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Design Sprint Traps (and how to avoid them)

You're heading into a Design Sprint. Maybe it's your first, maybe it's not. Whatever your experience, each Design Sprint is unique.

Design Sprint Traps (and how to avoid them) You’re heading into a Design Sprint. Maybe it’s your first, maybe it’s not. Whatever your experience, each Design Sprint is unique.

You have a new room of people and a new challenge; maybe a new environment, in a new industry or discipline, with different organisational structures and stakeholders.

With so many variables it can all feel a little overwhelming.

We’ve pulled together some of the most important tips from our experience of facilitating and coaching Design Sprints, to help you get ahead, feel confident and guide your team to success.

Trust the process

Why don’t we try doing this other activity instead

That doesn’t make sense, why are we doing that?

Sketching feels like a waste of time, why don’t we get a designer to do this

These are all things we’ve heard, at least once, during Design Sprints.

If there’s an individual (or two) within the group who is naturally curious, challenging, or disruptive, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of trying to analyse the process and justify the activities during the sprint.

But you shouldn’t. And here’s your get out of jail free card: Trust The Process

The key to handling difficult participants, as well as any self-doubt you may have, is to trust the process. Keep this in mind: the Design Sprint isn’t as popular and as powerful as it is by accident. There is enough data and evidence, across enough challenges and industries, for you to feel confident in guiding the team to trust the process. Google Ventures use the design sprint to explore problems and innovate in companies they are heavily invested in - success with these companies can be the difference between making money and losing money.

In a number of Design Sprints we’ve even had ‘Trust the Process’ printed out and stuck to the wall. It’s easier, and can feel less confrontational, to call this out at the start of the week and point to it if you feel the team risks being led astray.

Stick to times

Sticking to times is important. Time-boxing your efforts is a great way of avoiding unnecessary digressions. This might sound like it could discourage creativity and stifle divergent thinking, but finding the balance is tricky, so our advice is to stick to times.

Part of running a successful sprint is keeping the team happy and motivated. If times start sliding and people are staying late it can start to take its toll. This can lead members of the team to lose trust in the process as well as get worn out. The Design Sprint week is hard going; sticking to time is a great way of building trust, maintaining energy and keeping momentum.

Forgotten treasures

There’s a huge amount of information to process during a Design Sprint. Maps, sketches, expert feedback, conversations and rationale. It can be hard to remember everything that gets covered.

Fortunately, most of the activities have an output that is visible on the wall or captured by individuals. However, not everything gets captured as part of an activity.

This is why ABC - always be capturing - is important. If great ideas are coming up in conversation, write them down! Don’t wait for a specific activity. We’ve seen these captured notes turn into backlog items and future sprint topics for many teams.


Whilst the 2001 UK-chart-topping album by Stereophonics won’t make it on to our Design Sprint X playlist, it’s useful as a memory aid for leading a team through the activities within a Design Sprint: Just Enough Education to Perform.

It’s unreasonable (and unnecessary) to expect that the entire Design Sprint Team are experts in the process.

Aside from having a great facilitator, a quality Design Sprint slide deck is an incredibly useful tool. A deck that gives people just enough information, at just the right time, keeps the team feeling comfortable and confident in the activity.

It’s also a great way for facilitators to stay present in the room, without having to check what the next step is. On top of this make sure you start each day by outlining the agenda and being really clear on what the team is trying to achieve.

The Decider decides

It’s quite common to find yourself in a spot where time is running out on an activity but the team doesn’t seem to be closing in on a decision. At times like these, it’s important to refocus the group.

One way to achieve this and move things forward is with the following phrases:

Remember that <the Decider> is going to have to make a decision on this in 5 minutes. Is what we’re discussing now going to help <the Decider> make a decision?

Typically the group will want to make things easier for the Decider. These statements put their discussions into context and get them focused on the right thing.

It’s a good idea to drop this in early in the sprint, even if things are moving along well. Why? Because in many cases the team will become self-policing; they’ll start to ask the questions before you have to.

If this isn’t enough to get the team back on track then don’t be afraid to get the Decider to make a decision. The team won’t want to put the Decider in a difficult position again.

Our slide deck

In our experience having a reliable deck is a great way to tackle some of these problems and keep a Design Sprint running smoothly.

To help you run your next sprint we’ve made our deck available for you in Keynote and PDF. It follows the 5-day Design Sprint and includes our facilitator notes to keep you on track.

Free Design Sprint Slides

Download the slides for free


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