Book Excerpt: How to Avoid the Post-Design Sprint Slump

October 21, 2019

As a professional Design Sprint facilitator, I lead companies through the five-day Design Sprint methodology. To me, it’s one of the best frameworks for jump-starting a project, exploring a user-validated approach to a business challenge, and creating a rapid prototype. It’s a powerful firestarter for many teams. 

But last year, I began to notice a pattern. Some organizations were stalling out after their sprint. No matter how well it went. I saw that, in the gap between ideas and execution, things can grind to a halt or worse, fall apart. Sticky notes fall like snowflakes from the wall. Prototypes collect dust. Teams become stuck on how to advance their work. 

So, I decided to write a book — Beyond the Prototype — which was just published last month. It’s a guide to navigating that fuzzy area between exploration and implementation. It’s for people who have struggled to move a critical project forward. It’s about those times when you know where you want to go, but you can’t get beyond business-as-usual to push it over the finish line. It’s about overcoming that slump when you have a notion of what something could be, but feel bewildered about how to march forward and build it.

Because of my love for Design Sprints, I wrote Beyond the Prototype largely from the perspective of this method. But sprints are just one way that people and companies develop ideas. You don’t have to run a Design Sprint to get value out of the ideas. While I talk about how to avoid common pitfalls post-Sprint, my advice can be applied to any situation when you need to build and maintain momentum around a burgeoning idea. The recommendations relate to any innovation or design effort where you are struggling to shift from coming up with ideas to making something and putting it out in the world. 

Beware of the Post-Sprint Slump 

Design Sprints can be transformative for companies and teams, but unfortunately, they’re not magic. They can create alignment through intense focus on an issue, product, feature, or next step. But, to build what you started in your sprint, you’ll need more than just five days. 

It takes planning and action to move ideas past the early stages of a project or after a Design Sprint. However, before you can jump to the prescription, you should know more about your “diagnosis.” So, what exactly is a post-Sprint slump, and how do you know if you’re in one?

You might be in a post-Sprint slump if: 

  • You never reviewed your sprint learnings as a group to make a plan for next steps. 

  • You were only able to run a three or four-day Design Sprint and don’t feel like you went as deep as you needed. 

  • The sprint team went back to status quo and isn’t meeting regularly or advancing the project forward. 

  • You have no idea how you would take your prototype to the next level of design and testing.

  • You haven’t been able to adopt a test-and-learn approach to decision making. 

  • You don’t think you have the right in-house skills and expertise to keep progressing. 

So, now that you know the signs to look for, what are some of the big reasons that teams or organizations falter after a Design Sprint? 

Dropping the Mindset

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. Your Design Sprint creates a North Star (or a portion of it) that your team can work towards. The creativity and ideas unleashed in the sprint desperately need discipline, structure, and follow through if they’re going to get anywhere.

You might have colleagues wonder why there is so much to do after the sprint. Weren’t you supposed to get six months of work in five days? Yes, a Design Sprint super-charges your productivity in a week, but there is still weeks or months of work ahead.

However, know that you are much further along than you would have been if you had simply followed your typical ways of working. While the sprint process opens up big ideas and calls for big shifts in the way work is approached, the hope is that what happens in the five days becomes more than just something a team did one time. Real change begins when the mindset and ways of working permeate everyday routines and tasks.

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 roomand commit to collaborate, experiment, and prototype more—but what does that look like day-to-day?

Avoiding Rejection 

If the ideas you came up with during the sprint challenge the status quo, you might run into people who oppose the ideas and say they can’t be done. Your new ideas and ways of working are at risk of being rejected. 

Maybe there are other initiatives that are considered more important, or maybe there are just too many “good” ideas floating around your organization. Or, you may run into funding issues. As Steph Cruchon, CEO of Design Sprint LTD, shared: “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.” 

A lot of organizations have barriers towards new visions, products, or directions—whether explicitly or unintentionally. Most organizations (and people) are highly resistant to change. How much resistance will vary. Do you work at a large, legacy company with entrenched ways of working? Or, are you at a small start-up that perhaps has the opposite problem—no clear processes in place yet? Fear of rejection keeps many teams from taking their sprint plans to the next level. But it doesn’t have to.

Beyond the Prototype

Does the post-sprint slump sound familiar? You’re not alone. Even today, most organizations aren’t poised to traverse the gap between ideation and execution. Very few move gracefully from discovery-style projects into development and implementation. (Evidenced by the fact that many internal innovation initiatives worry more about the number of ideas generated versus outcomes.) 

I’ve outlined a better way. Just as the Design Sprint outlines a clear five-day process, my book shows you a six-step plan for moving any innovation initiative, vision project, or prototype forward.  

Here’s a sneak peek of the six steps:

  1. Wrap it up: How to reflect on your project and tie up loose ends from the sprint.
  2. Share your story: How to craft a story of your sprint and share it with others. 
  3. Chart the course: How to make a concrete plan for extending your work.
  4. Expand the inner circle: How to grow and support the right team. 
  5. Cultivate the culture: How to foster a culture that can sustain this type of work. 
  6. Get guidance: How and when to reach out for expert coaching. 

I hope you’ll check the book out. If you do, please share what you learn and achieve in your post-Sprint world!


Douglas Ferguson is a facilitator of design sprint workshops and President of the Austin, Texas firm Voltage Control.