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How Your Organization’s Generative Workshops Are Probably Going Wrong and How to Get Them Right

Generative workshops are a critical generative component of any product development process. But in my 20+ years conducting product user research, I have seen more product harm come from so-called “workshops” or “design sprints” than good. In this tutorial, I will share more about my experience and what I’ve found are critical components of generative workshops — whether they last five hours or five days.

Contrary to popular belief, a design sprint is a highly structured and carefully designed series of exercises, not a brainstorm, design jam or free-for-all. The whole point is to drive a cross-functional team to the right outcome, and this requires a set of structured exercises which weave the thread of user needs, behaviors and attitudes throughout. This involves more than reviewing the research at the start and then moving on to create without that research in context.

A true design sprint takes us from user insights — even broad user insights — to user-evaluated concepts or designs. The generative phase of a product is deeply impactful, and design sprints are a fantastic tool for driving this needed impact. However, many are practicing brainstorms or design jams rather than true design sprints. One can make a mismatched concept extremely usable throughout the product development process, but that will not remedy the fact that it is not the right concept.
Researchers are ideal design sprint organizers and facilitators, but researchers are sometimes not even considered a critical component of the sprint. It’s important for knowledgeable researchers to drive design sprint impact.