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Writing the report

Sprints almost always result in some final written product, typically a report (as mostly assumed by this guide), but occasionally design products, prototypes, slides, or even functional tools.

Depending on the schedule of the sprint, writing the report can take anywhere from three to five days. You should give yourselves the third week of the sprint to complete any final follow-ups and spend time compiling and writing the report, but starting this earlier is better.

Additionally, if this has not already been done earlier, carve out some time during this third week to schedule a readout session with the original leadership and stakeholders from the kick-off meeting, plus the most senior person who would be ultimately responsible for the initiative. The briefing shouldn’t be a surprise to the organization, so the sprint team lead should also spend the third week pre-briefing them to get feedback and buy-in.

Prior to report writing, spend some time as a team getting on the same page about what done looks like and what should be delivered to the organization. Align yourselves on how you think the stakeholders or organization plan to use the report. It is also important to understand what role each team member will play during this phase and have an honest conversation about everyone’s writing abilities. It helps to have some people dedicated as writers, some editors, and some to dig through the research from the past two weeks to find relevant content and quotes.

A common writing schedule looks like:

  • Monday: Brainstorm and outline
  • Tuesday - Wednesday AM: Draft and write
  • Wednesday PM - Thursday: Edit and revise
  • Friday: Review and polish

Brainstorm and outline

At the start of the week, spend the first half of the day brainstorming as a team and the second half solutioning and coming up with a high-level outline of the report. There should be a document that captures the team’s hypotheses, thoughts, and observations from the sprint so far. Give yourselves some time to add any additional comments and thoughts from the last week, and to recall any high-level opportunities identified for the organization.

Once everyone has reviewed the findings the team uncovered the past two weeks, spend some time defining them. Affinity mapping is a good activity to help the team synthesize this information. The sprint team lead, designer, or anyone familiar with this method could facilitate. Give each person a pack of sticky notes and write down one idea per sticky for each prompt. Common prompts from past sprints include:

  • What are the problems that have been uncovered?
  • Who does this problem impact?
  • For these problems, what needs to be considered?
  • What is this organization doing well?
  • What are the root causes behind what’s not going well?
  • What is our confidence level in the data we have gathered?

After everyone has answered the prompts, group similar ideas and then vote on the ones to be covered in the report. Prior to voting, narrow the groups down to a few key problems by identifying criteria that make sense given the organization: greatest impact, highest confidence in the organization solving the problem, etc. Give everyone a certain number of votes based on how many team members and how many ideas there, and allowed to vote on the ideas. Once this is done, discuss the outcomes and agree on the key problems and opportunities for the organization to focus on.

Do the same activity to come up with solutions. When this is completed, start to outline the report based on the results of the brainstorming. By the end of the day, assign each team member section(s) to write or edit and set a deadline for the first draft, usually the end of the next day or the next day and a half.

A suggested outline for a report looks like this:

  • Executive summary (in memo format):
    • Problem statement
    • Key findings
    • A high-level overview of the recommendations (3-5 bullets max)
    • A footer disclaimer on every page that the report is “Pre-Decisional, Deliberative and Not for Distribution”
  • In the rest of the report:
    • Detailed findings
    • Patterns you saw across the interviews and data/artifact reviews (use real quotes where possible)
    • Actionable content and next steps
    • Rough estimates of resources required (time, people, materials, etc)

Draft and write

Determine the type of environment everyone needs for heads down writing of the first draft. That may be remote time separately, together, or a mix. During this time, each team member should aim to write a first pass of a section they’ve been assigned, spend time sifting through the team’s notes for applicable quotes or content for the sections identified, or following up on loose threads. The sprint team lead can pitch in where needed but should also focus their time on socializing some the initial findings and recommendations to the organization’s leadership. This ensures the team is getting feedback, tailoring the report accordingly, and that the report’s content is not a surprise to anyone when it is completed and shared.

A good discovery sprint captures the current state of affairs, unearths gaps and opportunities, and sets clear recommendations for action moving forward. The result of a sprint may be a recommendation that this isn’t a technical solution or that, while there are things that can be done with technology, they don’t solve the originally stated problem. A finding like that is still a positive result for a sprint as long as it brings clarity to a formerly muddy situation.

The recommendations should be actionable and address the severity (low, medium, high) of the issue and the impact of the solution. The scope of the effort both in rough time and resources necessary should also be included for each recommendation. It is important to note that these recommendations are typically just first steps down a path and not a comprehensive plan. The report should also distinguish between things the organization could do now and long-term potential tasks. Also include areas you would have liked to explore if you didn’t get a chance to.

At the end of the day, check-in to see how everyone is doing and the progress being made.

Edit and revise

As each team member finishes their section, someone else on the team should edit and revise their work. Once a full first draft is completed, have everyone read through and talk about what needs to be improved. Assign new areas for team members to read through and edit. The first draft should also be shared with others outside of the sprint to get feedback on the report from a fresh set of eyes. This is typically one or two people that’s not on the sprint and has some writing, editing, and/or legal expertise.

During this time, also start pulling together the executive summary for the report. It is often helpful to write the executive summary after an initial draft of the report has been created to sufficiently summarize the report. The executive summary should be one to two pages and contain a high-level overview of the engagement, methodology used for the sprint, findings, and recommendations.

After feedback and comments are gathered, focus on incorporating changes. One person should be assigned to go through and edit the entire document to ensure consistency. Additional areas to review for edits include:

  • Content edits - ensuring that all of the content discussed is included
  • Voice / tone edits - that it reads cohesively, like it is written by one person
  • Grammar edits - spelling is correct, sentence structure is consistent, and acronyms are explained
  • Organization edits - the report flows from section to section in a narrative format

Review and polish

Do a final read, make final edits, and start formatting the document into the report template. It is also helpful to translate the report into a presentation to aid when delivering the report to the organization’s leadership. Similar to the executive summary, the presentation should be high-level and short. If you decide to create a presentation:

  • Avoid over-simplifying important things
  • Fewer words = better; the report is the primary product and that’s where the details should be
  • Use a lot of pictures and quotes to humanize your findings where possible