How and why we ran a design sprint with 16 people 

Our Funeralcare team ran a discovery into how we can help people who are dying, which we call ‘imminent need’. For people in this situation, it’s after the time when it’s advisable to buy a funeral plan (pre-need) and before the time when someone dies and someone arranges a funeral for them (at-need). 

A timeline showing imminent need sat between pre-need and at-need

To make the most of everyone’s time on the discovery, the team ran a design sprint with 16 people to create a shared understanding of our insight and generate ideas around how we could start to help people better. 

Sharing research generated interest in the work 

As part of our discovery, we interviewed colleagues and subject matter experts. People were excited that we were looking into imminent need and keen to follow our progress. After our research, we held a playback of our work and explained that our next step would be a design sprint. Lots of our colleagues expressed an interest, including our Chief Commercial Officer, and we were keen to follow up with these people. 

What is a design sprint?

A design sprint is a method of generating lots of ideas collaboratively with people spanning different disciplines and business areas. 

The ideal number of attendees for a design sprint is around 4 to 8 people. This makes sure there’s enough time for the valuable discussions that happen as part of the process. Usually, if you involve more than 8 people it can become hard for everyone to contribute and feel heard, and the session agenda can become difficult to manage. 

The two sprint facilitators stood in front of a screen that displays 'Welcome to day 1'. A big table of people look towards them.

Why we chose to run a big design sprint

Our design sprint team totalled 16, including two facilitators. 

We were hesitant – it was a big group and we had concerns about being able to get through all the sprint activities and have enough time for discussion. However, we felt we could manage this and there were some good reasons to go ahead with a big team. 

We wanted to include the broad knowledge across Funeralcare and avoid extra meetings 

Our design sprint team represented skills and knowledge from teams across marketing, commercial, propositions, operations and funeral homes plus design, research and product. 

Having all those people in the room meant we could discuss barriers and opportunities in real time and within the context of each person’s role. This also meant we could avoid having lots of additional meetings with people to provide updates or answer any potential unknowns.

We wanted our colleagues to get the experience of being in a design sprint 

The main value of a design sprint is the rapid validation of ideas, but there is also huge benefit in bringing engaged stakeholders on the journey and the relationships we can develop in collaborative sessions. 

Our purpose wasn’t to bring in people who didn’t want to be there or would likely be disruptive to have in the session. It is still a good idea to push back on unreasonable requests to take part where it is likely to negatively affect the session and outcomes you want from the design sprint. 

We also wanted to make sure all six of our ‘imminent need design team’ could come along. We put a lot of emotional investment into the research and it was important to make sure everyone got to see the discovery through to the end. Plus having the balance of designers in the room also helped with managing the flow of the day. 

For some people, this was their first design sprint. For most, it was the first sprint since COVID changed how and where we work. Bringing people from across the business to work together in person is a powerful thing and it was incredibly valuable to showcase that. 

How we ran the design sprint 

We chose to run the design sprint in person as we felt it would be easier logistically and would provide the fun design sprint experience that we wanted people to have. 

We followed a format similar to Design Sprint 2.0, which condenses the traditional 5-day format into 4 days and only needs the full group for the first two days. By shortening the time, we hoped to make it easier for people to attend without the need for lots of diary juggling or planning months in advance. 

Our sprint team included our core project team of design, research and product, plus 9 people from around the Funeralcare business. We had two facilitators to support the large group (and each other). We spent one and a half days together as a larger group, then the core team continued remotely for the final days of prototyping and testing. 

The back of a dark haired woman adding to a poster sheet-sized paper covered with post-it notes

Day 1 (half day): Understand 

We wanted our design sprint team to have a shared understanding of our research and insights. To do this we shared: 

  • a simple journey map 
  • a clear problem statement based on our research 
  • lightning talks on different aspects of the research 

During the lightning talks we asked the team to generate ‘how might we’ (HMW) statements around the problem areas.

We did not have time for everyone to present back all their HMWs, so we summarised themes, asked everyone to add their HMWs to a theme and dot voted on the most important themes. 

The two sprint facilitators next to a screen displaying 'why we do ideation'

Day 2: Diverge and converge 

After recapping on the themes, we did 2 rounds of ideation using a 3-step sketching process. Usually, we would give each person 5-10 minutes to present their ideas back, but this could have taken a full day which we did not have. Instead, everyone discussed ideas in pairs or small groups and then fed back to the group for a wider discussion. 

We originally planned 3 rounds of ideation, but we had so many great ideas from the first round, that we realised we would cover all the themes with 2 rounds and make better use of the time. 

The 3-step process included: 

  • Mind-mapping 
  • Rapid 8s 
  • T-bar sketching 

In the afternoon each person picked an idea from the morning that they found interesting and presented it back to the group for feedback. 

