Michael Gearon

Hopes and Fears activity in your design sprint

Michael Gearon

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Hopes and Fears is a good project kick-off exercise. You encourage everyone in the room to share their hopes and wishes for the project. Then you all share your fears, questions and worries.

Having this exercise at the start of a workshop or sprint for a cross-functional team is a good use of your time. It’s most useful in the discovery part of your project. It can help you understand different stakeholder’s goals and concerns for the project.

It’s also a good way to make sure the team stay realistic about what you can and can’t do. If you set expectations early, you avoid disappointing stakeholders later on.

Why bother with hope and fears?

Running this type of workshop at the start of the project can allow people to feel less alone in their concerns. Often, we bottle things up and believe that our view isn’t shared with our peers. Understanding people’s hopes and fears allows you to address anything that’s raised.

Facilitation of this exercise

It is vital to create an open environment when running this exercise to make sure you get the most value out of it. You must give everyone the chance to speak, but don’t let the activity run late.

Also look out for strong characters who may try and shut other opinions down, if it clashes with their view.

How to run a Hopes and Fears workshop

There are 4 steps to running the Hopes and Fears exercise, which are:

  1. Start by giving out post-its and markers to everyone. While doing this, explain the exercise and what you hope to achieve by the end of the session. For example: “We’re going to take ten minutes to run through what you want this project to achieve. Then we’ll discuss any worries or concerns you have.”
  2. Then set a timer for a few minutes and allow your participants to write down their hopes and fears – one per post-it. Here are some extra suggestions:
    • Before the start of the session, make two spaces on the wall – one labelled ‘Hopes’ and one labelled ‘Fears’. Once people finish writing their post-its they can stick them under each heading. Having everyone’s ideas visible can inspire others.
    • Give some guidelines for writing on the post-its. Ask them to keep their thoughts to a few words or a short phrase.
    • Have hopes written on one colour post-it and fears on a different coloured post-it so you can see what’s what.
    • If possible, use Sharpies or marker pens as this encourages people to be concise.
      Stick to the timer to avoid the session running late – when the alarm goes off, it’s pens down for everyone.
  3. As people start posting things up, you’ll see some common clusters emerging. Group these together in to themes. You might not have time to go through every single post-it, but at least you can address the common theme. Grouping is also a great way to visualise what the most important concerns are in the room.
  4. Once everyone has finished writing their post-its, you can then discuss the clusters. Hopes can motivate the room, and you have a quick talk through these. The fears take longer as they generate more discussion and debate. A facilitators main job is to acknowledge the fears and then to help find a solution. You can do this by showing why they’re unfounded or making a plan to deal with them during or after the session.

Sound the celebratory trumpets, the hopes and fears exercise is complete. If you’ve got time, you can reflect on the exercise at the end of the workshop (or every so often throughout the project). This will help you see if people’s concerns are lessening or changing as the project evolves. Set up scheduled calendar reminders for these reviews to keep everyone involved.

Further reading

Michael Gearon

Written by

Michael Gearon

Senior Interaction Designer and Co-Author to Tiny CSS Projects