Last week was even more fun than usual at Outlandish. I ran my first ever design sprint with the help of some brilliant team members and a dream client: Moodle. It was five days of intense work, and we were all very tired by the end of it, but I can’t wait to do another one.

You have probably heard of Moodle, and might be one of its 124 million registered users. If you haven’t, it’s a free and open source learning management system – and as appreciators of anyone that uses open source tech, we were excited just to be talking to them.

They got in touch because  they want to build Moodlenet, a social media platform for educators focused on open content and professional development. I know, lots of us are sick of social media and don’t want to use another platform, but is that because most social media platforms are in it for our data and don’t pay taxes? Imagine if there was one created by a good organisation which is already driven by its users, with a focus on community, professional development and curating resources that make teaching better.

A moment of transparency: our design sprint process was not documented when these conversations started. We had an idea what our approach would be, and had tried and tested all the elements of it successfully, but we’d never had the pleasure of spending five days with a client to streamline the design process. We wish everyone we work with was as willing to engage as much in developing their products.

There is of course the design sprint created by Google Ventures which is documented in this book. It’s good, and I like most of the approach, but considering Moodle’s needs and the extent to which Moodlenet was already developed, I thought it would be better to deliver our own version.

There were two fundamental changes that made a big difference to our week:

1. Adding sociocracy into the mix

We decided to remove the ‘decider’ role that a Google Sprint employs. We weren’t comfortable with the responsibility and authority of decisions sitting with one person, and having spent a few years practising sociocracy already, it just wouldn’t have felt right. We also know that each member of a team brings value and experience, so we took Moodle through a whistlestop tour of sociocracy. Martin, Moodle’s CEO and founder joined us for the duration of the sprint. While Martin naturally had the most expertise in the domain, the most ‘skin in the game’ and the had done the most background thinking sociocracy meant that he still needed to convince the rest of the sprint team as to why his ideas were best, and take on board other suggestions and compromises. We feel that it led to better outputs at each stage of the design sprint.

2. Testing earlier

Whereas the Google Sprint aims to test on Friday, we decided to test on Thursday and keep the last day for iteration. This meant that the week was that much busier, but it was a good move and worked well. Not only did Moodle leave us with an already tested – already improved clickable prototype, they also have valuable knowledge of what to focus on for their MVP, due out later this year.

In hindsight, we asked ourselves if it would have been cheaper to run a short sprint internally, and deliver a clickable prototype to Moodle at the end of the week. In part, yes – it would have cost less, but the Moodle team’s knowledge and input would have been lost; what we ended up with wouldn’t have been as effective, and it wouldn’t have been half as fun! We might suggest creating a quick ‘straw man’ prototype as one of the inputs to the next design sprint we undertake to capture the way that we’d approach it. 

Overall, the design sprint proved to be a very productive and worthwhile week. As I said, I can’t wait to do another one.

You can check out the prototype we came up with via this post on the MoodleNet blog and check out all of the photos from the week here.