My secret for getting stakeholder buy-in during your Design Sprint

Jackie Colburn
5 min readMay 13, 2024

Design Sprints are a super powerful tool for fostering innovation, accelerating ideas, and establishing alignment. But the thing is, the outputs of a Design Sprint are most powerful when they’re supported by leaders in the organization and, unfortunately, that support isn’t always a given.

Sprints have been a go-to in my facilitation toolset for the past 7+ years, so I designed a way to involve key decision makers in the process so that their presence feels constructive. I call them Structured Reviewer Checkpoints and I’m going to share my approach with you today so that you can add manageable and productive stakeholder reviews to your sessions!

(P.S. This approach doesn’t only work for Design Sprints — you can lift and add it to other workshops too!)

Why You Should Include Structured Reviewer Checkpoints

I know, the thought of adding another step to the Design Sprint process might seem overwhelming, but what I’ve discovered is that you may put the work at risk if you don’t do it.

Often, teams need more people to weigh in on an idea or decision, especially since Design Sprints are limited to 5–7 people. Without getting input from these stakeholders during the Sprint, you risk losing momentum afterward if you emerge with a concept that key leaders are questioning or don’t understand.

Adding this step helps you get feedback and buy-in from stakeholders who can’t (or shouldn’t be) a part of the Design Sprint, rather than waiting until the end or involving them in a haphazard way. And having a formula to handle input goes a long way in setting the team and the work up for success.

The other beautiful part about doing these reviews during the Sprint is that the full team is still assembled and can tackle questions and concerns. And the manner in which you capture those questions and concerns can be managed with a lot of precision and efficiency.

Let me walk you through how to do it.

How to Manage Reviewer Checkpoints During the Design Sprint Process

Step 1: Decide who you want to attend the checkpoints ahead of time

When you’re setting the agenda for your Design Sprint, decide beforehand on who needs to review the work along the way. Offer the seats to those who need to feel informed, grant buy-in, and/or advocate for the idea afterward. These are people who don’t make sense to participate in the full Design Sprint because of their level in the org, availability, or proximity (e.g.., someone from a totally different team, like research).

Step 2: Build the reviews into your agenda on Day 1 and Day 3

Plan for two reviewer checkpoints during the course of your 5-day Design Sprint and make sure your designated stakeholders can attend both sessions.

I typically plan the first check in at the end of Day 1 when we’ve finished mapping and have isolated a direction. Save the last 30 minutes of the workshop for this conversation.

Schedule your second check-in at a point in the process when you’ve just begun prototyping, or are about to start. I typically do this at the end of Day 3 in a Design Sprint. You want to be far enough along that the idea is really starting to come together and offers something tangible for review. Again, save the last 30 minutes of your agenda for this session.

Step 3: Use structure to guide reviewer feedback

When it comes to running the review sessions, take about 5 minutes to bring your reviewers up to speed and explain what you want them to weigh in on. That means briefing them on the format in which they’ll be offering input, which is:

“I like______. I wish_____ . I wonder____.”

This is a great way to use structure to keep feedback very clear and contained, rather than leaving the whole universe of possibilities open for them to dive into.

Next, let your reviewers know you’ll be using a timer and allocating exactly three minutes to each person to give their input within the provided format. When the timer beeps, move on immediately. This technique is great for neutralizing politics, as everyone is required to play by the same rules regardless of title.

Step 4: Capture and address the feedback

As the facilitator, it’s your job to capture input as reviewers share, either on a virtual whiteboard or in a visible place in the room that the team can easily refer back to.

The day after a review, your agenda should include time to look at the input and highlight anything the team wants to address. This is a prioritization exercise, so keep track of the feedback you tackle so you can show how the input was activated if questions arise later.

When to Follow This Process

I’ve found that this process is particularly helpful if you’re working within larger organizations or with teams where there are many layers of management and more roles that need to weigh in. I don’t always include this method for my smaller clients, but that doesn’t mean you can’t customize your own variation based on the team you’re working with.

To Sum It Up

This process is excellent for keeping the power in the core team’s court. It minimizes the chances for key decision-makers to disrupt or roadblock the group later and instead provides a highly structured environment for their voices to be heard.

My hope is that this approach will be a tool that you can use with your team to help set you up for success, and that inviting stakeholders into the room will feel more constructive and productive rather than scary.

What are some of the things you like to do to manage the stakeholder review process before, during, or after your workshops? Let me know in the comments, as I’d love to learn from you. And clap me some love if you found this post helpful. Your reactions let me know what I should (and shouldn’t) write about in the future!

Learn more about me and my work at jackiecolburn.com.

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Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas. www.jackiecolburn.com