@Hannah then prepared all the templates that would be needed for the 3 day sprint and posted those onto the Miro board ready for our Monday start.

This image shows a breakdown of the work to be done across the three days
A breakdown of the work to be done across the three days

Sprint process

We couldn’t allocate an entire 5 days to this so we took a condensed 3 day approach based on and inspired by the Google Venture 5 day Design Sprint.

Split into 5 phases over 3 days the aim was:

  1. Monday:
    1. Understand the problem; review and discuss existing playbooks
  2. Tuesday:
    1. Sketch some initial solutions
    2. Decide the ideas; narrow down, refine and choose a solution
  3. Wednesday
    1. Prototype: Create a realistic solution
    2. Test: Try out the prototype with some users to get feedback and understand this

We maintained the pace across all of the activities and the 3 days went very quickly. Everyone on the sprint was fully committed and we were quite careful to stick to the time.

Day 1 Monday

Phase 1: Understand the problem
Session 1:

We started by agreeing our long-term goal and after some discussion this is what we landed on:

A how to guide and resource repository drawn from successful practices that when consistently followed will standardise the BCC approach to delivering effective digital services.

To provide a focus for the sprint we settled on the ‘Delivery Manager’(DM) role as the end user – simply because between us as a team this was the one area that we all felt comfortable with and had knowledge of and also we were able to line up quickly some subject matter experts (aka our work colleagues) that we could do interviews and research with at short notice.   This allowed us to draw on our own knowledge to develop some personas and from this a user journey as a good starting point.

Session 2

We had scheduled in some interviews with other project managers in our team, which also included capturing our own experiences as DMs. The aim of this was to understand the type of content, resources and tools that might be relevant to a DM; what would help them to do their job better and identify any gaps in knowledge or where additional support would be helpful.  

Structure for the 1:1 interview sessions with our subject matter experts (SMEs)
Structure for the 1:1 interview sessions with our subject matter experts (SMEs)
Session 3

Next we then spent 30 mins taking some of the challenges and problems that came out of the user research and used the ‘How might we’ (HMW) approach to turn these into potential opportunities for us to then decide what to prioritise and pursue – a very useful technique!

Structure and output from the 'How Might We'
Structure and output from the ‘How Might We’
Phase 2: Sketch
Session 1

We used the last 2 hrs of Monday to review and discuss some existing playbook solutions to see how others have approached this for example LGSS, Hackney, Essex. We shared these out between us and reviewed them independently, ahead of coming back together to share findings and summarise pros and cons of the solutions.  

Day 2 Tuesday

Session 2

This was the fast paced ‘cray eights’ where we each had to independently sketch out ideas / solutions / concepts  – 1min / sketch (total of eight). To help with this process before starting the crazy eights, we took about 15mins to pull together some user stories that would help to focus our thinking based on our goal and HMW statements e.g.  “How might we provide practical tools and support for DMs to get going on digital delivery?” We then uploaded these ideas to our Miro board.

Some of the user stories created
Some of the user stories created
Phase 3: Decide
Session 1

We then spent a few minutes reviewing the individual solutions, adding dots to any aspect of the sketches that we liked; we each took it in turns to explain the ideas back to the team and in turn ask questions. This let each solution get an equal voice and reduced bias in selecting our next step. We narrowed down to our best ideas by simply voting the things that we liked in the sketches. We noted these down on a sticky note to help us with the storyboarding that was to follow.

Session 2

Next up was to independently create a 4-6 step storyboard based on the chosen ideas from Session 1 that would be the basis of the prototype. Once completed we uploaded them onto Miro and then quickly critiqued the highlights of each solution -finally voting for one favourite storyboard and as product manager I had the final call. We then brought together the favourite ideas into one storyboard.

The magic then started to happen  – @janine, UX designer,  very quickly turned the storyboards into more structured wireframes ready to support the technical prototyping of the solution by @simon on the Wednesday.   We looked at various options of hosting the playbook e.g. using the BCC Jadu platform, but for simplicity opted to do it in WordPress retaining  the BCC logo and colours to maintain the corporate look and feel.   We then agreed between the rest of us the content that we would start to work on for the web pages. At the end of a rather hectic day we had a plan of action for Wednesday. The aim of which was to build just enough so that we make it look realistic to the users and for us to learn from.

Day 3: Wednesday

The user testing was due to start at 14.00 so we gave ourselves up to midday to bring the content together for @Simon to carry on building the technical solutions and upload and then for us to review ahead of testing. 

We had 3 interviews lined up in the afternoon – each lasting around 20 – 30mins. @surita our user researcher had pulled together a discussion guide and led the discussion, while the rest of us observed and took notes on Miro. The key aim for the testing was to find out whether they understood what the purpose of the site was for; if they found the content useful and the structure of the pages clear and whether this  information would be useful to them in their role as delivery manager.

What have I learnt from doing this?

  • I gained real insight into getting the content right for users.
    • The home page did not communicate quickly enough the aim of the Playbook and who it was intended for – content needed to be simpler to explain its purpose and value; the word ‘repository’ that we had used in our narrative was confusing to our users
    • There was good feedback on the simplicity of the layout and structure and this had gone down well
    • Overall the users could see the potential of the playbook; understood the main flow and were able to find and understand the information to accomplish their tasks
  • It gave us protected time to work on a shared understanding of what a Playbook might be for BCC and how we want to take this forward to find the best solution. The Wednesday though was very rushed and I think we would have benefited from having more time to do this
  • It helped us gain confidence and see the value of design sprints and the approach to how we do that
  • Doing the desk research and some of the discovery ahead of the design sprint meant that we could hit the road running on the Monday
  • We worked virtually coming together for stand ups but there were times when we would have benefited from being together physically; it would have helped to maintain the focus across the 3 days given what we needed to achieve in the time that we had
  • We stuck more or less to the plan and time boxing activities was important.
  • It was important not to agonise over ideas or spend too long on trying to perfect them.   Better to get them down, talk them through and build on them to unlock more ideas

What’s next….

Now to take it forward and start to build a plan to develop the content and ideas and our playbook that will be open to all – the topic of another post!