06 Jan Top 10 Reasons an External Facilitator Should Run Your Design Sprint
Design Sprints are a fast and effective process to solve critical business problems, answer questions through prototyping, and test ideas with customers.
However, although the process itself is brilliant, a knowledgeable and skilled facilitator is critical to the success and quality of the outcome and experience of the Sprint.
A facilitator needs to do three things well:
☝️ Manage the process and the team ☝️
The obvious things, like timekeeping and keeping things moving. But also the things you can’t see, like keeping the atmosphere positive, staying impartial when listening to all of the ideas, and guiding the interpersonal interactions so that everybody is getting along.
☝️ Know what to do and when ☝️
It sounds simple, but experience and an arsenal of skills and tools are necessary to deal with any situation. During a Sprint, some ideas and discussions are not worthwhile. Others are brilliant and need further discussion. A good facilitator knows how to guide the team towards better ideas and where to spend time and energy.
☝️ Show empathy ☝️
Empathy is a soft skill that is often overlooked but is super important for the Design Sprint process. Every team member will have their own challenges, and there may be issues within the company that creates tension in the team before you even start. A facilitator will know how to deal with this and get the team united and focused for the Sprint.
With that in mind, is it better to hire an external facilitator to run your Design Sprints, or should you facilitate it yourself?
You can have one of your employees be the facilitator for your Design Sprint, though it’s not ideal.
There’s no hiding that I might be biassed, but I have several good reasons why it makes sense to hire an external facilitator.
Here are the top 10 ways a facilitator helps to make your Design Sprint a success:
1 – Keeps momentum going
When your team is working together, it can be hard to keep the flow going. Decision-making gets stalled, discussions dry up or go off on a tangent, some tasks take too long and others not long enough.
The facilitator has techniques to keep the energy up, ensures the group stick to timings and, make decisions promptly, to keep the pace going.
Having an outside facilitator in the room keeps that feeling of ‘this is a special meeting/event’ and helps focus the team.
2 – Deals with the hard stuff
Let’s face it, some colleagues have disputes, some people can’t stop talking, and others refuse to let things run smoothly.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone else deal with that?
Yes. Your Design Sprint facilitator will handle all of those issues and a whole range of anything that might threaten the success of the Sprint.
3 – Does the capturing
A Sprint can get intense with everyone’s thoughts, ideas, and solutions passed around, shared, and evaluated.
How do you keep track of it all?
Luckily, the facilitator takes responsibility for capturing everything on the whiteboard in the form of lists, diagrams, key points, and so on. It’s super important to help everyone keep track and remember everything later.
4 – Asks the right questions
It’s easy to assume that everyone is hearing the same thing and understanding each other. But, that isn’t always the case.
So something else the facilitator will do is ask lots of obvious ‘why’ questions, which creates very little room for misinterpretation and catches any communication problems quickly.
5 – Manages the group without bias
The Design Sprint facilitator is responsible for the general management of the group. They make sure everyone is happy, fed, and generally getting involved/being heard, etc.
Because the Sprint facilitator is from outside your organisation and doesn’t know your team, they can manage the group without bias.
This helps the Design Sprint be more successful and a better experience because it levels the field for everyone.
6 – Provides confidence and support
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that a Sprint might be a completely new and different way of working, which some can find hard to adjust to.
However, a good facilitator projects their confidence onto the group and ensures they always feel supported. The facilitator focuses on small successes along the way with consistent progress, thus keeping the group motivated.
7 – Has the right kind of authority & leadership
During the Sprint, the facilitator needs to have authority to direct the activities and manage the process.
And that’s why selecting an internal facilitator may be problematic.
If you choose someone who is normally in a leadership role, this can cause issues based on how their leadership is usually received. It may result in the team trying to gain favour instead of looking for the best solution.
On the other hand, if you choose someone who doesn’t usually have authority, this may not go down well with the team and may result in a failed Sprint.
8 – Provides new perspectives and a fresh pair of eyes
When designing new solutions, an outside perspective is crucial.
A Sprint facilitator can provide this whilst also ensuring the team haven’t tunnelled themselves in and aren’t too close to the project. Thus, making it more likely that you will cover all bases during the Design Sprint and create better solutions.
9 – Stays completely impartial and super motivated
Experienced facilitators come with lots of knowledge and success stories from the other Sprints they have run.
They thrive on the idea of helping you create your next success and thus have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, which helps keep your team motivated, making the whole experience much more enjoyable.
10 – Puts their training and expertise to use
A good Design Sprint facilitator has a range of experience and knowledge, which they bring to the process.
And now you might be wondering: what would I add to your Design Sprint?
I am an award-winning designer and an expert innovation facilitator.
I have a proven track record in delivering digital and non-digital products that are delightful and focus on real customer needs. This means I understand the process your team needs to go through to create the best possible solutions and guide them accordingly.
I ran my first workshop in 2007 and found my calling. Since then, I’ve grown my expertise and sharpened my facilitation and teaching skills.
I’m a patient and empathetic listener who is very good at bringing ideas together.
When Design Sprints proved to be a useful process, it made sense to become a certified Design Sprint facilitator by Jake Knapp (the creator of the Sprint at Google Ventures) and AJ&Smart and add this to my workshop toolbox.
My favourite thing about facilitating a Sprint is listening to what attendees have to say. I love guiding them and helping them unleash their creativity. Showing people how much they can achieve and seeing their full potential is hugely rewarding.
You can read my story by clicking on the image below.
Whilst you certainly can run Design Sprints yourself, it’s always good to keep an open mind about what an external facilitator can add and how we enrich the process further.
Your day to day business operations still need to run. Customers still expect the high standard of service and fast response times that you usually provide.
Using an external facilitator helps you keep more of your internal resources free so that you don’t have to compromise on your day to day processes and won’t fall behind with emails and other deadlines.
Experience shows that Design Sprints where the facilitator was not from outside the team or played more than one role, e.g. designer and facilitator, resulted in unsuccessful Sprints.
It’s super important that the facilitator is from a completely different team, if not from outside the organisation.
That’s why, although it does require some investment on your part, it is better to hire an external facilitator rather than time blocking four days for a Sprint only for it to fail.
The cost of a failed Design Sprint is much higher, with the added negative impact on your team.