Five Reasons for the Post-Design Sprint Slump

by Douglas Ferguson

Maybe you’ve called it something different, but I bet you’ve experienced it: it’s that feeling when your head’s down at work, too busy with your urgent day-to-day tasks to look up for a moment to contemplate future innovations. (Who has time for breakthrough innovation when you don’t have time for a proper lunch?) It’s that feeling when you know you need to make some big moves as an organization, but you don’t quite know which way to turn next. It’s that feeling when you recently felt part of something inspiring and innovative at work, but now that attitude is slowly fading away.

These are all telltale signs of what I call the post-sprint slump.

Many of us will go through the post-sprint slump at some point. It’s the stagnation and lack of forward-momentum that we sometimes feel as an individual, team, or company after we participate in a Design Sprint. While I talk about what can happen after a Design Sprint, it’s not an affliction that’s exclusive to this methodology. You might experience something very similar after any design thinking or innovation workshop. The slump tends to strike after a team has made significant strides toward a future vision or innovation but then hits a wall.

The important thing is that the post-sprint slump is a curable condition. I even wrote a new book—Beyond the Prototype—to help people take six concrete steps to combat the slump.

Beware of the post-sprint slump.

In this article, I outline five reasons you might be experiencing the slump or struggling in the weeks and months after your Design Sprint.

1. Misunderstanding the Process: A classic Design Sprint lasts five days. But, this doesn’t mean that you’re over-and-done in one week. This is one place I’ve seen people get tripped up after a sprint. I’ve heard folks complain that there is still so much to do after their sprint. Weren’t they supposed to get six months of work in five days?

Yes, a Design Sprint super-charges your productivity in a week, but there’s still weeks or months of work ahead. So, before you embark on your sprint, the team must know that the actual sprint is the tip of the iceberg. The Design Sprint is not the result; it’s the first step. You won’t walk out with code-ready designs. There will be significant work to be done after the sprint based on your learnings (i.e., you might need to do more testing, or maybe your sprint tells you that you need to rethink your product completely.) The good news is, sprints propel teams much further along than they would have been otherwise.

Scenes from a Design Sprint we ran at Adobe.

2. Business as Usual: Another reason for the post-sprint slump is plain and simple: the team members go back to their day-jobs. Urgent customer migrations or landing the next big enterprise deal take priority. When teams are swamped with their usual tasks, it’s challenging to make room for the more visionary and, frankly, fuzzier innovation work.

What can help with this is to make small progress toward the larger goal and make sure you’re tracking it. Keep the conversation alive with minor progress checkpoints, and earmark the larger deliverable on the roadmap.

3. Corporate Antibodies: You can also stumble after a Design Sprint because many organizations (and people) are highly resistant to change. If your sprint revealed that you should try something new and radical or that your customers don’t think like you thought they did, it will probably make some waves. It’s easier for companies to flow in the direction that things have been going.

This might be the case if the company you work for is large and has entrenched ways of working. The sprint team might find that their leaders or colleagues are resistant to switching things up or trying new things. This can make it tough for sprint teams to breakthrough. If they get continual resistance, they might give up on the new ideas developed in their sprint.

Sprints last 5 days, but there’s still weeks or months worth of work after.

4. Dropping the Mindset: One of the points that I discuss at length in Beyond the Prototype is the importance of the Design Sprint mindset. The sprint is not just a set of activities. It’s also an attitude that you carry and adopt. That attitude is characterized by an openness to diverse perspectives, curiosity about your users, and a commitment to testing and prototyping.

You can run sprints all day long, but if you don’t champion the sprint mindset and act on it, the work’s not going to go anywhere. Teams can struggle if they follow the rules and agenda of a sprint, but don’t commit to adopting the principles and ways of working after the sprint. It’s easy to get together in a conference room and commit to collaborate experiment, and prototype more—but what does that look like day-to-day? Make sure you’re committed to changing your typical ways of working after your sprint.

5. Funding: The last reason people fall into a post-Design Sprint slump is lack of funding. As Steph Cruchon, CEO of Design Sprint LTD, shares in Beyond the Prototype: “I’ve found it common for the team to run into budgetary issues because there is no project yet. Budgets are tied to projects, the Design Sprint just revealed a new project, and thus there is no budget allocated for it.”

The lesson here is to have some tough conversations before your sprint. Is the organization committed to funding new ideas or initiatives that might come out of the sprint? The Design Sprint is a commitment to learning quickly. If you are investing in a Design Sprint, make sure your organization is ready to invest in the follow-on work that might be necessary so you can get the most value out of your sprint.

If you’re thinking about running a Design Sprint soon, these are five things to consider before you dive in. Hopefully, this knowledge will help you avoid the slump. Or, if you’ve already run a sprint and you see yourself in some of these common problems, don’t worry. Identify why you’re in a slump, make a solid plan to combat it, and keep marching toward your ultimate goal.

 
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Douglas FergusonDouglas Ferguson is the president of Voltage Control, an Austin-based workshop agency that specializes in Design Sprints and innovation workshops. Douglas recently published his first book Beyond the Prototype, which offers expert advice for people shifting from discovery projects to realization and launch. Find out more about Douglas and Voltage Control at http://voltagecontrol.co.

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