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The Fountain Institute

3 Risks in Design Sprints

publishedabout 1 month ago
3 min read

Dear Reader,

Design Sprints might seem like a silver bullet, but they can be risky to product teams.

Ok ok ok, now don't get mad at me just yet. I know many people love Design Sprints and have probably made their career around providing Design Sprints to their teams or clients.

The Dream

Design Sprints are fun, quick, and creative. They will solve all your problems in one week. Amazing. Sign me up!

There is no question that agencies and consultants have done a great job at marketing Design Sprints to teams, founders, and probably your mom—promising that this one tool will make you tons of cash.

But Design Sprints might not be the best tool for the job.

The Reality

Creating great products is complex, and there is a danger in relying on just the Design Sprint and not understanding how to build custom workshops and activities for your team.

We get complacent with the same workshops and activities.

We don't come up with new ideas that match the real users' needs, and we build products for ourselves that don't match the actual markets.

The 3 Risks in Design Sprints

So what is the risk of everyone using the design sprint?

When you've got a hammer everything looks like a nail. Here's why you might not want to whack every problem with a sprint.

Risk 1: No real research

We fight all the time for more research. We know it's necessary to not just talk to our users but study their needs, pain points, and desires.

UX designers and UX researchers have incredible research skills so why start with the opinions of stakeholders? Sounds a bit like UX Theatre to me.

The only problems we tackle in Design Sprints are the ones that "internal experts" talk about. And testing with 5 users only uncovers problems with the solution you test.

That leaves you pretty open for the killer of research: confirmation bias (tendency to interpret evidence as confirmation of one's existing ideas).

If you need a way to bring user research in a workshop, design co-creation workshops and do generative research with your user.

Find out more about generative research in co-creation workshops.

Speaking of confirmation bias...

Risk 2: Biased decision-making

Is dot voting really the only way to make decisions?

One of the primary converging methods in sprints is dot voting. Getting a group of people to transition from brainstorming to converging is incredibly difficult.

There is actually a name for this: "The Groan Zone."

There is a time and place for dot voting, but should it be your primary converging activity? There are many ways of overcoming the Groan Zone.

Many options have less confirmation bias than dot voting. You can get a lot more nuance with a 2x2 matrix or a gradient of agreement scale.

Risk 3: Round peg, square hole

The third risk is relying on a limited number and sequence of activities to "solve" all problems. There is an emphasis on solution ideas in the sprint and quick prototyping. And I love the focus on prototyping an idea fast and testing it out with real people, but should we experiment with solution ideas first?

Teresa Torres and Marty Cagan have spearheaded awareness of the importance of product discovery. Wouldn't it be better to test our assumptions first?

Lets build workshops for product teams that accelerate and support the discovery phase.

Don't limit yourself to crazy 8's, storyboards, and hi-fi prototypes. Build workshops around

  • Pulling out assumptions
  • Mapping problems
  • Collaborative synthesis
  • Experimentation
  • Creating and pruning Opportunity Solution Trees

Your Challenge

I challenge all designers to move past the Design Sprint.

It's a great place to start, but let's set higher expectations for ourselves. Doing so will utilize our full problem-solving and collaboration skills.

Building your own workshop or series of workshops might be scary, but we are here to support you!

Here are a few resources to help you advance beyond sprints.

Resources on Workshop Design

5 Key Elements to Designing Workshops

Masterclass: How to Design and Run Workshops

A 7-day short course in Facilitating Workshop

Until next week!

Hannah Baker
Educator & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. And if you're really ready to take workshops seriously, take Facilitating Workshops, a live 22-day workshop-based course.

What better way to learn to design and run workshops than through workshops (a bit meta, I know, sorry 🤦‍♀️)