The group then dot voted on the ideas. We gave everyone 3 blue dots to vote on the ideas they wanted to take forward the most. We then gave everyone pink dots to vote on anything they thought had been missed. The blue votes tended to focus on things that were practical and that people were more sure about. Some of the themes that only had pink votes, were ideas that were more experimental or things we’d not tried before. 

A close up of an idea sketched in t-bar format titled 'guide to dying'.

Day 3 and 4: Converge continued, prototype and test 

The core project team continued the rest of the sprint remotely. We focused on narrowing down what we were going to test then set to work on the prototype which we tested with some of our funeral home colleagues. 

Outcomes of the design sprint 

The design sprint was a great success. We generated a broad range of ideas, some we tested successfully and some that will contribute to future workstreams. We have since released guidance content for a person who knows they are dying and someone supporting a person who is dying. This is the first small step in what we hope will be many more in helping people with this need. 

And importantly, there was a feeling of togetherness and brilliant discussions happened in the room. The agenda was tight, but the pace of the day kept energy levels and engagement high. 

We had brilliant feedback on the sessions. It’s exciting that people are reaching out to ask if we could help them run design sprints or similar ideation workshops for projects in their own teams. 

7 people (coincidentally all wearing harmonious shades of green, blue and black) in thought, reading ideas stuck on walls.

Our tips for running a large design sprint

Have two facilitators 

Having more than one facilitator for a session this large is a must because it: 

  • makes it easier to keep an eye on time and make any agenda changes, whilst helping people in the room and listening to conversation 
  • helps manage energy levels of facilitators as you can switch between the two roles above and lead different sections of the day 
  • means the facilitators are supported by each other 

Be mindful of group mix and personalities 

Strong personalities can create challenging workshop environments and the more participants you invite, the risk increases that you have one or more people who might (unintentionally) derail your well-planned agenda. We were lucky that we knew none of our participants were likely to behave this way, but it is something to be mindful of when expanding your participant list. 

When you start adding more stakeholders or subject matter experts, it’s good to increase the number of designers (or others with design sprint experience) to support with guiding people who’ve not done workshops like this before. 

Run it in person 

This sprint would’ve been extremely difficult to run remotely, would’ve felt much more rigid and we would’ve missed the pockets of great conversation that ripple across a room when people are together. 

One of our subject matter experts travelled to Manchester from Devon and we were very grateful. 

Plan your sessions and agenda out in detail, but be ready to adapt on the fly 

Our agenda and timings were planned in detail and we made the timings for every activity visible to everyone. On day 2, after getting through more ideas than expected, it felt like the energy could drop if we did more sketching. We tweaked our afternoon agenda to finish the day with a dot voting exercise we originally planned to do asynchronously. 

Send out pre-reads or homework 

We knew we would not have time in our sprint to recap on what a design sprint is so to deal with this, we sent out a short one-page explainer document to all attendees and asked them to read ahead of the session. 

One or two pages of pre-reads or homework can be good ways to get around session time constraints. 

Set clear ground rules 

This is good advice for any design sprint, but more important here. Some of our rules are: 

  • keep to time: give everyone in the room accountability for arriving after breaks on time and wrapping up tasks when the timer runs out 
  • no multitasking: full focus on the sprint in the sprint, use breaks for checking emails if required 
  • be inclusive: we displayed the inclusive meeting guidelines on the walls for our sessions. 

Don’t feel you have to stick to a traditional design sprint 

Design sprints don’t have to be 5 days long and not every activity has to be done ‘by the book’. If you have limited time, be really clear about what outcomes you can get to in the time and plan accordingly. 

If you want more help with facilitating, have a look at the facilitation guide on the Experience Library.

A pile of 'how might we' post-it notes

What we learned overall 

When we set out on this discovery, we wanted to find ways to help people who know they are dying and their families. We rely on doing 1-to-1 user research to gain a deep understanding into the problems that our customers face. In Funeralcare it helps us to learn about the complex emotions that people are experiencing when they need to arrange a funeral plan or funeral. 

What was different about the ideation stage of our imminent need work was the variety and size of our design sprint. We learned that, done the right way, running a large design sprint meant we: 

  • progressed our ideas and work much sooner than we would have otherwise 
  • saved significant amounts of time and money by reducing the need for multiple individual meetings over months 
  • introduced our wider team to design ways of working which, along with a wider focus on this, has led to more people wanting to work in this way 
  • developed even stronger relationships with a wider range of our colleagues and teams, which we’re continuing to build on 

When we put out the call for this big design sprint at short notice, we did not expect so many brilliant colleagues from different parts of the business to sign up. Everyone who was involved fully embraced the process and the ideas and outcomes are stronger as a result. 

There is lots for us to work on in this space, but some ideas come with technical challenges. Our first small step was to create guidance content for people needing help with planning:

Michelle May – Lead UX Designer
Marianne Knowles – Principal Designer

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