UX Corner

Using Hopes and Fears in your design sprint

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Running a workshop or design sprint with your cross-functional team can be one of the most worthwhile uses of your time.

Nothing beats getting everybody in the same room, problem-solving and working together. There is no faster way I know of to clear up assumptions, debate a variety of viewpoints, and grow empathy for other parts of the design + build process that you may not be involved in than a good old face-to-face working session.

However, getting all that goodness out of your workshop or sprint is predicated on the idea that everybody in the room is willing to be open and collaborative. If there is some hostility to the idea of your sprint, nervousness or anxiety about the meeting, or other floating elephants in the room, you won’t get the most out of your workshop.

To combat this, one way I like to kick a stakeholder workshop off is by using Hopes and Fears.

Natalie running a Hopes and Fears exercise

What is Hopes and Fears?

Hopes and Fears is a kickoff exercise where you encourage everyone in the room to share what their hopes and wishes are for the session or project, and to also share their fears, questions and worries about the session or project too.

Why is this a good idea?

  • You’ll get a great understanding of how to tailor the rest of your session to specifically address the hopes and fears raised
  • Getting all of these hopes and fears out at the start of the project means that they are less likely to derail your session later
  • It can allow people to feel less alone in their concerns

How Hopes and Fears works

  1. At the start, set up the Hopes and Fears session by giving out post-its and markers to everyone. As you do this, introduce Hopes and Fears and the intended outcome. I like to say something like “We’re going to take ten minutes at the start to run through what you’re hoping to get out of this session (or project) as well as what things you’re worried or concerned about.”
  2. Give them a few minutes to write down their hopes and fears, one per post-it. Here are some pro-tips:
    • Give some guidelines for writing on the post-its – you don’t want people writing entire paragraphs on one post-it. 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 that it is simple for everyone to see what’s what.
    • Distribute anything other than markers to write with at YOUR PERIL. Sharpies and the like are so great to use because they are easy to read even when stuck on the wall. They also help keep people concise.
  3. While everyone is writing, make two spaces on the wall – one labelled Hopes and one labelled Fears. As people finish writing their post-its, encourage them to go and stick up their post-its in the appropriate space.
  4. As people start posting things up, you will see some common clusters emerging. You (or a co-facilitator) can start grouping these common post-its into themes. This is because, depending on the group size, you might not have time to go through every single post-it that has been stuck up. instead. Grouping is also a great visual way to see what the most important concerns are in the room.
  5. Once everybody has finished writing their post-its, you can then begin to discuss the clusters. The Hopes can be used to motivate the room, and this stuff can normally be zoomed through relatively quickly. The Fears invariably take longer to go through as they generate a lot more discussion and debate. As facilitators, our main job will be to acknowledge the fears and then attempt to deal with them – whether thats by showing why they are unfounded or making a plan to deal with them within or outside the session.

Here’s an example of a slightly redacted Fears board in a workshop I ran a while back, where you can see how we clustered the fears:

Using Hopes and fears in a design sprint

After you’ve gone through your Hopes and Fears, let the rest of the session commence! It can also be helpful at the end of the session and review the fears again because it might be that some of them have been addressed in the course of the workshop.

Have you got any tips for running a Hopes and Fears exercise? Let us know in the comments!

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.


  1. Pingback: How I use the Design Sprint process for different types of projects | I Am Not My Pixels

  2. Hi Yaël, love your blog posts, some really helpful stuff in there, thanks for sharing! I haven’t used “hopes and fears” for design sprints specifically, but for workshops – one really great way of collecting & sharing input is to do it with two rounds of Lego serious play, have everyone present & explain their model and take notes of that with post-its to be put on the wall & then cluster as you suggested. Working with visual metaphors through the Lego models makes this exercise much deeper and memorable, and helps the team understand each other much better.

    • Hey Anja! Thanks for taking the time to comment. This sounds absolutely fascinating! I’d love to hear more. Might you be interested in writing a short guest post for the blog taking us through this process? Would be really interesting! Let me know! 🙂

  3. Michael Peters Reply

    Hi Yael…I’m doing a little research on where Hopes and Fears originated or who came up with it as an activity. Do you happen to have any idea?

    Thanks for any background you may have!

Write A Comment

%d bloggers like this: