I’ve previously written about the benefits of hiring an external facilitator in the post “Why You Should Hire an Outside Design Sprint Facilitator”. In this article, I’m reframing this discussion from the perspective of why internal facilitators are typically set up for failure.
While you may have employees that are natural facilitators or have traits that make them well suited for the job, there are factors at play that you should understand prior to embarking on a Sprint. If you don’t acknowledge and account for these elements, there is a high probability your Sprint will not provide the transformative value you are expecting.
I’m shocked by the number of companies that allowed 7 of their key employees to clear their schedule for a week to participate in a process led by someone who had never done so previously. Sometimes this facilitator has attended Sprint training but has no experience running a Sprint. They may have only read or skimmed the book. Running a Design Sprint for the first time can be a excellent learning experience for the facilitator but it can come at a significant cost.
Skilled facilitators will bring deep experience with the methods, hours of professional development, and exposure to countless projects and business models. The situational awareness obtained through repeated engagements should not be underestimated.
As you may be aware, it is critical that your decider have the confidence and ability to green light the output of your Sprint, otherwise, the prototype may never be built and launched. Likewise, your facilitator must have some level of authority and assertiveness. Junior or subordinate facilitators are ill-equipped to handle dominating leaders or Sprint participants who have more power or influence.
Well run Sprints are draining enough, don’t risk running the team into the ground.
Facilitators need the ability to lean in and shift dynamics in the room. If a VP is sucking the oxygen out of the room, will your part-time facilitator/project manager have the guts to tell them to move on? Keeping the Sprint on time and on target is critical. Well run Sprints are draining enough, don’t risk running the team into the ground.
Curse of Knowledge
Internal facilitators are unable to see the world without all the institutional knowledge they’ve accrued during their time at the company. They are embroiled by the status quo. I’ve seen even the most well-intentioned facilitator with a sincere focus on remaining unbiased, still wince when certain solutions or ideas were presented. Sprint teams must rely on their facilitator to keep them on track and steer away from inconsequential implementation details.
Similar to institutional knowledge, political bias puts internal facilitators at a disadvantage. There may be political debt they feel they need to pay back or some other reason that may cause them to fall prey to favoritism. Other members of the team may feel marginalized or ignored. If these dynamics exist, Sprints will never build trust and alignment that is necessary for lasting change.
Lack of Focus
Companies rarely hire full-time facilitators when opting not to hire an outside professional. When filling the Design Sprint facilitator role, these companies hand it over to one of their designers, product managers, or scrum masters. In addition to their regular duties, these facilitators must learn how to prepare for the Sprint, the principles behind each exercise, and how to effectively manage the energy in the room all week. More often than not, they are also a necessary participant in the Sprint, which means they are sketching and attempting to facilitate at the same time. Double duty during a Design Sprint rarely works out well.
Don’t undermine the massive ROI potential of a Design Sprint by handing the reins over to an inexperienced facilitator.
Sprints are gaining in popularity, and with Design Sprint training options available it is quite common for companies to use internal facilitators for their Sprint. Sprints have the potential to foster lasting change to your business and your teams work. Don’t undermine the massive ROI potential of a Design Sprint by handing the reins over to an inexperienced facilitator. Hiring a professional will ensure that you’ll benefit from their expertise in planning, appropriately applying the methods given novel scenarios, steering your team away from early solutioning and other counterproductive behaviors. Adoption is critical for lasting change and companies that hire a seasoned facilitator are one step closer in realizing this transformation.