How to get leadership buy-in to run a Design Sprint without going crazy

Simon Tratnik
  • 5
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    May 3, 2023

Since Jake Knapp’s game changing book Sprint back in 2016, the term Design Sprint has become common knowledge in the product world. Most Product Managers are aware of the benefits of design thinking methodologies and the rapid results of the 5 day format. 

However, once you propose the idea in your organization, it’s surprising how little known and poorly understood it can be amongst other departments and levels of the company.

We put together a primer of some of the most effective points you can make when trying to get leadership buy-in for a Design Sprint. 

Let’s start with why you’ll want to spread the word about Design Sprints in your organization. 

Product Manager should advocate for design sprint process to accelerate product development with validated outcomes.

Why should product managers advocate for Design Sprints?

Design Sprint is a prescriptive five day framework, through which a diverse team collaborates to explore a big business problem, align on and prototype their solution, and test it with real users.  

(If you want to dig a bit deeper on how Design Sprints work, check out details here)

This is a product manager’s dream scenario, covering all the bases of truly great innovation work.

  • Gives a simple structure to unpack complex problems, gain clarity and cut risk
  • Promotes a user-centric approach from day one - cutting wasted time and budget on products or features that users don’t care about
  • Encourages a prototyping mindset, instead of spending months on design and code
  • Removes siloes and discussion loops, bringing together diverse expertise from across the organization
  • The foundation of hard data and team collaboration pave a smooth path to easier buy-ins and a more successful final product

Now you know why you want to run a Design Sprint, we need to turn the tables and think of it from an executive stakeholder’s point of view.


Design Sprint team need a leadership buy-in before start, otherwise c-level people will never give green light.

How to introduce leadership to Design Sprints

Rather than launching into detailed descriptions of the timings and exercises, it’s more effective to paint a picture of the benefits that are most attractive from a leadership perspective:

Sifting ideas

One of the headaches of leadership in large organizations is having ideas thrown at you from all directions. Too many ideas might not sound like the worst problem to have, but when you’re in charge, selecting and prioritizing can feel overwhelming. Execs will see the advantage of a condensed process that allows them to sort the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and align on a single solution. 

Concrete solutions

An important myth to dispel right away is that a Design Sprint is just another team building exercise, or a workshop. Show them specific problems that have been blocking your teams, and how the Design Sprint will advance progress. 


In good company…

New is scary. So throwing out some successful names that have got exceptional results from Design Sprinting will put leadership at ease. Your stakeholders might associate pioneers like Google with the process, but did they know it’s also used by organizations as diverse as Lufthansa, Stanford University, McKinsey or The New York Times? There are countless valuable case studies for every industry and company size. 

No harm in trying

Low risk factor is always a winning argument with execs. The whole point of a Design Sprint is that, whatever the outcome, you’re guaranteed to come out with valuable user data and clear next steps. Even if all the assumptions you went in with are disproved, you’ve still avoided wasting 6 months going down the wrong path. In the grand scheme of product development, a single Design Sprint is relatively low in cost, and extremely high in ROI.

Now you’ve introduced the basics, there are bound to be questions. Here’s how you answer them.

How to handle the most common objections

Before Sprint there are common objection so be ready to answer all to have full momentum at the very start.

Objection #1: "Five days is a lot to have all these team members out of action. Can we spread it over a few weeks?"

There are two branches to answer this question. 

Firstly, while the Design Sprint process has a carefully crafted and proven five part structure, it’s somewhat of a myth that it will occupy a full 40 hour working week for the whole team involved. 

Especially if you have an outside expert running the Sprint, your team members will most likely be involved in one 3 hour intensive session per day, and some individual interviews, so it’s perfectly possible to build in space for other responsibilities. 

In the case of agencies with design experience, they may even take some of the heavy lifting off your hands. For example, at Human1st we involve the team in all the stages of ideation, prioritizing, decision making and iteration, but we take care of the nitty gritty of prototyping and user testing admin. 

On the other hand, it’s important to highlight that yes, Design Sprint is intended to be an intensive process. We add in margin for complex cases where we may need more behind the scenes preparation and analysis, but we never recommend spreading the five main stages over more than 2 weeks. 

The crucial point is that the company is actually saving time in the long term. 

Are the standard timings and meeting cycles that are currently in place making progress at the speed leadership would like? If not, then Design Sprint is the best way to see rapid results. 


Clearing the calendar for 5-days will give your team full focus on Design Sprint to understand, align, and validate the challenge at hand.

Objection #2: "Can’t we just do this in house?"

The short answer to this question is yes! It’s absolutely recommendable to have in-house team members equipped to facilitate Design Sprints. 

But this doesn’t just mean reading a book or a blog article. It means interactive training from real experts and hands-on experience. If there is a critical project relying on the results of the Sprint, it’s not advisable to have an inexperienced or first time facilitator running the process. 

On the other hand, there are some cases where an objective expert eye and a neutral voice are essential. And if objection 1 is an issue, then having someone external from, whose job it is to be fully dedicated to the Sprint, allows the team headspace to participate fully in the sessions, and have time outside for other tasks. 

For getting leadership buy-in to start the Design Sprint process will require some effort on your end but it will be all worthwhile.

Objection #3: "Our product / organization is pretty unique. Will this work for us?"

The uniqueness of each problem is part of the DNA of Design Sprint. There are specific stages of the process designed to explore the challenge, create a bank of solution ideas, prioritize that are carefully crafted to be applicable to any situation. 

As we mentioned above, tehre are countless examples to show how diverse industries have applied Design Sprints – from Lego to Dropbox, Home Depot to Uber. Hiring an agency that has experience applying the framework in a variety of unique business cases is key.

We hope this summary helped you build a strong case for running a Design Sprint in your organization. 

If you’re left with more question about how Design Sprints will work for your business challenge… 

Or you’re curious about Design Sprint training vs hiring an outside facilitator…

Request a consultation with our product experts and he’ll give you an honest opinion based on your situation.

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