Design Sprints & Three Principles To Help Set Better Goals

July 22, 2020

Why bother setting goals? Is it not enough to always simply ‘do your best’? Widespread research on goal setting proves quite the opposite in many aspects such as academia, early childhood development, and team environments. Without a specific target and a measurable end goal in mind, we tend to lack motivation, persistence, and results.

But that doesn’t mean every goal you set will foster motivation, drive persistence, or guarantee results. Nor does this suggest that the more goals you set, the better off you’ll be, or the more successful you will become at achieving your goals. Goal setting is a rather delicate process, which makes sense, given that goals are the driving force of all action.

When considering workplace goal setting, particularly in the face of uncertainty, the complexity and significance of goal setting processes increases tenfold. We’ve observed how the appropriate goals can create tremendous value within teams who are striving to solve major organizational challenges. We’ve also seen the opposite.

Goal setting is a cornerstone piece within the design sprint process, and manifests as the “Long Term Goal” activity. It sets the course or “North Star” of the sprint, and eventually, the overarching lens by which the prototype is evaluated.

Interestingly, the relationship is two-sided. Design sprints have an equally positive influence on goal attainment (and the process of forming them). It’s a win-win on both sides of the equation.

Early in the design sprint framework, teams develop and decide on their Long Term Goal, followed by choosing key metrics by which to measure progress towards that goal. The precise and deliberate actions during the goal setting process result in three important design thinking impacts over the course of the sprint, and often, beyond: 

Accountability Through Articulation

As much as we all wish it were possible, constantly thinking about adding a daily run to your schedule and hoping the results you aspire for will spontaneously manifest never seems to work (for me at least!). Instead, the common practice of writing down goals, be it on paper or your smartphone, serves as an accessible, visual reminder of what you’re striving for.

Though this may increase your chances of following through and persisting a bit longer than simply thinking of them, research suggests you can go a couple steps further for better results.

study by Dr. Gail Matthews on goal achievement in the workplace found that the highest likelihood of goal achievement came when goals were written down, an action plan was devised, and the goal is effectively communicated (particularly in terms of progress) regularly.

The group that followed the structure of these identified activities saw a 76% increase in goal attainment compared the group who were told to simply think about their goals. Notably, the key driver of this discrepancy was found to be the final, accountability-building step that asked participants to “tell a friend” about their goal (sharing publicly).

The process of goal setting up front in a design sprint taps into that important accountability piece, and the sprint team holds themselves accountable to that continually visual goal with each step of the sprint process. The progress towards the goal is continually communicated over the course of the process, and the design sprint framework moves the team towards the “action plan,” in the form of clarity of next steps following the prototype testing day. 

 1. Alignment and Focus

When an organization (or team) is faced with sudden changes and urgent deadlines, scrambling can feel inevitable. Multiple (often new) tasks are placed on each person’s agenda and the anxiety and uncertainty of change can easily create a chaotic environment. Effective communication is often lost, and all eyes are refocused on individual deadlines and objectives. This urgency can divide teams into silos, resulting in divergent goals and counter-productivity.

Design sprints recognize and capture this urgency, facilitating swift, collaborative decision-making from diverse teams composed of members representing multiple departments and levels. All members of the team contribute to the construction of the sprint goal and learning outcomes (sprint questions), thereby accelerating cross-organizational alignment on the problem. 

Every participant in the sprint quickly gets on the same page in terms of purpose. Design sprints not only help teams align quickly — particularly important when tackling complex unknown problems, but the structured process and cumulative activities also help the team stay focused on a singular goal: rapid learning. 

2. Crowdsourcing Ideas and Decision-Making

Crowdsourcing holds the principle that more heads are better than one. With more ideas, abilities, and experiences being contributed, you will theoretically always generate superior results. Crowdsourcing is used by many successful companies such as LEGO and PepsiCo to find new products worth launching, while other companies such as Topcoder are entirely operated by crowdsourcing initiatives. These companies have identified the numerous potential benefits crowdsourcing when properly employed, such as innovative solutions, diversity of thought, and reduced management burden.

But what does this practice have to do with design sprints and goal setting? Design sprint leverages the benefits of crowdsourcing in an internal participatory framework.

Through their structured, purposeful ideation and decision-making activities, design sprints foster diverse and innovative thinking and rapid problem solving. Another very helpful benefit is the potential to decrease the pressure load of the decision-maker by providing incredibly important data and information from the team — information that isn’t always available in other contexts.

In terms of goal setting, the advantages of internal crowdsourcing are twofold. First, everyone has a voice in what they want to see the team strive for, or what aim they want to set for the project. More intriguing, ambitious or creative goals could be brought forward from members of the team who may not have been afforded the opportunity to contribute to the identification of the goal in a traditional problem solving setting. 

The concept that differs in the design sprint when compared to standard team brainstorms is the democratization of ideas. Design sprint applies aspects of anonymity through it’s activities (i.e. Note-Stick-Vote-Pick) that facilitates the dissolution of ideation constraints. Ideas or information that would otherwise not be contributed are far more likely to be brought to the table; this is important when ideating, whether regarding goals or otherwise. It’s really a simple math equation: the more ideas, the more likely you are to find something valuable to pursue. Plus, your team will no longer rely on the ‘moment of genius’ from a single member — a truly liberating feeling!

Second, when a greater number of team members, or representatives of a broad array of internal teams are involved in the construction and generation of the team goal the likelihood of widespread buy-in increases dramatically. This allows for increased engagement across the team, resulting in more dedication to the target and persistence over time.

How Can I Bring Design Sprint to my Workplace?

Design sprints are effective far beyond the enhancements they provide to your goal setting practices. Design sprints are at their most effective when exploring problems with a lot of uncertainty, risk, or when the problem is tough to execute – particularly in high-stakes project scenarios that can significantly impact your strategic direction and growth.

If you’re ready to start taking advantage of design sprints, that’s where we can help! Leverage our industry expertise and experience to get your team on track in less than a week. You can reach us here to schedule a meeting. You can also read more about our service here.


We’ll help you solve the most pressing challenges. Contact us to learn more.