5 reasons your Design Sprint might fail

Companies like such GV (formerly Google Ventures) have popularised Design Sprints and they’ve seen a lot of use in various industries. This is because the Design Sprint is excellent at quickly validating product/market fit. While we think Design Sprints are great, they don’t always work. And sometimes, the Design Sprint fails.

We hear from companies who have run Design Sprints before and it hasn’t really worked out for them.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the reasons Design Sprints fail and how you can avoid them if you’re planning on running a sprint for yourself.

1. A lack of decision-makers on the team

Design Sprints are often filled with designers and prototyping staff because that’s what most people assume they need to get the best result from the prototype at the end of the week.

Decision Making

There’s this idea that you simply gather a bunch of designers in a room and they’ll eventually come up with something good. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth and a successful design sprint needs a variety of positions in the room in order to produce good results.

This includes product managers, some form of leader, marketers, technology managers, consumer voices and to be honest, anyone who really understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

But the most important person by far is the decision-maker. The person who has the power to completely throw everything you’ve worked so hard for in your 4-days, into the bin.

Get the decision-maker in the room.

2. Solving the wrong problem.

Design Abstraction Laddering
We use abstraction laddering to make sure we focus on solving the right problem.

It’s one of our biggest challenges as designers – making sure we’re solving the right problem. If you’re going to invest yours, your teams and your bosses time, you’d better make sure you have the right problem to solve!

We recommend running a problem framing workshop before the Design Sprint to make sure you’re not coming in cold and looking in the wrong direction for an answer.

3. Losing track of the design sprint process

A design sprint follows a simple framework.

You start with a problem, speak with experts, you sketch solutions, you pick the best ones and then you build a prototype that can be tested. This is easy to accomplish in the week but the team must be focused and have experience working in a fast-paced environment with rapid prototyping and testing otherwise the entire sprint will slow down to a crawl and become an expensive and unproductive waste of time.

The key is to trust in the process and stick to the exercises. Once you become familiar with them, it becomes much easier to manage the sprint process.

If losing track of the design sprint process is an issue for you and your team, we’d recommend our Design Sprint training to give you the knowledge and resources to run your sprints effectively.

4. Unable to get the right people in the same room

A design sprint requires a company to take several of their employees, bring them off existing projects and get them working together. This can be challenging if you’re unable to spare those employees for an entire week and it can be even worse if you have to replace key employees with random members of staff just because they’re free.

Don’t even start a sprint if you can’t get the right people in the room.

5. Do you even need a design sprint?

We’ve seen teams run Design Sprints for the wrong reasons, and they rarely go well. The Design Sprint is not a ‘silver bullet’ for all design-related activities.

Teams might try to solve too big a problem. Too small a problem. Or a problem people don’t care about.

You need to make sure that the problem you’re bringing to the Design Sprint is worth solving, it can be prototyped in 4 days and that you’ve got buy-in from the organisation.

And then, and only then, might you have a great reason to run a Design Sprint.